Specials http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials.rss en Thu Sep 02 17:14:03 IST 2021 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html drive-to-live-shabana-azmi-on-her-road-accident-and-the-learnings-from-it <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/16/drive-to-live-shabana-azmi-on-her-road-accident-and-the-learnings-from-it.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/9/16/60-Shabana-Azmi.jpg" /> <p>Shabana Azmi is often called the Meryl Streep of Indian cinema. In a career spanning over 47 years, Azmi, 71, has acted in more than 120 films, which includes legendary ones like City of Joy and Madame Sousatzka. She is the only actor to have won the National Award for best actress five times. A well-known social activist, Azmi and her husband, lyricist Javed Akhtar, are known for their support for the oppressed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January 2020, Azmi met with a road accident on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway; her car rammed into the rear of a truck. She suffered severe injuries and was briefly unconscious. She was moved to a Mumbai hospital, where she recovered in less than a month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive chat with the Drive to Live team, Azmi talks about the accident and the learnings from it. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Your husband was travelling in another car on that day. He said your car had become a heap of junk. Do you remember anything?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I was sleeping on the back [seat], and rolled over to the floor. I must have fainted immediately. So, I remember nothing except that I woke up at the intensive care unit of Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was told that I was attended to at a hospital on the way, in Panvel. They provided first aid and put my neck in a cast. An ambulance from Kokilaben was rushed there and then I reached smoothly, all thanks to Tina and Anil Ambani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How long did it take for you to recover?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I was in the hospital for three weeks. It is really surprising that there were no fractures, because I have a tendency to break my bones easily. I have broken my shoulder, my wrist and my foot previously. I was shooting in Budapest 40 days after I had this near-fatal accident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How has the experience changed you as a person?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I was overwhelmed by the love and prayers I received from all over the world. My family and friends stood by me like a rock. I bow my head in gratitude to them. I realise life cannot be taken for granted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ One debate triggered by your accident was whether the media should refrain from publishing images linked to road accidents, as it could be distressing for loved ones. Do you agree?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\The media was [only] doing its job. When you are a public figure this is inevitable. My friends were shocked because they had seen me dancing away till 5am that morning at Javed saab’s birthday celebrations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ A few blamed the Mumbai-Pune expressway, and said there is little monitoring to prevent rash driving. Is it so?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ One, the first ambulance took a long time to come. What was sadder was that the ambulance that arrived was a Maruti van. The steel stretcher was placed on the floor of the van with no cushioning. My legs were sticking out, so they had to keep the doors [of the ambulance] open. And this [was] on a national highway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s on occasions like these that you realise the difference between your [country’s] standards and those in the west! All said, people were very kind. They helped to push me over the divider because the ambulance was parked on the opposite lane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Today, what are the safety steps you take while in a car?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ I make sure everyone puts their seat belts on, and that the driver has had enough rest before we go on a long road trip.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Around 1.54 lakh people have died in road accidents in India in 2019 alone. What is your advice to rash drivers? What are the urgent steps to be taken to reduce road accidents in our country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ First, respect human life. Even one fatal accident is one too many. [There should be] strict adherence to speed limits. There should be strict monitoring of those driving under influence. And help [should be] available within minutes. It also requires the public to be responsible. We should have zero tolerance for reckless driving.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/16/drive-to-live-shabana-azmi-on-her-road-accident-and-the-learnings-from-it.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/16/drive-to-live-shabana-azmi-on-her-road-accident-and-the-learnings-from-it.html Thu Sep 16 16:26:56 IST 2021 making-kerala-roads-safer <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/16/making-kerala-roads-safer.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/9/16/61-Antony-Raju-new.jpg" /> <p>Road accidents endanger human lives and cause losses to the economy of the country. Most accidents happen because of negligence. Kerala sees around 40,000 road accidents every year, resulting in around 4,400 deaths and 46,000 major injuries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Safe Kerala enforcement wing of the Motor Vehicles Department is exclusively engaged in law enforcement, rescue and road-safety activities. There are 85 enforcement squads, one in each taluk. They undertake rescue operations in the event of accidents, and monitor vehicles and road users round the clock, making quick interventions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a novel project called Suraksha Mitr, which is nearing completion. This aims to monitor all transport vehicles with the help of a GPS-based tracking system. At the state level, there is a master control room, and one each in the 14 districts. Every violation can be monitored, and offences booked effectively and transparently. It will help curb violations, avoid frequent checking and will provide ample scope for field officers to focus more on road-safety activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also have Operation Clear Pathways that aims to prevent road accidents due to blocks on roads and footpaths. Then there is Operation Rash, that aims at stopping stunts and speeding on roads. Operation Rescue aims at preventing illegal modifications of vehicles like fitting additional lights, non-standard horns and tinted windows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With these stringent measures, it is expected that we can control road accidents in Kerala, thus reducing casualties. Let us work unitedly to achieve this goal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is the transport minister of Kerala.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/16/making-kerala-roads-safer.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/16/making-kerala-roads-safer.html Thu Sep 16 20:35:09 IST 2021 the-taliban-is-trained-for-fighting-in-the-social-media-battlegr <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/09/the-taliban-is-trained-for-fighting-in-the-social-media-battlegr.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/9/9/20-taliban.jpg" /> <p><b>Look who changed</b> while you were not watching!</p> <p>For the past few years, most people had accepted that the Taliban in Afghanistan was a reality that could not be ignored. The Taliban, however, is not just real, it is virtual, too. Its online presence is slick, suave and cut with a precision to suit its target audience.</p> <p>While the world was wondering just how a medieval-minded set of gun-toting men would try to take over the country from the US and its allies, the Taliban was changing, adapting to the new tools of the age. Today, the Taliban leadership communicates all its official announcements and ideas through Twitter. While the main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweets mainly in Pashto, the other spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, communicates in English. Mujahid has 3.88 lakh followers and Shaheen 4.72 lakh, including diplomats, analysts, strategists and ordinary people. If social media is the new battleground, the Taliban is armed and trained in this warfare, too.</p> <p>Harsh Pant, of the Observer Research Foundation, notes that the genesis of the Taliban’s makeover began in 2011, when it was first invited to London for talks. Over the next few years, as its representatives moved from five-star hotels across various countries and spoke across the table with top-notch diplomats, the leaders quickly picked up on tricks needed to stay relevant. By around 2017, they had learnt the ropes. “Outfits learn from each other,” says Pant. “ISIS is a very social media-savvy group. Some of their videos were made very professionally, which is how they attracted youngsters from even the west into their fold.”</p> <p>This year has seen the Taliban use social and mainstream media to effectively put across its messages and shatter what it considers western propaganda or misinformation. Mujahid recently tweeted a video of women demonstrating in Mazar-e-Sharif, asserting their right to wear a hijab. It was to counter charges that the medieval Taliban would force its women behind the veil.</p> <p>Shaheen also tweeted that its leader Mullah Baradar did not have any social media presence; any address created in this name was fake. It is obvious that the group has a trained social media team monitoring the virtual world, and is quick with rebuttals.</p> <p>Twitter recently said that, as long as the Taliban did not use the site for “glorification of violence, platform manipulation and spam”, it would be allowed to keep tweeting. On other platforms like Facebook and YouTube, where the Taliban is blocked, there are several proxy accounts that effectively communicate the group’s messaging, say observers.</p> <p>The new-look Taliban has made it easy for one-time adversaries to engage with it, as well as supporters to stand by it. If the Taliban needs China, says Pant, then it has to turn a blind eye to the developments in Xinjiang (Uighur Muslim crisis). Unlike the last time, the Islamic world has not rushed to recognise the new regime without assessing what it will be like.</p> <p>The past two decades was a learning phase for the Taliban; its new leadership now knows the importance of optics in the world of diplomacy, says Vishal Chandra, research fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “They know what to say and to whom,” he says. Clearly, the messaging it put forth—like calling women health care workers to report to work, or the back to school video showing young girls—is aimed at the global audience, as well as the section of Afghans it needs to win over.</p> <p>For reaching out with a peace offering to India, it cleverly selected Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, head of the outfit’s political office in Doha. Stanekzai is among the top leaders of the Taliban; he was so even in the old regime. However, there was a well-timed reminder of him being an alumnus of the Indian Military Academy, before he made the open outreach to India through a video message. Whichever side released this nugget, social media surely amplified it. Stanekzai, therefore, became the most acceptable face for India to engage with, which India’s ambassador to Doha, Deepak Mittal, finally did on September 1.</p> <p>It is not only what the Taliban tweets that creates a buzz, but also what the group chooses not to. Shaheen, whose tweets are more about the outfit’s foreign office meetings, did not tweet about Mittal’s meeting. The omission has analysts breaking their heads over every facet of the India-Taliban tango.</p> <p>The Taliban, now set to rule, knows it has to shed its barbaric image of the past, and fast. Despite the stop on the Afghan exodus now, the country has suffered much brain drain. If it has to stem the bleed, it needs to sell the promise of Afghanistan to Afghans as much as it has to the world. Banning the internet, as it did 20 years ago, is counter-productive, and if you cannot beat them, join them is the credo.</p> <p>Is this the real face of the Taliban? Or is it just a mask? “Deep down, the Taliban hasn’t changed,” says Pant, predicting that, soon, there will be a tussle between the various factions within the Taliban—the conservatives, moderates and liberals. Chandra adds that while the political and diplomatic wing of the Taliban is on showcase now, the military wing is another entity altogether.</p> <p>While in all likelihood the new regime will not be as bad as the first Taliban rule, it is not likely to be in accordance with the rosy picture the group’s public relation machinery is churning out either. Chandra notes that while the attention is in Kabul, developments in the provinces do not augur too well. Summary executions have begun. Many insurgents from various outfits are returning to villages. Will the new leadership be able to control these men, who largely supported the Taliban because it endorsed their own mindsets?</p> <p>Mujahid recently tweeted to Taliban cadres to not fire celebratory shots in the air, as this scared the public. The audience was clearly the outside world, not the foot soldiers. For them, the orders must have been direct.</p> <p>The Taliban is smart enough to know that managing its own men is not going to be as easy as managing social media narratives. The months to come, therefore, are going to be testing times for all.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/09/the-taliban-is-trained-for-fighting-in-the-social-media-battlegr.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/09/the-taliban-is-trained-for-fighting-in-the-social-media-battlegr.html Thu Sep 09 19:47:12 IST 2021 uphold-science-based-origins-tracing-oppose-political-virus-chinese-ambassador <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/uphold-science-based-origins-tracing-oppose-political-virus-chinese-ambassador.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/9/2/58-Weidong-Sun.jpg" /> <p><b>THE COVID-19</b> virus has repeatedly mutated while the pandemic keeps rising and falling worldwide. At this critical moment—when all people are fighting the virus—a certain country is wantonly spreading a “political virus” in an attempt to politicise and stigmatise the origins-tracing. Such virulent and destructive “political virus” must be eradicated in time, to stop it from harming the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From trumping up and calling Covid-19 the so-called “Wuhan Virus” to smear China last year, to abruptly withdrawing from the World Health Organization, the US has tried to politicise the pandemic, stigmatise the virus, and use origins-tracing as a tool. It even turns a blind eye to the hard work of scientists by resorting to using the intelligence services to conduct origins-tracing. The US intelligence community has recently compiled a so-called report on the origins of Covid-19. It is a mendacious report made up for political purposes, and has no scientific basis or credibility. Origins-tracing is a serious scientific issue. Relying on the intelligence community for it is not scientific.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US is actually trying to shift responsibility for its botched pandemic response and aims at achieving the political purpose of discrediting and suppressing other countries. We urge the US to stop politicisation and return to the track of science-based origins study in the interest of the lives and health of its own people and that of people around the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For origins-tracing, we should figure out some basic questions:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, why should we conduct origins-tracing? From the Black Death in the Middle Ages, the flu pandemic at the beginning of the last century, to AIDS that still plagues mankind, viruses have brought huge disasters to mankind again and again. Origins-tracing are aimed at preventing future pandemics and providing a reference in order to avoid recurrence of tragedies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, who should conduct origins-tracing? It is a scientific issue. We should let science be science and let professionals do their job, instead of trusting it with several politicians, intelligence community or “conspiracy theorists”. The US, on the basis of “presumption of guilt”, has absurdly ordered its intelligence community to give out investigation conclusions in limited time. It makes no sense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In sharp contrast, nearly 80 countries have recently expressed support for the WHO-China joint study report and opposed politicising origins-tracing by sending letters to WHO director-general, and issuing statements or diplomatic notes. Over 300 political parties, social organisations and think tanks from 100-plus countries and regions in the world submitted a joint statement to the WHO secretariat, calling on the WHO to conduct the study on Covid-19 origins-tracing objectively and fairly, firmly opposing the politicisation of origins-tracing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, how should we conduct origins-tracing? More and more reports have pointed to separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world in the latter half of 2019, and these cases show that Covid-19 seems to have multiple origins and emerged in different localities. Accordingly, origins-tracing should be conducted in various places and countries around the world with a global perspective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At least five states in the US alone had Covid-19 infections before the first officially reported confirmed case. In July 2019, respiratory diseases of unknown cause happened in Virginia, and a large-scale E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) broke out in Wisconsin. In October 2019, American military athletes attended the World Military Games in Wuhan, and the data concerning the sick athletes has never been released.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The team and lab of epidemiologist Ralph S. Baric has been engaged in coronavirus research for a long time, with extremely mature capability in synthesising and modifying coronavirus. The US has been refusing to respond to the international community’s reasonable doubts on the Fort Detrick biolab and the over 200 overseas bases for biological experiments, trying to cover up the truth and avoid being held responsible. The onus is on the US to give the world an answer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has always been participating in the international origins-tracing cooperation with an open attitude. China has taken the lead in cooperating with the WHO on origins-tracing. It has twice invited WHO experts for origins-tracing joint studies, and has made tremendous efforts to this end. The experts went to all the places they wanted to go, met all the people they wanted to meet. The WHO-China joint study report made a scientific conclusion that “a laboratory leak is extremely unlikely”, and made important recommendations such as “searching for possible early cases on a global scale”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s position on global origins-tracing is consistent and clear-cut: first, we stick to the fact that origins-tracing is a matter of science, and we oppose the politicisation of this matter and slandering and attacking other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, the findings and recommendations of the WHO-China joint study report must be respected and implemented by all parties, and serve as the basis to conduct future works.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, China has all along supported and will continue to take part in science-based origins-tracing efforts. What China opposes is politicising origins-tracing, or origins-tracing that goes against the World Health Assembly resolution and disregards the joint study report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fourth, origins-tracing should act on the WHA resolution, conduct effective cooperation on the basis that the views of member states are fully respected through comprehensive consultation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 virus jeopardises human lives, “political virus” endangers human conscience and international solidarity. To this regard, origins-tracing needs cooperation rather than discrediting, truth rather than lies, and a respect for science rather than political manipulation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China will continue to support and participate in international origins-tracing cooperation in the spirit of openness, transparency, science and cooperation, and contribute its part to humanity’s final victory over Covid-19 and the establishment of a global community of health for all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of India.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/uphold-science-based-origins-tracing-oppose-political-virus-chinese-ambassador.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/uphold-science-based-origins-tracing-oppose-political-virus-chinese-ambassador.html Thu Sep 02 17:12:40 IST 2021 partners-in-progress <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/partners-in-progress.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/9/2/61-Merkel-new.jpg" /> <p><b>A 16-YEAR-LONG ERA</b> is coming to an end. If you look at world leaders whose tenures coincided with Angela Merkel’s chancellorship in Germany, you will see among them four American presidents, four French presidents and two Indian prime ministers. Merkel took charge four years after the 9/11 attacks. She has often been at the helm of crisis management, and she changed the prevailing political landscape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indo-German relationship has become much stronger in her time. It is partly because of her interest, and mostly because of India emerging as a power. She has always believed in India as a country and as a multicultural powerhouse of 1.4 billion people. She has said several times that she has a lot of respect for India because the people, the administration, the languages, the states, the religions and the cultural influences are all so different, and that running such a country takes a lot of skill. It is one of the things she admires about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As she often says, “It is so difficult to be in his shoes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ten years ago, we started the biennial Indo-German consultation, which is very helpful because every two years you can set an agenda. We do not have it with many countries. It was her decision to do it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel met Modi five times in Berlin and she visited India four times. She has always been interested in India and its culture. It was also a philosophical interest, about organising a country with 7,000 years of culture and without easy neighbours. She always wanted to see things in India. The last time she came here was in 2019, when we broke protocol and went to the Jama Masjid. We could stay there only for half an hour. But she got to see at least something. I guess it is the price that you pay for being such a known face. You cannot do all the things you want.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have worked very closely with her. I told her I did not want to go to France or Russia as ambassador. I said I wanted to go to India. And she agreed, as she had an understanding about it. She also knows that I am a musician, so she said I would be in my element here. She said India was an important country and that there was something special about it. I think perhaps the physicist in her wants to go to the real source of things. Why is India so complex? What does it take to run India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi and Merkel see eye to eye on many issues, like the reform of the UN Security Council. India and Germany believe that it is an outdated arrangement. The UN is losing its credibility, unless it is changed. That is why we are in the G4 [along with Brazil and Japan].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been a peaceful nation; it never invaded any other country. Moreover, there is a lot of German interest in Indian culture. The economy is also important. We have 2,000 German companies in India. And we need to look at future technologies such as Economy 4.0, Industry 2.0 and artificial intelligence. But how do we go about it after the pandemic? There are more and more robots. But we need jobs for our people. What do we do? Who pays the people who are unemployed now? The digital revolution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The future of work was a matter of discussion when Merkel and Modi met. The last time the prime minister was in Germany (April 2018, I think), he had dinner with the chancellor. She hosts special guests in a room with a balcony, in the chancellery. The two leaders were on the balcony. It was really cold, but they kept on talking, I think for more than half an hour. She did not tell me what they were talking about, but knowing her, it must be the philosophical aspect. She always talks very positively of Modi.</p> <p>As a leader, Merkel is moderate and does not show much emotion. As a politician, you have to sometimes keep your emotions under check. That is helpful, especially during a crisis. Merkel is modest, smiles a lot and has a girlish charm. She is different from some of her former flashy male counterparts like former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and former US president Donald Trump, who like to show off. She does not like mansplaining. She would rather be quiet, but would make her point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While dealing with world leaders—be it Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin—she would remain focused. She is also a good listener. If you are in the car with her, she might open up, but she mostly listens. It is interesting how she has kept her empathy and curiosity alive even after 16 years in power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such a long tenure changes people, it makes them tough. But if you meet Merkel privately, she still radiates the aura of a young girl. She is clever, fast thinking, funny and charming at the same time. And she likes jokes. Many politicians are serious and tense all the time, but she likes to let go at times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Merkel is never fake. Even when the whole world showered love on president Barack Obama, she would say, “Let us not go overboard”. With Trump, she had made it clear that he could not treat her as he pleased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As one German politician said, becoming chancellor is like climbing Mount Everest. Normal politicians reach up to 7,000m, which is difficult enough. But to be chancellor, you have to climb the last 1,000m, which is the death zone. There you have to be extremely fit and good and show that you are better than others. There is no room for error. Merkel did that seven days a week, 24 hours a day for 16 years, dealing with international politics, domestic politics and party politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a while, she gained the reputation of being an extremely capable leader. Many around the globe look up to her and ask for her advice. It is not easy to stay modest and not let it get to your head. But Merkel has done it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two of her major decisions with far reaching repercussions, which she made despite much resistance, were: giving up nuclear power in highly industrialised Germany and accepting a million refugees. Merkel’s own party was a big supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima disaster, she said, “We cannot do this. It is not responsible and morally justifiable anymore. We don’t know what to do with the waste, we cannot exclude tragedies like the one in Japan. If this happens here, I am the one responsible.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015, she accepted a large number of refugees, saying “Wir schaffen das (We can do it)”. It caused a lot of resistance in Germany, but she held the course. She did these two things because she has a clear moral compass. She has it, maybe because she is the daughter of a priest. She has ethics in politics. People, even ambassadors, who never voted for her, changed their minds and became strong Merkel supporters in the end. If she would run again, she would very likely have achieved a fifth term as chancellor.</p> <p><b>The author is the German ambassador to India.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/partners-in-progress.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/partners-in-progress.html Thu Sep 02 20:09:54 IST 2021 at-all-costs <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/at-all-costs.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/9/2/63-Davendra-Singhvi.jpg" /> <p><b>IN THE FIRST WAVE</b> of Covid-19, which struck India in the first quarter of 2020, all listed hospitals across the country reported heavy loses and a sharp decline in revenue. Smaller hospitals laid off staff and cut salaries to contain costs. During the second wave this year though, there was a sharp turnaround, with most listed hospitals showing good profits. This was true not just for India but for hospitals in the Middle East as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what changed between the first and second wave? How did hospitals overcome the crisis? These and other such questions were answered at the ‘Sustaining quality and affordable health care in the post-Covid world’ webinar, held by THE WEEK and Medi Q Healthcare Group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the panel were Latesh Sen, group chief financial officer, Medi Q Healthcare Group, a Dubai-based company that provides organisations with comprehensive health care advisory services; Dr K. Hariprasad, president, Apollo Group of Hospitals; Dr Harish Pillai, CEO, Aster India, Aster DM Healthcare; Davendra Singhvi, group CFO, Saudi German hospitals, UAE; Sameer Agarwal, group CFO, Manipal Health Enterprises Pvt Ltd; and Cdr Navneet Bali, regional director-north, Narayana Health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Hariprasad agrees that the initial period of Covid-19 was total mayhem, what eventually worked was a better understanding of the virus, followed by a better response to fight it. “A study in our own hospital found that among health care workers who were vaccinated, the number of people who needed hospitalisation after turning positive was less than one per cent and there was no mortality in these patients,” he says. “And so, vaccines did work and helped health care workers attend to patients well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Manipal Health, which has acquired Columbia Asia and Vikram Hospitals, the pandemic provided an opportunity for expansion. Also, the finance function there went digital, says Agarwal. “That way we conserved cash,” he says. “We did supply chain and cost optimisation at least thrice a year and that’s why we have not passed on any cost increase [to the patient].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narayana Health did not bother about profit margins, says Bali. “We spoke to doctors to see if we could tweak the settings on ventilators to give optimal oxygen to patients as a way of cutting costs,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hospitals in the Middle East, meanwhile, tried to make health care accessible to all. Pillai says hospitals in Dubai work on a 100 per cent health insurance model, which means more pressure on hospitals to be cost-efficient. “In India, as in my own hospital in Kochi, the pay for treatment is 70:30, where 70 per cent will be cash or out-of-pocket payment and the rest will be different forms of credit,” he says. By 2025, he predicts a decline in out-of-pocket expenses in India, owing to a massive growth in private health insurance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singhvi agrees, pointing out another difference: “The health care spending of the UAE is around 4.8 per cent; in India it is around 1.3 per cent of its GDP.” Also, visa and investment regulations have been relaxed by the UAE, thereby increasing the scope of medical tourism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the virus here to stay, Sen says we need to devise strategies to keep the cost of care under control, and that makes the role of chief financial officers more important. She uses the example of Kaizen, a Japanese term meaning constant improvement with zero waste, as a way for hospitals to continue providing quality health care at affordable prices.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/at-all-costs.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/09/02/at-all-costs.html Thu Sep 02 17:14:55 IST 2021 with-cji-ramana-at-its-helm-the-judiciary-is-asserting-its-independence-and-how <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/with-cji-ramana-at-its-helm-the-judiciary-is-asserting-its-independence-and-how.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/26/20-supreme-court.jpg" /> <p>On March 24, 2020, when a nationwide lockdown was announced to prevent the spread of Covid-19, lakhs of migrants working in cities began their long walk home. Shortly afterwards, the Supreme Court, hearing a petition seeking relief for the stranded workers, refused to intervene. A bench headed by then chief justice of India S.A. Bobde accepted the government’s submission that not a single worker was on the road.</p> <p>The same court, in the aftermath of the second wave of Covid-19 this year, directed the Centre and states to provide relief to migrants.</p> <p>This February 9, a bench comprising Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian dismissed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law. A few months later, the top court agreed to examine the same, with Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana asking the government if the colonial era law was needed 75 years after independence.</p> <p>In October 2018, a Supreme Court bench headed by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi sought price details of Rafale fighter jets in a sealed envelope from the Centre, raising eyebrows. Recently, hearing a plea of the Election Commission, a bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah batted for transparency by refusing to restrict the media’s coverage of court proceedings. There is a distinct change in the top court’s approach to cases, making experts sit up and take notice.</p> <p>Concerns about the executive’s looming shadow on the apex court’s functioning tumbled out in January 2018, when four of its senior-most judges held an unprecedented press conference to voice their unease. In the following years, there have been questions on the court’s impartiality, criticism about the manner in which an allegation of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI was handled and outrage over the same CJI accepting a nomination to the Rajya Sabha shortly after retirement.</p> <p>It is against this backdrop that there appears to be a break from the past. And, the changes coincide with the change of guard in the Supreme Court, with many attributing it to the Ramana effect.</p> <p>Last year, there had been widespread criticism of the apex court’s stance in the migrants’ case.</p> <p>High Courts were seen as being more active in dealing with Covid-19-related issues. Eventually, the Supreme Court, under Bobde, began its suo motu hearings in Covid-19 related matters.</p> <p>After Bobde’s retirement, when a bench of Justices Chandrachud, S. Ravindra Bhat and L. Nageswara Rao began hearing the matter and took the government to task over issues ranging from oxygen supply to its vaccination policy, the government accused the court of judicial overreach.</p> <p>Additional Solicitor General Satyapal Jain, while disagreeing that courts were overstepping their bounds, did sound a cautionary note. “The court has to see whether the action of the government is within its permissible limits,” he said. “Unless there is a strong mala fide [intention] or the action is arbitrary, the courts should not enter the arena.”</p> <p>However, the Centre’s U-turn on procuring vaccines is being attributed to the apex court pulling up the government on its vaccination policy.</p> <p>“The Indian Supreme Court is rated as one of the most powerful courts and it also enjoys a good reputation as a court of justice,” said Prof Ranbir Singh, former vice chancellor of the National Law University, Delhi. “If one would refer to Article 142 of the Constitution, it has inherent powers to grant appropriate relief for doing complete justice.”</p> <p>And now, there is keen interest in how the top court deals with the petitions filed before it with regard to the politically-sensitive Pegasus snooping controversy.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, the previous three chief justices—Justices Dipak Misra, Ranjan Gogoi and S.A. Bobde—disappointed the nation,” said Supreme Court advocate Lokendra Malik. “The sequence of events during their tenure was such that the trust of the people in the judiciary was shaken. Be it Covid-19 or human rights, the Supreme Court was not able to work as effectively as many of the High Courts did.”</p> <p>The Supreme Court’s CJI jinx appeared to claim Ramana, too, just months before he took charge. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had alleged that Ramana’s kin had made questionable land deals in Amaravati, the proposed state capital, and that Ramana was interfering in the functioning of the state High Court. However, the judiciary and the bar closed ranks with him. Several members of the legal fraternity wanted Reddy to be hauled up for contempt of court, even as they were disappointed that the Supreme Court’s in-house inquiry report was not made public.</p> <p>Ramana took charge as CJI on April 23; his tenure will last till August 26, 2022. He has, through his public utterances at events, appeared to set the course for the judiciary. At the recent P.D. Desai Memorial Lecture, he spoke about the need for the judiciary to apply checks on governmental power and action, for which it has to have complete freedom. He stressed on people’s right to protest, saying criticisms and protests are integral to the democratic process.</p> <p>Experts believe that the CJI came with the task of restoring the credibility of the judiciary, and provide it with a direction.</p> <p>“After taking charge, CJI Ramana made it clear that the High Courts should not worry about the interference from the Supreme Court,” said Pradeep Rai, vice president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. “The message was given loud and clear, and we can see the effect in the orders passed by the High Courts.”</p> <p>Supreme Court lawyers say that while PILs are being sent to other benches, Ramana is attending to many routine, pending cases, and most importantly, bail matters. Ramana, as a student activist during the Emergency, had to go underground to avoid getting arrested. Experts say that experience has left a mark on him and is reflected in the importance that he attaches to matters involving personal liberty.</p> <p>It is said that that since he was not flamboyant and did not speak much, everyone had to look to his judgments to gauge what was coming. A bench headed by him held that even when a stringent law like the UAPA has been applied, the accused can get bail when there is no likelihood of the trial being completed within a reasonable time.</p> <p>Soon after taking charge, as he participated in the discussions to appoint the new CBI director, Ramana cited a Supreme Court order with regard to the selection criteria, which resulted in the government’s favourites getting knocked out. That indicated a change in court-government dynamics.</p> <p>“I certainly see a perceptible positive change in the views of the media about the credibility of the Supreme Court, after Justice N.V. Ramana took over as CJI,” said former Supreme Court judge Justice R.V. Raveendran. “A change in leadership always gives rise to hope and expectations. I am sure that the present CJI and his successors will steer the Supreme Court in a manner that it is seen as the guardian of the fundamental rights and rule of law.”</p> <p>As an advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court, Sneha Kalita said that, after Ramana took over, “listing of matters has become much easier, and accessibility of registry officers has improved”.</p> <p>“The present CJI has shown his deep compassion and concern and is very passionate about [providing] justice to the people,” said Ranbir Singh. “It is hoped that the access to justice will become a reality in the real sense of the term and not be a teasing illusion.”</p> <p>ASG Jain, however, said that the earlier doubts about the court’s impartiality were unfounded. “The Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was in the courts for the last 70 years,” said Jain. “The Supreme Court took a unanimous decision on the issue. Simply because the decision is not to someone’s liking, that person will say that the court is compromising with the executive.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, experts say while there are some welcome changes, much more needs to be done. “Many Constitutional matters are pending, such as Article 370, National Register of Citizens-Citizenship Amendment Act, electoral bonds, farm laws,” said Malik.</p> <p>A radical idea being proposed by Ramana is the setting up of a National Judicial Infrastructure Commission. Experts believe that if he can pull it off, it will shake up the judicial system.</p> <p>A big challenge for Ramana would be to set the house in order as regards the Supreme Court collegium. Its functioning has, in the recent past, only garnered more criticism—from lack of transparency to the perception that it has compromised on certain names in keeping with the government’s likes and dislikes. The collegium, which had failed to recommend a single name for appointment to the Supreme Court since September 2019 because of internal divisions, recently cleared nine names, including those of three women judges, for the top court. The collegium’s decision was historic as Karnataka High Court judge Justice B.V. Nagarathna stands a chance to take over as the first woman CJI in 2027. However, there are questions about why Tripura High Court Chief Justice Akil Kureshi, higher in the judges’ seniority list than those nominated, has been superseded.</p> <p>Meanwhile, as judges’ vacancies in the higher courts mount, the wish list of experts ranges from the court standing up to the government with regard to appointments to building bridges to smoothen the differences with regard to the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) on judicial appointments.</p> <p>As of June 2021, nearly 40 per cent of judges’ positions in the higher judiciary are vacant. In the Supreme Court itself, ten of the 34 sanctioned posts are vacant.</p> <p>Jain said it was wrong to blame the government for the vacancies. “The Supreme Court collegium failed to make any recommendation for the top court for two years. With regard to the High Courts, not more than 40-50 recommendations are pending with the government,” he said.</p> <p>The CJI has asked chief justices of the High Courts to ensure that the recommendations for judges’ appointment to the courts reflect the social diversity of the country. He has also asked the High Courts to consider names of lawyers practising in the apex court for appointment as judges.</p> <p>However, even as the collegium has sought to make amends by recommending three women judges for the top court, there is immense dissatisfaction over the collegium’s failure to appoint more women judges to higher judiciary. “Women deserve better representation in all courts,” said Malik. “It is the responsibility of the Supreme Court collegium to ensure timely elevation of women judges to the higher courts.”</p> <p>Surya Prakash B.S., fellow and programme director at DAKSH, said that the collegium system is in need of an overhaul. “The court should begin by making the MoP public,” he said. “It should set up a secretariat, which will receive applications and process them, doing the necessary analysis to evaluate them. The secretariat’s findings can be recommended to the collegium, which will then take the final call.”</p> <p>Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who also heads the Supreme Court Bar Association, wants mentioning of urgent matters. “I strongly feel that for the Supreme Court to be alive to the problems of the common man, mentioning of urgent matters and physical hearing has to resume,” he said.</p> <p>Ramana recently quoted English judge Lord Denning to say: “The best judge is one who is less known and seen in the media.”</p> <p>But the soft-spoken judge has made himself heard loud and clear.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/with-cji-ramana-at-its-helm-the-judiciary-is-asserting-its-independence-and-how.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/with-cji-ramana-at-its-helm-the-judiciary-is-asserting-its-independence-and-how.html Thu Aug 26 18:40:35 IST 2021 judiciary-failed-to-safeguard-its-independence-owing-to-lack-of-leadership <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/judiciary-failed-to-safeguard-its-independence-owing-to-lack-of-leadership.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/26/26-justice-lokur.jpg" /> <p><b>Justice Madan B. Lokur lauds</b> the manner in which the Supreme Court has responded to Covid-related issues of late. The government, following the judicial intervention, had to act to save face, says the former Supreme Court judge.</p> <p>Lokur was among the four senior-most judges who had addressed an unprecedented press conference in January 2018 to highlight what they believed was a grave threat to the independence of the judiciary. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he says public confidence in the judiciary has been dealt a blow by various factors, and hopes Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana will bring about a change for the better. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Do you feel the Supreme Court has discharged its duties during the pandemic?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>Not really. The pandemic was a countrywide disaster and called for a proactive response from all institutions and sections of society. The response of the Supreme Court could have been more positive and proactive. It was quite disappointing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. There seems to be a change in the court’s approach to Covid-related issues—from not intervening on the migrants issue to passing orders on oxygen supply and vaccination policy</b>.</p> <p><b>A. </b>The migrant workers crisis was in 2020 and the Supreme Court did not react in the manner in which it was expected to. Perhaps it realised that it had erred and was therefore more proactive in 2021 when disaster struck again in the form of lack of oxygen, lack of vaccinations and so on. In fact, it appears that the government had no laid-down policy and had to act to save face when the Delhi High Court was breathing down its neck with regard to oxygen supply and the Supreme Court was also [doing the same] with regards to an absence of a vaccination policy and oxygen supply. Yes, there has been a change for the better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. In the last few years, the view that the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, has shown deference to the executive has gained strength. What are the factors that have contributed to this view?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>Looking back, the problem started when an allegation of sexual harassment was made against the then Chief Justice of India. This was followed by a few judgments that gave the impression that the Supreme Court was deferring to the views of the executive rather than protecting the rights of citizens. Thereafter, mixed signals were sent out. On one hand, cases of great importance such as the electoral bonds case, habeas corpus petitions and so on were relegated to the background, and on the other, there were swift but unexplained interventions by the Supreme Court in some cases. This was followed by the absence of positive directions during the pandemic, [giving] the impression that the Supreme Court was giving greater importance to the views of the executive rather than the citizen. This build-up had its own impact on public confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The judges’ press conference had highlighted the perceived threat to the independence of the judiciary. Why has the judiciary failed to safeguard its independence?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>I would put it down to a lack of leadership, not necessarily strong leadership but just leadership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How do you view former chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s decision to accept the Rajya Sabha nomination?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>The nomination to the Rajya Sabha is the first of its kind, but the election of Supreme Court judges to the Rajya Sabha has happened before. The difference between then and now is that today the judiciary is under far greater scrutiny because of the events of the last two years or so and in the context of what might be perceived as a decline in the overall ethical standards in the judiciary. A combination of these factors led to widespread criticism of the nomination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Supreme Court found senior advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt. Contempt proceedings were initiated against comedian Kunal Kamra, too. Your views.</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>I think both the proceedings were totally unnecessary. They have not served any purpose at all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. While the courts have been criticised by the civil society for not acting on certain issues, the government has criticised the courts for judicial overreach.</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> This is a problem which has been festering for a long time. If the government does not perform its constitutional obligations and is compelled by the Supreme Court to do so, the natural reaction of the government functionaries will be that of judicial overreach. It is a matter of common knowledge that sometimes the government is compelled to fulfil its obligations only because of orders passed by the Supreme Court, as for example, in the recent case of framing a vaccination policy. The policy was framed only because of the intervention of the Supreme Court. If that is judicial overreach, so be it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The courts were prompt in switching over to online hearings during the pandemic. However, pendency of cases has grown during this period. Also, as cases mount, vacancies in the High Courts and the Supreme Court emerge as a major issue.</b></p> <p><b>A.</b>&nbsp;These questions will require long and detailed discussions. I believe the judiciary must take the lead, introspect and then do something about it. Ad hoc measures and knee-jerk reactions will only hinder the required transformation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How does the apex court deal with the issue of appointment of judges, especially since it is perennially locked in a confrontation with the government with regard to certain names?</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> Once again, leadership is the answer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Do you feel that the functioning of the collegium, which has been criticised for its opacity, for disregarding talent and, at times, for bowing to pressure from the government, requires to be revamped?</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> No one has suggested a substitute, let alone a good substitute for the collegium system. But yes, it can be improved. I do not think it requires to be revamped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. What are your expectations from Chief Justice N.V. Ramana?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>Justice Ramana&nbsp;has leadership qualities and if he chooses to bring about a change for the better, I am confident he will succeed and restore the prestige of the judiciary to a very large extent.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/judiciary-failed-to-safeguard-its-independence-owing-to-lack-of-leadership.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/judiciary-failed-to-safeguard-its-independence-owing-to-lack-of-leadership.html Thu Aug 26 19:36:25 IST 2021 our-system-for-appointing-judges-is-the-worst <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/our-system-for-appointing-judges-is-the-worst.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/26/27-mathur.jpg" /> <p><b>Justice Govind Mathur,</b> who retired as chief justice of the Allahabad High Court this April 13, gained repute as a pro-liberty judge who fiercely defended Constitutional values through his judgments, like in the Dr Kafeel Khan case or the ‘name and shame’ posters put up against Citizenship Amendment Act protesters.</p> <p>Mathur, who perhaps lost out on a chance to become a Supreme Court judge because the collegium failed to recommend any name for the top court for more than a year, said judges’ role in appointment of judges must be curtailed. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Why has the perception that the judiciary is working under the executive’s pressure grown in recent years?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>Over the past three years, a perception has certainly been there…. There must be valid reasons for this, but I believe that the judiciary as an institution never works and must not work under any pressure. There may be a few individuals who may work under pressure, and if they are at the helm of affairs, it gives an impression of the institution working under pressure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The judges’ press conference in 2018 conveyed that independence of the judiciary was under threat.</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>I don’t believe the judiciary is working under political pressure. But some orders or actions give rise to questions in the mind of the ordinary citizen.</p> <p>Judges must be free from all pressures, including pressure from the executive and the psychological pressure related to their future after retirement. Judges must ensure independence of judiciary by keeping themselves free from any allurement of re-engagement under the government after retirement. Unfortunately, we have several forums where retired judges are appointed statutorily.</p> <p>To ensure independence of judiciary, there must be a constitutional prohibition to hold any government employment by retired judges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Supreme Court was criticised for the ‘sealed envelope’ approach in the Rafale case and for the delay in hearing Jammu and Kashmir habeas corpus cases or the electoral bonds case.</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>It would not be proper for me to comment on the apex court’s order to have certain details in a sealed cover. Sometimes, some facts cannot be made public. The court may ask for placing such facts before it in the manner it considers appropriate, but this must be done sparingly. In the Rafale case, the circumstances that called for facts in a sealed cover were not disclosed. The court should have made at least the circumstances open. Transparency in the court’s working demands that.</p> <p>The Jammu &amp; Kashmir habeas corpus cases should have been taken up on top priority…. In the last few years, our sensitivity for personal liberty has lost its fine nerves and tissues. We are not treating habeas corpus petitions with the required sensitivity.</p> <p>Electoral bonds have a direct impact on our election system and democracy. Validity of such a law should have been tested by the Supreme Court with top priority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Several jurists termed former CJI Ranjan Gogoi's nomination to Rajya Sabha as damaging for the judiciary.</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> To avoid any adverse impression in the minds of the public, it would have been appropriate that the nomination was not accepted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Supreme Court was criticised for not intervening in the migrant workers’ issue last year.</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> After independence, it was the largest migration. People marched on helplessly with tearful eyes. It was strange that the apex court, instead of protecting the fundamental rights of the people at such a critical juncture, chose to shut its doors. It could have guided the government towards protecting the citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How do you view the role of courts during the pandemic?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>To tackle Covid-19 is a responsibility of the executive and the courts intervened very cautiously. Several High Courts, including the Allahabad High Court, had special benches to deal with these cases and effective orders were passed. The vigil by High Courts played a positive role in implementation of Covid-19 protocol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. How do you view the Delhi High Court granting bail to students charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act? What do you think of the Supreme Court’s order in the case?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>I welcome the order…. I feel the Delhi Police is invoking provisions of this act intentionally despite knowing well that its intent is absolutely different.</p> <p>I would not like to comment on the Supreme Court’s order. But yes, the interim order is unique as it stays the precedent value of the High Court order without affecting its actual result.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Allahabad High Court intervened on issues such as charges against Dr Kafeel Khan under NSA, 'name and shame' posters against anti-CAA protesters or the anti-conversion law. What does this tell us about the situation in Uttar Pradesh?</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> Uttar Pradesh is the most populated state with enormous diversities and has been the favourite battlefield for powers that be. In this background, many vested interests operate here. Personal liberty and privacy of the individual are the biggest victims.</p> <p>The judiciary carries a legacy to protect the rights of the people and the constitutional values. As Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, I noticed a sense of pride among judges and the Bar with regard to this great legacy. I believe Uttar Pradesh judiciary will be in a lead role if there is any threat to our constitutional and democratic values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. The Allahabad High Court's order to impose a lockdown in some UP cities was much discussed.</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> The order is well reasoned and provides adequate justification for lockdown. The justification of the order further stands fortified by the fact that the state government, in spite of having stay order from Supreme Court, kept the five cities under lockdown for the next few weeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. Observers say there is a change in the Supreme Court's approach to cases, that it has rediscovered its voice.</b></p> <p><b>A.</b> Courts are meant to impart justice and cannot afford to be shirkers. You can notice a change in public perception in the last two months. People's faith in judiciary is being restored. Now, judicial administrators have to come out of Corona fear and find ways to work in full swing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q. A crucial issue is the vacancies in higher judiciary. How do you view the working of the collegium?</b></p> <p><b>A. </b>There are vacancies as our system for appointing judges is the worst. I am also a product of the same system, but I feel the entire process is rotten. Several interests operate in it. It consumes a huge amount of time of the seniormost judges in non-judicial work. It promotes sycophancy among lawyers and judicial officers, and makes judges in the collegium arrogant.</p> <p>Our Constituent Assembly was wise to confine judges to judicial work, but judges want to become babus by undertaking maximum administrative work.</p> <p>Judges’ role in appointment of judges must be curtailed. The collegium system has adversely affected the credibility of the higher judiciary. We need a process that is more transparent and democratic. The government, after the Supreme Court judgment in the National Judicial Appointments Commission case, should have introduced a new legislation with desirable amendments.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/our-system-for-appointing-judges-is-the-worst.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/our-system-for-appointing-judges-is-the-worst.html Thu Aug 26 19:41:46 IST 2021 courts-must-take-lead-in-protecting-citizens-rights-writes-justice-deepak-gupta <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/courts-must-take-lead-in-protecting-citizens-rights-writes-justice-deepak-gupta.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/26/28OxygenCylinders8.jpg" /> <p>Courts in India, especially the Supreme Court and High Courts, have a vital role to play, not only in adjudicating disputes but also in protecting the rights of citizens. India is one of the few countries where the right to approach the highest court for enforcement of fundamental rights is in itself a fundamental right.</p> <p>It is not as if there were no remedies similar to writs prior to the framing of the Constitution. Remedy in the nature of habeas corpus was available under criminal law, and any officer could be compelled to do his duty enjoined under the Specific Relief Act, similar to a writ of mandamus. These were, however, statutory rights, and as noted by Dr B.R. Ambedkar in his Constituent Assembly speech on December 9, 1948, they could be taken away at any time. Therefore, the Constitution has vested very wide powers upon the superior courts under Articles 32 and 226.</p> <p>Under the Constitution, there is separation of powers among the three wings. The judiciary is, however, vested with the power to ensure that any action, legislative or executive, falls within the ambit of the Constitution, and if the rights of a citizen are taken away, then that citizen can approach the court for enforcement of his rights.</p> <p>In the recent past, views have been expressed that the superior courts have not diligently discharged their Constitutional functions. The courts have two main functions: i) adjudicatory function; and ii) guardian of the people. As far as the first is concerned, other than long delays, one could say that the courts have effectively discharged their functions. However, with respect to protecting human rights, I do feel that some courts have fallen short of what is expected of them.</p> <p>Looking back at the last couple of years, many High Courts have done a commendable job in discharging their function as the guardian of the people. Justice Govind Mathur as chief justice of the Allahabad High Court led from the front and took a number of decisions that highlighted the role of the High Court as a protector of rights and enhanced its image and stature.</p> <p>Whenever actions of the state violated the fundamental rights of the citizens, the Allahabad High Court rose to the occasion and did not hesitate to take the bull by the horns. One of these decisions is the case involving the Uttar Pradesh government putting up posters with details of protesters of the Citizenship Amendment Act for damaging public property. The court took suo moto cognisance and held it to be an “unwarranted interference in privacy of the people”.</p> <p>Many High Courts have worked tirelessly even during the pandemic. Significant decisions, too many to be enumerated, were rendered by the Bombay, Madras and Karnataka High Courts, where the chief justices led from the front to protect the rights of the citizens.</p> <p>The Delhi High Court granted bail to persons arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their participation in the anti-CAA protests. It firmly dealt with issues related to Covid-19, including shortage of oxygen in Delhi. The Kerala High Court granted anticipatory bail to a filmmaker in a sedition case filed against her for her remarks criticising the government’s action in Lakshadweep. The Patna High Court came down heavily on the state government for its reluctance to put in public domain the number of Covid-19 deaths.</p> <p>The Tripura High Court effectively monitored the distribution of vaccines. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court directed the government to explain what steps it was taking to vaccinate disabled people. The Manipur High Court directed the state to ensure adequate ICU beds and other medical facilities in remote areas. The High Courts would have done an even better job if the retirement age of High Court Judges was the same as that of Supreme Court judges and there was no mad scramble to reach the highest court.</p> <p>However, as far as the apex court is concerned, it has been a mixed bag. There have been orders upholding the rights of citizens like in Arnab Goswami’s case and Vinod Dua’s case, but in some equally important cases, either the petitioner was asked to go to the High Court or orders were not passed for a long time.</p> <p>In cases relating to Jammu and Kashmir—be it the challenge to the abrogation of Article 370, or the challenge to the detention of political leaders—the Supreme Court by not deciding the issues did not enhance its stature. These were extremely important matters, which should have been decided expeditiously. If the Supreme Court could decide important issues like Maratha reservation and some not-so-urgent cases like Prashant Bhushan’s contempt case, I see no reason why extremely important issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir could not be decided.</p> <p>Habeas corpus petitions are always treated as extremely urgent and normally get precedence over all other matters. Almost all habeas corpus petitions from Jammu and Kashmir were disposed of as infructuous after the government released the leaders. I feel that just as Justices S. Rangarajan and Rajendra Nath Aggarwal of the Delhi High Court decided a petition even after release of the detenu in the Bharti Nayar case (1972), the apex court, too, should have decided whether the detention of these political leaders was legal or not. Every citizen who is detained even for a day has the right to know whether his detention was lawful.</p> <p>The manner in which the apex court dealt with cases of detention of persons under laws like the UAPA was also not proper. The bail applications were either rejected or kept pending for a long time. Even if the bail applications were rightly rejected, it was the duty of the court to ensure that the trial was concluded at the earliest. This was not done. Resultantly, some citizens have been incarcerated for many years and the trials are nowhere near beginning, what to talk of conclusion.</p> <p>Another area where in my view the apex court could have done better was in cases relating to the rights of citizens who had been forced to migrate from cities when the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. In the beginning, the courts may have been right to not interfere, because the executive assured the court that it was taking care of the migrants. However, when soon it was apparent that the statements being made on behalf of the Union, that all is well, were not correct, the court should have played a much more active role in ensuring that these poor citizens were not denied their fundamental rights. On the other hand, many High Courts took up the cause of the migrant workers and did a creditable job in protecting their rights during the first lockdown. Even during the second wave of the pandemic, various High Courts actively monitored the situation related to shortage of essential supplies, virtually forcing the Supreme Court to intervene.</p> <p>It is the duty of the apex court and the High Courts to intervene when it is brought to their notice that fundamental rights of citizens have been violated. A little bit of friction between the judiciary and the executive or the legislature is always welcome, because that shows that the courts are actually doing their job.</p> <p>But all is not lost and there is more than a glimmer of hope. In the recent past, there have been some notable actions taken by the Supreme Court, which reinforce our faith in the courts. One of these is the non-judicial but extremely fair and independent action of the Chief Justice of India in the matter of selection of the CBI director. Another is the manner in which the Supreme Court dealt with matters relating to the second wave of the pandemic. It clearly spelt out that it meant business and was not cowed down by the aggressive stance of the government. What gives me great hope is the strong message sent out by the CJI in his recent P.D. Desai Memorial Lecture, where he voiced his strong support for the ‘rule of law’ and the importance of dissent in democracy.</p> <p>In any court, there are bound to be differences of opinion among judges, which is always welcome. It would be a sad day if all the judges always took the same view, liberal or conservative. There has to be a balance between both the views and I see no problem in this because as judges we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws. The only Gita, the only Quran, the only Guru Granth Sahib, the only Bible and the only Zend-Avesta for judges is the Constitution of India. Judges cannot have any religious, political or social agenda, and they must remain true to their oath and diligently perform their duty of upholding the Constitution without fear or favour, affection or ill will.</p> <p><b>Justice Gupta is a former Supreme Court judge.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/courts-must-take-lead-in-protecting-citizens-rights-writes-justice-deepak-gupta.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/courts-must-take-lead-in-protecting-citizens-rights-writes-justice-deepak-gupta.html Thu Aug 26 18:22:26 IST 2021 what-should-be-on-cji-ramanas-priority-list <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/what-should-be-on-cji-ramanas-priority-list.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/26/Ritwika-Sharma-deepika-new.jpg" /> <p>As of June 2021, 437 of 1,114 positions in higher judiciary are vacant (nearly 40 per cent), and case pendency is nearly 60 lakh. Between June 2020 and June 2021, the collegium recommended appointment of 83 new judges across High Courts. But with 76 High Court judges and six Supreme Court judges due to retire between June 2021 and June 2022, the vacancy gap is only going to widen if the collegium’s current pace of functioning continues. It is, therefore, imperative that Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana take urgent measures to make appointments efficient and transparent.</p> <p>One reason behind the widening chasm between retirements and appointments is the current procedure for appointment, premised on the Memorandum Showing the Procedure for Appointment of the Chief Justice of India and Judges of the Supreme Court of India (usually called MoP). The MoP bears no correlation between the time when a vacancy arises in the Supreme Court and when a recommendation for appointment is made. Such gaps need to be filled. Through the National Judicial Appointments Commission judgment of 2015, the Supreme Court directed the Union government to revise the MoP. It, however, remains stuck in a limbo with the executive and the judiciary sparring on contentious issues. It would be worthwhile for Justice Ramana to initiate the conversation on finalising the MoP and expedite the process at the judiciary end.</p> <p>In the context of transparency, a grey area in judicial appointments is the criteria for determining suitability. The Constitution lays down the basic eligibility criteria, like age and years of experience at the bar. However, suitability, which is determined during consultation between the collegium members, hinges on informal criteria developed over time, ranging across geographic diversity, demography, and most prominently, seniority.</p> <p>The absence of well-defined suitability criteria was exemplified during former chief justice S.A. Bobde’s term. In a bid to fulfil most of the factors in the informal criteria, the collegium did not make any recommendations to the Supreme Court. The recommendation of nine judges to the Supreme Court by the present collegium has come about after more than two years. Earlier this year, the collegium failed to arrive at a consensus on elevating Justice B.V. Nagarathna. Her elevation would have come ahead of Justice Abhay Oka’s, her senior in the Karnataka High Court, running contrary to the seniority convention in recommending judges from High Courts to the apex court. It is worth mentioning that both Justice Oka and Justice Nagarathna have been recommended for elevation. Justice Ramana should mull the possibility of devising a well-thought-out suitability criterion for appointment.</p> <p>International declarations, such as the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary in the LAWASIA region (1997), establish a link between appointments and merit. To assess merit, a set of objective criteria, catering to the judiciary’s functions, is paramount. Appointments should also be guided by the principles that the judiciary wants to stand for—one such being ensuring gender diversity on the bench. It is commendable that the recent resolution has recommended three female judges for elevation. Assuming all three get confirmed, female judges will still make up only 8 per cent of the sanctioned strength.</p> <p>By bringing in transparency in criteria for judicial appointments and in the process and outcomes, Justice Ramana, in his short tenure, can have a long-lasting impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Kinhal is a senior resident fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and leads its judicial reforms work. Sharma, also a senior resident fellow, leads Charkha, Vidhi’s Constitutional Law Centre.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/what-should-be-on-cji-ramanas-priority-list.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/26/what-should-be-on-cji-ramanas-priority-list.html Thu Aug 26 18:17:42 IST 2021 step-in-bystanders <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/19/step-in-bystanders.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/19/56-Piyush%20Tewari.jpg" /> <p>On April 5, 2007, while heading back home from work, Piyush Tewari got a distressed call from his father informing him that his cousin Shivam had been in a very serious road crash. About 15 minutes after that, he received another call saying Shivam had passed away. &quot;I still remember that moment very distinctly because I was on the road and had to park on the side to take that call. After hearing that, I could not drive. I could not move. Shivam was like a son to me. It was devastating for us to lose him. I think that even today, 14 years down the line, I still struggle to recall the incident. It was a huge shock,&quot; says Tewari.</p> <p>The incident pushed Piyush to study a lot more about road safety, try to understand more. &quot;I discovered that in India, 50 per cent of injured persons died, despite having treatable injuries like in my cousin’s case. Most of it is because of bystander inaction. Despite it being such a massive issue, no one was addressing it. It was almost considered to be a natural death. So after about 10 months of researching, thinking and deliberation, I set up the SaveLIFE Foundation in February 2008&quot;.</p> <p>&quot;The biggest challenge was that the problem of road fatalities was considered to be a non-issue. It was not regarded to be serious enough even though there was data behind it. It was almost considered to be the by-product of development— the potential damage that comes with building new roads, having more vehicles, and so forth. On the contrary, this was anti-development. It was killing more poor people and the young— the most productive age group of our country, as well as causing crores of rupees in losses each year. It could not simply be stated as a cost of development. Getting across this point was a long process, but eventually, it was done,&quot; Tewari says.</p> <p>The organisation’s early mission was to enable Bystander Care — the immediate care that the police and public can provide emergency victims, especially those of road crashes, to enhance their chances of survival. In 2012, it moved the Supreme Court of India to institute nationwide protection for Good Samaritans. In February 2021, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said, India's road accident scenario is more &quot;dangerous than COVID-19 pandemic.&quot; According to a report by the WHO, 11 per cent of global deaths due to road accidents take place in India. In the 4.5 lakh road crashes that take place on an average per annum, at least 1.5 lakh people lose their lives.</p> <p>The World Bank-SaveLIFE Foundation report Traffic Crash Injuries And Disabilities: The Burden On Indian Society that came out in February 2021 also reported that 75 per cent of low-income households in India reported a decline in income as a result of a road crash. Among lower-income groups, the losses or expenses incurred due to a road crash amounted to more than seven months income. The disparity exists as the more vulnerable are forced to share road-space with the less vulnerable, the report reads.</p> <p>&quot;Lower-income families are more affected due to road crashes as the victim is more often the only breadwinner of the family. He or she then becomes financially dependent on other members of the family or other members are forced to take up additional jobs to make ends meet,&quot; Tewari says.</p> <p>Karuna Raina, Director, Public Policy &amp; Research at SaveLIFE Foundation says, &quot;The Burden of road crashes is disproportionately prone by low-income households in comparison with high-income households as they experience deterioration in the quality of life. This is truer for lower-income households in rural areas. Low quality of life is often accompanied with psychological distress&quot;.</p> <p>According to the report, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, account for 35 per cent of road crash-related fatalities in India.</p> <p>KN Harilal, a member of Kerala State Planning Board and professor at Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram says, &quot;mostly pedestrians are victims of road accidents. And if the victim is from a family that is below the poverty line, it becomes difficult for them to maintain their quality of life, especially if they lose a limb as a result of the accident, as in a lot of the cases they are everyday labourers or those living on daily wages&quot;.</p> <p>The organisation utilised 150 traffic cones, 350 safety barriers, 150 spring posts, 220 road studs and over 200 litres of paint to ensure safer mobility and refuge space for vulnerable road users over nearly 12,000 square meters of the junction.</p> <p>More than 12,000 people from Bhalswa, Mukundpur and Jahangirpuri were educated on road safety via 18 interactive puppet show sessions were conducted in and around Bhalswa, Mukundpur and Jahangirpuri, educating the public about safe road practices and the Tactical Redesign for Delhi ZFC. Out of these, 9 muppet shows were conducted in government schools and 9 shows were conducted in public spaces and community areas.</p> <p>Given the success of the initiative, the Govt of the NCT of Delhi has requested SLF to adopt 10 more high-fatality intersections.</p> <p>Another example of the foundation’s on-ground success is its Zero Fatality Corridor model, which has resulted in a 52 per cent reduction in road accident deaths on Mumbai-Pune Expressway and 54 per cent on National Highway 48. In June 2021, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recognized SaveLIFE Foundation and Mahindra &amp; Mahindra efforts to make Mumbai Pune Expressway a Zero Fatality Corridor. SLF is now working with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to replicate the success of MPEW on other stretches on national highways in UP and Maharashtra.</p> <p>Tewari feels strongly about the condition of the roads in India and says that roads in hilly regions lack safety barriers or they aren’t visible. He also feels that a lot of signage needs to be graphic, universal and should be understood easily by everyone. &quot;The language needs to be simplified,&quot; he adds.</p> <p>He also feels that roadways need to be redesigned to accommodate the needs of pedestrians, vendors and cyclists. And that retro-reflective zebra crossings that are visible from about a kilometre away would be more effective in preventing accidents.&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, he believes that there has to be a better system of filtration to determine who gets to drive and who doesn't. &quot;A vehicle in the hands of a bad driver is a weapon,&quot; he says.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/19/step-in-bystanders.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/19/step-in-bystanders.html Fri Aug 20 11:49:36 IST 2021 this-ngo-has-a-unique-idea-to-prevent-road-accidents-involving-stray-dogs <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/19/this-ngo-has-a-unique-idea-to-prevent-road-accidents-involving-stray-dogs.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/19/56-Chaitanya-Gundluri.jpg" /> <p>If you are on a two-wheeler, an encounter with a stray dog will rarely end well. The encounter can kill you and the dog. Or, you alone. Or, leave you bedridden for life. The best outcome you can hope for is to escape with injuries. Road injuries. The kind that takes time to heal. And, most such encounters happen at night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Collar Up, an animal welfare NGO from Hyderabad, has demonstrated that the number of such accidents can be brought down with reflective collars. A few months back, Collar Up started putting reflective collars on stray dogs that live along the highways and busy roads of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The logic is simple: The dog becomes instantly visible when it is within the reach of the vehicle’s headlight, and the driver becomes alert.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Collar Up’s efforts are showing results. For instance, volunteers from Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district collared around 80 dogs along the local highway. This significantly reduced the number of accidents in the area. Volunteers said that at least one or two dogs used to die every day in accidents in the area. Now, the number is zero on most days. In the IT corridor of Hyderabad, accidents involving dogs fell after Collar Up’s initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is one of the many success stories of the organisation. Today, it has collared more than 4,000 dogs across nine states. “We were into a lot of animal welfare activities earlier, but collaring was not one among them,” said Chaitanya Gundluri, founder of Collar Up. “We observed that humans and animals were losing lives because of road accidents involving strays. We wanted a simple solution that would benefit both humans and strays. At that point, this idea of collaring came up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The members then explored different options to implement their idea. “We observed that the normal China-made collars go well with pets, but not stray dogs,” said Chaitanya. “The material is cheap, but it is heavy. It can occasionally be removed if it is a pet, but a stray has to carry it for a lifetime.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chaitanya and his team then settled on a nylon strip with a 3m-wide reflective tape which is water-proof and fungus-proof.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The organisation, which now has 280 members, approached rural women entrepreneurs to manufacture the collar. “We provided them with sewing machines and material, this way they also made some money,” said Chaitanya. The volunteers focus on collaring stray dogs in busy areas. “Around 60 per cent of stray dogs are friendly and 40 per cent are aggressive,” said Chaithanya. “We approach them with some treats. We win their trust by patting and cuddling them. Once they get friendly, we wrap the collar and pin it. The entire process may take about 20 minutes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The initiative has managed to attract attention and Collar Up has been receiving feelers from those who want to be part of its mission. Their latest project is to collar strays in Ladakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a flip side, too, to these efforts. The flashy and fancy collars have attracted unwelcome attention. Many collars put on strays were stolen. A few pet owners were found to be using these stolen collars for their dogs. Since this is proving to be a big challenge, members of Collar Up have approached a few celebrities to create awareness about their mission and ensure that collars remain on the streets to save lives.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/19/this-ngo-has-a-unique-idea-to-prevent-road-accidents-involving-stray-dogs.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/19/this-ngo-has-a-unique-idea-to-prevent-road-accidents-involving-stray-dogs.html Thu Aug 19 16:19:34 IST 2021 ahead-of-aug-15-vice-president-venkaiah-naidu-takes-stock-of-indias-long-journey <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/12/ahead-of-aug-15-vice-president-venkaiah-naidu-takes-stock-of-indias-long-journey.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/12/24-agriculture.jpg" /> <p>As India celebrates its 75th Independence Day on August 15, it is an opportune moment to take stock of this sufficiently long journey. Listing the achievements, failures and missed opportunities is in order. It is more important to identify the ‘reset’ required to make up for the lost time, and fully tap the promised potential of our nation.</p> <p>The long and hard fought freedom struggle was all for self-rule, with the people as the masters in shaping their destiny. The stated goals of this struggle were ensuring ‘free’ Indians a life with dignity, encompassing basic rights, equality, socio-economic justice and prosperity. It is time to assess the gap between this stated mission statement and the ground reality.</p> <p><b>The birth pangs</b></p> <p>Free India launched its journey as an illiterate, poor and iniquitous entity, against the backdrop of the painful partition. But we had a comprehensive socio-economic, political and philosophical mission statement in the form of the Constitution of India. Building a modern India out of the diverse, hierarchical and unequal socio-political and economic complexities was the main challenge. Poverty eradication, improving the quality of life and meeting the aspirations of a rising number of Indians through economic development have been the broader contours of this journey. Policy modifications and re-prioritisation, from time to time, have defined this arduous journey.</p> <p>The birth pangs were further compounded by the inter- and intra-regional inequalities, ethnic and social tensions, emergence of extremist elements, regional assertions, the dynamics of global geo-politics and Cold War, and the complexities of the new global economic order. During this course, India was sucked into five wars with mixed results that brought out the country’s strengths and weaknesses into the open, and impacted the global perception about the emerging India. Contemporary challenges are even more complex than the birth pangs. This backdrop of experiences shall define the new mission and the timeframe to achieve it.</p> <p><b>The honours</b></p> <p>Not many were hopeful of the free, diverse, illiterate and poor India surviving as a single entity and as a democratic republic. Disproving such doubting Thomases has been the most significant achievement of the journey so far. Indians gave themselves the right of universal adult suffrage in one stroke, while many advanced nations took much longer to do so. The enthusiastic participation of people in the democratic process resulted in changing the governments eight times out of the 17 elections to the Lok Sabha so far. Beginning in 1977, governments have been changed eight times in 12 elections to the Lok Sabha. The way the people democratically revolted against the ‘Emergency’ excesses in 1977 was a forceful demonstration of how much they valued their political rights and civil freedoms.</p> <p>This success of the democratic project of our country has been stellar as it gave a major boost to the democratic aspirations across the globe. In the era of the rising yearning for basic rights of the people and expression of self, India’s political survival and democratic consolidation is no mean achievement. Being the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy is a core element of our rising soft power. All Indians deserve credit for this.</p> <p>Regular famines that marked the long colonial rule continued to haunt free India in the form of shortage of food grains leading to imports from the US under PL-420. It was humiliatingly called ‘living from the ship to the mouth’. Attaining self-sufficiency in food grains production and even becoming an exporter of food grains is another feather in the cap of free India.</p> <p>Substantial reduction in poverty, increased literacy (including female literacy) and steady rise in average lifespan have been laudable accomplishments towards life with dignity. Steady advances in science and technology, with India being in the elite group of countries reaching the Moon and Mars, have made us proud. The revolutionary changes in the communications domain, and India emerging as a leading IT power are praiseworthy. India being a responsible nuclear power in pursuit of meeting the civil and defence requirements enhanced the country’s standing on the global stage.</p> <p>Infrastructure of all kinds has acquired a new makeover with substantial improvements in road, rail, air and water connectivity. The rural road network has expanded hugely.&nbsp;</p> <p>On the economic front, the miserly growth rate of around 3.50 per cent has been more than doubled. The last 30 years of economic reforms have opened the gates to a flood of investments. India is now among the fastest growing economies of the world, besides being the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. These strides are only illustrative and not exhaustive.</p> <p><b>The concerns</b></p> <p>Despite the success of the democratic project, the intersection between crime, money and politics is loathsome. Caste, creed, community and region still influence political considerations and outcomes.</p> <p>The increasing disruption in the functioning of our legislatures is a matter of serious concern. It has emerged as the preferred political ammunition replacing the weapon of debate. It needs to be quickly realised that this ammunition can misfire and should be given up. The occasional territorial transgressions among the three pillars of the Constitution should not be repeated.</p> <p>Rising pendency of cases in the courts calls for immediate reforms and streamlining of procedures as justice delayed is justice denied. Huge governance deficit, particularly in some states, denies citizens of their due besides adversely impacting economic activities. The 73rd and the 74th amendments to the Constitution, empowering local bodies with funds, finances and functionaries, should be upheld in letter and spirit. This assumes significance as the 15th Finance Commission recommended transfer of increased share of divisible resources to states.</p> <p>We are ranked very low in the Human Development Index. We have very few educational institutions among the best in the world. The burning issue of the quality of learning outcomes is still to be fixed. The pandemic has exposed the neglect of the health sector for too long. As elsewhere, the growth centred development model is accentuating inequalities, despite heavy and sometimes unsustainable direct welfare interventions by both the Central and state governments. Environment is being seriously threatened with serious consequences. Gender equality is still far, despite some improvements. Caste and communal clashes continue to blot the harmony project.</p> <p>Transition from the socialist to the mixed and the markets-led models have thrown up their own set of issues from time to time. Our services-led GDP composition does not reflect realities. The farm sector still supports 65 per cent of the labour force but accounts for less than 15 per cent of the GDP. Share of manufacturing in GDP is still below the optimal even as the demand for jobs rises fast. Huge unorganised sector is a major concern. Again, these are only illustrative and not exhaustive.</p> <p><b>Focus, intent&nbsp;and energy</b></p> <p>India, in some quarters, has come to be described as a nation that has failed the expectations. Though it has consolidated as a democratic entity with several impressive strides in some domains, its much talked about emergence as a potential superpower is far from being a reality. This may be attributed to the nation’s efforts and initiatives marked by ‘fits and starts’. The much talked about economic reforms of 1991 were driven by the balance of payments crisis and came very late for the nation grappling with poverty.&nbsp;This applies to other sectors as well.</p> <p>Our nation of about 140 crore people rejoiced when Mirabai Chanu won a silver medal on the first day of Tokyo Olympics. Our poor show on such forums reflects our lack of focus and energetic pursuit.</p> <p>Any nation gets its due place in the global high table based on its economic, scientific and military prowess. It is further aided by the inherited and acquired soft power. India has been finding its voice in the global arena over the last few years, further to the new found focus and stated intent and their energetic pursuit. The people of our country voted for a majority government in the 2014 elections, after 30 long years of coalitions, and bestowed even higher numbers in 2019. This needs to be understood from the perspective of the people, about their own lives and the state of the nation. It shall define the mission for India@75.</p> <p><b>New mission</b></p> <p>It shall enable India to emerge as a superpower that it was expected to be, and is capable of, given the huge reservoirs of human and natural resources. The latent energies of every Indian needs to be unleashed towards this end by creating and enabling an ecosystem. Rapid and inclusive economic development needs to be realised in the quickest possible time to make up for the lost time and missed opportunities and the diffused approaches of the past. Unity of purpose and action among all the stakeholders is the key. Various deficits mentioned above shall be fixed by all the concerned collectively. Mission India@100 shall not be allowed to slip.</p> <p>Mirabai, who carried firewood in the early life, lifted India to the silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics. With such steely resolve India can achieve this new mission.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/12/ahead-of-aug-15-vice-president-venkaiah-naidu-takes-stock-of-indias-long-journey.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/12/ahead-of-aug-15-vice-president-venkaiah-naidu-takes-stock-of-indias-long-journey.html Mon Aug 23 09:58:31 IST 2021 india-and-us-just-have-a-month-to-resolve-rs-750-crore-lincoln-house-dispute <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/05/india-and-us-just-have-a-month-to-resolve-rs-750-crore-lincoln-house-dispute.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/8/5/34-Lincoln-House-history-dates-back.jpg" /> <p>On his maiden two-day visit to India in July, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with top diplomats and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss a range of issues, from Covid-19 and vaccination to human rights and democracy and defence transfers and technologies. However, there was no mention of one significant issue—the sale of the Lincoln House in Mumbai. Earlier this year, when Blinken was up for confirmation as secretary of state in Washington, he reportedly committed to prioritising the resolution of the Lincoln House dispute, which was referred to as “an unnecessary irritant in the bilateral ties” between the two nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the heart of the matter is the lease transfer of the 88-year-old mansion by the US to the Poonawallas, the Pune-based vaccine tycoons, for Rs750 crore. If the transfer happens, it could be the biggest-ever real estate deal in the history of India. But it remains stuck as the Indian government, despite several attempts by US officials, refuses to give its stamp of approval. If there is no headway by the end of this month, the Americans will lose a buyer in the Poonawallas who, as per the contract, can opt out of the deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lease rights for the mansion was first put up for auction in 2011 when the US consulate, which had been occupying it until then, chose to relocate. Three years later, the Poonawallas made a bid and it was touted to be the most lavish real estate deal by an Indian family. As Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), reportedly said then, Lincoln House has location, history, size and so it was worth the money. The swanky three-storey mansion, spread across a two-acre plot, is located in the Breach Candy area and has a royal past. The tony locality has a touch of terror, too—opposite the mansion is the Moksh gym, which was reportedly frequented by 26/11 terror accused David Headley while he was in Mumbai scouting for locations for the attacks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lincoln House of today, a grade-III heritage property, is an uninspiring pallid structure, sullied by chipping paint and crumbling walls. A bunch of security guards man the two tall, black gates, but nobody has been assigned the task of looking after its interiors, the guards tell THE WEEK. The nameplate on the right side of the gates is rusting and tilted. Any conversation regarding the property is discouraged and photography is strictly prohibited. Only a tiny window on one of the gates allows a glimpse of the structure inside and thereby a peek into its glorious past—a maharaja’s palace that it once was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lincoln House’s history dates back to 1933 when it was called the Wankaner House. It was named so after Maharana Amarsinh Jhala, the last ruler of Wankaner, a former princely state in Gujarat. The maharaja built it as a residential property for close to 40 members. Progressive for his times, he combined the revivalist Indo-Saracenic architectural style with Art Deco interiors across the 50,000sqft palace, presently labelled as a private, heritage property. Around the same time and barely a few kilometres driving distance from Wankaner House, the maharaja designed and built Amar building, which is today one of Mumbai’s most notable landmark—the old Reserve Bank of India building. The royals, belonging to Jhala Rajputs in Gujarat’s Saurashtra, would spend a couple of months in a year at Wankaner House. In 1957, the maharaja decided to transfer the lease rights to the American government (or the US consulate) for a paltry 018 lakh, on the terms of ‘lease of perpetuity for 999 years’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It does pinch that such a stellar property was sold off for a negligible amount, but then those times were different,” says Yogini Kumari of Rajasthan’s Sirohi royalty who married Kesrisinh, the scion of the Wankaner royal family, in 2012. “Post-independent India did not allow for the kind of lavish lifestyles we were used to in the British times and the kind of entertainment and hospitality that those lifestyles called for. Hence, it was prudent to get rid of the property at the time.” She further tells THE WEEK that “contrary to what got reported in international media, the upkeep of the palace was never an issue. Right now, the Wankaner palace [Ranjit Vilas palace] in which we live in Gujarat is many times bigger than the Lincoln House and we are still maintaining it beautifully. So, as royals we never tire of the upkeep of our homes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Wankaner family resided at the Mumbai palace, it was distinguished for its massive swimming pool that looked out into the sea, two tennis courts, a state cannon, vast manicured lawns and gardens. Of these, only the cannon and the lawns remain. The rest, including the tennis courts, were lost to land reclamation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Months after the sale of the Wankaner House, Amarsinh bought a number of apartments at the upmarket Altamount Road and distributed them among his cousins. These flats have been all rented out, with the ownership remaining with the royals. The royal family presently resides in Gujarat, where they are involved in diverse areas including education, real estate, stock market and charity. Yogini Kumari and Kesrisinh are hoping to convert the Ranjit Vilas palace into a heritage hotel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogini Kumari last visited the Lincoln House in 2012 with her husband and father-in-law Digvijaysinh, India’s first Union environment minister, just when the consulate had begun to vacate the mansion. “My father-in-law had very good equations with the consul general,” she says. “He would often recall hosting a number of foreign dignitaries, including heads of state and politicians, at the Lincoln House. It was never over for him. The place continued to hold strong emotions even years later.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the consulate announced its decision to move out of Lincoln House to a bigger, swankier space in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla complex, Lodha Developers made a pitch for it, says Yogini Kumari. The Tata Housing Development Company, too, made a bid. However, development restrictions and regulatory issues stalled the bids. “Things were also stressful at that time because there were talks of the iconic building being completely knocked down. We were all worried,” recalls Yogini Kumari. “But a few years later when Cyrus Poonawalla [chairman and managing director, SII] expressed interest, my father-in-law was very happy because he personally knew Poonawalla; they were friends. Cyrus uncle is a man of great taste and we would be extremely happy if this deal just pushes through and the Poonawallas get it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Architect Abha Narain Lambah, too, would like the Lincoln House to go to the Poonawallas. “The architectural significance of the Lincoln House is best expressed in the fact that it was designed by renowned architect Claude Batley, who also designed the Mumbai Central station and other places of historical importance in Mumbai alongside the J.J. School of Arts,” says Lambah, who helped restore some of the most significant landmarks in Mumbai. “But it was built as a private residence, not as a facility of public utility. It was meant for the rich and that is how it should be continued. What is the problem if it continues to be held by another rich family that’s willing to pay for it? It is neither a monument nor a building of public importance, except for its heritage value. Hence it must rightfully be given to the Poonawallas.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lambah recalls visiting the Lincoln House for soirees. “They had a lovely upper floor that was used for parties by the consul general, while he resided with his family in the south wing,” she says. “It had a lovely Art Deco style staircase, but most of it is in ruins right now. A wealthy industrialist family that can invest in the upkeep of the building and help the heritage structure survive must be encouraged.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Poonawallas remain silent on the issue. Experts say that the members of the billionaire business family—passionate about thoroughbred racehorses and vintage cars, travel in Ferraris and private jets, and own acres spread across Mumbai and Pune with all properties bathed in opulence—have nothing to lose even if the deal falls through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, Adar had reportedly said that the family had paid a substantial portion of the bid amount to the US government in 2015 and called the stalling of the deal “bureaucratic harassment”. He had reportedly blamed the defence estates department of the Union ministry of defence for the deadlock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per protocol, since the auction involves a foreign government, the final decision about the property transaction will be taken by the Prime Minister’s Office, say experts. However, both the Maharashtra government as well as the defence estates department claim to be the owners of the land. The ministry of external affairs as well as the ministry of defence declined to comment on the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, with only a month to go, the US government remains steadfast in its appeal to the Indian authorities to speed up the process. In an email interview to THE WEEK, Nick Novak, spokesperson, US Consulate General in Mumbai, said, “With respect to the US consulate property in Mumbai known as Lincoln House, we are working with the government of India to reach a satisfactory agreement to complete the lease transfer of the property.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/05/india-and-us-just-have-a-month-to-resolve-rs-750-crore-lincoln-house-dispute.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/08/05/india-and-us-just-have-a-month-to-resolve-rs-750-crore-lincoln-house-dispute.html Thu Aug 05 19:43:24 IST 2021 a-big-chunk-of-accidents-on-indian-roads-are-median-crashes <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/22/a-big-chunk-of-accidents-on-indian-roads-are-median-crashes.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/7/22/62-car-crashed-into-a-road-divider-near-Kozhikode-new.jpg" /> <p>Malayalam cinephiles almost lost their favourite on-screen wit when actor Jagathy Sreekumar was laid low by a harrowing road accident on March 10, 2012. Jagathy—as he is popularly known—was on his way to a film location in Coorg on the Kerala-Karnataka border when his vehicle rammed into a median strip on a bend in the road near Kozhikode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The accident at the crack of dawn left the actor with multiple injuries to his head, chest and abdomen. The 70-year-old thespian, who had ruled the realm of comedy in Mollywood through versatile roles in over 1,100 films, has been mostly away from tinsel town for the last nine years as he is still recuperating from the cruel twist of fate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Kumar, who drove Jagathy’s car on the fateful day, distinctly recollects the brutal crash that occurred on one of the most perilous stretches of the National Highway 66 (erstwhile NH 17). “It all happened in a split second. I heard a sound and the moment I turned to one side, the car hit the median,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar, who has recovered from his injuries and still works as a chauffeur in the cinema industry, however, puts partial blame on the median strip which, he claims, had no reflectors. “It was still dark. There were no reflectors on the divider. Also, there were no street lights in the vicinity,” he says, pointing to one of the oft-neglected pitfalls in road infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The median strips, meant to streamline turbulent traffic and avert chances of a head-on collision, turn into death traps for commuters when installed without following safety guidelines. The speeding vehicle either rams into a divider that appears from nowhere or hits the lip of the median strip, flips and rolls into oncoming traffic. Though the finger of blame in most such cases is pointed at the man behind the wheel, there are reasons beyond his control, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poor visibility coupled with lack of proper reflectors on the median strip is a recipe for disaster. In some cases, high beams of oncoming vehicles or glaring lights from roadside shops blind the driver temporarily and he fails to spot the unanticipated median head in time. Equally hazardous are thick bushes and untrimmed plants on median strips, which hide drivers’ visibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As per the Indian Road Congress specifications, medians should be provided only if the road has a minimum width, and there should be enough space on both sides to ensure smooth passage of vehicles,” says T. Elangovan, executive director, Kerala Road Safety Authority. On curves, the median should be placed only if the road is at least 12m wide, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The width of the median itself is important as a wide median increases visibility. As per IRC guidelines, the optimum width of a median is five metres and the minimum width in urban areas is 1.2m. Elangovan admits that many of our roads have medians that are just 45cm to 60cm wide, which pose serious safety hazards. “In cities and urban areas, there would be enough light on the road, but if we install such low-width medians on highways, many a time the driver would fail to notice them, especially on curves,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>High-width medians, too, if not marked by reflective tapes, could become difficult to spot, especially at night or during heavy rains. “Usually, a white line (edge marking) in 10cm thickness is provided along the median, and studs (cat’s eyes) are pasted on it. It gives a jerking effect to the vehicles once they move closer to the divider,” Elangovan says, adding that reflectors in red and yellow colour could be installed on the edge of the median itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Elangovan further adds that the median strip, which usually accommodates installations like lamp poles and electric posts, should have a covering space of at least 30cm on both sides of the pylons, lest vehicles carrying protruding goods should hit them, leading to accidents. “The proper maintenance of the median is the responsibility of the road-owning agency,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In February this year, 14 people died after a minivan hit the median strip, jumped off it and collided with an oncoming truck on the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway. In a similar accident last year on the Coimbatore-Salem highway, a truck rammed into the median strip and hit a Kerala RTC Volvo bus heading to Kochi, killing 20 people. These high-casualty accidents apart, a lot of blood is being spilled on our highways, with raised medians playing a villainous role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Road safety expert and Indian Institute of Road Safety director Upendra Narayan believes that ignorance is a major reason for unscientific road infrastructure in India. “Many of the foreign countries use forgiving and collapsible water-filled plastic barriers. However, we still use solid concrete medians which will not break up even when the road gets damaged,” says Narayan. According to him, thermoplastic paint marking is more than enough to segregate traffic in areas like intersections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In most cases, it is drivers who are not familiar with the road terrain that fall victim to median crashes, like tourists and pilgrims. However, many measures can still be taken to mitigate such mishaps. “As per IRC guidelines, high intensity, orange, warning blinkers should be installed 100m before the median head begins and retro-reflective high-intensity grade signboards should be set up. Also, repeated warning stripes can be drawn across the road using thermo-plastic paint,” Narayan says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If all these fail to reduce accidents, he says, soft humps can be erected on the road; the humps should be 4m wide and have a maximum height of 20cm in the centre. “All structures on the road should be forgiving and collapsible,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Installation of high mast lights at intersections, setting up and proper maintenance of street lights, regular eviction of encroachment in areas where the central median begins are some of the other measures that can lessen the accidents caused by median strips, says the road expert.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ministry of road transport and highways has already issued a set of guidelines, directing that all multi-lane highways be provided with depressed or flush medians and that the existing raised medians, especially in open country or rural areas, be replaced with them. For narrow medians, as generally provided in urban areas, the ministry suggests New Jersey-type concrete crash barriers with anti-glare screens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, these guidelines do not reach the roads as several vested interests are involved in road construction and maintenance, says Narayan. He alleges that the sector is rife with corruption and fund misuse. “In many cases, the roads are designed unscientifically with exaggerated estimates so that the contractor gets enough benefit and many other middlemen earn a fair amount as commission,” he says. He signs off by saying that the road engineer should be named as co-accused in accidents caused by poor infrastructure.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/22/a-big-chunk-of-accidents-on-indian-roads-are-median-crashes.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/22/a-big-chunk-of-accidents-on-indian-roads-are-median-crashes.html Sat Aug 07 15:37:12 IST 2021 cabinet-reshuffle-modi-wants-to-regain-trust-by-focusing-on-delivering-promises <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/cabinet-reshuffle-modi-wants-to-regain-trust-by-focusing-on-delivering-promises.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/7/15/28-Narendra-Modi-new.jpg" /> <p>The year 2022 is a year of deadlines. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to usher in a “New India” by the time the country celebrates its 75th year of independence. From doubling of farmers' income to sending an Indian to outer space in an indigenous spacecraft, the BJP had made 75 ambitious promises in its 2019 elections manifesto. The prime minister had promised to fulfil them by 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi 2.0 has so far delivered on several of its ideological poll promises—for instance, abrogation of Article 370, abolition of triple talaq and bringing the Citizenship Amendment Act. But its promises to provide better infrastructure and turn the economy around have lagged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the economy front, the recovery and employment generation has been slow, though the Reserve Bank of India in its June bulletin saw reasons to be “cautiously optimistic”. A rampaging Covid-19 worsened the existing vulnerabilities of the economy. To revive the economy, the government needs successful management of Covid-19, capital expenditure on infrastructure, disinvestment, fast implementation of reforms, and new policies in the social and corporate sectors. Fulfilling the 2022 targets is crucial before the prime minister could go back to the people with a report card.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make this possible, Modi initiated a major revamp of his team by booting out 12 cabinet ministers. He brought in 36 new faces and promoted seven ministers to cabinet rank. The intent was both political and governance-oriented as it balanced caste equations in the poll-bound states. Modi's induction of new faces in key portfolios like health, education, railways and IT showed that he wanted to shake off inertia and focus on delivery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cabinet expansion brings new performers to the centre stage, who may be politically less visible; they need to get the work done, while the challenge of winning elections will be left to Modi-Shah's charisma and strategic planning. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar retained their respective portfolios. This means security and finance, the two key pillars, were kept untouched, while the other two—infrastructure and the social sector—were completely revamped.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a big message,” said the BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal. “There are several challenges post-Covid, especially on the economic front which needed a focused approach at the implementation level. This required certain talent, new zeal and enthusiasm.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s surprise pick was Mansukh L. Mandaviya, a low-key party leader from Gujarat, who was promoted within the cabinet to run the health ministry—perhaps, the hottest seat in the country now. Mandaviya was also given charge of the chemicals and fertilisers ministry to bring synergy between the health and pharmaceutical industry. What is interesting to note is that only Dr Harsh Vardhan has been given the boot, while all the bureaucrats and officials who were handling Covid management through different panels have been retained. With the third wave of Covid-19 supposedly in the offing, Mandaviya will be tested soon. He needs to fulfil the promises of completing India’s vaccination drive by December 2021 and establishing 75 new medical colleges by 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A key trick to prolong the stay in Modi’s cabinet was to remain controversy-free and also not run for the limelight. During the first meeting with his council of ministers, Modi advised the newcomers not to run after publicity, but to focus on the delivery, a message he has consistently conveyed to his party MPs. Those who adhered to it have got seats in his team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The amenable Kiren Rijiju will helm the law ministry, which is considered a fiefdom of veteran lawyers-turned-politicians. Rijiju holds a law degree from Delhi University. The promotion has come for him as he ran a controversy-free tenure since Modi 1.0.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another surprise inclusion has been Ashwini Vaishnaw, a former IAS officer of the 1994 batch. Modi and Shah had personally called up Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to help him get elected to Rajya Sabha. Patnaik was favourably disposed towards the former bureaucrat who had efficiently handled many crises in the state, including cyclones. Vaishnaw, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and Wharton Business School, Pennsylvania, is expected to bring railways on track as it suffered losses during the pandemic, and fast-track high-speed corridors. At the information technology and communications ministry, Vaishnaw’s role will be to help the rollout of the 5G network, bringing broadband to the villages, and, of course, handle social media giants with finesse—unlike his predecessor Ravi Shankar Prasad, who had assumed a threatening tone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has inducted a record number of dalits, tribals, OBCs and women as ministers after the cabinet reshuffle. There are 12 ministers from scheduled castes—two with cabinet rank—eight from scheduled tribes and 27 from other backward classes. Eleven women are also now part of the Union government. Modi inducted allies from the Janata Dal (United) and the Apna Dal, Lok Janshakti Party to give a larger message of political engagement ahead of 2024 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Predictably, with elections to seven states scheduled for next year, these states have been given adequate representation. Uttar Pradesh got the highest share with eight ministers, Gujarat six, one each from Himachal Pradesh, Manipur and Uttarakhand. Hardeep Singh Puri, the Sikh face in the government, was promoted to cabinet rank as Punjab goes to assembly polls next year. He retained the urban affairs ministry that is involved in the redevelopment of the Central Vista. Modi-Shah's trusted election management expert, Bhupender Yadav, will helm environment and labour, the two ministries needed for pushing reforms in the corporate sector. As the country goes for a big infrastructure push, the role of the green ministry becomes important in safeguarding the environment, while at the same time handling permissions. He is the first Yadav cabinet minister in the Modi government, whose elevation is seen as a signal to the crucial vote bank in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jyotiraditya Scindia’s entry into the cabinet was expected, after he helped bring down the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. As civil aviation minister, a post once held by his father Madhavrao Scindia, he is expected to push for disinvestment of Air India, improve air connectivity among states and modernise the airports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A big gainer in this reshuffle is Dharmendra Pradhan, as he will helm the education ministry, which has witnessed many ministers in the last seven years. Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar and Ramesh Pokhriyal had earlier held the portfolio, but could not manage to win the trust of sangh affiliates who wanted quick and drastic changes in the education segment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Dr Harsh Vardhan got dropped, Meenakshi Lekhi, who represents the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, has been made a minister of state (MoS). The key inclusions as MoS include Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Anupriya Patel from Apna Dal, OBC leader S.P. Singh Baghel and B.S. Yediyurappa acolyte Shobha Karandlaje. The BJP rewarded its Tamil Nadu state president, L. Murugan, too, with a ministerial position for the party’s good show in the recent assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The changes in the cabinet have to be read along with new governor appointments that preceded it. Dalit leader Thawar Chand Gehlot, former minister of social justice and empowerment, took over in Karnataka, Goan leader Rajendra Arlekar in Himachal Pradesh and Mangubhai C. Patel, a tribal leader from Gujarat, in Madhya Pradesh. Both Gujarat and Goa will have assembly elections next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala described the cabinet reshuffle as a defector adjustment expansion. “If performance and governance were the criteria, then Defence Minister Rajnath Singh would have been sacked for Chinese intrusion; Home Minister Amit Shah for failing to control terrorism, Naxalism and mob lynching; and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for bringing down the GDP growth from 8 per cent to -8 per cent,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP counters the criticism. “The prime minister’s approach is to make a matrix of performance and accountability,” says Agarwal. “Before there was no accountability.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Union government enters a challenging phase, it has kept its eyes on reforming another sector—cooperatives. It comes with a lot of political intent, as Home Minister Shah will handle the newly-crafted ministry. However, the opposition parties see the creation of this ministry as another attack on the federal rights of the states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While cooperative societies are a state subject, the Union government can formulate rules and policies for the sector, which has a direct connection with the urban and rural poor. There are over 8.5 lakh cooperative societies with a membership of over 28 crore people. The 97th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2011—related to the working of cooperative societies—had given the Centre the power to define its role. The matter is now under the consideration of the Supreme Court as the amendment was challenged saying it violated the federal structure. Various political parties have already questioned the motives of the government. They are likely to ask Shah to make the contours of the new ministry clear in the upcoming Parliament session.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/cabinet-reshuffle-modi-wants-to-regain-trust-by-focusing-on-delivering-promises.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/cabinet-reshuffle-modi-wants-to-regain-trust-by-focusing-on-delivering-promises.html Thu Jul 15 20:10:41 IST 2021 vaccinating-india-will-top-health-minister-mansukh-mandaviya-to-do-list <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/vaccinating-india-will-top-health-minister-mansukh-mandaviya-to-do-list.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/7/15/34-Mansukh-Mandaviya.jpg" /> <p>When Mansukh Mandaviya was named India's new health minister, many were surprised that Narendra Modi picked him to head the ministry at this crucial juncture. The decision, however, was rather natural. The low-profile man from rural Gujarat is not new to Delhi. He has walked the power corridors for around a decade—first as a Rajya Sabha member, and since 2016, as Modi's man across ministries, taking on the role of junior minister, be it road transport and highways, or chemicals and fertilisers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi relies on a certain brand of men and women for executing his vision. He likes technocrats. And, he likes people he has worked with in the past, especially the younger lot who can go far if they work well. Mandaviya is from the latter group, having been a legislator when Modi was Gujarat chief minister. During their Gujarat years, Modi had said he saw a bright future for Mandaviya. The 49-year-old has so far proved worthy of Modi's trust in almost every assignment, whether it was in managing the BJP’s membership drive in Gujarat or representing India at the United Nations on sustainable development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mandaviya's elevation has much to do with his quiet, diligent work. While Rajpath was abuzz with what the cabinet reshuffle would bring, Mandaviya was busy visiting the premises of Zydus Cadila, which is making the ZyCoV-D vaccine for Covid-19. He is vested with two ministries now—health, and chemicals and fertilisers—hoping to bring synergy between them. The need to ramp up vaccination is underscored by doctors and researchers alike, who say the severity of the dreaded third wave is directly dependant on how well India vaccinates its population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The medical code of ethics does not allow doctors to promote drugs on brand name, and the same code should be extended to the minister, too. Handling this combination of ministries could cause a conflict of interest,” says J.A. Jayalal, national president, Indian Medical Association. In these extraordinary times, the helmsman’s ability will ensure whether conflict can be turned into confluence of interest. As junior minister in chemicals and fertilisers, Mandaviya helped establish more than 5,100 Jan Aushadhi stores, providing over 850 medicines at affordable rates. So far, he is on the right path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The task of vaccine management, from manufacture to procurement to ensuring it reaches the neediest, will claim a lot of his time. Its success or failure will be overtly visible. Failure, however, will scream louder than success. “Mandaviya needs to ramp up infrastructure and manpower for that third wave, if and when it happens,” notes Shuchin Bajaj, founder director of Cygnus Ujala Hospitals and member of StepOne, a collective of professionals and volunteers fighting the pandemic. The country cannot afford the helplessness and global humiliation of April, when the world saw India gasping for breath and even countries that had so far been recipients of Indian largesse sent us oxygen cylinders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While infrastructure is slowly building up, its even distribution has to be ensured. The northeast is now dealing with rising cases, and an implosion in those ill-equipped and far-to-reach areas needs requisite infrastructure. Mandaviya, along with Modi, has already had discussions with ministers of these states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Human resource is tiring and needs fresh inputs fast. With the NEET-PG postponed, hospitals attached to colleges have an acute shortage—there are around 45,000 seats lying vacant. Doctors have been mocking the irony that they are expected to report for Covid duty, but sitting for an entrance test is deemed risky for them. With his daughter, Disha, herself a medical student on Covid work, Mandaviya has a personal understanding of the situation. He is the original Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao man, having done a padyatra in Gujarat to raise awareness for girl child education much before it became a national slogan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beyond the pandemic, too, Mandaviya needs to ensure that schemes like Ayushman Bharat stay functional. “Seventy per cent of health care is in the public sector, but planning considers only the private sector. Here, again, he needs to build synergy,” says Jayalal. Bajaj adds that he needs to work at making non-communicable diseases part of primary health care. “While it is good to have dialysis centres, managing hypertension at early stages reduces increase in kidney ailments,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most importantly, Mandaviya has to show he is the right man for the job. The health ministry cannot afford the luxury of “giving him a chance”. His predecessor, Dr Harsh Vardhan, was much beloved, with a squeaky clean image, but even well-wishers admitted he failed at his job, despite being a doctor. Mandaviya needs to be the face of pandemic management, a slot currently filled by a joint secretary in the ministry. Many policy decisions, like vaccination or Vaccine Maitri, are taken at the prime minister’s office, but the inputs come from the ministries concerned. He will need to be prepared for the known unknowns of the pandemic, for this virus cuts the smug to size, and how. If he builds a cadre of medico-crats, health management in the country will improve. Another synergy he needs to work on is Centre and state, so that the ugly spats of the past months are not repeated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mandaviya's success will lie in how he walks the tightrope between managing his ministries and toeing the political line. For instance, while the government talks about yet another synergy between various branches of medicine, he will need to maintain the purity of systems, and let the Ayush ministry do its task. So far, he has let his work do the talking. He would do well to keep it that way, given how his predecessor's unfortunate utterances spelled his career doom.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/vaccinating-india-will-top-health-minister-mansukh-mandaviya-to-do-list.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/vaccinating-india-will-top-health-minister-mansukh-mandaviya-to-do-list.html Thu Jul 15 20:04:47 IST 2021 ashwini-vaishnaw-experience-in-ias-business-will-help-in-managing-big-portfolios <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/ashwini-vaishnaw-experience-in-ias-business-will-help-in-managing-big-portfolios.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/7/15/38-Ashwini-Vaishnaw-new.jpg" /> <p>Contrary to the general assumption, Ashwini Vaishnaw is not from Odisha. The Union cabinet minister in charge of the power-packed portfolios of communications, electronics, IT and railways is from Rajasthan—his family hails from Pali and he grew up in Jodhpur. For all practical purposes, though, he is Odia. He is from the state’s IAS cadre, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from there and he is an ardent follower of Lord Jagannath. In the first five days of his ‘cabinetdom’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new blue-eyed boy sought blessings from the Lord of Puri four times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaishnaw would need more science than spirituality, though, to rise to the task he has been asked to do. The reason Modi chose a low profile insider for the crucial portfolios is not hard to figure out—during his IAS days he was part of Vajpayee’s PMO; he has been a startup entrepreneur and has held corporate positions in the likes of GE and Siemens. The Wharton alumnus’s short tenure in the upper house of Parliament has seen him defending government laws crunching data, and he has often been called in by the PMO for inputs on policy and technology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rapid changes in the world of technology and its growing role in everyday life have raised the importance of Vaishnaw's portfolios stratospherically in recent years. Even while his predecessor, Ravi Shankar Prasad, seemed obsessed with a slugfest with Big Tech in general, and Twitter in particular, many legislations and reforms desperately needed for the rapidly changing world lagged by the wayside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, it is still 'future unknown' for the Personal Data Protection Bill—nearly four years after the government started working on it. Arguably, the single-most-important piece of legislation that could have formed a blueprint for a future tech-fuelled life, it has been mired in umpteen parliamentary committee hearings. Its original spirit as envisaged by the Supreme Court’s ‘Right to Privacy’ judgement, recommendations by the Justice Sri Krishna Committee and global role models like Europe’s GDPR has been undercut in the final draft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Same with the rollout of 5G telecom technology. As Modi stormed back to power in May 2019, Prasad promised that 5G would be rolled out in 100 days. It has been some 700 days; a clear-cut 5G policy, spectrum auctions and clarity on trusted equipment providers are not yet there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The health of the telecom sector is in need of an intervention. State-owned BSNL and the private operator Vi (formerly Vodafone-Idea) are in dire straits. The sector is a feeble shadow of its reform-energised heady days, even as its importance in taking Digital India to the next level could not be stressed enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there is the vexatious issue of social media. While nobody is ready yet to come out and say that Prasad took it too far, it is likely that a more temperate approach would be followed in the matter by Vaishnaw. His first pronouncements after taking over and meeting secretaries at Electronics Niketan, though, stuck to the status quo that Twitter must follow Indian laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The positives [of IT rules 2021] have been accompanied by legal and technical challenges that might hinder the operationalisation of these rules and lead to untoward implications on the digital rights of the citizenry,” said Kazim Rizvi, founder of The Dialogue, a public policy advocacy forum. “A key area of engagement would be creating harmonious and interoperable policies that make India ready for the world when it comes to technology.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is right up Vaishnaw’s street, with his penchant for data and harnessing technology. His experience in logistics is also expected to come in handy while giving a makeover to Indian Railways, the other ministry he has been tasked with.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The next wave of economic growth, and consequently power in the global scenario, lies in how effectively we make use of technological change. We can aim for efficiencies, and opportunities never thought of before, if they are based on a stable bedrock of policy that is in sync with each other,” said Rizvi. Modi’s line of thinking might have been that Vaishnaw’s varied experience in dealing with the red tape from all three corners—as a bureaucrat, as an entrepreneur and as a politician—would help him make that giant leap of faith. With such great expectations, it is just as well that this technocrat seeks some divine help once in a while.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/ashwini-vaishnaw-experience-in-ias-business-will-help-in-managing-big-portfolios.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/ashwini-vaishnaw-experience-in-ias-business-will-help-in-managing-big-portfolios.html Sat Jul 17 12:33:06 IST 2021 ministry-of-cooperation-the-lure-for-amit-shah <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/ministry-of-cooperation-the-lure-for-amit-shah.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/7/15/44-Amit-Shah.jpg" /> <p>Amit Shah never lets a good crisis go to waste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2000, a financial crisis in the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank helped him get elected as chairman of the board of directors and wrest control of the bank from the Congress. The bank had for years failed to pay dividend; it had just posted a net loss of around Rs20 crore, and was struggling to keep customer confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah’s task was cut out. To prevent the bank from going under, he had to shore up its capital reserves and ensure money flow. A time-honoured practice in such situations was to ask for more aid from NABARD (the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, which finances cooperative banks) and more lenient terms from the usually hawkish Reserve Bank of India. But since the RBI had sensed that Gujarat’s famed cooperative sector was itself under considerable stress, Shah did not have much leeway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So he led the bank into the lucrative domain of securities trading, financing brokers and accountants who mostly traded in small-cap equities. Those were good times for the stock market: indices were climbing record highs mainly on the back of fledgling, internet-based tech startups. The term ‘dot-com bubble’ was yet to enter the lexicon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah’s bank leveraged the profits accrued from the boom to turn itself around. By the end of the year, it had made a net profit of around Rs6 crore and paid a 10 per cent dividend. Shah went on to quietly increase the BJP’s grip on the state’s deep-rooted cooperative structure, which included sectors as varied as diary, agriculture, textiles, labour and infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah’s cooperative experiments later proved instrumental in the BJP’s successive poll victories in Gujarat. As Union minister for cooperation, he is now eyeing a bigger playground: India has one of the largest cooperative ecosystems in the world, with collective revenues running into several lakh crore rupees a year. Experts say the new ministry will be a game-changer. Cooperatives have long been a state subject, but the Central legislation that is bound to come soon will take powers away from states and towards the Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s a revolutionary step,” said R.S. Sodhi, managing director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, or Amul, the world’s second largest cooperative by turnover. “They have recognised that the cooperative way of doing business is a viable alternative to big businesses. Cooperatives are big businesses of small people—farmers, taxi drivers, traders and so on.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, what exactly is a cooperative? Put simply, a cooperative is like a corporation—except, a corporation is made up of units of capital called shares, while a cooperative comprises people who want to achieve a common economic goal. While those who own the most number of shares control a corporation (one vote for each share, generally), members of a cooperative have equal power irrespective of the number of shares they own (one vote for each person). Corporate shares are traded; cooperative shares are not. And, just as corporates try to maximise profits, a cooperative can maximise its utility and value for its members.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cooperative model has dreary shades of socialism, and perhaps because of that, it is not as visible as the corporate sector. But, most of the world’s mega cooperatives are in advanced market economies. The annual list of the world’s top 10 cooperatives is regularly dominated by institutions from Japan, France, Germany and the US. The UK, where the model was born in the 1800s, is home to a large number of consumer and labour cooperatives; Germany and the Netherlands have century-old cooperative banks; Spain is home to the world’s largest infra cooperative; and two of the biggest retail chains in Switzerland are farm-based cooperatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has 8.5 lakh cooperatives with 29 crore people as members. An equal number of people is indirectly dependent on them. The total working capital in the sector exceeds Rs12.5 lakh crore, and the network of cooperatives covers more than 90 per cent villages in the country. The largest cooperative by turnover is IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd), a conglomerate with five crore farmers as beneficiaries. Its interests span agriculture, insurance, technology and logistics. Its annual revenues exceed Rs25,000 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cooperative sector in India is largely fractured, though, as each state has separate laws and regulatory bodies. And since cooperatives can function as a stable vote bank, politicians find it useful to control such organisations and undercut cooperatives led by rivals. When A.B. Vajpayee was prime minister, the Union government had tried to liberalise the sector by bringing in a law to form multi-state cooperatives, but it largely failed. In 2012, the Manmohan Singh government passed a constitutional amendment giving every citizen the right to form cooperatives, but provisions of it were later struck down by the Gujarat High Court. (The Supreme Court is now hearing an appeal filed by the Centre in this issue.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As a consequence [of the High Court verdict], state cooperative acts have not been liberalised or updated,” said Satish Marathe, founder of the Maharashtra-based NGO Sahakar Bharati. As an RBI Central Board director, Marathe played a key role in the formation of the new ministry, which he says would help usher in long-delayed reforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India missed the bus in entering new areas of cooperatives,” he told THE WEEK. “We have no cooperatives in mutual funds, insurance, telephony or electricity and water supply. In the past, we had consumer cooperatives; but today, the number is very small. Such cooperatives can play a very effective role in price stabilisation. Countries like Singapore, the UK and the US have huge retailers like Walmart, but still the share of consumer cooperatives in these countries is high—between 20 and 30 per cent. We need consumer cooperatives in a big way, because India is substantially urbanising.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghanshyam Amin, chairman of Gujarat State Cooperative Union, said the formation of the new Union ministry bode well for Gujarat. Cooperatives in the state had long been demanding a separate department at the Centre to handle issues related to the sector. &quot;Although India has the largest cooperative movement in the world, it is not strong enough,&quot; said Amin. &quot;Being from Gujarat, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah know the sector well. Shah would be able to handle the ministry ably.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Setting up consumer cooperatives could be a part of the BJP’s game plan in poll-bound Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where last year’s farm reforms have considerably eroded support for the party. The Centre apparently wants to promote Swiss-style farm cooperatives, which can procure and sell produce. The BJP expects this push to help in the speedy delivery of financial assistance to farmers and in countering charges that the party is favouring corporates. The government has already been implementing the Kisan Credit Card and Soil Health Card schemes through cooperatives. Apparently, plans are afoot to at least double the food storage capacity in the cooperative sector (23 million tonnes currently, or 15 per cent of the total storage capacity in India) to defuse protests and give farmers greater economic freedom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But such steps would require wide-ranging legislation that would affect state governments. Opposition leaders fear that Shah will use the opportunity to help the BJP in states where it has been struggling. In Kerala, for instance, the party has long been trying to break the left’s hold on the cooperative sector. “There is apprehension about the Union government’s move because cooperation is a state subject,” said Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. “It is still not clear why the ministry has been formed out of the blue.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said the new ministry was a “violation of the federal principle”. “They are doing it to hijack cooperative movements across the country,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Maharashtra, where the Nationalist Congress Party controls many sugar cooperatives, there is fear that the new ministry would upset the power balance. The Centre’s move has also come at a time when NCP chief Sharad Pawar has joined hands with the left in an effort to float a third front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, despite this, there is hope that the new ministry will help resolve problems in cooperative banking. The run on the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank in 2019 had earlier prompted demands that the Centre form a separate department to look into cooperative banking issues. The demand has been gaining traction since last year, when a Central ordinance enabled the RBI to regulate urban cooperative banks across the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With RBI regulations, the autonomy of urban cooperative and district cooperative banks is now in danger,” Jayant Patil, Maharashtra minister and NCP state president, told THE WEEK. “Shah was in charge of a [cooperative] bank in Gujarat, so I am confident that he will bail out the sector from all this.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent times, the RBI has been cracking the whip on shoddy book-keeping and dubious lending practices in urban cooperative banks in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. Most of these banks, say experts, suffer from non-performing assets, inadequate capital reserves and an inability to raise funds to meet growing demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Cooperatives have no access to capital markets, so they are totally dependent on the government,” said Marathe. “Ease of doing business norms should also be extended to cooperatives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such reforms, however, would require the Centre to come clean on its motives. “The decision [to form the ministry] is okay. But the intention has to be seen,” said Arup Roy, cooperative minister in West Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would the ministry help solve problems faced by cooperative institutions? “I doubt that,” he told THE WEEK. “The Centre harmed cooperative banks through demonetisation. All the banks suffered because of the draconian decision of the government [to not let cooperative banks exchange banned notes]. It was to offset that damage that the Centre brought in an ordinance last year bringing these banks under the RBI.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is, how would Shah proceed now? He had succeeded in rescuing the Ahmedabad bank in 2000, but it did not set a desirable model for other cooperative banks. The Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank, for example, had tried to take a leaf out of the Ahmedabad bank’s playbook by lending hundreds of crores to a chartered accountant called Ketan Parekh, whose involvement in a trading scam later led to the biggest Sensex crash since 1992. If it were not for the combined efforts of the Central and state governments and the RBI, as many as 168 banks who had large deposits in the Madhavpura bank would have also gone under. Shah himself was a member of the panel that was constituted to prepare a bailout package for the banks. In 2002, less than a year after the mess began to recede, Shah became number two in the newly elected Narendra Modi government in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposition leaders who know this history are wary. They know that Shah and the BJP may well make good use of the current crisis as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Rabi Banerjee and Cithara Paul</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/ministry-of-cooperation-the-lure-for-amit-shah.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/15/ministry-of-cooperation-the-lure-for-amit-shah.html Fri Aug 13 18:02:08 IST 2021 how-a-hyderabad-couple-got-the-world-costliest-medicine-for-their-child <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/08/how-a-hyderabad-couple-got-the-world-costliest-medicine-for-their-child.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/7/8/46-Ayaansh-Gupta.jpg" /> <p><b>AYAANSH GUPTA COULD</b> string together words when he was just one, his parents said. And he could recite mantras when he was two. At three, he does console his mother whenever he notices tears in her eyes. Words have been the lifeline for Ayaansh, who cannot yet sit, stand, chew or even breathe properly. “His speech helped us fight for him. It kept us motivated,” said his father, Yogesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, just before he turned one, Ayaansh was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Hyderabad residents Yogesh and Rupal were told that their son would live for only two or three more years. The rare genetic disease affects the central nervous system, severely limiting muscle movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The couple had first observed abnormalities when he was six months old. “He had limited movement,” said Yogesh. “He used to get tired in just one or two minutes. We thought it could just be a delay in development. One day, he suddenly lost control of his neck.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a mental assessment and a few tests, the neuromuscular disease was diagnosed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After the reports came, we broke down in front of the doctors as we did not know what to do,” said Yogesh. “The doctors also conveyed that if we plan to have another child, there would be a 20 per cent chance of the child having the same disorder.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yogesh, who works for a private equity firm, and his wife, who quit her IT job, dedicated their lives to finding a solution for Ayaansh’s condition. The biggest shock was the realisation that he would need gene therapy involving the world’s costliest medicine—Zolgensma, produced by Novartis, costs about Rs16 crore. Simply put, the single-dose intravenous injection replaces the defective SMN1 gene with a therapeutic gene.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two other drugs in the market to treat SMA but they have to be taken lifelong and would cost Rs3 crore to Rs4 crore a year. So, Yogesh and Rupal reached out to support groups and even registered for programmes in which a select few would receive Zolgensma for free. When nothing worked out, the family launched a crowdfunding appeal on social media in February. The target was met by May, with 65,000 donors pitching in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My wife was confident that it could be done as she had seen a lot of fundraising campaigns in the US. But I was a little sceptical,” said Yogesh. “We started increasing the visibility and awareness of the campaign. And that is how I think it worked. We used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and also reached out to corporates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Celebrities played a big role in popularising the appeal; Anushka Sharma, Virat Kohli, Rajkummar Rao and Karan Johar were among the celebs who donated. The campaign also led to the import tax for the drug being waived. The family was guided by Rainbow Children’s Hospital, Hyderabad, which applied for the drug.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zolgensma is transported at -60°C, and the hospital that receives it must store it between 2-8°C. The drug “is stable for 14 days from receipt” when stored at the prescribed temperature. The cold chain is so critical that Novartis reportedly has an exclusive deal with US-based Savsu Technologies to transport Zolgensma. Savsu’s speciality is “temperature controlled systems and transport containers”. Additionally, it tracks all consignments in real-time through its cloud-based application, evo.is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Ramesh Konaki, consultant paediatric neurologist at Rainbow Hospital, is one of the few Indians with the training to administer Zolgensma. “Some blood tests needed to be done [before the injection]; one of the samples had to be sent to the Netherlands for antibodies. We could start only if the result was negative,” he said. The result was negative, and Ayaansh was given the jab in the second week of June.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zolgensma is administered like any other intravenous medicine. Ayaansh was admitted on the morning of June 9. The process took about one-and-a-half hours. He was kept under observation for a few hours and discharged in the evening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“(The procedure) is exciting because gene therapy itself is revolutionary,” said Dr Ramesh. “It is like nature has taken away a gene from you, and science has reached a stage where you can replace the gene and rectify the genetic difference.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>SMA affects 1 in 10,000 children in India. Among the three types of SMA, babies with type-1, like Ayaansh, rarely survive for more than two years. Those with type-2 and type-3 variants need lifelong, expensive medication to survive. Currently, there are close to 800 SMA patients in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This brings up the question of Zolgensma’s high price tag. Amir Ullah Khan, research director, Centre for Development Policy and Practice, said that currently only the uber-rich in India could afford Zolgensma. He said the government should encourage Indian companies to develop and sell a similar drug at a lower price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ayaansh is now back home, and the family is expecting full recovery in seven to eight months. “I never knew there were so many kind souls in the world,” said Yogesh. “When he grows up, I am going to tell him about those who supported him. He will give back to the society that helped him so much.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are other heartening stories, too, in the SMA saga, like the one about little Muhammad Rafeek from Kannur, Kerala. The Rs18 crore needed for him was raised in seven days, following an appeal by his parents in late June. Novartis, too, is funding free supplies through its CSR division. In June, four children each received free Zolgensma injections at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, and at Bangalore Baptist Hospital.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/08/how-a-hyderabad-couple-got-the-world-costliest-medicine-for-their-child.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/07/08/how-a-hyderabad-couple-got-the-world-costliest-medicine-for-their-child.html Thu Jul 08 17:10:45 IST 2021 memories-of-an-air-force-man-who-outran-milkha-singh <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/25/memories-of-an-air-force-man-who-outran-milkha-singh.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/25/Milkha-Singh3.jpg" /> <p><b>I first saw</b> Milkha Singh in 1956, at the National Athletic Championship in Patiala.</p> <p>I had joined the Air Force three years earlier as a 17-year-old fresh from school, and was stationed in Ambala. During a two-day holiday, my friends and I visited the Bhakra Nangal Dam. On our way back, we stopped in Patiala to see the famous palace and the athletic championship being held at Yajuvendra Stadium.</p> <p>When we entered the stadium, the victory ceremony of the 400m race was in progress. First on the podium was Alex Silvera, known as the “dark horse of the railways” and the first Indian to cover the distance in 48 seconds. Second was Milkha Singh, who was not an established athlete then. As a spectator, I never thought that I would also be standing on the podium with Milkha one day.</p> <p>In December 1959, the head of my department in Ambala compelled me to take part in the 100m and 200m races in the annual sports event at the Air Force station. I did not have running shoes and had never participated in the athletics earlier. I was a fairly good cricketer, though. In an inter-school tournament, Chandu Borde—who would go on to become a famous Test cricketer—was my captain.</p> <p>At the annual event in Ambala, I surprised myself and everyone else by winning the two races. The same year, I won the Air Force Championship and was selected to compete in the Services Athletic Championship at the National Stadium in Delhi in January 1960. That was the second time I saw Milkha—this time, as competitor. He was representing the Army’s Southern Command and was participating in five events—100m, 200m and 400m races, and two relays—to help his team win the championship.</p> <p>I entered the 100m final, along with established names like Milkha and Makhan Singh. Milkha came first, Makhan second, and me third. I was then selected for the 4x100m relay team representing the services in the national championship.</p> <p>In 1960, Milkha was hardly the rookie he was in 1956. After winning two gold medals in the 1958 Asian Games in 200m and 400m, he was consistently winning races and improving his performance. As the most talented and outstanding Indian athlete, he was looked upon as a medal prospect in the Rome Olympics that would begin in August 1960.</p> <p>In the national championship, which was held in February that year, Milkha again participated in five events. He won all three individual events (100m, 200m and 400m) and helped the team win the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. In the 4x100m relay, I ran in the third leg and handed over the baton to the Flying Sikh. Though he was slow in receiving the baton, he finished the race in record time.</p> <p>After the championship, Milkha was sent on a tour of Europe to participate in competitions and gain experience. He not only won several events, but also improved his performance each time, raising hopes of him becoming the first Indian athlete to win an Olympic medal in athletics. But, as luck would have it, he ended up losing the bronze by a fraction of a second.</p> <p>In 1961, both Milkha and I were stationed in Delhi. Both of us practised at the National Stadium. He would arrive in a Fiat and be surrounded by athletes requesting autographs or advice. After making everyone happy, Milkha would start practising. But I could see that he no longer set his mind to it. The passion of the old days, when he would continue practising until he was forced to leave the ground, was gone.</p> <p>I once asked him about his plans. He replied honestly that he had none for the next Olympics. He would be 34 by then, he said. To win a medal in 400m, one would have to clock in well below 44 seconds—a difficult target considering his age.</p> <p>Milkha continued representing the services as a disciplined soldier and won the 400m at the national championship at Jalandhar in 1961. I, too, was part of the services team and won the 100m bronze.</p> <p>In 1962, the services meet was held in Lucknow. It was probably Milkha’s last appearance for the Army. He again participated in five events, and won three, to help his team clinch the championship—a parting gift to the Army’s Southern Command that had groomed him as an athlete.</p> <p>As a member of the Air Force team, I participated in 100m and 200m. In the 200m semi-final, Milkha and I were in the same heat. I gave it my all and came first. Milkha probably had not given his best; he came second. The press, however, played up the result. ‘Tawde pushes Milkha Singh to second place in 200m’, said a big headline.</p> <p>Milkha and I had earlier qualified for the 100m final, after coming first in separate heats. A journalist came to me and said, ‘Beat Milkha tomorrow in the 100m final, and we will highlight the news on the front page.”</p> <p>This put me under pressure. The race, however, started out well and I was leading till near the finish line. Just then a thought struck me for a fraction of a second: where is the great Milkha Singh? And then I saw him gain his second wind and beat me to the tape. After the race, he shook hands and said, “Well run; keep it up.”</p> <p>That was the legend’s last 100m race. To be on the podium with him was something I had never dreamt of. I felt elated.</p> <p>Both Milkha and I retired from service in 1962. Milkha became director of Punjab’s sports department. I was to join the Tata Group at Telco’s Jamshedpur plant, but China’s border aggression that year prompted the Air Force to call me back.</p> <p>In 1963, we represented Punjab and Maharashtra, respectively, in the national championship at Jabalpur. We took on each other in the final lap of the 4x400m relay. I had a small lead when I received the baton, but Milkha soon overtook me and won gold for Punjab. Maharashtra won silver.</p> <p>Though he had no passion left for competing, he dutifully represented Punjab in the 1964 national championship, too. That was his last event. I could not participate in the championship because of an injury. Milkha was selected for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as well, but he took part only in the 4x400m relay. It was his last international event.</p> <p>I met Milkha again in 1965, after I joined Telco. The occasion was the national athletic championship in Chandigarh, organised by the Punjab government. Milkha was chairman of the organising committee then, and he proved his mettle as an administrator by providing excellent lodging facilities for athletes in the MLA hostel.</p> <p>I met him again in 1966, when he was chairman of the national selection committee. He said he was happy with my progress in 100m. I was selected for the Commonwealth Games in Kingston and the Asian Games in Bangkok that year. But an unexpected economic crisis forced the government to prune the size of the contingent for both the events, and I was left out.</p> <p>I retired from active sports in 1971, after winning the 100m silver at the national championship in Ahmedabad. I moved on to sports administration and was elected secretary of Maharashtra’s Athletic Association in 1976. I met Milkha in 1985, and he told me that he was happy that I had taken up the task of improving sports in India.</p> <p>I held several administrative posts over subsequent decades and continued to meet Milkha occasionally. He was always prompt in responding to messages and appreciating good work.</p> <p>Milkha never let fame affect his appetite for hard work. Once, after recognising the need to speak English, Milkha hired a tutor to teach him the language. He was also particular about his appearance—he was always immaculately dressed.</p> <p>Milkha was not just an outstanding athlete, but a thorough gentleman and caring human being. With his departure, I have lost a dear friend.&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/25/memories-of-an-air-force-man-who-outran-milkha-singh.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/25/memories-of-an-air-force-man-who-outran-milkha-singh.html Fri Jun 25 15:50:12 IST 2021 the-right-helmet-at-the-right-moment-could-save-thousands-of-lives <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/25/the-right-helmet-at-the-right-moment-could-save-thousands-of-lives.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/25/56-Keep-your-head-new.jpg" /> <p>There is no positive to having a motorcycle accident besides recognising the luck by which you survived it and—hopefully—gaining real-world data that could help you become a safer driver.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What can I share on road safety, besides my own accident experience? In the small hours of a night in August 2015, I wrung the throttle on an empty Bengaluru highway, my 135cc engine roared almost as if it were alive. The world was good in that moment. In the next, an unmarked speed-breaker that had not been there the week before appeared. I jammed the brakes—it was already too late—braced for impact, and then, was airborne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At that speed, the world was not good. But certainly, my braking had not been for naught, else I would have flown further and faster. More certainly, it would have been best had I not been speeding at all. Lesson #1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is said, based on an American study, that every 16kmph increase in speed after 100kmph doubles your chance of dying in a crash. The World Health Organisation offered a more clinical estimate—“an increase in average speed of 1 kmph typically results in a 3 per cent higher risk of a crash involving injury, with a 4–5 per cent increase for crashes that result in fatalities”. Most studies looked at cars, but a study of over 1,000 motorcycle accidents in Germany estimated a 2/3 chance of serious injuries in crashes at 70km/h. Lesson #2: Speed limits exist for a reason.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With no real opportunity to Google these odds while being airborne, all I could think about was what was in front of me: the tarmac. As my ungloved hands stretched towards it, I thought, “Well, this is going to hurt.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I tumbled upon impact. Those who watch MotoGP and who know to wear All The Gear All The Time (ATGATT) know better how to tuck your arms in and try to slide it out, using the protective layers of your riding gear as a form of armour. Lesson #3: Riding gloves are cheap. Wear them. Get a set of motorcycle pants, too, and a good jacket if the weather is kind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. But the real life-lesson came mid-tumble. As I hit the road, rolled and got disoriented, I felt a distant thud through my helmet, which was the sound of my head hitting the ground for the first time. I remember thinking in that split moment: “Oof. That helmet just saved my life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thankfully, the accident happened in front of a hospital, so I escaped with just a broken clavicle, and did not hurt anybody else through my own stupidity. I could only thank my stars that the helmet fit me well, that I had dutifully fastened the chinstrap every time—despite taking it off multiple times at multiple stops before the accident. An unfastened helmet—or one that does not fit well—can be the biggest mistake of your life. Lesson #4: Helmet discipline saves life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is little use to personal anecdotes in something as dangerous as motorcycling; hard facts should suffice more than circumstantial rolls of the die. It is such a fact that helmets save lives and yet, so many in India will ride without them—whether to preserve their hairstyles, to feel the wind, or out of some other unfathomable reason.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirty seven per cent of the 1.5 lakh people who died on Indian roads in 2019 were on two-wheelers; 44,666 of those victims were not wearing helmets, according to transport ministry data.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all helmets are made equal, and from June 1, it is mandatory for helmets to bear the IS 4151: 2015 standard mark, by virtue of the Two Wheeler Motor Vehicles (Quality Control) Order, 2020. The commonly seen construction helmet, used to save riders not from injury but from the ire of policemen, will no longer do even that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the new standards introduce a paradox, for some. The government wants you to stop using helmets that do not meet safety standards—but in hopes of enforcing this, have made only one safety standard the passing criteria, that of the Bureau of Indian Standards. However, many in the motorcycling community advocate for helmets that adhere to safety standards like SNELL, SHARP or ECE 22.06.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some manufacturers tread a safe middle ground by adhering to all standards: Royal Enfield’s website states that a helmet “that is not only certified for IS 4151 Indian Standard but also DOT...and ECE 22.05 is a perfect solution and a balance between all prevalent standards of certifications.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among helmet standards, SNELL’s are arguably the most stringent—with criteria regularly updated and listed by the non-profit Snell Foundation. The foundation itself was started to honour the memory of William “Pete” Snell, a Californian amateur sports car race driver whose helmet failed to protect him. On the other side are American DOT-certified helmets—controversial among bikers who see its self-certification requirements and outdated safety parameters as emblematic of bureaucratic indifference (YouTube channel Fort9 has done a fantastic video on what’s wrong with DOT).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Smart riders take no chances with their helmets, or with their gear. This includes dodging half-helmets that leave your chin unguarded. For Nikhil Infant, who has been riding for over 16 years, he prioritised fit, safety rating, colour, design and the brand of the helmet, in that order. “A right sized full-face helmet, strapped properly, will save lives,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Bengaluru made helmets compulsory for pillion riders. The move, while designed to save lives, can pose practical issues for motorcyclists—who need an extra bag or mounting equipment to carry the extra lifesaver. “If I know that I’ll take a pillion, I carry a helmet in a bag. But usually, it is just me. As difficult as it is to do this, I think it’s a good rule, but what’s sad is, unless you carry a helmet on your bike you cannot offer people lifts on the road like before,” said Nikhil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Noah Chetri, who purchased his first bike in 2020, spent months researching helmets, gear and best practices before taking the plunge. “I’d say safety would be of utmost importance,” he said. “But you also have to remember that a helmet which isn’t comfortable is going to bother you during long rides, same for ones that aren’t ventilated or that don’t have protection against dust or glare. After all, riding is an activity that requires 100 per cent focus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On helmet safety, Noah highlights a range of factors: From the material of the outer surface to features such as the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS)—which incorporates sliding surfaces within the helmet to reduce the amount of rotational damage one can suffer in a crash. True, racing grade ARAI helmets can cost as much as a commuter motorcycle, but ECE-certified helmets can be bought without breaking the bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/25/the-right-helmet-at-the-right-moment-could-save-thousands-of-lives.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/25/the-right-helmet-at-the-right-moment-could-save-thousands-of-lives.html Sat Aug 07 15:42:22 IST 2021 covid-19-showed-resilience-of-indian-education-sector-fortitude-of-our-students <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/covid-19-showed-resilience-of-indian-education-sector-fortitude-of-our-students.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/17/online-education.jpg" /> <p>Imagine that you looked out your window and saw your neighbour's college-going son staring at the bushes outside his house. You would probably think: “Poor kid, he may be losing his mind, being cooped up inside during his college years.” However, if he happens to be a botany student, chances are that he was attending a practical class. As colleges pulled out all the stops to ensure continued learning, botany students were asked to study the plants in their neighbourhood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>V. Prabhavathi, associate professor of botany, Shivaji College, University of Delhi, said that during online sessions, faculty demonstrated “live lab specimens” (plants) and supplemented it through informational videos. In subsequent classes, students were asked to bring specimens. They were also randomly asked to give demonstrations of specific aspects of the experiment. She said that compared with lab work, self exploration evoked greater interest among students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In other lab-intense subjects, short video clips were used, along with quizzes on the tools and techniques, chemicals and reagents, and the outcomes of experiments. Practicals for computer science programmes were moved to online platforms, where the coding skills of students could be tested. Virtual labs, including the government’s vlab.co.in, were used extensively for a variety of subjects. So were simulations and case studies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, despite the best efforts of colleges, some offline sessions remained a necessity. Also, the basics of handling lab equipment could not be imparted to first-year students. Luckily, institutes managed to schedule offline lab sessions in the respite between the first and second waves. But, exams could not be completed before the surge; the incomplete exams were held in viva-voce mode. “Neither teachers nor students were satisfied with this curtailed experience,” said Rajendra Shinde, principal, St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai. “We plan to redo certain practicals as and when possible.”</p> <p>Apart from the ‘practical’ problems created by Covid-19, a major issue was the much curtailed social experience of students, especially first-years. As University Grants Commission Chairman D.P. Singh, told THE WEEK: “Campus life is a new social experience. Meeting and mingling with fellow students and teachers inculcates curiosity, inquisitiveness, creativity and competitiveness. It also strengthens harmony and fraternity and, more importantly, enables students to appreciate and accommodate differences of opinions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not difficult to imagine how much first-year students were looking forward to all that and more. However, they now seem to have come to terms with reality. Jojo Joseph, 18, a history student at Loyola College, Chennai, only stepped into the institute’s vast and vibrant campus earlier this year, when it was opened briefly, in a restricted way, to give the students offline access to faculty and the library. “There is a feeling that my second year, too, may be online,” he said. “But, given the scenario, it is the best alternative.” He added that even if offline classes resumed, his mother was apprehensive about sending him to college.</p> <p>Even for the senior batches, Covid-19 was a bitter pill to swallow. Sanjana Saxena, 19, a second year journalism and mass communications student at Amity University, Lucknow, said: “Mentally, it was difficult for me to stay away from the campus; to be away from friends and teachers.” She added that she fully appreciated the Covid-19 regulations only after she and her family tested positive in April 2021. Saxena, still on multivitamins post the infection, managed to finish her year-end exams online. She is full of praise for her faculty and the university. “They were regularly inquiring about my health and even gave me the option to appear for the exams at a later date,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such support from institutions has been crucial in helping the students cope with the stress caused by the pandemic. Psychologists and counsellors, too, were thrust into the thick of the battle and rose to the challenge magnificently. Shivani Manchanda, a counsellor at the Student Wellness Centre, IIT Bombay, said the focus of counselling outreach was handling stress, anxiety and fear. “A change in perspective was also offered to students—they were asked to transform loneliness into solitude through self learning and growth.”</p> <p>Holistic learning has suffered immensely, especially in professional courses like management programmes. A. Venkat Raman, professor at the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi, said that the foundation courses for the first-year students were extremely critical and despite the hybrid nature of online courses, there was still a sense of void among the faculty. “Subject-specific learning for the final year students is based on interaction with the faculty and in undertaking research projects.” Online interaction, he added, is no substitute to learning informally over a cup of tea or in the college cafeteria. Subhasis Chaudhuri, director, IIT Bombay, also said that the quality of learning takes a hit in the virtual mode, “more so for students who are not toppers”.</p> <p>Lack of access to the online medium continues to be a problem. Even when measures are taken to give access, training children in virtual learning is becoming a challenge. “Students, especially the ones from rural backgrounds, struggle to cope with digital classrooms or online-proctored exams,” said S.R.R. Senthilkumar, principal, Sona College of Technology, Salem. But, as Anil Dattatraya Sahasrabudhe, chairman, All India Council for Technical Education, told THE WEEK: “If a level-playing field can be created, it is only through digital technology. Because in order to have education for all, if you have to build brick-and-mortar infrastructure and induct a huge number of faculty, it will be expensive. The online mode is much more economical.”</p> <p>Despite all that the country’s education sector has been able to achieve during the pandemic, the first and, sometimes, only, concern for Indian parents would be placements. Most top b-schools have maintained that their placements were not hit too badly by Covid-19. Venkat Raman of FMS said: “We did not face difficulties in the corporate placements of our final year MBA students. All of them are raring to join their prospective employers.”</p> <p>Aman Mittal, additional director, Lovely Professional University, Punjab, said that more than 7,000 placement offers were made to students of LPU during the pandemic. “We also created [online] internship opportunities,” he said. “Our teams spoke to companies in various domains, including IT, fashion and hotel management. This helped in creating additional opportunities. ”</p> <p>Sahasrabudhe said placement figures for engineering colleges affiliated to the AICTE had reduced slightly. “Because many companies were not fully running during the lockdown,” he said. “Even internships have been affected because the number of companies which allow students on their premises decreased. But, I am very happy that two major IT companies have taken 40,000 students from our engineering colleges. So it is not as bad as what we were expecting.”</p> <p>“Once industrial activity gets back in full throttle, I am sure there will be a huge requirement for jobs and students will get placements,” he said. His optimism is almost infectious. And, considering the resilience the education sector showed in the face of a global crisis, optimism is indeed warranted.</p> <p>—<b>With Sneha Bhura</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>POINTS TO PONDER<br> </b></p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Practical solutions</b><br> </p> <p>While the theory classes were comfortably shifted online, it was a real challenge to cope with the practical sessions. We did try to use simulations whenever possible, but in some cases, we had to wait for the university to permit strategically spaced, offline, practical sessions, when the situation allowed it. In courses like psychology, we have tried to use online modules with the same concepts as in actual therapy sessions today. We also used videos and case studies as tools.</p> <p><b>Sam Paul</b></p> <p><i>Director, Krupanidhi Group of Institutions, Bengaluru</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Continuous evaluation</b><br> </p> <p>We do not have final exams. Evaluation is continuous in each module of every course via assignments, projects, presentations and tests. Field trips, however, have not been conducted.There can be mental and social issues because of the pandemic. We have been organising student meetings with course heads and management—deans and the director—to lessen the anxiety of our students. We are in a global problem and we hope that normalcy and safety will soon return.</p> <p><b>J.B. Mistry</b></p> <p><i>Dean (academic), Xavier Institute of Communications, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Portal power</b><br> </p> <p>We have created a portal of study material. This is a library, onto which content from all subjects were uploaded. There are self-evaluation questions and practice questions. It also has a discussion forum, where all 8,000 students can communicate. The portal tracks the hours spent, number of tests taken, questions in the discussion forum and so on, and assigns points. These points will give us an idea of how much a student has studied for each course and outcomes in marks are correlated.</p> <p><b>K. Sundararaman</b></p> <p><i>Chief executive officer, Sri Krishna Institutions, Coimbatore</i></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/covid-19-showed-resilience-of-indian-education-sector-fortitude-of-our-students.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/covid-19-showed-resilience-of-indian-education-sector-fortitude-of-our-students.html Thu Jun 17 20:08:50 IST 2021 a-revival-of-the-study-abroad-sector-is-not-far-away <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/a-revival-of-the-study-abroad-sector-is-not-far-away.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/17/FarhanKhan-new.jpg" /> <p>In April, when India was put on the red list for travel in the UK, Farhan Khan’s heart sank. The 26-year-old Uttar Pradesh boy had enrolled for a one-year photography course at the University of London. He had also paid 03.5 lakh as advance fees. He is now at his parents’ house in Aligarh, hoping against hope that the ban will be lifted in time for him to reach the UK before the course starts in September. “When I enrolled in February, things were fine,” he said. “A photography course has to be offline and I need to be at the campus.”</p> <p>Khan is among scores of Indian students whose aspirations of studying abroad are in limbo. Many students have deferred their admission to the next academic cycle. Amit Ratanpal, founder and managing director, BLinC Investment, said that the pandemic caused a drop of around 20 per cent in the value of the study-abroad sector in India (allied services like consultancy and training) in FY21.</p> <p>Shruti Parashar, a higher education professional, career transition coach and founder of education consultancy Goalisb, said: “International applications had increased for master’s and doctoral programmes, but the enrolment decreased because of Covid-19 and pursuant travel advisories [and other restrictions].” She added that the Indian education sector had definitely seen a spike in applications because of this.</p> <p>However, international universities have also responded fast to change pedagogy and course structure to enable them to shift to online delivery models. Some top institutes, like Harvard, MIT and Stanford, have even achieved 100 per cent enrolment. “Many universities continue to accept applications and are trying to complete admissions, conduct online interviews and start classes online,” said Neeti Sharma, co-founder and president, TeamLease EdTech. But, the desire to go abroad may drop in view of the current situation, she added.</p> <p>Another issue in India, which supplies an estimated 1/5th of international students, is the delay with regard to the Class 12 examinations. Sharma said the study-abroad sector could help potential applicants continue their application process, to take up an online programme and to prep for the eventual interview (most application cycles start in August). “This way, the study-abroad sector can reduce the immediate impact of the pandemic,” she said.</p> <p>Prof Gurinder Singh, group vice chancellor, Amity Universities, said that Covid-19 may have affected academic cycles, but has not dampened the spirit among Indian students for studying abroad. “Foreign universities are as keen as ever to welcome Indian students, and have also removed the mandatory requirement of test scores like SAT,” he said. “Latest data shows that the number of applications is, in fact, up, with early estimates showing an increase of Indian applications by at least 30 per cent for the US, with growing preference for other destinations like Canada.”</p> <p>According to Pavithra Srinivasan, founder, Galvanize, an edtech company, campuses abroad are working towards resuming on-campus instruction in the fall, which starts in September. “Students from countries where Covid-19 is under control are unlikely to face travel bans and the increase in vaccination reach in the 18-45 age group in India would lead to easing of travel restrictions and resumption of visa services,” she said.</p> <p>Srinivasan said that those with valid student visas, and numerous H-1B workers, are in the process of petitioning the US government to allow the arrival of vaccinated Indians. While any such development would be a major relief for those who aspire to study abroad, they must get globally accepted vaccines like Covishield in time. In India, that could be a challenge, too. &nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/a-revival-of-the-study-abroad-sector-is-not-far-away.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/a-revival-of-the-study-abroad-sector-is-not-far-away.html Thu Jun 17 20:03:01 IST 2021 we-did-much-better-than-how-we-did-in-a-non-pandemic-year <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/we-did-much-better-than-how-we-did-in-a-non-pandemic-year.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/17/Sahasrabudhe.jpg" /> <p><b>Much has been said about the virtual mode of learning. Were engineering and technical colleges in a better position to adapt to online teaching?</b></p> <p>Naturally, yes indeed. Many technical colleges were already using different digital platforms, online tools and NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) courses prior to Covid-19. Hence it was easy for technical colleges to migrate to online education. Secondly, most of the institutions have [the open source] MOODLE-based education [system] or their own learning management system. Plus, the ministry of human resource development's MOOC (massive open online course) portal, SWAYAM, which started about three-and-a-half years ago, has over 3,000 courses and 10 million plus users. Other institutions, like arts and commerce colleges or even schools, had little exposure to online methodology. There are certainly difficulties in remote, rural areas. But even there, people have been innovative. There are common service centres, what we call CSCs, in almost all the blocks and villages, where there are computers, internet and power supply. The SWAYAM’s counterpart, in the form of SWAYAM PRABHA direct-to-home channels, too, are easily available with a simple dish antenna anywhere, for free.</p> <p>Many courses are also posted on the website. So, the digital divide is bare minimum. In fact, if a level-playing field can be created, it is only through digital technology. Because in order to have education for all, if you have to build brick-and-mortar infrastructure and induct a huge number of faculty, it will be expensive. The online mode is much more economical. And fortunately, in India, fibre optic connectivity has reached almost all the villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have colleges under the AICTE fared since the pandemic struck?</b></p> <p>In March, when the first lockdown started, we set up a helpline. Many students having difficulty with food, hostel accommodation, transport, medical aid and other essentials were connected to people ready to help. So there were philanthropists and NGOs on one side and students seeking help on the other. And we did match-making using artificial intelligence tools. Then we had two hackathons—Samadhan and Ideathon—completed to sensitise students and for helping the community. We are in the midst of two other hackathons, a drug discovery hackathon and a toycathon, for developing new drugs, and indigenous toys.</p> <p>We have trained 1.65 lakh faculty members in emerging areas like AI, data science, machine learning and other emerging technologies through 948 week-long programmes. We also held several one-week-long faculty development programmes covering topics like universal human values, ethics, sensitisation towards society and empathy development. Some 40,000 teachers were trained and they are, in turn, taking that to the students.</p> <p>There are examination reforms to take students away from rote learning; like Bloom's Taxonomy-based examination, which has questions fostering innovation and critical thinking. All of this was done during the pandemic. We have two Guinness Book of World Records now. We trained 1.2 lakh students in a [programming] language called Python; [a] face-recognition system was taught to 1.2 lakh students in 24 hours. We have not shut our eyes to what is going on. We did much better than how we did in a non-pandemic time during the previous year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can you talk a little bit about the AICTE's open and distance learning (ODL) and the online education guidelines of 2021?</b></p> <p>In terms of online and ODL education, the AICTE is clear that any course which requires a lot of laboratory experiments or hands-on work is not going to be allowed in this online mode. We [have], however, permitted computer applications and management [courses] in online mode. We added courses like travel and tourism to the list last year. Then we expanded it this year to include logistics, AI and data science. We are still not allowing courses like civil, electrical, mechanical or aerospace engineering in distance or online mode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have the enrolment figures of engineering courses been affected by Covid-19? Can you share some data?</b></p> <p>I do not have the exact data, but, perhaps, 5 per cent, plus or minus. That is the nature of variation in the last four or five years. The total number of students entering engineering has not been increasing. That is a truth, but they are not decreasing.</p> <p>They are actually getting divided into two different types of institutions. Previously there were only a few private universities or deemed-to-be universities. Most of the institutions with engineering seats were in affiliated colleges. But with a large number of private universities and many deemed universities expanding their number of seats, the intake has spread out. There are institutions which have engineering seats with a capacity of 10 to 12 colleges. So naturally, if there are such large institutions, they will absorb most of the students, and the affiliated colleges get affected and it [causes] an impression that there are less admissions.</p> <p>The data which we receive about admissions in engineering are from the affiliated colleges. So it looks like there is a decrease in the number of engineering admissions, but, overall, actually it is almost steady. With the pandemic, many people lost their jobs and could not pay the fees for their children. So maybe 5 per cent to 10 per cent less admissions would have happened. But, this time I have found that many philanthropists are coming forward and are saying that they will take care of the fees of students who cannot afford it. This is a good sign of giving back to society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>And placement? How has that suffered?</b></p> <p>Placement figures, of course, have reduced a little bit because many companies were not fully running during the lockdown. Even internships have been affected because the number of companies which allow students on their premises decreased. And like education, internships have also gone online.</p> <p>But, I am very happy that two major IT companies have taken in 40,000 students from engineering colleges. So it is not as bad as what we were expecting. Once industrial activity gets back at full throttle, I am sure there will be a huge requirement of jobs and students will get placements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about new programmes and technologies introduced in the last one year? Any area or discipline which is now being given a push or an increased focus?</b></p> <p>We have identified areas where emerging technologies will play an important role. They are all available as minor degrees. AI, data science, robotics, 3D printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, quantum computing, cloud computing, cyber security and data analytics. If you have a combination of AI and data science, the opportunities will double.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The March 12 guidelines call for removal of physics, chemistry and mathematics as a mandatory requirement for admissions to engineering courses. This led to widespread debates. Your comments.</b></p> <p>We have not said that physics, chemistry and mathematics are not required. This is absolutely untrue. Prior to 2005, physics, chemistry and mathematics were mandatory for engineering admissions. But, since 2005, chemistry was made optional at the time of entry. Courses such as biology and computer programming were added as alternatives. Nobody possibly noticed this and very few made use of this flexibility and thus nobody practiced it either. Very few institutions probably allowed students to join engineering programmes without chemistry. These subjects were the basis of entrance exams and may continue to be for the next whatever number of years.</p> <p>We [also] added courses like graphics, drawing and vocational subjects or courses which are akin to engineering or science. Today, there are 14 such subjects at the Class 12 level which students can study to opt for engineering courses. The new education policy speaks about flexibility, multiple levels of entry and exit. If we do not open it up to the ones who may not have studied chemistry or physics in school, then that is not right. And that is where this policy is absolutely inclusive. This is giving choice to students. This is also autonomous in terms of allowing students to learn whatever they want to. There are many people in rural areas who do not know what engineering is all about. There is no science stream available in some remote areas and hence students might have missed maths or physics. Why are you stopping them if they have talent? In fact, one of the suggestions which we have often been making is that we must test aptitude rather than knowledge of physics, chemistry, or maths, which can be always taught in the engineering colleges. In fact, science and maths faculty in engineering colleges are far more qualified to train students. There are many maths, physics, chemistry and even biology courses in the AICTE's model curriculum. Thus, no student will be able to move ahead in engineering education without doing the requisite levels of maths, physics and chemistry. These are the foundations on which the entire edifice of engineering is built.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/we-did-much-better-than-how-we-did-in-a-non-pandemic-year.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/we-did-much-better-than-how-we-did-in-a-non-pandemic-year.html Thu Jun 17 19:51:43 IST 2021 vital-to-provide-psychosocial-support-to-students-staff-and-teachers <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/vital-to-provide-psychosocial-support-to-students-staff-and-teachers.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/17/dp-singh-new.jpg" /> <p><b>How is the UGC reworking its academic calendar with regard to undergraduate and postgraduate admissions? Could you offer clarity on the postponed qualifying exams?</b><br> We are closely monitoring the situation and are constantly in touch with universities and other stakeholders. Right now, safety is of utmost importance. Many universities are serving as temporary facilities (for Covid-19 patients).</p> <p>The UGC had already issued guidelines on the academic calendar and examinations last year. Guidelines have also been issued for admission to the first year of UG and PG classes, including a timeline for admissions for 2021-2022. As and when the need arises, these guidelines will be reviewed.</p> <p><br> <b>There are issues with the online mode, like the lack of uninterrupted access to the internet and problems on invigilating students during exams. Is it possible that the online mode might be becoming unsustainable?</b><br> There is no substitute to interactive classroom teaching. The online mode is only a supplement. [And] yes, there are issues like lack of access to the internet, especially in rural areas. These are being addressed by various agencies. Swayam Prabha is one such attempt to take curriculum-based content to rural areas through 34 DTH channels. I believe a blended mode of learning is the way forward, and we are constantly trying to address the challenges to make it accessible and sustainable in the long run.</p> <p><br> <b>How has the implementation of the National Education Policy (July, 2020) been affected? How do you plan to salvage it?</b><br> The ministry of education and the UGC are committed to implementation of the NEP, 2020. Large scale virtual consultations were undertaken, involving stakeholders from all over India. Social media was used extensively to spread information. On the advice of the ministry of education, the UGC formed various expert groups to suggest an action plan on different themes of the NEP. After virtual deliberations, they sent suggestions to the UGC.<br> Committees constituted for drafting of regulations completed their work in the virtual mode. For instance, regulations for setting up of an academic credit bank have been approved and is in the process of being notified. The UGC has also taken several other measures to give effect to the provisions of the NEP, 2020.</p> <p><br> <b>What are some of the newest courses that have been added to prop up open and distance learning (ODL), and online learning?</b><br> The UGC has been taking a number of measures on a regular basis to promote ODL and online learning, thereby addressing critical issues in the Indian context such as access, equity and quality of technology driven higher education. The University Grants Commission (Open and Distance Learning Programmes and Online Programmes) Regulations were notified in September, 2020. These regulations enable institutions to offer 13 full-fledged online programmes (three UG and 10 PG) without prior approval of the UGC, if they are in the Top 100 universities as per the National Institutional Ranking Framework (for two out of three proceeding cycles) or having a NAAC score of 3.26 and above.<br> The permissible online education component in ODL has been enhanced to 40 per cent (from 20 per cent) to promote e-learning. Disciplines such as arts, commerce, management and science; with specialisations like logistic management, digital marketing, data sciences, logistics, database systems, multimedia and animation, and data analytics and supply chain management have been permitted.</p> <p><br> <b>Students across varsities are demanding not just postponement but cancellation of online classes and exams in the coming months because of the mental and physical toll that the second wave has had. Is this feasible?</b><br> We are assessing the situation, and, as I said earlier, we are constantly in touch with the universities and will decide accordingly.</p> <p><br> <b>How is the pandemic likely to affect the global ranking of central universities and colleges in India?</b><br> International student mobility has been affected because of the pandemic. This has a direct impact on the ranking, as [number of] international students is a parameter for major international ranking agencies. Teaching, research, collaborative publication and possible innovation have been affected as well. But, this is true for all countries, nothing specific to India. However, cumulatively these factors are likely to affect global ranking of our universities and colleges.</p> <p><br> <b>Students are now coming to grips with the situation, after attending condolence meetings of their teachers and friends' family members. How are educational institutions helping students cope with the ongoing health crisis?</b><br> It is vital that psychosocial support is provided to students, staff and teachers. The UGC has been issuing advisories to the universities suggesting measures (to ensure) mental health and well-being of students. The education ministry has also launched an initiative called “Manodarpan” to provide psychosocial support to students. These initiatives, along with counselling, aim to help students to cope with academic-related stress, self-care and health issues.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>POINTS TO PONDER</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>First-year blues</b></p> <p>Freshers are on a transition from school to college and are quite eager to experience every aspect of campus life, like face-to-face interactions with professors, laboratory sessions, sports, the hostel, canteens and, above all, mixing with their peers, who are from different walks of life, and adapting to learning and living together. We feel the anxiety of students about missing these experiences. During each online session, we counsel them and try to ensure that they are focusing on the online classes.</p> <p><b>V. Balusamy </b><i>Principal</i></p> <p><i>Kongu Engineering College, Erode</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>New-age exams</b></p> <p>We implemented an online proctored exam system, where a trained human proctor monitors multiple students on a screen. Two-way chat between the student and the online proctor is supported for both technical support and monitoring. All actions of the user can be tracked. If violations are reported, the session locks and students can continue only if the invigilator manually updates it. The system is robust and scalable—based on the number of concurrent users, computing nodes can be added.</p> <p><b>P. Venkat Rangan</b></p> <p><i>Vice chancellor, Amrita University</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Fears and respite</b><br> </p> <p>The final semester students were shocked. Apart from the [concerns about] exams and placements, the economy itself was collapsing. Thankfully, during the partial respite, they were able to finish their exams and graduate by the end of 2020. But, the students were unable to go on global immersion programmes. As an alternative, we had virtual experiences such as the opportunity to participate in international events like webinars, conferences and job fairs.</p> <p><b>Kerron Reddy</b></p> <p><i>Founder, AIMS Institutes, Bengaluru</i></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/vital-to-provide-psychosocial-support-to-students-staff-and-teachers.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/17/vital-to-provide-psychosocial-support-to-students-staff-and-teachers.html Thu Jun 17 19:46:05 IST 2021 pandemic-forgotten-and-forsaken-children <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/pandemic-forgotten-and-forsaken-children.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/10/16-A-child-who-lost-her-parents.jpg" /> <p>Inside the long, narrow and serpentine lanes of a slum in New Delhi, 13-year-old Raveena Jankipura contemplates suicide. She feels “trapped, suffocated and abused” in her two-room house. Three months ago, her father lost his job in the lockdown that followed the second wave and has been home ever since. He has been sexually and physically abusing her; he recently burnt all her textbooks. Her mother is battling Covid-19 in a government hospital. With schools shut, Raveena is working as a daily wage labourer in a nearby factory. She looks forward to the backbreaking shift at the factory because it gives her an excuse to stay away from her perpetrator—her own father.</p> <p>On April 20, in Jhalamand village of Rajasthan's Jodhpur, Akhil Mandopa, 12, was forcefully married off to a girl three years younger to him. To escape the prying eyes of the administration and activists, the 20-minute ceremony was conducted at 2am in fields far away from home. A marriage certificate was ready by morning, much to the chagrin of authorities. Around the same time in Jodhpur, Radha, 14, who had been married off as a toddler a decade ago, was forced by her in-laws to move to their house during lockdown. When she refused and questioned the legality of the marriage itself, they assaulted her and her family. She was later hospitalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Maharashtra, children from the tribal areas of Jawhar and Mokhada have been waiting for more than six months to get their supplies of medicines, protein powders and essential vitamins, which otherwise was delivered regularly here. A majority of the children here have been reported to be malnourished with acute vitamin deficiency, and regular government programmes help keep their health and vitals in check. However, the second wave made it almost impossible for doctors and activists to visit the area. “The children have lost weight. We have no records or vitals taken,” says Ramchandar Bhoye, who works with the Samta Foundation in Jawhar. “We are waiting for the pandemic-related stress to ease out and then we will restart.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a posh Delhi locality a few kilometres from the India Gate, a 16-year-old girl was shocked to see her name tagged in thousands of posts on her Instagram feed at around 11pm. A bunch of her classmates from a highly reputed school were cyber-bullying her. The family learnt that a boy from her class had initiated it, seeking revenge as the girl had stopped talking to him for a few days. “She received rape messages and death threats on Instagram that night from random people as an intimidation tactic. We were shocked,” said the girl’s mother. “I had to call the boy at midnight to put an end to it and then filed a complaint with the police.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 continues to ravage through the country, children have emerged as its biggest victims and silent casualties—ignored, neglected and abused. As families lose their sources of income and basic survival takes a hit, the vulnerabilities of children have become more pronounced. And, the impact is multidimensional. The past year and a half of the pandemic has seen a sharp rise in the violation of rights of children who are already at a disadvantage, be it in institutions or at home. And, these rights range from the right to health, education and family life; right to be protected from violence and from economic and sexual exploitation to right to an opinion; right to be protected from any hazardous employment; right to nutrition and the right to a happy and secure childhood. “The severity associated with the violation of children's rights is the most massive problem we are facing on ground right now,” said Sonal Kapoor, founder director, Protsahan India Foundation, which has been working to address child rights violations in India. “In the last four months alone, we have seen 650 case files of families in which the rights of more than 1,700 children have been completely taken away in a single city. This is child protection emergency.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lockdown measures also exposed children to a range of risks as confinement resulted in heightened tensions at home, including domestic violence. And while the risk of violence against children increased, child protection services found themselves tied down because of the lockdown restrictions. With loss of employment and rising poverty at home and schools remaining shut, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been forced into manual labour, begging, early child marriage and paid domestic chores; they probably would never go back to school again. Children from middle and upper middle class families, on the other hand, are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety and depression as they remain cooped up indoors. With no access to public parks and gardens, no avenues for sports and recreation, and with schools remaining shut, these children have begun to show signs of restlessness and frustration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Not that these issues weren't there before, but in the past year and a half they have enormously intensified,” said Kapoor. She spoke about documented cases of transactional sex where parents send their girls, aged 11 to 15, to unorganised brothels in exchange for food. They return after two to three hours, “in a completely distraught state, as good as a dead body”, but they bring along 2kg of wheat flour and 4kg of rice to last the family for a week.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around 10 days ago, four children, 12- to 13-year-olds, went missing on a single night in Bhubaneswar. Officials suspect it to be a racket and are still investigating it. “These are pandemic's forgotten children,” said Dr Benudhar Senapati, director of Childline in Bhubaneswar, who has been addressing the issues of street children for more than a decade now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They have no food, no first aid. They do not get themselves tested even if they have Covid-19. And if they test positive, nobody cares.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months ago, his team of volunteers, who visit the children in three battery-operated rickshaws to educate them on Covid-19, found a boy who had “mistakenly” travelled to the city from Maharashtra. When the team found him, he had fever and looked lost. Later, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was quarantined. Before the pandemic, said Senapati, these children had access to mentors, friends and activists who would help them and provide for them. But with a strict lockdown in place, they have become lonely and fearful as they see people dying in front of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“At such times, it is the psychosocial problem that comes into sharp focus,” said Senapati. “They live in fear and anxiety. When they are sick, there is nobody to take them to the hospital. Nobody even has any data on how many street children died, how many got sick and how many continue to struggle on the streets every day. In the pandemic, the number of calls we would receive directly from children has also reduced, because they have no access to a phone. Now it is the police that gets such children to Childline for help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has upended the lives of school-going children, too. According to a social activist in Maharashtra, an unprecedented number of school-going girls and boys have begun assisting their parents in the unorganised labour sector, either at construction sites or as domestic helps or in factories rolling agarbattis and kohl sticks for 8-10 hours. “The parents find them to be an additional mouth to feed, given that the school's mid-day meal programmes are shut, and hence make them work to earn,” the activist said. “They are being paid Rs3 to Rs10 a day, but nobody is talking about these things.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic also made it convenient and easier for child marriages to take place, said Dr Kriti Bharti of Saarthi Trust, which works in the area of child marriage annulment in Rajasthan. Children are being married off as earnings have depleted in families and so “it is considered ideal to have one less mouth to feed”. Also, since the government limited the number of wedding guests, families did not have to take loans for the weddings. “Every single day since last year, at least three girls undergo gauna because it turns out to be cheaper in the lockdown,” said Bharti. Gauna is a practice in which an already wedded minor is sent to her in-laws’ home after she attains puberty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, strict lockdowns have affected the informer network, the backbone of social activism. “People took advantage of the fact that there was nobody to stop them from conducting child marriages because informants themselves were cooped up indoors,” said Bharti. “We only got to know about the marriages after they had happened. With courts shut and access to mentors broken, children have nobody to turn to.” As per government data, the number of child marriages in the first year of the pandemic went up by 33 per cent as compared with 2019.</p> <p>Jitendra, who works with Childline in Mumbai, agreed that child protection has been compromised during the pandemic. Nine Childline units work at the city level and five at railway stations to make sure no child gets trafficked or abused. But shockingly, from this January to June, they have observed “a steep rise” in the number of cases of domestic violence and mental harassment at home. “We have also rescued and rehabilitated 12- to 16-year-old girls who were sent from Sikkim, Assam and Howrah to Mumbai for work as their families found it difficult to make ends meet,” said Jitendra. The girls are presently protected under the Child Welfare Committee (CWC).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While some children are fortunate to find help, others languish and are mutely resigned to their fate. In Delhi's “very marginalised spaces”, 52 of the 400 girls who volunteers from Protsahan spoke to admitted that they had been victims of incest during the pandemic. And they also said that there was nothing they could do about it because their mothers were financially dependent on the fathers and to protest would mean going hungry and homeless. “Hunger has become a massive issue here,” said Kapoor. “Children have no food and in order to be able to have something on the plate by the end of the day, they must do whatever they are asked to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nutrition, too, has taken a hit. According to a report released by the UNICEF, more vulnerable children are becoming malnourished due to the multiple shocks created by the pandemic and its containment measures. An additional six million to seven million children under five may have suffered from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020 and disruptions to service may have resulted in 160 million children under five missing a crucial dose of Vitamin A, read the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The catastrophic impact of the pandemic has led families to break down and remain irreparably divided, leaving little children to suffer, stripping them off parental love and the emotional, psychological and physical support that comes with it. Take the case of two siblings, Anushka, 9, and Rahul, 11, who lived with their parents and grandparents in a modest house in Lonavala near Mumbai. Last October, they lost their father to Covid-19. A few days later, their mother died by suicide. In less than a week, the siblings became orphans. They are now placed in a Child Care Institution in Pune's Pimpalgaon. They are yet to come out of the shock that their parents are no more, said Subhash Bongarde from CCI, Pune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between April 1 and May 25, 577 children across the country were orphaned after their parents died of Covid-19, said Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, committing to “support and protect every vulnerable child who lost both parents to Covid-19”. For the last six months, a single ward (M-East) in Mumbai has reported 10 cases each month of children who lost either one or both parents to Covid-19. In Maharashtra, more than 5,000 children have lost at least one parent in the last 14 months. Forty toddlers from a single Delhi slum lost their fathers to Covid-19 in the last four months. The second wave has killed more young people, aged 30 to 50, than the first. Take the case of Kerala: 350+ young parents in this age group succumbed to Covid-19 in May alone, and close to a thousand children have lost at least one parent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In neighbouring Karnataka, a new-born from Mandya district became an orphan even before she could open her eyes. She stayed in the hospital for two weeks as both her parents succumbed to Covid-19 within a fortnight last month. The couple—Nanjundegowda and Mamatha—were preparing to welcome their firstborn after a long wait of nine years. The father died ten days before the baby's birth and the mother five days after. The baby is Covid negative and is presently under the hospital’s care and the supervision of the state's CWC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loss of a parent is the most traumatic experience for a child. In Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district, three children—the youngest being nine years old—became orphans overnight when their mother who was their only parent died of Covid-19. Days later, officials found that the children were living alone in the house, lost and uncared for. A pastor, who has been helping the orphans, is now working with the officials to rehabilitate them. In the same district, Divya, 13, a mentally challenged girl, lost her father to Covid-19 last year and her mother a few weeks ago. She has been shifted to a centre that takes care of children with special needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As more and more such cases come to light, so do the challenges of illegal adoption rackets and selling of babies, in some cases by parents themselves in a bid to sail through tough times. In June, the Thane police in Maharashtra reportedly arrested a couple for attempting to sell their sixth child, a five-month-old boy, for 090,000. The father, a rickshaw driver, was struggling to feed his children during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Civil society organisations, health workers, socially conscious citizens and hospitals are all being called upon to report such cases. The government has also widely advertised that people be cautious of any messages on social media or off it that call for adopting such children. One message that was propagated widely in Uttar Pradesh was about two sisters who had been orphaned and were up for adoption. This message caught the attention of the police as the sisters did not even have a gap of nine months between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While full disclosures about the guilty have not been made, sources told THE WEEK that the message had been traced to Noida. A post on Dwarka Mom's Group on Facebook, read, “We are interested to adopt a baby girl, age 6 months to 2 years. We arrived at this as you all know in the pandemic situation, many childs (sic) have lost their both parents and nobody is there to look after them. If anyone has some sort of knowledge or contact do share with us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On calling the number listed in the post, a man who identified himself as Parag Bhatnagar, who has a small business manufacturing kitchen chimneys in Noida, said he had never approached any formal adoption agency or made inquiries so far even if the itch to adopt a “needy” girl child has always been there, even before the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such posts are now raising the spectre of child trafficking. A week ago, a WhatsApp message was shared in social media groups in Chennai, saying, “Two years baby girl and two months baby boy (Brahmin), in Chennai, have lost their mother and father due to covid. To adopt contact (9xxxxxxxx5).” When Professor M. Andrew Sesuraj, state convener of Tamil Nadu Child Rights Watch, saw the message, he informed social welfare ministry officials only to understand that the message was from Delhi and it was fake. “There are several messages like this. It is true that many children are abandoned at this time of the pandemic. But the question is are they getting the required help and is it addressed through the proper channel,” said Sesuraj.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CWC officials have warned people against directly handing over orphaned children to individuals or NGOs without the knowledge of the government, stating it is a punishable offence under sections 32, 33 and 34 of the Juvenile Justice Act. The Karnataka state police has warned that illegal adoptions can be charged under IPC Section 363 (punishment for kidnapping). Soha Seth Moitra, regional director at Child Rights and You, expounded on the protocol necessary to help vulnerable children find homes and kinship care after losing parents to Covid-19. The CWC first tries to trace guardians of the child. “If the CWC inquiry finds that the child has no one, or is abandoned, it can declare that the child is ‘legally free’ for adoption,” she said. Then, a specialised adoption agency is involved, which conducts a ‘home study report’ of prospective adoptive parents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The SOS Children's Villages of India, an NGO which has been providing a home for children deprived of parental care, has given shelter to nearly 100 Covid orphans across their 32 villages in 22 states. “The SOS Village has set up a helpline for children who have lost their parents to Covid-19,” said Sumanta Kar, secretary general, SOS Children's Villages of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>States, too, are lending a helping hand to children who have lost one or both parents to Covid-19. From fixed deposits and bank accounts to education support, district administrations have announced specific measures. In Uttar Pradesh, 565 such children have been identified, and 56 of them are in Lucknow. A stock taking of the numbers happens every evening to ensure that no child slips through the nets. Karnataka’s Women and Child Development Minister Shashikala Jolle has made it clear that only the government can take the custody of the orphaned children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, can the Central government, with the lowest budgetary allocation for children in a decade at 2.46 per cent, provide for the children, ask activists. “They have taken away our [foreign funding] and other funding sources have been closed,” said the head of a prominent NGO working for child rights in India. “We then get a letter from the Central ministry saying that our volunteers must step into the field to make sure children are well protected and cared for. But how is that possible when we have no money to pay the volunteers?” She added that there are no child protection workers on ground because they were not prioritised for vaccination and they feared contracting the virus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ankit Keshri, a PhD researcher and senior research fellow with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said that owing to the pandemic, countless children will be separated from their families or family-based arrangements and “placed in harmful environment of closed institutions, causing an increase in institutionalisation”. On the other hand, emergency de-institutionalisation has taken place and with the shutdown of several childcare institutions, children were being restored to families and communities that have no way of supporting themselves. “In India, children were deinstitutionalised without a proper home study or care plan and hardly any follow-up took place,” said Keshri. Experts have also raised doubts over the execution of social distancing and respiratory hygiene practices among children living within institutional arrangements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there is the issue of children being bullied online. “During online classes, several violations happen when screenshots are taken and circulated. This is scary because now there is no alternative to virtual learning and the options for self-protecting mechanisms remain limited,” said Debarati Halder, a cyber rights lawyer. “Many children who are Twitter users have been trolled for their statements on whether exams should be conducted or not and have actually gone in deep depression. Now their parents have asked them to delete their accounts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the country struggles with measures to protect its children, the looming fear of an imminent third wave which is likely to affect children grips the nation. Already, 8,000 children and teenagers reportedly tested positive for Covid-19 in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar in May alone. These children account for 10 per cent of the cases in the district. “We are taking measures to protect our children. I have personally been doing the recce across districts,” Yashomati Thakur, state minister for women and child development told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per the Indian Council of Medical Research’s third National Serological Survey measuring the spread of infection between August and December 2020, 21 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children in the 10-17 age group showed evidence of past exposure to Covid-19. “Although there is no evidence that children are especially susceptible, due to a large number of persons getting infected, the absolute number of affected children has also increased. Children are suffering from cases of long Covid as well,” said Dr Narendra Kumar Arora, paediatric gastroenterologist and a senior member of the national Covid-19 task force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moitra lays down the road ahead, saying that there is a huge need to come up with exclusive children-focused Covid-19 management centres. “We should also try our best to link the family—if there is an extended family or a single parent—with all the social security schemes, because they are long term in nature. There will be a continuous flow of aid,” she said. “And then we should come up with mental health support facilities, because this is the last thing that people think about when it comes to low-income groups. And later on, regular follow-ups by local support systems like panchayats are required.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Some names have been changed.</b></i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With Sneha Bhura, Rahul Devulapalli, Cithara Paul, Lakshmi Subramanian, Sravani Sarkar, Puja Awasthi and Prathima Nandakumar.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/pandemic-forgotten-and-forsaken-children.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/pandemic-forgotten-and-forsaken-children.html Thu Jun 10 19:05:52 IST 2021 covid-affected-children-need-to-be-rehabilitated-with-existing-social-linkages <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/covid-affected-children-need-to-be-rehabilitated-with-existing-social-linkages.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/10/24-Priyank-Kanoongo-new.jpg" /> <p><b>Q/ Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said that 577 children have been rendered orphans due to the pandemic, between April 1 and May 25. How do you define orphan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Under the Juvenile Justice Act, an orphan is a child who has lost both parents. However, the act also has a robust mechanism under section 45 to support children from single parent homes, or those which have lost the breadwinner. Such children can be supported through a “sponsorship” mechanism. We are in touch with every state government to get details of all such children. The states have been doing a phenomenal job in this regard; we get weekly updates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What mechanisms are being planned to help Covid-impacted children?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Covid-19 is different from other natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, where often there is loss of property. Here, many children still have their homes, and therefore seeking adoptive parents is not the first recourse. We need to establish whether the child can stay in the family home, whether there are relatives who can take on the responsibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A child who has already gone through immense trauma should be protected as far as possible from further displacement. They need to grow up in familiar surroundings, because their friends and teachers and neighbours will be their support system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is why suggestions like those coming from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury to put Covid-affected children in Navodaya schools are terrible. These are children, not commodities, to be picked from one place and dumped in another. They need to be rehabilitated with existing social linkages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the suggestion to shift to a free Navodaya school is because the child may not be able to afford private school education, remember the Right to Education allows a minimum of 25 per cent seats for the economically disadvantaged, there is no upper cap. We have to work on keeping the children as minimally disturbed as possible. We need to have a robust tracking mechanism to ensure that the child is being taken care of. State child protection committees and non-government organisations have a strong role to play in this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The pandemic has impacted school learning massively. Is there any estimate of school dropouts? What efforts will be taken to get them back to class?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ How can we talk about dropouts when schools are shut? In-person teaching has not happened for over a year. We will only know the dropout numbers when schools reopen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Online classes have certainly impacted children; the digital divide is huge. We run a tele-counselling service for children called Samvedna (toll free no 1800-121-2830). A child from the Konkan area reached out last year. He said he was travelling 40km daily for his digital classes as there was no network in his village after Cyclone Nisarga. We reached out to the local administration and got the network back on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, online classes cannot replace in-person schooling. These are terrible times. Children and their family members are ill; many have perished. Let this phase get over, when classes reopen, we shall address dropout issues. Right now, the focus is to address their health, both physical and mental.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The pandemic caused other problems for children, too. We heard that child abuse cases had risen.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Last year, there were media reports that Childline received three lakh distress calls, of which 92,000 were of sexual abuse. It was a shockingly high number. However, Childline later told us that there were 176 calls of abuse, of which a few were of sexual abuse. The misreporting had done much mischief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, children face violence and abuse, and yes, not every case is reported. But it is still wrong to say that all the violence occurs at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, we are in the process of compiling data on FIRs related to POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, and a preliminary glance has shown that only a handful of those cases were within the home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, where is the biggest problem of child sexual abuse?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Online. Social media platforms, especially those which are encrypted, are the biggest markets for sale of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). WhatsApp is an adda (den) of paedophilia. We are doing an independent inquiry on CSAM availability on sites like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. It is shocking what we have discovered. That report will be out soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Lockdowns also saw a rise in child marriage cases.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Both lockdowns coincided with the festival of Akshaya Tritiya, during which people traditionally have mass child marriages in Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Around this date, the authorities are on vigil, yet many marriages are solemnised. So, to say lockdowns caused an increase in child marriage is incorrect. The numbers have to be compared with those of previous years. Comparing April data with September will give an incorrect picture.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/covid-affected-children-need-to-be-rehabilitated-with-existing-social-linkages.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/covid-affected-children-need-to-be-rehabilitated-with-existing-social-linkages.html Thu Jun 10 20:25:36 IST 2021 mending-tender-minds <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/mending-tender-minds.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/6/10/26-John-Vijay-Sagar-new.jpg" /> <p><b>CHILDREN ARE A</b> vulnerable group of individuals. Though the Covid-19 infection rate in children is less when compared with adults, the adverse impact of the pandemic on their mental health is significant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has adversely impacted the development of socio-emotional and language skills in preschoolers (children below six). Most children of this age group are confined to their homes as there is no access to outdoor play spaces, playschools or anganwadis. They may express intense anxiety and reach out to parents with questions about Covid-related regulations, such as wearing a mask and staying indoors. It is normal to express such anxiety. Some children may show frequent temper tantrums, too. Parents have to communicate with children in simple language about the Covid infection and Covid-related regulations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has adversely impacted children with special needs, too. Most of the special schools, therapy centres and rehabilitation centres have been closed, and it has become stressful for parents to provide developmental and behavioural training inputs for special children at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Closure of schools, less physical activity, absence of peer interactions, too much screen time and confinement to homes are all factors affecting the mental health of children. Excessive use of gadgets predisposes them to cyberbullies, internet addiction and online sexual exploitation. Many children are experiencing anger, sadness and boredom. Some of them may exhibit aggression, self-harming behaviour and withdrawal syndromes. There is also an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, especially depression and anxiety disorders. Those children who have experienced the loss of a family member, especially parents, or are from the lower socio-economic strata, children of frontline workers and those who live in childcare institutions are highly vulnerable to mental health problems. Domestic violence, and incidents of physical, emotional and sexual abuse cases involving children have also increased during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parents have to ensure their children's mental health by listening to them, acknowledging their difficulties, clarifying their doubts, reassuring them and providing emotional support. They should engage in open, non-judgmental communication with their children. Parents have to negotiate with them to ensure limited use of gadgets and should include non-digital activities in their daily routine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parenting is not easy during this pandemic; parents should not hesitate in taking support from other family members and seeking timely guidance from trained counsellors and mental health professionals. Urgent professional help has to be sought for the children if their behavioural or emotional changes last for more than two weeks, or if the changes are severe. Professional help is necessary if the child experiences a significant loss of sleep or appetite, exhibits physical aggression, or shows self-harming tendencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dr Vijay Sagar is professor and head, department of child and adolescent psychiatry, NIMHANS</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/mending-tender-minds.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/06/10/mending-tender-minds.html Thu Jun 10 20:24:42 IST 2021 vandana-shiva-how-i-met-sundarlal-bahuguna-and-discovered-chipko <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/vandana-shiva-how-i-met-sundarlal-bahuguna-and-discovered-chipko.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/27/47-Bimla-and-Sundarlal-Bahuguna-new.jpg" /> <p>I first met Sundarlal Bahuguna at his ashram in Silyara village, after I volunteered for the Chipko movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in the early 1970s, when I was preparing to leave home for Canada to pursue a PhD in quantum theory. As the daughter of a forest officer, I had grown up in the Himalayan forests, and before leaving, I wanted to go on a short trek to a favourite forest and take the memory with me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a dense oak forest in the hills between Chamba and Mussoorie, and it had a forest house above a stream. During my trek, I found that the oak forest was nearly gone, and the stream it birthed had been reduced to a trickle. I felt as if I had lost a part of me. The forests and streams had shaped me and made me who I was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To return to Delhi, I waited for a bus near a roadside dhaba at Chamba in Garhwal. The chaiwala and I struck up a conversation, and I told him how sad and painful it was to see the woods disappear. “Now there is hope, though,” he replied. “Chipko has started.” And that was how I first heard of the movement. I heard of women stopping logging in Reni and other villages. I heard of Sundarlal Bahuguna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had to catch my flight to Canada and join the university, but I vowed to return, find “Chipko”, and volunteer for the movement during my summer and winter vacations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first time I came home, I went to the Silyara ashram that Bahuguna and his wife, Bimla, had founded. Since that day, he has been teaching me and my generation about how nature’s economy is the real economy that supports all economies, including the market economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each time I came to volunteer for Chipko—first while doing my PhD and later while working at the Indian Institute of Science and IIM Bangalore—Bahuguna would ask us to undertake padyatras. From mid-1970s to 1981, we undertook padyatras under the guidance of the Bahugunas, documenting the movement and learning from women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through Chipko, I learnt to practise satyagraha—how to refuse to obey an unjust law or follow an unjust policy that was based on violence against nature and people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bahuguna was the bridge between our freedom movement and today’s ecology movement. He was inspired by Sri Dev Suman, and worked with Vinoba Bhave and Gandhi’s disciples Mira Behn and Sarla Behn. I have been blessed to learn Gandhi’s principles, first from my mother and father, and later from the Bahugunas. These principles have seeped into my thinking and work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bahugunas taught me that ecology is permanent economy, that simple living in the service of others is central to making a shift from ego-centric thinking and living, to eco-centric thinking and living. Ego-centrism leads to greed, consumerism and stealing from others. Eco-centrism leads to caring, sharing and not stealing from others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I learnt three Gandhian principles from the Bahugunas—‘swaraj’, or self-rule or self-organisation; ‘swadeshi’, or self-reliance or reliance in the local economy; and ‘satyagraha’, the yearning for truth and the obligation to oppose an unjust law through a constructive vision of nonviolence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have had the privilege of participating in the Chipko movement to protect the Himalayan forests; of doing a study on Doon Valley mining for the ministry of environment, which led to a satyagraha for the mountains; and of supporting Bahuguna’s satyagraha to protect the Ganga from the ravages of Tehri Dam. These satyagrahas that Bahuguna led shaped the contemporary ecology movement in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His ashram was destroyed in an earthquake in 1991, but he continued to spread his message of nonviolence and love for nature from a tent on the banks of the Ganga, while on a satyagraha to protect the river from Tehri Dam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His work was not limited to India. He marched to protect forests in Nairobi. I remember a journey with him to Mexico in the mid-1980s at the invitation of [Austrian philosopher-priest] Ivan Illich and [Mexican activist-thinker] Gustavo Esteva. Richard St Barbe Baker, the English biologist who founded the organisation Men of the Trees, wrote: “As far as I know, Sundarlal is the only person in the entire world who has gone on a fast unto death for trees. Sundarlal is my guru. And the Chipko movement is the leading movement for protecting our forests.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chipko and Bahuguna received the Alternative Nobel Prize in 1987. In 2009, he was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan. In spite of the awards and recognition, the Bahugunas lived simple and graceful lives. Accompanied by Bimla ji, he would frequently visit the Earth University at Navdanya biodiversity farm in Doon Valley and teach courses on Gandhi, globalisation and ecology. And whenever I had the opportunity, I would visit them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His life’s work was to make us understand that we need to listen to nature. He wrote:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Politicians have loudspeakers.</i></p> <p><i>But who will speak for the tree that will be cut?</i></p> <p><i>Who will come forward for the dying river?</i></p> <p><i>Who will protect the mountains?</i></p> <p><i>It is now time to hear the voice of the tree being cut,</i></p> <p><i>the voice of the river,</i></p> <p><i>the scream of the mountain that is sliding.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His was the voice of nature. His life was a continuous satyagraha for life and freedom. His legacy is that he has shown humanity the way forward: Living with respect for, and in harmony with, nature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Vandana Shiva is an award-winning scholar and activist. Her forthcoming memoir of Sundarlal Bahuguna will be published by Niyogi Books.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/vandana-shiva-how-i-met-sundarlal-bahuguna-and-discovered-chipko.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/vandana-shiva-how-i-met-sundarlal-bahuguna-and-discovered-chipko.html Thu May 27 21:11:25 IST 2021 how-sundarlal-bahuguna-became-the-pioneering-tree-hugger <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/how-sundarlal-bahuguna-became-the-pioneering-tree-hugger.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/27/48-Sundarlal-Bahuguna-new.jpg" /> <p>Sundarlal Bahuguna’s first defining contribution, and perhaps his most enduring one, was to the English language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 1970s, he began guiding a forest conservation movement that he called ‘chipko’, which in Hindi meant ‘to stick to’. The movement’s early name had been angalwaltha, a culturally resonant term in the Garhwali language that meant ‘embrace’. That is what Bahuguna and his followers did—they hugged trees to prevent them from being felled by rampaging loggers in the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the time the world began taking notice of the peaceful agitation, the Hindi word, too, had embraced the Garhwali meaning. “The Chipko movement has mushroomed throughout India’s forest regions since it was founded a decade ago,” reported the New York Times in 1982. “Chipko means embrace.” And from Chipko evolved the word ‘tree-huggers’—a catchy but derogatory moniker that critics often use to ‘stick it to’ conservationists, but one that the conservationists themselves are only happy to embrace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bahuguna knew how to infuse deep meanings even into mundane words and deeds. In an interview in 2003, he predicted India’s gravest challenges. “Today our lifestyle is very different,” he said. “We do not think about oxygen. I think the first basic need is oxygen—and then water, food, shelter and clothing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bahuguna, 94, died of Covid-19 on May 21 this year, when the pandemic had worsened the needs he had foreseen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A wider goal of the Chipko movement was to conserve the ecology of the Ganga basin. And, much like the river, the movement had two headstreams—one led by Bahuguna, who focused on the Bhagirathi watershed, and another by Chandi Prasad Bhatt, who was active in the Alakananda basin. The movement began in 1973, when the forest department refused to provide hornbeam wood to a village cooperative started by Bhatt. The villagers needed the wood to make farm tools, but the department had auctioned the trees to a sports goods company in Allahabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When angalwaltha began, Bahuguna had been trekking the Himalayan foothills. He joined the struggle, widened its base and wrote articles in Yugvani—a nationalist weekly published from Dehradun—praising Bhatt as the chief organiser of the movement. “In the US, the modern environmental movement was inaugurated by a book, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962),” wrote the historian Ramachandra Guha. “In India, the modern environmental movement was inaugurated by the Chipko movement.” Guha, who was born in Dehradun, was one of the first to chronicle the movement as a student.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Bhatt and Bahuguna were Gandhians who believed in the village economy. They opposed large-scale industries and had distinct ideas about the direction the movement should take. Bahuguna, who knew several languages and was the more articulate of the two, had an all-embracing vision. And his slogan—“Ecology is the permanent economy”—struck a chord with people outside Uttarakhand, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Development is a state in which the individuals enjoy permanent peace, happiness and fulfilment,” he said. “Whatever we have achieved today is by converting nature into cash. So, we have to redefine our civilisation. Those who employ the economic theory of nature are regarded as civilised. But those who live in perfect harmony with nature, who do no harm to nature, they are the civilised persons really.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bahuguna’s unorthodox protests against ambitious development projects made him well known in Delhi’s power corridors. Prime minister Indira Gandhi would often refer to him as the “Chipko Bahuguna” who felled projects instead of trees. But Indira was understanding enough to pass a 10-year ban on chopping trees in Uttarakhand, which was then part of Uttar Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once, when a desperate Union government sent emissaries to Bahuguna, asking him to end his fast against the Tehri dam across the Bhagirathi, he asked: “What have you done to the Yamuna? You have polluted the Yamuna and now you want the water from Ganga to wash off your sins in Delhi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bahuguna was also a man of contradictions. He was a deeply spiritual person who believed in the dharma of vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the whole world as one’s family), but was still unable to prevent opportunists from using his work to achieve divisive political goals. “The devil quoting the Bible” was how he described them. Also, Bahuguna was the patriarch of what was primarily an ecofeminist movement led by uneducated, but enlightened, matriarchs like Gaura Devi, who was the first to inspire women to brave gun-toting loggers. Bahuguna’s wife, Bimla, was herself a leading light of the movement. She had worked for Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement in Bihar in the 1950s, before she married Bahuguna and became one of the pillars of the Chipko movement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his twilight years, Bahuguna painfully recognised that his Gandhian dream of self-sufficient villages was crumbling. “More people have migrated out of Uttarakhand than was the case before it attained statehood,” he said in 2017. With the government having ignored his warnings, he said, the life of Uttarakhand—its youth and the water from its rivers—was being sapped by the cities. “This is unfortunate,” he rued.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His life’s work, however, may have just started yielding results. In 2019, the Union government released the biennial State of Forest Report, which said the country’s tree cover had increased to 24.56 per cent of its total area—an increase of 13 lakh hectares in four years, the highest since independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It could be that people are finally understanding the folkish slogan that Bahuguna had made famous long ago. “Kya hain jungle ka upkar? Mitti, paani aur bayar; zinda rehne ke aadhaar.” What are the gifts of the forest? Soil, water and air. The basis of our existence.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/how-sundarlal-bahuguna-became-the-pioneering-tree-hugger.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/how-sundarlal-bahuguna-became-the-pioneering-tree-hugger.html Fri May 28 18:41:37 IST 2021 look-into-mental-health-of-drivers <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/look-into-mental-health-of-drivers.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/27/60-Anu-Aggarwal-taking-yoga-classes-new.jpg" /> <p>She was the quintessential enchantress of Bollywood in the 1990s. One who hemmed and hawed for months before accepting the lead role in Mahesh Bhatt’s superhit Aashiqui (1990), remade in 2013 as Aashiqui 2.</p> <p>A gold medallist in sociology from Delhi University, Anu Aggarwal was a model before she became an actor, and then a yoga teacher and motivational speaker. She has a doctorate in naturopathy and yoga, and is the author of the book, Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead, published by HarperCollins Publishers India, in 2016, where she chronicled her ‘unusual’ and muddled life.</p> <p>Today, through the Anu Aggarwal Foundation, Aggarwal conducts yoga classes for children and the underprivileged, and helps people seek joy within and overcome trauma.</p> <p>In 1999, in Mumbai, Aggarwal met with a brutal road accident that changed her life and cut short her career in films. She was in a coma for 29 days. While Aggarwal was sentient after that, she was half-paralysed and her body laden with bruises. Doctors who treated Aggarwal said her recovery was a miracle of sorts.</p> <p>In an exclusive chat with THE WEEK’s Drive to Live team, Aggarwal opens up on the accident and the learnings from it. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>The car you were driving ran off the road and crashed into a sand dune. You were returning from an event at the US consulate in Mumbai. You said you have no memories of the accident, but there would have been eyewitness accounts and other reports. What led to the accident?</b></p> <p>I had memory loss, but with the help of deep healing practices I awakened a certain memory that was unavailable to me.</p> <p>My life is unusual... my accident was unusual. I have no choice in that. On that day I ended up driving a friend’s car without knowing it had an automatic gearbox. This happened on Gandhi Jayanthi in 1999. That night it was raining heavily in Mumbai. I tried to shift the gear. The rain was so heavy that it was difficult to look through the glass. It was a dramatic accident.</p> <p>I had just returned to Mumbai from the international yoga university and ashram near the Ganges, where I had not even smelled liquor for years. My body was clean. The car, after the accident, was in such a bad shape. It was like a deflated balloon. Nobody thought I would survive. I think the accident came as a gift from nature. I attained stardom at a young age. I had attained material growth before the accident. I couldn’t have had a bigger film [Aashiqui] as a launch in Bollywood. After a few years I wanted to move to the spiritual side. I believe the accident happened because the law of nature supported my spiritual growth.</p> <p><b>Twenty-nine bones in your body were broken. You had multiple fractures and head injuries. Your face was paralysed. Doctors gave up hope. What helped you recover?</b></p> <p>I have been practicing yoga since age five. Today, I have a doctorate in naturopathy and yoga. My body was fit and healthy just before the accident. If I weren’t as healthy and trained in yoga, the recovery wouldn’t have happened. It was yoga, coupled with a strong mind and body, which led to my speedy recovery. One has to be positive always. Most people cannot accept wrong things that happen to them. I was positive and grateful to God. Acceptance is a huge key in healing. My thought process speeded up my recovery.</p> <p><b>How has the accident changed you and the way you perceive the world?</b></p> <p>I have inculcated acceptance and gratitude in me. I have understood that nothing is impossible. I also realised that one should never lose hope. You can do just about anything that you want to do if you believe in it. I have become more compassionate. After the accident, I wanted people to know my healing process. That’s how the Anu Aggarwal Foundation began, which not only teaches yoga to the underprivileged and corporates, but also does a lot of awareness building activity. We work and help all who have faced trauma and challenges.</p> <p><b>Around 1.54 lakh people have died in road accidents in India in 2019. What is your advice to rash drivers? What are the urgent steps to be taken to reduce road accidents in the country?</b></p> <p>All of us have to follow rules. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet. One should not drink alcohol and drive... all that is important. But I feel it is even more important to check one’s eyesight and the overall health of the driver. Prevention is better than cure. When people drive, so many things play up in their mind. So, it is equally important to look into the mental health of the driver. It sounds far-fetched, but when someone applies for a license, their mental ability has to be checked. They must be aware of basic things. Any disability can trigger off something.</p> <p><b>Does yoga help one recover from injuries faster?</b></p> <p>Yes, it does. I lead a yogic lifestyle. So, I look at life holistically.</p> <p>To prevent accidents and speed up recovery, we should wake up early, have good eating habits. Your lifestyle should suit the healing process in you. Your fever may subside with a tablet. But in yoga it is not like that. There are many asanas that help you heal faster.</p> <p><b>These days you are talking to a lot of trauma victims. How do you help them recover from a sense of loss?</b></p> <p>Trauma can happen because of anything. I am a survivor. I have had post-traumatic stress disorder. There are simple, energetic practices that take you away from a conscious reality…. I am not merely talking about asanas. These are ways of deep relaxation using psychic mind practices. I learned cranial sacral therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and science of happiness. The illness is at your physical level.</p> <p>Any mishap is a trauma. We don’t differentiate between road accidents and other accidents. I talk to these people depending on their level of trauma.</p> <p><b>Your book—Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead—came out in 2016, where you talked about your journey to stardom and the accident. You have hinted on bringing out another book. What are you going to write about this time?</b></p> <p>My writing is infused with compassion and hope. My first book was well received. I also narrated it in my own voice; an audiobook was out recently owing to the popularity of the book. Since childhood I have been a great reader. I admire writers like Gustave Flaubert and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.</p> <p>I realised people want to know a lot more about me. Covid-19 has shown me the need for raising awareness in people. I have always hidden from publicity. I haven’t decided what the second book should be about, but it should excite many.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/look-into-mental-health-of-drivers.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/27/look-into-mental-health-of-drivers.html Sat Aug 07 15:43:30 IST 2021 has-judicial-overreach-impeded-covid-19-pandemic-management <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/has-judicial-overreach-impeded-covid-19-pandemic-management.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/13/48-A-health-worker.jpg" /> <p>Any overzealous, though well-meaning, judicial intervention may lead to unforeseen and unintended consequences...”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was part of the Centre’s recent submission to the Supreme Court when it was asked about the differential vaccination policy across age groups in the country. As the second wave of the pandemic raged across India, and caught the executive with its pants down, the judiciary stepped into the vacuum. The apex court and several High Courts have been passing orders to ensure better management of the pandemic. Whether it is vaccination or bed allocation, availability of oxygen or the drug tocilizumab, some judge has passed a stricture, told an authority to “beg, borrow, steal” or pulled up those in-charge for contempt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is a sampling of what has been happening across virtual courtrooms over the past few weeks: The Allahabad High Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to fix a “minimum” ex gratia of Rs1 crore for every official who succumbed to the pandemic because of panchayat election duty; the Rs30 lakh the state government had announced was too little. The Kerala High Court ordered a ceiling on charges in private hospitals for Covid-19 treatment. The Delhi High Court has been almost micromanaging pandemic management, fixing oxygen quota and distribution. It even issued a contempt notice to the Centre on the oxygen issue, which the Supreme Court dismissed. The Uttarakhand High Court pulled up the state government for allowing the Kumbh Mela to go ahead against scientific advice, and then, for not following standard operating procedures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mountain of public interest litigations also points to administrative lapses at the government level, leading to injustices, said Ranbir Singh, former vice chancellor of the National Law University.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The courts’ intervention began as a response to an immediate problem. Over time, however, the courts have found themselves in territory where they have neither scientific nor administrative expertise. As one lawyer said, there was a situation where lawyers, and not medical experts, were comparing the benefits of dexamethasone over remdesivir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, has the judiciary waded deep into a mire that even medical and administrative experts are wary of?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it came to the distribution of vaccines, the Centre finally made a stern submission: “In the context of a global pandemic, where the response and strategy of the nation are completely driven by expert medical and scientific opinion, there is even little room for judicial interference.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It added that, in the absence of administrative experience or expert advice, such interference could leave the doctors, scientists, experts and executive little room to find innovative solutions on the go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the fact remains that, had the government not messed up the vaccination programme, there would not have been this need for the courts to ask questions. “The Centre seems to be right,” said former Supreme Court judge K.S. Radhakrishnan. “Administration is the job of the elected government. The Supreme Court cannot deal with highly sensitive and technical issues as it does not have the machinery for it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Has the judiciary overreached? Is it now impeding pandemic management? “When there is non-governance, it is the obligation of the courts to step in. There is complete and utter breakdown of government machinery,” said senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan. He, however, conceded that “it is a different matter whether they can provide solutions that are implementable”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior advocate involved in several Covid-19-related litigations said that while judicial intervention had helped in many instances, in many others, the orders were vague. She pointed to one observation of the Delhi High Court on stopping the black-marketing of lifesaving supplies. “How will the court monitor this?” she asked. “The government will just submit some more reports and there is no way of cross-checking...”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Again, when authorities said they were short-staffed because of the pandemic, it meant there was no way to implement any orders. Another court observation: “Ensure a controlled reopening of the city.” This depends on what the perception of “controlled opening” is. A 50 per cent bus and metro occupancy might be “controlled” for one official, but another could still call it a super-spreader decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, is there any point in holding up officials to contempt at this stage? As senior government officers asked, will the problem be solved by removing or fining the health minister? Sankaranarayanan, though, said babudom gets into action when there is the fear of jail or penalty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In their dealing with the oxygen situation, the courts might even have created more problems than they solved. Their decisions on fixing the quota that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded for Delhi—700 metric tonnes—resulted in states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also seeking judicial intervention for quotas. Clearly, the messaging that went out was that the crying child gets the milk, or rather, oxygen! The Supreme Court later appointed a 12-member national task force to coordinate oxygen allocation and distribution across the country. This created another layer of bureaucracy at a time when officials were already stretched in securing supplies from overseas. However, it brought about a level of transparency that seemed missing. The move would also ensure that states that have not bawled about oxygen shortage are not denied their quota. Perhaps, the task force should have been instituted before conceding Kejriwal’s demands, said the senior advocate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Home ministry officials pointed out that the task force was only one aspect of a national plan; it had to be followed up by state-, district- and block-level planning for pooling resources and for coordinating with several ministries. This requires the involvement of medical experts, administrators and political leadership. The courts can act as checks and balances, but their role should be advisory, letting the executive take the implementation decisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no denying that the pandemic is an extraordinary situation. Thus, even as pendency of other cases was high, the judiciary zealously tried to ensure justice to citizens. Not all cases, however, have been in the public interest. Many hours have taken up addressing petitions by individuals. There was the case of a lawyer who wanted a bed allocated for a seriously ill relative, and the court had to say that it was not possible to intervene at this individual level. Some individual litigations, however, have had benefits for the larger community. The Delhi High Court ordered “transparent” distribution of tocilizumab, following pleas of two patients who were prescribed the medication but were unable to procure it. The proven efficacy of this drug is another matter altogether.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even the judiciary has a limited reach. This was clear when the Allahabad High Court’s order to the Uttar Pradesh government to consider a state lockdown was returned with the answer that yes, it was considered, but it was not needed. The Supreme Court sided with the state government on this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also the flipside of going to court for resolutions. The Delhi government, which effectively used the judicial route to secure oxygen supplies, was not too happy with the apex court’s decision to audit the usage of oxygen allocated to the states. The Centre had been repeatedly saying that it was not a supply issue in Delhi as much as a distribution one, and that the state government had not provided the wherewithal for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The courts have been accused of judicial overreach many times since the pandemic began. However, their involvement has not always been consistent. It has ranged from impractical decisions to even not addressing some pressing issues. Last April, the apex court first ruled that Covid-19 testing should be made free across government and private labs, but when the private sector pleaded against the unsustainability of the decision, it ordered that those covered under Ayushman Bharat or any other category of economically weaker sections would be entitled to free tests. This was at a time when India did not have enough testing facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, while the Allahabad High Court recommended Rs1 crore ex gratia to families of deceased poll workers, the Supreme Court last year did not show the same alacrity in dealing with the plight of migrant workers returning home during the lockdown. Though the exodus began in March itself, its orders to the government on their relief and rehabilitation came months later. In fact, in April, then chief justice S.A. Bobde refused to pass any order on payment of migrant workers during the 21-day lockdown, saying policy decisions were the prerogative of the government and that “We do not want to supplant the wisdom of the government with our wisdom.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>With inputs from Soni Mishra and Namrata Biji Ahuja</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/has-judicial-overreach-impeded-covid-19-pandemic-management.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/has-judicial-overreach-impeded-covid-19-pandemic-management.html Thu May 13 18:18:04 IST 2021 the-resilient-city <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/the-resilient-city.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/13/52-BMC-commissioner-Iqbal-Singh-Chahal.jpg" /> <p><b>ON MAY 10,</b> Mumbai’s municipal commissioner, Iqbal Singh Chahal, reportedly said even if there was a national lockdown, there was no need for it to be implemented in Mumbai. His optimism stemmed from a sharp decline in daily Covid-19 cases across the city—from 10,000 a month ago to under 2,000. The city’s daily test positivity rate, too, came down to 7 per cent from over 25 per cent in the first week of April. On May 9, Mumbai did not report a single death related to Covid-19. Exactly a month back, 31 people had died in 24 hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a time when Covid patients across the country, especially in the national capital, are struggling to get oxygen, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s oxygen management has become a model of efficiency. The Bombay High Court suggested that administrators from within and outside Maharashtra emulate the “Mumbai model” (the situation in Pune is particularly concerning and cases are on the rise). The Supreme Court, too, hailed the BMC for its “remarkable work” and prodded the Delhi government and the Centre to consult Chahal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The kind of free hand I have is not easy to come by,” Chahal told THE WEEK. “You have to have full power [to take and implement decisions].” Since he took charge in May last year, the 1989 batch IAS officer has been at the top of his game, especially in communication. He would personally send messages to journalists daily, updating them about policy changes and statistics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The corporation used social media to send minute-by-minute updates on vaccination slots and bed availability to its five lakh-plus followers, and to respond to calls for help and complaints, answer queries, and bust rumours and fake circulars. The plan to fight Covid-19 was executed seamlessly throughout the multiple levels of the bureaucratic chain. It was done with the right mix of centralised policy and decentralised execution at the ward level, across the city’s 24 wards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the most important aspect of the BMC’s Covid management infrastructure has been its dashboard. The data uploaded on the web link includes real time status of ICU and ventilator beds, beds with and without oxygen, containment measures, daily statistics, contact tracing and ward-wise Covid positive cases. It is accessible to all—citizens, hospitals and the administration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nagpur emulated it to contain and effectively manage the dire Covid-19 situation there a few weeks back. Ram Joshi, additional municipal commissioner, Nagpur, said that they had been in touch with the Mumbai commissioners long before the High Court had suggested it. The NMC also took from Mumbai the concept of hiring marshals and sending them across the city to enforce masking and social distancing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The best example of decentralisation in the BMC’s Covid management is the ward war room. It is an independent entity which has been given the authority to decide bed allocations, patient admissions and ambulance availability. Wards are also free to spend without approval from the top. Akash Kadam and his team of volunteers take more than 2,000 calls a day at the war room of the G-North ward, which includes Dharavi. “We are a 24x7 contact point for all the residents in this ward with respect to their Covid-related issues,” said Kadam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The corporation’s oxygen management system has a round-the-clock oxygen team, which includes six IAS officers. Robust planning to ensure oxygen sufficiency was started on a war footing after a harrowing experience in April. “I will never forget April 16-17, when around midnight, six hospitals ran out of oxygen and we were in panic mode,” said Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner. “Between 1am and 5am, we shifted 168 patients from six civic hospitals across the city to our jumbo centres to save their lives. It could have ended in a disaster.” In that fortnight, active cases in Mumbai had peaked at 92,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>P. Velrasu, additional municipal commissioner, said one reason why Mumbai had SOS calls for oxygen in April was that hospitals had not checked whether suppliers could provide extra oxygen when the occupancy of oxygenated beds increased. The regular supply, which normally lasted for 16 hours, was sufficient only for 10 to 12 hours and the refill schedule remained unchanged, he explained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The corporation already had data about storage capacity and supply, from a resource mapping and inventory accounting exercise done in May 2020. “We realised that we needed more oxygen storage capacity in hospitals to cater to the higher usage,” said Velrasu. “We installed large, additional cryogenic tanks in most hospitals within 40 days; this normally takes more than three months.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mumbai has shown its resilience time and again. Now, when faced with a looming oxygen crisis, it responded by changing its largely temporary, cylinder-based system to a centralised, permanent, storage-based system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dead count</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>By Dnyanesh Jathar</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation underreporting Covid-19 cases and deaths in the city? Devendra Fadnavis, leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra assembly, is convinced it is. The former chief minister has accused the BMC of window-dressing the numbers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Fadnavis alleged that Covid-19 deaths were being registered as deaths due to other reasons. He claimed that 1,773 people died in Mumbai between February 1 and April 30 and 683 were shown as deaths due to other reasons. The percentage of deaths due to other reasons in the second wave was around 39 per cent in Mumbai, while it was 0.7 per cent in the rest of Maharashtra, he pointed out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fadnavis also accused the BMC of reducing the number of tests carried out and of opting for rapid antigen tests over RT-PCR tests in order to drive down the positivity rate. The BMC issued a statement calling his allegations baseless. It also said that the number of tests had increased from 4.44 lakh in January to 13.32 lakh in April.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leader Sachin Sawant said that the Supreme Court’s praise of the BMC seemed to have given Fadnavis a “stomach ache”. He suggested that Fadnavis pay attention to the false statistics being released by BJP-ruled states like Gujarat.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/the-resilient-city.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/the-resilient-city.html Thu May 13 16:15:52 IST 2021 air-warriors <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/air-warriors.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/13/54-Shahnawaz-Shaikh.jpg" /> <p><b>PASCAL SALDANHA, 54,</b> is a mandap decorator from Malvani, a suburb of Mumbai. As his wife, Rosy, is a kidney patient, Pascal stocks an emergency oxygen cylinder. Last month, a friend told them about a school teacher who was unable to get oxygen for her husband who had tested positive for Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Rosy heard the story, she insisted that the emergency cylinder be donated to them as their need was greater. The Saldanhas’ son, Shalom, said that as news spread on social media, they got more calls for help. Rosy suggested that her jewellery be sold to buy more oxygen cylinders. “My health is anyways not good,” said the 52-year-old. “It was better to buy more oxygen and save the lives of Covid-19 patients.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her husband and son reserved an emergency cylinder for her and purchased and donated eight cylinders to people in need. Once a cylinder was empty, they got it refilled and sent it back. Shalom said their initiative helped save the lives of at least six patients. Many more have got oxygen cylinders from them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As their story became better known, crowd funding platform Ketto got in touch and helped the family start a fundraising campaign. The campaign has raised more than Rs31 lakh so far, against a target of Rs50 lakh. Using these funds, the Saldanhas plan to buy ambulances equipped with oxygen cylinders, dialysis kits and other medicines to be donated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another Mumbai resident, Shahnawaz Shaikh, sold his sports utility vehicle to raise money to help patients. “Last year, a close friend was desperately looking for a hospital bed with oxygen for his pregnant sister,” he said. “She died before he could find one. I decided then that I will buy oxygen cylinders and donate them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the money he got for his SUV, he bought 200 oxygen cylinders and set up a control room. People who needed oxygen could call the control room and then collect the cylinder from his storage facility. They had to produce a Covid-19 positive report and a prescription for oxygen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shaikh, who runs the NGO Unity and Dignity Foundation, has tied up with oxygen plants and dealers to get empty cylinders refilled. “We helped around 5,000 people last year,” he said. “As the requirement for oxygen has been much more in the second wave, I got every cylinder refilled. We have already helped over 1,000 people this year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several organisations have also stepped up in the hour of need. Two Sikh youth congregations in the city collaborated with the Red Crescent Society to provide oxygen cylinders to patients. They now have around 65 cylinders. A couple of Jain temples in the suburbs were recently converted into Covid-19 care facilities with oxygen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the administration has been rightly lauded for its management of the crisis in Mumbai, the efforts of individuals and other entities have also been vital.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/air-warriors.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/air-warriors.html Fri May 14 00:02:05 IST 2021 fungus-follows-virus <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/fungus-follows-virus.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/13/55-Mucormycosis.jpg" /> <p>Lokesh Kumar, 70, from Bengaluru, was on steroids after being diagnosed with Covid-19. He had no history of diabetes and was under home quarantine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar’s condition improved in two weeks. “However, he developed a one-sided nose block, and, gradually, there was a swelling on the right eye. Over the next three to four days, Kumar’s vision was deteriorating. He was unable to count fingers even one foot away from his face,’’ said Dr Susheen Dutt, consultant ENT specialist at Fortis Hospital, Bannerghata Road, Bengaluru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar was diagnosed with mucormycosis. “He already had significant progression of the problem observed on the MRI scan. After his right eye was removed, he underwent radical sinus debridement. This was followed by aggressive anti-fungal treatment in the form of intravenous amphotericin-B. Kumar has managed to survive and is getting discharged on day 14,’’ said Dutt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has led to an increase in the incidence of mucormycosis; many of them in Mumbai. “We haven’t measured the incidence, but we are seeing a surge in cases…. Patients are being pumped with steroids. When they are given large amounts of steroids, their immunity is compromised. These are some of the reasons that have led to a rise in cases of black fungus,” said Dr Laxman Jessani, consultant, infectious diseases, Apollo Hospital, Navi Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mucormycosis, also known as black fungus, is an invasive fungal infection that spreads rapidly through blood vessels, wreaking havoc in your body. It is acquired through the inhalation of fungal spores. Mucormycosis predominantly affects the sinuses, nose, eyes, jaws and the brain. The mortality rate associated with the infection is 90 per cent, said Dr Jessani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The symptoms of mucormycosis vary, depending on which part of the body is affected. “A patient whose sinuses and nose are affected may have symptoms like black nasal mucus, pain in the sinus areas and breathing difficulty,’’ said Dr Jessani. The other common symptoms associated with the infection include fever, swollen skin over nose and sinuses, headache, cough and chest pain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People with weakened immune system are at an increased risk for mucormycosis. Those with uncontrolled diabetes are vulnerable, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Increase in blood sugar levels in patients with uncontrolled diabetes decreases immunity and increases the availability of free iron in blood. This in turn increases the risk of mucormycosis,” said Dr Neha Gupta, internal medicine and infectious diseases physician at Medanta-The Medicity and Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those on chemotherapy or cancer medication are also at high risk for mucormycosis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among people with diabetes, mucormycosis is one of the worst infections that can occur and can often be life-threatening. If left uncontrolled, mucormycosis can lead to blindness and affect the brain. “If that happens, it is invariably fatal,’’ said Dr V. Mohan, chairman and chief of diabetology at Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If steroids are used too early in the treatment of Covid- 19, it can lead to a flare up of the infection. Steroids should only be used in the latter half. There is evidence of cytokine storm, and hence steroids should be used judiciously,’’ he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mucormycosis does not respect any boundaries and can spread from sinuses to eye, brain or even maxilla resulting in loss of teeth of the upper jaw in a matter of two to four days, said Gupta.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The treatment of mucormycosis is challenging as it involves extensive surgery, including removal of the jaw. Anti-fungal drugs like amphotericin-B are found to be effective in the treatment of mucormycosis. “However, amphotericin-B is a highly toxic drug. While it is quite effective in treating the infection, it invariably leads to kidney damage and renal failure,’’ said Mohan. “I have been lucky to treat a few patients with very good control of diabetes as well as judicious use of amphotericin-B, and some have survived and managed to get rid of the mucormycosis. However, it may be noted that if diabetic patients are treated with big doses of steroids, it increases the risk of developing mucormycosis. Hence, it is important to keep one’s sugar levels under control.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>*Some names were changed.</b></i></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/fungus-follows-virus.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/fungus-follows-virus.html Thu May 13 16:09:31 IST 2021 dont-shun-steroids <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/dont-shun-steroids.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/13/57-Dont-shun-steroids.jpg" /> <p><b>ROHIT, 28,</b> is a healthy man. When I first spoke to him, it was the sixth day of his symptoms. He sounded short-winded. His oxygen level (SpO2) was 97 per cent. After mild exertion, it dropped to 94 per cent. He may have already developed lung damage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second wave has hit India like a tsunami. Beds, medical oxygen and mechanical respiratory support are in short supply. We must aim to rescue patients before they require any of these scarce health care resources. But, is it possible?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Majority of SARS-CoV2 infections self-resolve with just supportive medications like paracetamol and adequate rest. It is only a minority which progress into a stage where they require hospitalisation. There are only two effective treatment options that have proven beneficial in reducing chances of death from Covid-19—steroids and tocilizumab.</p> <p>The SARS-CoV2 infection is characterised by an initial viraemic phase where there is viral replication and shedding, followed by a hyper-inflammatory phase, which is the response of the body’s immune system against the virus particles. The latter phase, usually, starts after around five to seven days from onset of symptoms. If left unchecked, the hyper-inflammatory lung damage can create havoc in the body and cause irreversible lung damage. It is usually manifested as hypoxia (inability to maintain oxygenation in the blood stream). Steroids are easily available, and are low-cost medications that help extinguish the inflammatory firestorm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In order to test whether steroids help patients, a large clinical trial was conducted among patients who were hospitalised. Patients who required oxygen or respiratory support benefited from the steroids, whereas those who did not require oxygen did not show a benefit with the use of steroids. Hence, most guidelines have not incorporated the use of steroids unless patients require oxygen support (SpO2 &lt; 92 per cent). However, on careful reading, it can be noted that a significant number of patients in the recovery trial were started on steroids even before the viraemic phase was over (as early as three days from onset of symptoms). More than half of the trial participants had diabetes, heart diseases or lung diseases. Clearly, using steroids that early in the disease course is harmful, especially for patients who are already suffering from multiple illnesses. But, in these critical times, we must act with the available evidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anecdotal evidence suggests that using steroids at the right time for the right patient would thwart the hyper-inflammatory phase and help reduce the chance for requiring respiratory support. But who is the right patient and when is the right time?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any patient who experiences worsening lung symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, or a consistently dropping trend in SpO2 level over few days or a drop in SpO2 level, with or without high grade fevers, any time after the initial five to seven days of onset of symptoms should be considered for an empiric treatment with steroids under medical supervision. Ideally, it is best to do a low dose CT scan of the chest or an X-ray to confirm the lung damage. Steroids should not be started within five days of onset of symptoms or as a preventive therapy. It should not be used in mild illness, where none of these symptoms or signs are present. Patients should not self-medicate themselves with steroids.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 2,100 participants who got steroids, two had high blood sugars, one had gastric bleeding and one had delirium. So, ensure good control of blood sugars and consider gastric protective therapy. The fungal disease—mucormycosis—is an extremely rare complication of patients on immunosuppressive therapy for prolonged duration, and is not seen with a short course therapy as used in the recovery trial. Steroids are potentially life-saving therapy in Covid-19 for hospitalised patients who are on respiratory support. If a patient like Rohit had followed the widely used home care guidelines from government and volunteer organisations, he would have waited until his SpO2 dropped to less than 92 per cent before he sought help. I treated him with steroids. Rohit fully recovered within a week. He did not require high-level respiratory support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dr Mathew is a Cambridge-trained epidemiologist, and American Board-certified medical oncologist, haematologist and internist practising in Kochi. He has experience in providing home care services for patients with Covid-19.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/dont-shun-steroids.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/13/dont-shun-steroids.html Fri May 14 00:00:50 IST 2021 remembering-soli-sorabjee-the-courtroom-genius <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/06/remembering-soli-sorabjee-the-courtroom-genius.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/5/6/23-Soli-Sorabjee.jpg" /> <p><b>SOLI WAS AN</b> outstanding lawyer, and we all know it. But more than that, he was an outstanding human being— warm and compassionate. You might wonder why I refer to him by his first name, especially given the age difference and the stature that he had. Well, the reason is quite simple. It was difficult to address him or refer to him in any other manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the first few occasions that we met, I did refer to him as Mr Sorabjee or sir, but such was his warmth that it became difficult to address him formally. And, I gradually shifted, without realising it, to addressing him as Soli. Even in the court, where everything is so formal, I have heard judges address him as Soli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;On many occasions, I had the privilege of briefing Soli in some high-stakes cases or important matters. I had to be fully prepared to answer every question that he might ask. His grasp was, of course, phenomenal, as was his knowledge and understanding of the law. But what many of us younger lawyers found very interesting was his court craft and his ability to lead the judges to the heart of the matter, and then convince them why he was right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soli was unflappable even when the going was not good, and he had the patience and the confidence that he would drive his point home and not make it easy for the judges to decide against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I recall a performance by Soli in a case related to the telecast rights of the 1996 Cricket World Cup. Doordarshan had a problem with a marketing company named WordTel, but did not succeed before the single judge of the Delhi High Court. In appeal, the then solicitor general Dipankar Gupta reeled out the facts and placed the law before the judges so eloquently that during the lunch break, all of us lawyers, regardless of which side we were representing, knew that Doordarshan would succeed in the appeal. In the afternoon session, Soli began his submissions by placing the broad facts of the case before the court. Then he explained the injustice being caused to his client, and by the time he finished, everybody knew that Doordarshan would be given a&nbsp;darshan&nbsp;of the door by the court. And indeed, that is precisely what happened. Soli won the day for his client.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few years later, I was recommended for appointment as a judge of the Delhi High Court. There was some delay in processing the papers due to some obscure and unwritten rule. Soli asked me if it was alright for him to suggest my name as an additional solicitor general. Of course, it was difficult to refuse Soli, and he gave me the privilege and opportunity to work with him for a few months until my appointment came through.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was an honour to have been associated with Soli. He will always be remembered by all those who have come in contact with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Justice Lokur is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/06/remembering-soli-sorabjee-the-courtroom-genius.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/05/06/remembering-soli-sorabjee-the-courtroom-genius.html Thu May 06 18:14:28 IST 2021 up-govt-wants-bundelkhand-expressway-to-be-india-safest-highway <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/29/up-govt-wants-bundelkhand-expressway-to-be-india-safest-highway.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/29/62-Bundelkhand-expressway.jpg" /> <p>Two deaths an hour. That is the rate of road accidents in Uttar Pradesh, the largest contributor to nationwide fatalities. UP has also been the first state to adopt a road safety policy. The preamble to the policy, adopted in 2014, says, “The government of Uttar Pradesh is highly concerned about the steep rise in the number of road accidents, injuries and fatalities in recent years. It is the ground reality that road accidents have now become a public health issue, and the victims are mainly from poor sections of society.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In recent years, UP has seen a massive push to build highways and expressways, which include the Purvanchal expressway, the Gorakhpur link expressway and the Bundelkhand expressway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state government wants the Bundelkhand expressway to be the country’s safest highway—with road safety engineering leading to a reduced number of accidents, and fatalities reduced with ready access to medical facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With technological inputs from Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats private limited (ICT), the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA), headed by additional chief secretary Awanish Awasthi, is putting in place measures that will kick in as the expressway opens for use in early 2022.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Kiran Kumar Kapila, managing director of ICT, “We can build an expressway, which will be quoted for years to come as a case study of the safest such structure anywhere in the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are many aspects that go into building an expressway. One of them is safe infrastructure engineering, which means not only making the safest structure under existing norms but also making a structure that is forgiving towards human mistakes. Vehicle engineering, like conspicuous reflective tapes on all commercial vehicles, is important. Vehicles that do not have tapes, which are inbuilt into many newer models, should be strictly barred from entering expressways.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another critical aspect is education to ensure that road users employ maximum caution, for which a controlled-access expressway is required. Educating people on the Good Samaritan law helps as that will make people rescue victims of an accident rather than make videos or stay silent spectators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The need of the hour is to include lessons on road safety into the school curriculum. The ICT has prepared them for NCERT books from classes six to ten, and has suggested that the UP government incorporate it in the state board curriculum. Awareness building is also to be done through road safety messages and songs played on television, radio and social media, and at public places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Education for service providers is also critical. For this, police stations, within a buffer zone, have to be mapped, and the personnel trained in traffic management, the Good Samaritan law and accident collection data, which includes determination of speed of vehicles through radar. The collection of road accident data on standardised forms ensures comprehensiveness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another critical parameter is enforcement of speed limits and other stipulations, a uniform advanced traffic management system and a tolling system to cover the entire highway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last, it is important to have an emergency care system, which includes mapping of health facilities, training of able-bodied young adults (bystanders) in providing first aid and training of paramedics in first aid trauma care. A survey of medical facilities is to be done in a pre-set format.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, India reported 1,51,113 deaths due to road accidents. This translates into 417 deaths a day or 17 deaths in an hour—equivalent to one jumbo jet crash with no survivors. Yet, as Kapila said, “Airline crashes are followed by searches and investigations. That does not happen with road accidents as most of those who suffer are poor.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Ahustosh Soti of the Lucknow-based Shubham Soti Foundation that works to create road safety awareness, “If there is an issue which concerns every person, it is road safety. Interventions that put a stop to this hazard thus cannot be standalone but have to be built into our everyday lives.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 2010, Soti’s foundation has adopted numerous innovative ways to educate people, like having volunteers dressed as zebras to emphasise the need to respect rights of pedestrians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015, UP recorded 32,385 accidents and this number went up to 42,572 in 2019. Accidents per lakh population have grown from 16.3 in 2016 to 18.7 in 2019. Two-wheeler deaths in UP are also high with 7,405 such deaths recorded in 2019. These account for 12.7 per cent of all such deaths recorded in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bundelkhand expressway, hopefully, could show the way to bring down these numbers.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/29/up-govt-wants-bundelkhand-expressway-to-be-india-safest-highway.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/29/up-govt-wants-bundelkhand-expressway-to-be-india-safest-highway.html Sat Aug 07 15:44:16 IST 2021 children-with-congenital-heart-defects-lack-proper-care-or-funds <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/23/children-with-congenital-heart-defects-lack-proper-care-or-funds.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/23/46-Prathiba-Paithane-new.jpg" /> <p>In a photograph clicked by her maternal uncle, Naina Singh, dressed in a white and blue striped sweater suit, looks straight into the camera. Her eyes sparkle and a smile plays on her lips. Nothing seems amiss. But on closer look, a slight bluish tinge is visible under both her eyes; her lips are purplish, almost black. And, the skin under her fingernails is light blue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naina is just 16 months old. At her age, most babies weigh close to 10kg; she is not even 7kg. Naina has four congenital abnormalities in the heart, including a hole, a misplaced artery and multiple blockages. Owing to these, the blood flow to her lungs is reduced and oxygen-poor blood flows out of her heart to the rest of the body, making her skin turn blue. “She is in very bad shape,” says paediatric cardiologist Dr Vikas Kohli, founder trustee of Child Heart Foundation, who diagnosed Naina’s ailment. “She does not have time—a viral infection will be the end of the child.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surgery will save Naina’s life, but it costs Rs3.5 lakh and her Noida-based family cannot afford it. Naina’s father is a farmer and her mother a homemaker. Her uncle, a taxi driver, has collected Rs1.25 lakh in the past one year. It will take him another two years to arrange the rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Congenital heart defects (CHDs) such as a hole in the heart or narrowing of one of the main vessels need immediate surgical intervention, within hours to days of birth. If delayed, it can affect a child’s lungs and hearts irreversibly,” says Dr S. Ramakrishnan, professor of cardiology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. “If such conditions are treated at the right time, children are cured for life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CHDs could be a hole in the heart, a single blood vessel instead of two, an abnormal blood flow owing to improperly formed valves and more. “CHD is responsible for 28 per cent of all congenital birth defects,” says Dr Anita Saxena, professor and head of cardiology at AIIMS. According to her 2018 report titled ‘Congenital Heart Disease in India’, birth prevalence of CHDs is around 8-12/1,000 live births. “Considering a rate of 9/1,000, about 13.5 lakh babies are born with CHD each year globally,” she writes. “The estimated number of children born with CHD every year in India approximates 2.4 lakh, posing a tremendous challenge for the families, society and health care system.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CHD is also one of the leading causes of death among children in their early growth phase, says Dr Biswa Panda, chief paediatric cardiac surgeon at Mumbai’s Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children. He recounts the case of a six-month-old baby with multiple heart abnormalities who, along with her parents, had travelled by train from Uttar Pradesh last year. Soon after her admission, she had a cardiac arrest. A specialist and his team managed to revive her and conducted the echocardiogram. The report pointed at the tetralogy of Fallot—a combination of four congenital heart defects including a hole, a deformity of the pulmonary valve, a misplaced artery and a thickened right ventricular wall. A surgery could have saved her, but in less than an hour she succumbed to a second cardiac arrest. “If this child had access to a competent centre closer to home and if she had been diagnosed even a fortnight earlier, she could have survived,” says Panda. “It was a totally preventable death just like so many before it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With technological advancement and improved diagnosis, there has been a sharp rise in the number of CHD cases coming to the fore. On an average in Wadia hospital, Panda conducts two to three surgeries daily, as 80 per cent of the children with CHDs require surgery. “Considering the birth prevalence of serious CHD (requiring intervention in the first year of life) as 1.6/1,000 live births, about 43,000 babies are born in India every year with serious CHD, of which only about one-fourth seem to be receiving optimal cardiac care,” says Saxena.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many cardiac care centres, adds Saxena, are located in regions with lower burden of CHD. There are 60 to 70 cardiac centres in India; of these, 10 are considered high volume centres, conducting more than 500 cardiac surgeries per year. “When considering critical CHD, the southern and western states have fared much better,” says Saxena. “States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, which presumably have much higher CHD burden as compared with the rest of states, have fared much worse.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Uneven distribution of well-equipped hospitals apart, lack of awareness, delay in diagnosis, illiteracy, lack of funds and access to health insurance have kept children with CHDs from getting proper and timely treatment. In Palghar district near Mumbai, three-and-a-half-year-old Sandesh Patil was admitted to a hospital for pneumonia when he was diagnosed with a hole in the heart; he was just nine months old then. Since then, he has been waiting for surgery. “I am fed up with doing the rounds of hospitals,” says his father Santosh, a farmhand. “Nobody is ready to do the surgery because I have no money. I am pleading with them to consider me for the government scheme, but they are asking me to produce a salary slip. Where do I get that from?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scheme that Patil refers to is the Centre’s Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK), launched in 2013. It includes early detection and intervention for children with medical conditions including congenital defects, and helps them receive surgeries at tertiary level for free under the National Health Mission. Yet, on the ground, families continue to struggle. Take, for instance, the case of Maharashtra. In 2019, the state decided to discontinue RBSK as it saw the programme as a duplication of the Centre’s new scheme that envisaged setting up of health and wellness centres across the country. At the time, Keshav Madhola was trying to generate funds to treat his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Amruta’s congenital blocked artery. “My daughter was already diagnosed late, and to add to that there was no way I could apply to the government for funds,” he says. Madhola’s daughter died a year later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Paithanes, too, are in a bind over how to pay for their son’s surgery that cost Rs3.5 lakh. We met Prathiba Paithane with her one-month-old son at the Wadia hospital’s ICU a few days after the surgery. They could only pay Rs90,000. The family had been told that the baby would be shifted to the general ward if they did not pay the rest. The Paithanes were worried that their child would contract Covid-19 in the general ward. Atul, the baby’s father, showed us documents that qualify them for assistance under the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Jan Arogya Yojana (MJPJAY). However, the hospital, although a charitable institution, would not consider it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhanashree Dichulkar, cardiac surgical coordinator, says that the hospital has applied for de-empanelment from MJPJAY. “The problem is that if the surgery cost is, say, Rs2.5 lakh, we receive only Rs40,000 from the government,” she says. “So, it is not practical.” She adds that the hospital has quotas under which it performs surgeries for free, but they are limited to three to four patients per month. “The Paithanes knew for three months that they had to arrange at least Rs2 lakh,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tragedy is that despite technological and medical advancements, CHDs continue to be one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in children in India “for reasons and factors that are completely under our control,” says Dr Manvinder Singh Sachdev, senior consultant paediatric cardiologist and interventionist at Medanta, The Medicity hospital, Gurugram. The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown further added to the distress of many, after non-Covid treatments and surgeries were put on the back burner. Travel restrictions only added to their woes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Krishna Kumar, clinical professor and head of paediatric cardiology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, says that the facility to operate on neonates is extremely limited in India. Infant and newborn open-heart surgeries are the most resource-intensive endeavours in medicine, which require a concerted effort of numerous specialists. There is a huge discrepancy between the numbers we need to treat and the numbers we are treating. For instance, there is only one paediatric cardiologist for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; he sits in Aligarh. And, paediatric cardiac surgery is not a lucrative specialisation. “There is no money in paediatric cardiac care, and it is very labour intensive,” says Ramakrishnan. “I know of a very skilled senior paediatric cardiac surgeon who is jobless. So, if such senior guys are finding it difficult, why would junior doctors take up the specialty?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, it requires high-end infrastructure, which is only available in big hospitals. All these hospitals are mostly in loss and are recovering their money from adult cardiac surgeries, including bypass. In a hospital such as Wadia in Mumbai, which has patients coming from across India and abroad, there is only one chief surgeon, assisted by two others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no national policy for CHDs in India, says Saxena. “This, despite the fact that 1 in 100 babies born are likely to have CHD,” she says. Prabhakaran Dorairaj of Public Health Foundation of India agrees that there should be a universal health coverage policy to fund such surgeries. “I believe that Ayushman Bharat is a beginning in that direction,” he says. “Forty per cent is covered now, hopefully it will be fully covered.”&nbsp;</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/23/children-with-congenital-heart-defects-lack-proper-care-or-funds.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/23/children-with-congenital-heart-defects-lack-proper-care-or-funds.html Fri Apr 23 17:41:46 IST 2021 sukumara-kurup-how-a-single-man-greed-destroyed-many-families <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/23/sukumara-kurup-how-a-single-man-greed-destroyed-many-families.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/23/56-Sukumara-Kurup-new.jpg" /> <p>Sukumara Kurup has been on the run for 37 years, after faking his death by murdering a man who resembled him. His alleged intention was to commit insurance fraud. Over time, the murder and the vanishing act combined has made him an enigma. Even after all these years, this gulfukaaran (man employed in the Middle East), and his crime continue to haunt popular imagination—stories are still being written about him, and top actors have played him on screen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE AMBASSADOR OUTSIDE HARI TALKIES</b></p> <p>Around midnight on January 21, 1984. K.J. Chacko, 30, was sipping black tea outside Hari Talkies in Alappuzha when the killers' spotted him. A film representative, Chacko was at the talkies to deliver movie reels. Considering what happened later that night, the movie’s name would prove to be coincidental—Keni (The Trap).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was with Chacko till midnight. We both had tea after the second show,” recalls K. Sreekumar, son of the then owner of Hari Talkies. “I had asked him to stay back and leave in the morning. But he had promised to take his pregnant wife to the church feast [the next morning]. After the tea, I bid him goodbye and went inside the theatre. I never saw him again.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Sreekumar left, Chacko stood there alone, waiting for any bus that would take him home. Soon, a black Ambassador pulled over and offered him a lift. KLQ 7831 had driven past him twice that night, but he had not noticed it. In the car were three men—Sukumara Kurup’s loyal driver Ponnappan, his wife’s sister’s husband Bhaskara Pillai, and Shahu, an attender in Kurup’s company in Abu Dhabi. The trio had agreed to assist Kurup allegedly for a cut of the insurance money. Chacko gratefully accepted the lift and sat in the back, flanked by Pillai and Shahu. Kurup tailed them in another car, KLY 5959.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kurup was inspired by an insurance fraud committed in Germany; the perpetrator faked his death and his nominee collected the money. Just before Kurup left Abu Dhabi for Kerala, he had taken an insurance policy worth 3,01,616 dirhams (roughly Rs30 lakh)—a sizable amount in the 1980s. His wife, a nurse, and two kids were still in the emirate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kurup had initially planned to rob a lookalike’s body from a mortuary. When that plan fell through, the four planned to rob graves. Murder was Plan C. They had been scouting for a lookalike for days when they saw Chacko outside Hari Talkies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AN ACT IN HASTE</b></p> <p>In the car, Pillai and Shahu force-fed Chacko with poison-laced liquor and choked him to death. Then they drove to Pillai's house, Smitha Bhavan in Cheriyanadu. There they stripped the body of its clothes, wedding ring and watch, dressed him in Kurup’s outfit, and charred his face. They then loaded the body into the boot of KLY 5959.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two cars then headed to nearby Kollakadavu, a scenic village on the banks of the Achenkovil river. The site chosen for the ‘accident’ was a paddy field bordering the river; the field is now known as Chacko paadam (Chacko field). At the site, the body was transferred to the driver’s seat of KLQ 7831 and doused with 10 litres of petrol. The car was then pushed down into the field and set afire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While dousing the car with petrol, the gang had spilt some; the raging fire jumped from the car to the spilt fuel, burning Pillai’s arms. The four jumped into an adjacent field to douse the flames, and then fled. In the confusion, they left behind their gloves and a rubber sandal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early on January 22, 1984, the Mavelikkara police received a call reporting the burning car. Circle inspector M. Haridas and his team reached the scene around 5am. They had no inkling that they were stepping into a crime scene that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. “The car was completely burnt and there was a charred body behind the wheel. Local residents in the crowd told us that the car belonged to an NRI named Sukumara Kurup,” says Haridas. His team found the gloves, a matchbox, and also a petrol can from the location. The gloves had burn marks, and a few hairs stuck to it. They also found footprints fleeing the scene. A case file—22/84—was opened in the Mavelikkara police station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I smelled something fishy right from the beginning,” says Haridas. “The policemen who were sent to inform [Kurup’s] family about the death came back and told me about the passive reaction from relatives.” Intrigued, he again sent two policemen to Pillai’s house. Kurup used to stay at Pillai’s house every time he returned from the Gulf—partly due to the matrilineal system and partly due to his family's disapproval of his marriage with a girl from a poor background. They found Pillai’s wife cooking chicken curry—something unthinkable in a traditional Hindu household in Kerala, immediately after the death of a relative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What he did next proved to be the turning point in the case. While requesting a post-mortem, Haridas wrote against the name of the deceased: “A man said to be Sukumara Kurup”. This piqued the curiosity of police surgeon Dr B. Umadathan, who did the post-mortem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His inquest confirmed that the dead man was murdered and set on fire, because there were no traces of charcoal or ash in his respiratory tract. The presence of liquor and ethyl alcohol in the digestive tract added to the mystery. Also, no ring or watch was recovered from the body during the post-mortem—unusual for a wealthy NRI like Kurup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>FULL SLEEVES; PARTIAL DISCLOSURE</b></p> <p>Haridas then called Pillai to Mavelikkara police station for an inquiry. Pillai told Haridas that Kurup had many enemies in the Gulf, and that one of them might have killed him. During his visit to the police station, Pillai was dressed in a full-sleeved shirt—unusual in Kerala in the 1980s. Curious, Haridas asked Pillai to roll up his sleeves, which he did reluctantly. There were burns—not older than 24 hours old—on his elbow. On further examination, the police found burn marks on his right leg; his eyebrows, too, had been singed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cornered, Pillai confessed that he had killed Kurup for not keeping the promise of finding him a job in the Gulf. Haridas did not buy the story. He went straight to Pillai's home to gather more information. That was when he found that Kurup had two cars; KLY 5959 was brand new. Haridas wondered why Kurup had driven the old car on the night of the fire. Haridas spotted some burnt hairs on the porch. The fact that Kurup's driver, Ponnappan, was missing added to the mystery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A CALL, AND MORE CLUES</b></p> <p>On January 23, 1984, Haridas got a call from Kurup’s distant relative. The caller informed the officer that the corpse was not of Sukumara Kurup, and that he had got this information from driver Ponnappan. Ponnappan told him that while driving Kurup, he had hit a stranger accidentally, and that they burned his body. Ponnappan allegedly added that he had dropped Kurup in Aluva (more than 70km from Alappuzha).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I believed the first part of the story. But the second part did not add up,” says Haridas. The investigating officers returned their focus to the man in hand—Pillai. On further grilling, Pillai revealed that Kurup was running out of money to fund a palatial house he was building in Alappuzha town. He first shared his plan with the other three over drinks, Pillai said. He added that Ponnappan, who was initially reluctant, was forced to join them. The four had met at Kalpakavadi Restaurant, Alappuzha, on January 21, 1984, to fine-tune their plans. Pillai also described in detail how they found the victim and how he was murdered. But he had no idea who the victim was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE MANHUNT BEGINS</b></p> <p>Police teams were dispatched to find Shahu, Ponnappan and Kurup. Haridas’s team went to Trivandrum International Airport and sifted through thousands of embarkation cards for Shahu’s details. They found that Kurup had filled in Shahu’s card as the latter was illiterate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mavelikkara circle inspector K.J. Devasia nabbed Shahu from Chavakkad, a coastal area in Thrissur district; he was packing his bags to leave for the Gulf via Kochi. Ponnappan, too, was arrested soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the investigators did not have the same luck with Kurup. “He had a narrow escape,” says Jayaprakash, then circle inspector of Kayamkulam. “The owner of the [Alankar] lodge, [in Aluva], identified Kurup when we showed him the photograph and said that he had just left.” Kurup had got a 72-hour head start—an advantage that has helped him cock a snook at the cops for 37 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>IDENTIFYING THE VICTIM</b></p> <p>On January 27, 1984, Haridas had a chance meeting with Sreekumar, who had come to lodge a missing person complaint for Chacko. “When Chacko did not return to the theatre for the next few days, I got worried and went to his house,” says Sreekumar. “Chacko's family had not felt anything unusual, as Chacko used to travel extensively as part of his job and used to stay away for days. But I knew that Chacko was heading home that night [he got murdered], and asked them to register a complaint with the police.” The body found in the field had been buried by then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 1, the body was exhumed for a second post-mortem. Using a technique called superimposition (one among the first cases in the country to use this), it was confirmed that the body belonged to Chacko. That day, the ‘Sukumara Kurup murder case’ was officially renamed the ‘Chacko murder case’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charge-sheet named Pillai and Ponnappan as the first and second accused on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, and destruction of evidence. Shahu, initially charged as one of the accused, turned police approver. Pillai and Ponnappan were found guilty by the sessions court and sentenced to life. The police believed that the wives of Kurup and Pillai were in on the plan, so they were named third and fourth accused. Since the police were still chasing Kurup, he was not named in the charge-sheet!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A MAN OF MANY FACES</b></p> <p>Kurup was a quintessential gulfukaaran of the 1980s. He loved to splurge, creating goodwill among relatives and neighbours. He hailed from an illustrious family in Alappuzha, with strong political connections on both maternal and paternal sides (something which allegedly gave him an advantage in the initial days of investigation).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kurup had a dubious past not known to many—he had feigned his death once before. He had a short stint with the Indian Army Medical Corps after his pre-degree course (equivalent to Class 12). But he deserted and bribed the official who was assigned to track him down to write a report that Gopalakrishna Pillai (his official name then) had died. Later, he took a passport in the name Sukumara Kurup and left for the Gulf. “To fake one's own death is not an easy task,” says Alexander Jacob, retired director general of police (prisons), Kerala Police. “That he managed to keep this incident a secret shows his shrewdness.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>REVOLUTIONARY ROMANCE</b></p> <p>Kurup fell in love with Sarasamma during his Army days in Pune. Sarasamma was a trainee nurse there. The couple got married in a temple in Matunga in Mumbai, without the knowledge or permission of Kurup’s family. Soon after the marriage, he left the Army and went to the Gulf. He took Sarasamma, too, with him, and she found a job as a nurse. Sarasamma's family came out of poverty after her marriage to Kurup—a fact that had made Pillai loyal to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>FLIGHT FROM JUSTICE</b></p> <p>From Aluva, Kurup first went to Chennai, and then to Bhutan, and later to the Andamans. From there, he came to Bhopal. Police did reach all these spots, only to find that he had given them the slip.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Four (undercover) policemen stayed in the neighbourhood of Kurup’s house for eight years,” says George Joseph, retired superintendent of police, who was part of the special investigation team (SIT) investigating the case. “But nothing yielded results.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Joseph, police used to get thousands of telegrams every day from different parts of the country, reporting sightings of Kurup. “The case caught the fancy of every common man so much so that they started using Kurup's name even to settle scores with neighbours,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kurup had visited his house sometime in February 1984, a month after the murder. But he outwitted the police once again. That had created a huge uproar across the state, and forced the government to appoint an SIT.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>HELP FROM THE TOP?</b></p> <p>Retired superintendent of police Harris Xavier, who was part of the SIT, believes that Kurup would not have escaped, but for some political help. “He had connections with higher-ups, and it did help him escape,” he says. Following tip-offs, the police looked for him all over the country. But all they got in so many years were just testimonies of his sightings. In 1990, Kurup was declared as an “absconder”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chacko murder case is one in which the maximum travel allowance has been sanctioned by the Kerala government, thanks to the investigation that extended to all the states in the country and abroad, including Las Vegas. As many as one hundred people have been arrested at different times as suspects. Even the Interpol has arrested a few as suspects. But all were freed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WILD THEORIES</b></p> <p>Conspiracy theories about Kurup's life abound. The most popular one was that he had become a monk in Nepal. Another story was that he had fled for the Gulf from Nepal. When Kurup's younger son, Sunit Pillai, got married in 2010 at the Sree Vallabha Temple, in Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district, he was described as the son of “Mr Sukumara Pillai” with no prefix of “late”. Another story is that Kurup converted to Islam and is living in a mosque in Saudi Arabia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Joseph insists that Kurup, who had severe cardiac issues, must be dead by now. “Kurup was spotted at the district hospital, Dhanbad, Bihar, in 1989,” he says. “He was admitted with severe cardiac issues. The name given was P.S. Joshi, and he was 50. A Malayali nurse, who had her suspicions, asked him about his original home; he vanished the very next day with his medical records. The same person has been sighted in nine states including Odisha, West Bengal and Assam. He was last spotted in Narayanpur [currently in Chhattisgarh] in January 1990. He vanished from there, too. Doctors told us that he would not survive for more than a week as his condition was that critical.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>MOVIE MYSTIQUE</b></p> <p>There have been many murders across the country that have been equated with Kurup’s crime. In November 2020, a Tamil Nadu lawyer named E.T. Rajavel and his wife Mohana got double life-term for murdering a lady named M. Ammasai in December 2011. The murder was plotted to fake the death of Mohana, who was facing cheating charges in Odisha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first film inspired by the Kurup case, NH 47, was released within a few months of Chacko’s murder. Master filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s film Pinneyum (2016) has a storyline similar to the incident; Adoor has denied any connection. The latest in the list is Kurup, a multi-lingual film starring Dulquer Salmaan, which is expected to have a theatrical release in May.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE PEOPLE, TODAY</b></p> <p>Chacko's wife, Santhamma, who was six months pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, has pardoned Chacko’s killers. “We do not know whether he is alive or dead. However, we forgive Kurup and the others involved,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pillai refused to meet THE WEEK. He is still living in Puliyoor in Alappuzha district, with his son and family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ponnappan committed suicide soon after serving his jail term. Shahu went back to the Gulf and is still working there. Sarasamma and Pillai's wife—both sisters— were acquitted for lack of evidence. Sarasamma lost her job as a nurse in Abu Dhabi, and was ostracised by the community. She lives a secluded life in Puliyoor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Properties of the Kurup family had been attached by the government after he was declared a fugitive. “We lived in a pathetic condition,” says Sunit, Kurup’s youngest son. Does he have any memory of his father? “I was very young when it happened. I do not remember anything,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chacko's son, Jithin, who has never seen his father, is still livid about the whole case. “My mother may have forgiven Kurup, but I will not,” he says. When asked whether he is hopeful that Kurup would be caught, Jithin says the history of the case does not make him optimistic. He adds: “My father could not hold me even once. My mother has not recovered from the jolt yet. The greed of a single man has destroyed many families. I want him arrested.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid all these shattered beings, Kurup's bungalow, for which he killed Chacko and destroyed many more lives, stands lonely and abandoned—like a guilty witness.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/23/sukumara-kurup-how-a-single-man-greed-destroyed-many-families.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/23/sukumara-kurup-how-a-single-man-greed-destroyed-many-families.html Fri Apr 23 17:56:12 IST 2021 how-an-elderly-social-worker-a-tribal-leader-and-a-group-of-journalists-saved-a-commando-from-maoist-custody <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/how-an-elderly-social-worker-a-tribal-leader-and-a-group-of-journalists-saved-a-commando-from-maoist-custody.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/15/16-Constable-Rakeshwar-Singh-Manhas.jpg" /> <p>His heart skipped a beat when he saw a young, masked gunman in military fatigues walking out from behind the stand of tamarind trees. He later told me that it was not out of fear or anxiety. He just realised that the crucial moment had finally arrived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Who is Telam Boraiya?” asked the young man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That would be me,” replied Boraiya, 71, the Bijapur district president of Gondwana Samaj, a prominent tribal organisation in Chhattisgarh. He was sitting on a charpoy surrounded by a growing throng of villagers, at the Tummel settlement in Sukma district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was April 8, five days after Maoists ambushed a joint team of the 210th Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and the Bastariya Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and the District Reserve Group and the Special Task Force of the Chhattisgarh Police, and killed 22 jawans. Tummel is barely 10km from the ambush site that lies between Jonaguda and Tekulguda villages in Sukma district.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Come with me, the commanders want to talk to you,” the young man said. Boraiya agreed, but he insisted that Sukhmati Hapka, the 38-year-old vice president of the Bijapur Gondwana Samaj, go with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The duo was taken on a motorcycle to a spot about a kilometre away, where six senior Maoists, headed by a lady commander in her early 50s, waited. They were later told that she was Manila, secretary of the Pamed area committee of the CPI (Maoist). “Her appearance was not so daunting, despite the uniform and the gun,” said Boraiya. “But her presence was quite intimidating.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boraiya and Hapka had a difficult task—to negotiate the release of Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, a member of the ill-fated CoBRA battalion, who was being held captive by the Maoists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, a crowd was building in the clearing surrounded by the tamarind trees; villagers were pouring in—on feet, on bicycles and even on tractors. The afternoon sun was harsh. Despite the shade, the atmosphere was hot and oppressive. The tension only added to the discomfort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the charpoy that Boraiya and Hapka just vacated sat Dharampal Saini, 91, Padma Shri awardee, Jagdalpur-based social worker and founder of the Mata Rukmini Ashram; he was accompanied by his associate Gururudra Kare. He had been told that he would be taken to meet the Maoist commanders once Boraiya and Hapka returned. After about 45 minutes, Boraiya and Hapka were brought back, but no summons came for Saini.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A while later, Manila and two dozen armed Maoists appeared. Saini, a promoter of girls’ education, noted with interest that almost half of them were women, some as young as 16 or 17 in his estimate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manila and some of the senior Maoists approached Saini and put some questions to him. First of all, they wanted to know his political affiliation. “I made it clear that I was an apolitical social worker, and I started my career under the guidance of the late Vinoba Bhave,” said Saini. “The Maoists looked satisfied.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manila told Saini that just as social workers like him appealed to the Maoists for securing the release of the commando, they should make similar efforts to protect innocent villagers from being harassed by the police and the administration. “She also asked me to ensure that the commando was sent back home at the earliest and they wanted to see his photograph with his family,” said Saini.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manhas was brought in by around 3pm under armed escort; his hands were loosely bound with a rope. He was taken directly to the jan adalat (people’s court) organised by the Maoists. “He looked patient and composed, despite spending five days in captivity,” said Saini. By then, nearly a thousand villagers had assembled. As they sat in anticipation, Manhas was brought forward and his ropes were untied, the final act before his formal release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The silent planning</b></p> <p>The efforts to launch the mediation for Manhas’s release began on April 5. The day before, rescue teams had saved 31 injured soldiers and retrieved 22 bodies from the ambush site. As Manhas was not among them, he was reported “missing”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganesh Mishra, a Bijapur-based journalist, got a call from the Maoists on April 5. They told him that they had Manhas and were willing to release him. Mishra and a few other journalists who received similar messages conveyed it to Sundarraj P., inspector general of police, Bastar Range. The formal offer was made through a press statement issued on April 6 by Vikalp, the spokesperson for the Dandakaranya special zonal committee of the CPI (Maoist). It said the Maoists were willing to release Manhas to government mediators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After some local journalists raised doubts, the Maoists released a picture of Manhas, seated in a temporary shelter. Around the same time, Manhas’s friends and relatives blocked the Jammu-Akhnoor Highway on April 7 as they felt that the Union government was not doing enough to secure his release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tribal activist Soni Sori and members of the NGO Jail Bandi Rihai Samiti, too, had tried to intervene. They ventured into the forest, hoping to establish contact with the Maoists. But the attempt failed, and they returned on April 7 after leaving a letter for the Maoists with local villagers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the same day, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel convened a meeting of Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu and senior officials in Raipur in an attempt to resolve the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Two surprise mediators</b></p> <p>Senior police officers had contacted Saini on April 5 itself, seeking his help to mediate. Over a career spanning several decades, Saini has always confined himself to providing education for tribal children, especially girls. “I was somewhat surprised when the police sought my help. But as it involved saving a life, I agreed to cooperate,” said Saini. But he needed details. Whom was he supposed to meet and where?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 7, Saini was told that he would be taken to the Tarrem camp of the security forces at night and could proceed into the jungles the next day. He agreed, knowing that he would have to ride pillion for at least 30km on treacherous roads running through dense forests on a harsh summer day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 200km away in Awapalli, Bijapur district, Boraiya was also caught by surprise when the sub-divisional police officer approached him on the afternoon of April 7. Boraiya, too, agreed to mediate and, like Saini, asked for specifics. Kamlochan Kashyap, the Bijapur superintendent of police, briefed him over phone. “I was told that I would be taken to the Tarrem camp, about 30km from Awapalli, that night itself,” said Boraiya. “But as it was late, I suggested we leave at dawn. And, it was agreed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Saini and Boraiya were allowed to take along an associate each. While Saini chose Kare, Boraiya took Hapka with him. The four were to be taken to the rendezvous by a team of seven local journalists. The journalists—Mishra, K. Shankar, Ranjan Das, Mukesh Chandrakar, Yukesh Chandrakar, Chetan Kapewar and Ravi Punje—gathered at Basaguda, 12km from the Tarrem camp on the night of April 7. Mishra informed the Maoists about the plan and the names of the mediators and got their green signal to lead the party into the forest the next morning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Trip to Tummel</b></p> <p>The team of 11 left the Tarrem camp on six motorcycles on the morning of April 8. They were not given their final destination. Their instructions were to meet Maoist couriers at Jonaguda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the team left the Tarrem camp, a local youth entered the picture, someone whose mission and identity would cause a lot of confusion later. Kunjam Sukka was said to be a local guide, who accompanied the team to the site of the jan adalat. There was, however, speculation that he was a Maoist sympathiser or might even be a member of the pro-Maoist People’s Militia, who was detained by the police at the Tarrem camp after the April 3 ambush and was “released” in exchange for Manhas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later at the jan adalat, Sukka narrated how the police tortured him, but it was not clear to those present whether that was before or after the ambush on April 3. The mediators and the journalists were, however, unanimous that Manhas’s release was unconditional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sundarraj confirmed to THE WEEK that no Maoists or villagers were arrested after the ambush and, therefore, there was no question of releasing anyone. “Some local people helped the security forces during the rescue operations and a few of them stayed back at the camp and returned to their villages later. Sukka might be one of them,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 11-member team reached Tummel by 8:30am, led by Maoist couriers who joined them on motorcycles at Jonaguda. The negotiators were met by mid-level Maoist operatives who welcomed them with cups of milk tea. They were then asked to wait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saini and Boraiya had discussed and agreed that they would stick to the limited agenda of securing Manhas’s release. They were not going to discuss anything further with the Maoists. Saini said most of the people assembled for the jan adalat were young. “I saw young men dressed in modern apparel like jeans, shorts, trousers and shirts. I managed to speak to a few young girls who were sitting close by and I was happy to note that they were all pursuing studies,” he said. Saini also observed that while most houses he saw were made of mud and were thatched, those were well maintained, colourful and equipped with solar lights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mishra, 37, said this was the first time that such a jan adalat was held to release a “high-profile hostage”. He had attended a few such events in the past when local cops were released. “I certainly was not afraid. After all, the Maoists themselves had made an offer to us to come with the mediators to secure the jawan’s release,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As they kept waiting for Manhas, the team was served a lunch of rice, tomato chutney and a curry of fish, fresh from a nearby pond; all cooked by villagers at the instance of the Maoists. Being a vegetarian, Saini stuck to rice and chutney. Once they finished lunch, Boraiya and Hapka were taken to meet Manila and her associates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The discussion</b></p> <p>Acutely aware of the life-saving mission they were on, Boraiya and Hapka started answering Manila’s questions. She was flanked by two female and three male commanders, and she spoke with an accent of a non-tribal, probably of south Indian origin. The questions came fast: What exactly was Boraiya’s social position? How did they come about to be part of the delegation? Which political party were they affiliated to?</p> <p>Boraiya was candid and told Manila about how senior police officers spoke to him about Manhas and convinced him that initiative from community leaders was necessary to secure his release. “I told her that I agreed to mediate also because I had seen the videos of the captive’s family, including a fervent appeal by his little daughter,” he said. “I said that if something untoward happened, it would be very tragic and painful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manila told Boraiya that she, too, had seen the videos and was aware of the family’s pain. She said she knew that Manhas was from Jammu and had joined CoBRA in Bastar only four months ago and, as such, had not caused any harm to the locals. She said he was found unconscious by her cadre several hours after the ambush. They gave him food and water and also medical aid. She assured them that he was fine and would be released soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After this, Manila started talking about the alleged excesses of the police and how locals were being arrested without warrants. She said they were often beaten, women subjected to physical and sexual violence, and their meagre belongings looted. She wanted community leaders like Boraiya and Hapka to take up the issue with the police and the administration. On a lighter note, she added that if the police did not care about the people, why should the Maoists care about the police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boraiya assured her that as community leaders they were always ready to help people who faced injustice. He also promised to take up the matter with authorities if the people approached them. “I told her that the local people probably did not consider me as someone to be approached for such matters,” he said. “But if they do, my associates and I will certainly help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Discussions—mostly in Hindi, interspersed occasionally with the native Gondi—continued for almost 45 minutes. “Finally, we were asked to go back and wait with others. We were told that Manhas would be released soon, but only after he gave a testimony before the jan adalat about how the Maoists treated him in captivity,” said Boraiya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In the people’s court</b></p> <p>Manhas was brought to the jan adalat an hour later. As the waiting journalists started shooting videos and photographs, Boraiya objected to the Manhas’s hands being tied. But Manila told him that it was part of the jan adalat process and was not intended to harm or disrespect Manhas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maoists then formally started the jan adalat by informing the people present about the way Manhas was taken into captivity and asked them whether he should be set free. A small section of the crowd objected, saying the security forces often harassed, arrested and even killed innocent villagers. Some of them presented testimonies of such alleged excesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maoist commanders said Manhas personally never harmed anyone and, therefore, it was not correct to punish him. A majority agreed, sealing his release. Manhas was then asked to speak about how he was treated in captivity, to which he replied that he was given medical aid and food, and was not harassed in any manner. He also explained how he got separated from his team during the ambush and passed out because of dehydration, following which he was taken captive by the Maoists. He said he did not know where he was kept as he was moved repeatedly and was always blindfolded. He also expressed gratitude to the mediators and the journalists for facilitating his release.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saini had by then conveyed the news of the release to Manhas’s family in Jammu over telephone. “A while later, as I found myself close to him, I told him that I spoke to his family and that they were delighted to hear the news. A slight smile spoke of the happiness he felt,” said Saini.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Journey back to safety</b></p> <p>As journalists proposed waiting a little longer at the spot for more elaborate interviews, the seasoned Saini realised that Manhas’s safety was now their responsibility and it was important to return to the Tarrem camp at the earliest. At his insistence, the Maoists made an appeal to the crowd to provide the team safe passage back to the camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saini then directed the team to leave the spot immediately. Manhas rode pillion with Shankar and could be heard asking him to go fast. As the six motorcycles started the journey back, Saini noticed a look of relief on Manhas’s face for a fleeting moment, a break from the composure he had maintained for hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The extremely tired, but exceedingly happy team reached the Tarrem camp at around 6:30pm, and Manhas was formally handed over to Komal Singh, deputy inspector general of the CRPF. After a thorough medical examination, he spoke to his family members and to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He was treated at the Basaguda field hospital and later at a hospital in Jagdalpur. “Manhas continues to be under observation,” said Sundarraj. “He is likely to be granted leave once he is found fit for travel.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manhas is expected to return to Jammu on April 16 and will be accompanied by a few members of the rescue team. Sources told THE WEEK that Boraiya, Mishra and Mukesh Chandrakar are likely to accompany him to Jammu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Baghel felicitated Manhas, Saini, Boraiya, Kare, Hapka, Mishra and Mukesh Chandrakar in Raipur on April 12. “No praise could be enough for the work that the mediator team has done,” said the chief minister. “Not just the people of Chhattisgarh, but the entire country had its eyes on the developments. The members of the team acted as responsible citizens and undertook their task with courage.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Guru of Bastar</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dharampal Saini was THE WEEK’s Man of the Year in 2012.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Born in 1930 in the princely state of Dhar, now part of Madhya Pradesh, Saini was the second of four children. His father was the head of the horticultural department in Dhar. At school, Saini’s commerce teacher introduced him to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He soon began working with Gandhian institutions like the Bhil Seva Sangh, which worked for the uplift of the Bhil tribe of western Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saini was 46 and a confirmed bachelor when he set out to Bastar. Essentially a jungle bigger than Belgium, Bastar was then severely underdeveloped, rich in mineral resources and plagued by the Maoist threat. Saini had the blessings of his mentor, the venerable Gandhian Vinoba Bhave, to set up an ashram in Dimrapal, a village near the district headquarters of Jagdalpur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saini opened a primary boarding school for girls in December 1976, with two teachers and two support staff. The modest initiative grew, and by the time Saini won the THE WEEK’s Man of the Year award, his ashram had 37 residential schools—21 of them for girls—spread across Bastar. Nearly 20,000 girls had been educated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Bastar has come a long way,” Saini told THE WEEK’s special correspondent Deepak Tiwari in 2012. “Earlier, hardly any government employees wanted to come here and the posts were always vacant. Those posts are now filled by the natives of Bastar, because of education.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of five feet and four inches, Saini does not cut an imposing figure. But he commands great respect among the people of Bastar. Affectionately called tauji, Saini always wears khadi clothes, stays in a two-room kuccha house, filled with books and bags of seeds for the next sowing season. “It will take the next two generations to completely eradicate this [Naxal] menace,” Saini said. “I am hopeful that Naxalism will end. There is no reason why it should not, with the spread of education.”</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/how-an-elderly-social-worker-a-tribal-leader-and-a-group-of-journalists-saved-a-commando-from-maoist-custody.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/how-an-elderly-social-worker-a-tribal-leader-and-a-group-of-journalists-saved-a-commando-from-maoist-custody.html Thu Apr 15 18:51:13 IST 2021 cobra-forces-are-burdened-by-law-naxals-are-not <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/cobra-forces-are-burdened-by-law-naxals-are-not.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/15/25-CoBRA-commandos-during.jpg" /> <p><b>SEPTEMBER 2009:</b> My memories of the young Manipuri officer haunted me during my drive to the technical area of Palam airport. I was going there to pay my last respects, before his body was flown to Imphal. Six months ago, during the interview to enlist officers into the newly raised CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), the tough-looking Manoranjan Singh came across as confident and determined to join the force while many others were unsure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Delhi was convinced about the need for a specialised force to tackle left-wing extremists, the Central Reserve Police Force was given this stupendous task and a close deadline. There were high hopes, a lot of hype and the CRPF was straining to meet the deadline. So, within six months of the interview (Singh was inducted, trained and deployed in Chhattisgarh in the meanwhile), I found myself on the tarmac in Palam. Singh had died while leading a major offensive against left-wing extremists. During the pre-mission briefing, he had told his men that this was to be a litmus test for the newly-raised special force; he declared that his would be the first CoBRA blood to be shed, if it came to that. True to his oath, he was the first CoBRA we lost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We, at headquarters, knew that we had taken on an enormous task. Mandated to raise 10 units (roughly 10,000 personnel) of CoBRA, the CRPF—already understaffed, over-deployed and showing signs of strains from continuous engagement on insurgency and terrorist grids—had to identify and develop 10 centres in affected states, and induct, train and equip personnel. In addition, senior staff had to formulate SOPs, methodologies and strategies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Maoist menace is a grievance-driven movement and ideology-driven insurgency. Hence, CoBRA would require new tactical doctrines, skills and resources. While the Maoist struggle is total—no time limit or fixed geographical target—CoBRA had to operate under limitations of law. There were no drawn lines of conflict, and CoBRA had to account for every person apprehended, injured or killed. The extremists have no such liabilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh was the only model before us. The induction of former Greyhounds chief K. Durga Prasad as inspector general and head of CoBRA did help a lot in the initial months. But he had to go back to Andhra Pradesh due to compelling domestic reasons. As founder DIG, frankly, I was under severe strain to measure up to the difficult task. Raising an armed force unit is always a challenge, and here we had to raise 10 units of special forces. Only the CRPF could have done it. It had already raised special wings like the Rapid Action Force, the Special Duty Group and had pioneered in raising women battalions. So, it was a jolt to lose a young officer even before CoBRA was full-fledged. We had to keep the morale high, but with no compromise on human rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Salwa Judum, a concept developed by Congress MLA Mahendra Karma, could not pick up momentum. (Karma was assassinated by Naxalites on May 25, 2013. His convoy ran into landmines, after which he was dragged out, shot and stabbed.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abujmad (literally ‘unknown area’) was declared by Maoists as a liberated area. Detection and disposal of explosives, especially IEDs, were the real challenge. If IEDs did not explode, you lived to tell the tale. Only those who have heard the whine of bullets whizzing at 2,700 feet per second or more, just inches above their head, can truly appreciate the challenge of fighting a well organised, motivated and armed adversary. An adversary who can never be identified easily even if he is seen gossiping at a wayside dhaba, so then imagine taking him on in his own adda (den).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is just skewed warfare when you do not know who the enemy is, and you cannot disrupt village life, though you are sure the extremists are hiding among them. You do not have Armed Forces Special Power Act on your side, like in insurgency-affected areas; your adversary enjoys all rights under a vibrant democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the glow of bright hindsight, analysts can easily punch several holes in battle drills and SOPs. Armchair experts are prompt to point out that the troops did not wear body armour, etc. While patrolling in the humid heat of deep tropical jungles, when operations on foot continue for many days, one often feels like peeling off the shirt to escape the life sapping humidity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is understandable when elite intellectuals clamour for human rights, unmindful of the rights of soldiers and innocent villagers. But it is depressing to hear the top brass commenting uncharitably like a state police chief himself did when 76 CRPF soldiers were butchered on April 6, 2010, in Bastar: “Who will teach the CRPF to walk?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a fact that field commanders make the mistake of spreading their force thinly to cover larger areas, and inadvertently provide an easy target. Even ultramodern US and NATO forces face casualties. Recall how they fared in tropical jungles in Vietnam. Here, the Central Armed Police Forces are not operating in a war zone, the adversary is unseen and he is our very own citizen with terrain advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feel that the Maoists are undertaking probing operations to demonstrate that they are in a commanding position, so that the local population toes their line. It boosts the spirits of their own cadre while weakening the morale of special forces. They are able to muster people’s militia or base force to the tune of hundreds. To 200 regular guerrillas they add a thousand militia and easily take on battalion strength special forces. Mobile warfare is a decisive stage in guerrilla warfare and its objective is to liberate pockets of influence. They set up rudiments of alternative administration where the government control is weak. This is called mobile revolutionary offensive tactics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, how do we deal with it? Through a twin-track response of firmly tackling the security threat, and simultaneously implementing socio-economic development programmes in vulnerable areas. The Maoists openly oppose and disrupt developmental projects—especially infrastructural progress essential for overall development and investment. Hence, upgrading the security environment is a prerequisite. Equally urgent is the requirement of mainstreaming the marginalised tribal population of the affected areas, especially in the Bastar region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The example of Kerala shows that the Naxal movement is more grievance-ridden than ideology-driven. Had it been ideology-driven, Maoists could not have found a more fertile soil than Kerala, with its Left leanings. But the fact is that despite their best efforts they have not been successful in spreading their tentacles because successive governments have taken care of tribal welfare and mainstreaming of the marginalised. The even spread of facilities and infrastructural development ensured proper integration of urban, semi-urban, and so-called tribal belts. And, hence, “liberated zones” remain a distant dream in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Madhusudhanan</b>, <b>who retired as IG north-eastern sector of the CRPF, was founder DIG of CoBRA.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/cobra-forces-are-burdened-by-law-naxals-are-not.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/cobra-forces-are-burdened-by-law-naxals-are-not.html Fri Apr 16 16:16:50 IST 2021 how-a-tragic-death-birthed-this-ngo-promoting-road-safety-awareness <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/how-a-tragic-death-birthed-this-ngo-promoting-road-safety-awareness.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/15/60-Pramod-Bhasin-and-Mridul.jpg" /> <p>May 3, 1999—it was not a regular Monday for 17-year-old Durva Bhasin. While her classmates were headed to school, she was off to her Kathak practical exam. It was a morning of preparation and mental rehearsal of the intricate footwork, fast pirouettes, graceful movements and exquisite expressions. She also had stories to tell as this dance form is attributed to the travelling bards of ancient northern India known as ‘kathakars’ or storytellers. But little did she know that her stories would not be heard that day. The dancing storyteller was hit by a school bus on her way; her stories forever silenced. It was too late before she got help; she succumbed to injuries. According to her family, it was a case of hit and run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Nobody helped her; nobody called 108,” says Durva’s mother Dr Mridul Bhasin. “The school bus (on contract) was being driven by a government driver who had joined back that very day after being suspended for drunk driving. Neither did the driver nor the teachers stop to help her.” That morning, the Bhasin family—Pramod and Mridul, and their elder child Shantanu—saw a vibrant teenager go from “full of life” to lifeless. However, the devasted family embraced the true essence of making beauty from the ashes. This thought birthed Muskaan—an NGO that promotes road safety. “We were very sceptical as the demise of our daughter had totally upturned our normal life; we were clueless at that point,” says Mridul. “It was our daughter’s teacher Sandeep Sethi who suggested the idea of this NGO to us as he had also experienced the loss of many of his loved ones in road accidents.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though a personal tragedy catalysed the foundation, Muskaan is not a family trust. It is a registered not-for-profit trust committed to building a culture of safety on roads through awareness, education, training and advocacy. It was registered as a charitable trust in 2001. Mridul left her job as manager of public relations at an ITC hotel in Jaipur to devote all her time for the NGO. Even Pramod, who runs a value-added stone business, diverted his attention to Muskaan. “We realised the issue of road safety needed full attention and it now gives us immense satisfaction to be working for a multifaceted issue. The word ‘road safety’ is not so alien now,” said Mridul. “Durva was an ever-smiling girl, sensitive about other people’s pain. We named the NGO Muskaan after our daughter to keep her spirit alive and to see other people smile.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Jaipur-based NGO looks at training, capacity building, awareness generation, community-based programmes, advocacy for ignored issues related to traffic, transport and road safety. It also drives policy—like the Good Samaritan Law which still remains unacknowledged at government and public levels—and audits of roads and road safety-related issues. “We regularly organise road safety activities including training programmes for all stakeholder department personnel like police, teachers and youth in educational institutes and general public, advocacies and campaigns,” Mridul says. “Ours is the oldest NGO working in this field, however, we could do better to make our work known.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muskaan employs professionals in social service, road safety and IT. Although they are based in Jaipur, Rajasthan, the NGO takes up projects in other states as well. “We believe in multitasking which means taking care of training, advocacies, projects and social media outreach as per the need of the organisation. All office employees double as trainers too. My husband and I work full time and Shantanu, our son, devotes about three to four hours every day,” says Mridul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to her, there is no streamlined or institutionalised funding in the domain unlike with other social issues like women, girl child and environmental problems. “Road safety still remains ignored at all levels. However, the ministry of road transport and highways has started giving seed money and corporates have now begun to consider road safety as a part of its CSR activities. Our NGO survives on these things,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muskaan has also designed—with inputs from Jaipur Traffic Police, road safety experts and eminent educationists—an interactive curriculum on road safety to be taught to schoolchildren in Jaipur. The age-specific curriculum covers students from playgroups and of Classes I to XII. The NGO also organises campaigns in collaboration with the Traffic Police team. Roadshows form another part of its road safety awareness programme; it comprises street plays, songs by folk singers, puppet shows and performances by street magicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In November 2020, on the occasion of the UN World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, Traffic Police Jaipur, Muskaan Foundation for Road Safety, Mohan Foundation and Jaipur Citizen Forum and Neuro Trauma Society Rajasthan along with bereaved family members paid a floral tribute at Yaadgar Jaipur Police Headquarters to those who had succumbed to road accidents. Right before the event, Muskaan volunteers conducted an on-road campaign under the supervision of the traffic police, holding placards with safety messages at the Ajmeri Gate crossing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mridul believes the surge in the number of road accidents nationwide is due to “utter lack of civic sense and an overall culture of slackened attitude among road users.” She feels the government is just beginning to be aware of the high fatality rate on Indian roads (11 per cent of worldwide fatality is borne by India). “Lack of fast emergency response and technological interventions to minimise human contact, apathetic professional attitudes towards issues like licence, bad roads, potholes, need for training and accountability issues are some of the main reasons for the increase in fatality,” Mridul says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Pramod, it is pivotal to make our road network safer. “While the novel coronavirus claimed 2,250 lives during the period April to November, 2020, there were 5,720 accident deaths on the roads of Rajasthan,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has one per cent of the world’s vehicles but accounts for six per cent of the world’s road traffic accidents, according to a 2018 World Health Organization report. Though India’s traffic laws are strict, the big question is, are they enforced efficiently? That is where NGOs like Muskaan step in to raise awareness. The pandemic may have slowed down their work but with creative plans and road safety ideas in their kitty, the NGO is looking at newer strategies to sensitise people. Now, that is something to smile about.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/how-a-tragic-death-birthed-this-ngo-promoting-road-safety-awareness.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/15/how-a-tragic-death-birthed-this-ngo-promoting-road-safety-awareness.html Sat Aug 07 15:45:06 IST 2021 investing-in-resilience-gives-a-400-per-cent-return <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/07/investing-in-resilience-gives-a-400-per-cent-return.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/7/fani.jpg" /> <p><b>Several world leaders,</b> including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Boris Johnson, recently came together virtually to attend the first international conference organised by the newly-formed Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). The coalition was mooted by India a few years ago as a move towards mitigating climate change, an area in which India has positioned itself as a leader. With several developed nations joining this coalition, India’s leadership has been acknowledged. In an interview with THE WEEK, CDRI director general Sandeep Poundrik said that both developing and advanced nations would have to incorporate more resilience in their systems. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q\ CDRI has grown in a major way in a short while, what with the UK as co-chair now.</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> Indeed. CDRI is the second multilateral organisation after the International Solar Alliance to be promoted by India in recent years, and also the second to be headquartered in India. The coalition was launched in September 2019, and we already have 22 countries and seven international organisations on board, with the European Union being the latest to join. All major countries who are active in disaster resilience—Japan, Australia, Germany—are on board. Our focus is now on island developing states, as they are the most vulnerable to climate change events. We also want to reach out across Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ China and Russia are not part of the coalition, though. Why?</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> India invited 40 countries before the launch; not all have joined yet. We are in talks with them. Russia is actively considering the proposal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The very fact that there was a need for this coalition means that climate change is already beyond the stoppable phase, and that the world has to adapt to a new normal. Isn’t this a grim scenario?</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> In some ways, yes. We have to adapt to changes. This is the reality. Look at Kochi airport. Twice in succession, the state was battered with floods, and the solar panels installed at the airport, ironically to achieve carbon neutrality, had to be removed. We have to now build keeping in mind the new realities.</p> <p>CDRI has a dual focus—resilience against climate change events, like cyclones and floods, and geophysical hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis, which are not necessarily linked to climate change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How does one incorporate resilience into infrastructure?</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> We do so in many ways. We have to device a new set of standards. Roads and bridges are usually built according to flood data of the past 50 or 100 years. But now, we know that the past is not always an indicator for the future, so we have to go for probabilistic risk models that can reveal what the impact of future disasters will be.</p> <p>In India, power towers are designed to withstand winds up to a particular speed. Perhaps, we need to consider a different set of standards for coastal areas. One needs new materials, new standards and partnerships for this.</p> <p>Take the example of Odisha. The 1999 super-cyclone caused more than 10,000 casualties, but with organised disaster management, the 2019 cyclone left fewer than 100 dead. So we have learnt how to save lives. Our infrastructure, however, remains vulnerable. During Cyclone Fani [of 2019], the damage to the power infrastructure alone was worth over $1 billion. As the infrastructure spread increases, the quantum of loss will also increase, unless we have interventions.</p> <p>And here, we have only quantified direct damage. There are further losses when infrastructure is damaged. Schools stop functioning; livelihoods get affected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Your focus is on island developing states, as they are the most vulnerable.</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> Yes, they are. But even in developed nations, there is much scope for more resilient infrastructure. The power grid in Texas nearly crashed in February after an extreme winter storm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Making better infrastructure is one thing, but isn’t it more important to retrofit a city or country for resilience?</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> Yes, absolutely. Retrofitting is always more difficult than building something new, but we have no option but to retrofit. The World Bank Lifeline Report says that for every dollar invested in incorporating resilience, the life-cycle benefits are four dollars. That is a 400 per cent return. Retrofitting structures that are more than 70 years old will be a very important aspect of our work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ India has made climate change action a part of its diplomacy. So the UK becoming CDRI co-chair is very significant, isn’t it?</b></p> <p><b>A\</b> Yes, it is highly significant, as the UK is hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 26, this November. It is the most important climate change event. The UK has also appointed COP 26 president Alok Sharma as co-chairperson of CDRI.</p> <p>The UK is a leader in resilient infrastructure, with academic institutions like Oxford University as well as the National Infrastructure Commission having focused on it for a decade. So they bring expertise to the coalition.</p> <p>India is a permanent co-chair. The other co-chair will be on a rotational, two-year term.&nbsp; </p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/07/investing-in-resilience-gives-a-400-per-cent-return.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/07/investing-in-resilience-gives-a-400-per-cent-return.html Thu Apr 08 18:51:35 IST 2021 lessons-on-traffic-discipline-need-to-be-introduced-from-kindergarten <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/02/lessons-on-traffic-discipline-need-to-be-introduced-from-kindergarten.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/cover/images/2021/4/1/60-Discipline-is-key.jpg" /> <p>Every day we hear of accidents. We forget them till tragedy strikes our backyard. Sadly, we fail to recognise the truth that accidents do not occur, they are always caused. The economic growth and rising aspirations of rural Indians during the past two decades have caused unprecedented and heavy migration from villages to cities. Consequently, the country is witnessing auto growth at a galloping pace, from just three lakh vehicles in 1951, to more than 30 crore today, with an annual addition of nearly 2.5 crore. Unfortunately, traffic and transportation infrastructure could not keep pace with escalating demands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The road length is just 59 lakh kilometres today, as against four lakh kilometres in 1951. Thus, whereas the vehicular rise has been stupendously high—nearly 1,000 times, the road infrastructure could be increased hardly 15 times. Two-wheelers are adding at an unbelievable pace. As a result of these abnormal disparities, our limited roads are heavily clogged by private vehicles, while public transport falls woefully short to meet the ever-increasing demand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>In cities, the main causes of accidents are :</b></p> <p>* Missing lane markings</p> <p>* Erratic parking and manoeuvring</p> <p>* Signal jumping</p> <p>* Use of mobile phone while driving</p> <p>* Pedestrians lacking discipline</p> <p>* Hawkers and slums usurping main carriageways</p> <p>* Bad roads and potholes</p> <p>* Unprotected excavations</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is undeniable that existing infrastructure needs improvement, it cannot be expanded endlessly. It is, therefore, essential to make the optimum use of existing infrastructure by using low-cost traffic management techniques such as one-ways, banning certain turns, parking control, besides encouraging use of public transport and providing better facilities for pedestrians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Five new Es (energy, equity, economy, efficiency and environment) have been added to the hitherto accepted three Es of road safety (engineering, enforcement and education) while formulating new strategies all over the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>We have to adequately cater for:</b></p> <p>* Expressways and upgrade of national and state highways</p> <p>* Dedicated cycle lanes in major cities</p> <p>* Segregation of non-motorised vehicles from high-speed traffic</p> <p>* Adequate facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and bullock carts to cross major highways at regular intervals</p> <p>* Need for more bypasses, flyovers and railway bridges to avoid movements through congested areas</p> <p>* Traffic signal management, thermoplastic road markings and retro reflective signs must conform to international standards</p> <p>* Need for trained traffic engineers and transport planners in all municipal corporations and A-class municipalities. For poor municipalities, a regional cadre can be created so that they can seek guidance from a common pool of expertise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enforcement is presently poor. Officers need to be sensitised to ensure zero tolerance. Municipal authorities must organise concerted and effective action against hawkers and slums encroaching vital areas with the assistance of police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Education can play a very important role, as it helps infuse discipline and build national character. Lessons on traffic discipline and road etiquette need to be introduced in schools, right from kindergarten. The administration should actively involve the media, auto manufacturers, oil and insurance companies, NGOs and various associations of automobiles, transport operators, cabbies and other road users. Equally important is the training of traffic cops in first aid as they are generally the first responders whenever an accident takes place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Road safety, basically, pivots on community support. Unless the community has character and discipline, no country can progress. Let us brace ourselves to this important and essential national responsibility and take a solemn pledge to exercise self-restraint and extend courtesy to other road users. If other countries have succeeded, why can’t we?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pasricha, a former commissioner of Mumbai Police and DGP of Maharashtra, holds a doctorate in traffic management.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some of the main causes of accidents on highways are:</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* Dangerous overtaking</p> <p>* Bullock carts, tractors and trolleys not using rear reflective warnings</p> <p>* On narrow culverts, speeding vehicles are highly vulnerable and can roll down, especially during the night when high-beam lights from oncoming vehicles blind drivers</p> <p>* Excavations not properly barricaded and warning lights not displayed</p> <p>* Unmanned railway crossings</p> <p>* Oil spills leading to skidding</p> <p>* Construction material left behind after repairs</p> <p>* Too many speed breakers, not conforming to Indian Road Congress standards</p> <p>* Inadequate markings, signs and delineators</p> <p>* Weak shoulder and inadequate guard rails</p> <p>* Ribbon development and mixed traffic causing serious conflicts</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some other recommendations:</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>* Pedestrians, cyclists and non-motorised vehicles must be covered in the Road Safety Act</p> <p>* Road Safety Act must have a provision for penalty against supervisory officers for not checking unauthorised developments along highways and against contractors for unprotected excavations and not providing warning signs</p> <p>* Road safety cells need to be formed at the national, state and regional levels</p> <p>* Road safety audit should be an integral part of highway construction, right from design and planning stage.</p> <p>* All important information on accidents should be computerised for scientific identification of black spots and their causes</p> <p>* Need to set up special corpus for providing immediate medical aid to victims and those who help to bring them to the hospitals</p> <p>* A claims settlement board on the lines of Lok Adalat must be considered, for accident claims tribunals are unable to cope with the increased work load and take years to decide.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/02/lessons-on-traffic-discipline-need-to-be-introduced-from-kindergarten.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/02/lessons-on-traffic-discipline-need-to-be-introduced-from-kindergarten.html Sat Aug 07 15:45:45 IST 2021 we-must-learn-to-respect-water <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/01/we-must-learn-to-respect-water.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/4/1/48-Rajiv-Ranjan-Mishra.jpg" /> <p><b>WHEN PRIME MINISTER</b> Narendra Modi took over the reins of the country in 2014, one of his first big plans was to clean the Ganga, for which he even created a new ministry. This was not the first attempt to clean the river, which, though the lifeline of the northern plains, is also victim to the prosperity it creates. The river, which encourages new cities to grow along its banks, also suffers the endless discharge of sewage and industrial effluents. Modi's Namami Gange vision, however, was not just to clean the river, but also rejuvenate it. Thus was formed the National Mission for Clean Ganga. In the seven years since the initial announcement, what seemed like a humongous challenge once is slowly yielding results. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, director general, NMCG:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It has been seven years since the announcement of the mission. When will the Ganga get clean?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have affected the health of the Ganga since 1850, when we first began extracting huge volumes of water for irrigation. Ever since, we have only worsened its health with pollution. The damage of 150 years will take time to correct. People expect quick results, they all want to see the Ganga clean tomorrow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Previous attempts at cleaning the river have not yielded much result. How do you expect this one to?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been attempts since 1985, and they were not futile. They yielded some result. The problem was that interventions were piecemeal and not continuous....</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Namami Gange, we took a year to understand the scale of the task and understand where past attempts failed. We also allocated massive funding for the mission. From 1985 to 2014, only Rs4,000 crore has been spent on Ganga cleaning, which is around Rs150 crore a year. Here, we have allocated Rs2,000 crore every year for the next 10 years. Instead of just looking at pollution hotspots, we assessed all 97 towns and 4,500 villages on its banks, the present sewage generation and even extrapolated the scenario 15 years from now with increasing population. Only then did we begin setting up sewage treatment plants (STPs) and renovating old ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are the largest pollutants of the river?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sewage accounts for 70 per cent of the pollution. If we tackle this, a major portion of our task is done. Industrial effluents may be less in volume, but their toxicity is more worrisome. There is also farm run-off of pesticides and fertilisers. The visible pollution—floating plastic, broken idols and other garbage—is more an eyesore, and that needs to be tackled for people to get involved in the river's rejuvenation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What new interventions have been introduced?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We realised that many STPs were defunct because there was no maintenance, so if a component failed, the plant shut down. We therefore incorporated a 15-year maintenance and operation cost into the cost of the project itself. From 2016, we started the hybrid annuity, introducing public-private partnership for the first time in wastewater management. We give 40 per cent of capital cost during construction period, the private partner recovers 60 per cent over the 15-year annuity. This ensures that he will be keen to speed up the work, because his investments are at stake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From a construction-based payment, we moved to performance-based payment. In Haridwar, the Jagjeetpur and Sarai STPs were completed well within time, something that does not happen in government projects. Now NITI Aayog recommends others to follow the hybrid model, too. In Hyderabad recently, a 300 million litres per day (mld) capacity STP has been commissioned on the hybrid mode. We also started the one city, one operator concept to ensure that all projects in a city are in sync with each other, and not working in silos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How are you dealing with industrial effluents?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanpur, with its tanneries, is one of the biggest industrial effluent centres. We are setting up a common effluent treatment plant. We also have tie-ups with other countries for cleaner technology, like in paper mills, that will use less water, and [emit] fewer pollutants. Monitoring discharge is rapidly shifting to electronic surveillance, with flow metres checking the quality at inlet and outlets. This is in addition to physical checking, which we do through third-party evaluation, roping in IITs, for instance, to ensure that there is no local nexus to fudge data.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>If you were to assess success using any one parameter, how would you rate your progress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us look at just the sewage discharge. In Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, almost all the STP projects are done. Uttar Pradesh looked almost impossible, but nearly 60 per cent projects are done, the rest will be completed in two years. In Prayagraj, we have already moved to the trans-Yamuna region, as the core city work is done. Bihar had almost no treatment facility, so we began from scratch. Patna had only a 60mld treatment facility; we have commissioned plants to cater to 600mld…. West Bengal had got many plants under the Ganga Action Plan; we need to renovate and retrofit [them].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Nirmal Ganga, aviral Ganga (clean and flowing Ganga) was the initial chant. Tell us something about the aviral aspect</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Namami Gange is not just a cleaning project, it is also about the river's rejuvenation. We began our task with a report from the seven IITs on river basin management, and created projects accordingly. A flowing river dilutes pollutants; water keeps the river alive. So, we must ensure there is a fixed amount of water in the river, or an ecological flow, at all times in the year. We take out so much water from the river—in Haridwar alone, 85 per cent of the water is extracted for the Upper Ganga Canal. We have given instruction to all units that extract water, including hydro projects, and we monitor this closely. Only one hydro project, Alaknanda Power, went to court and got a stay; we hope the matter gets resolved soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are wetland conservation projects all along the length of the river, as these feed the river during the dry months. With GIS, we have mapped floodplains and urban wetlands, and as an authority, we can now stop construction and other activities in these regions. In Uttarakhand, we have a spring rejuvenation project to revive the Himalayan springs feeding the river.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a comprehensive forestry plan for catchment area plantation. It is so good that the environment ministry is replicating this for 13 other rivers. We are also promoting organic farming along the river's length, to reduce the discharge of fertilisers and pesticides.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What would you call the mission's success stories so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kanpur and Varanasi looked like impossible tasks, but we are almost there with treating all water that gets discharged from these cities. That gives us hope; it gives people hope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Mathura, we created a market for treated water, and supply Indian Oil 20mld treated water from the Yamuna. In Varanasi, the Dinapur STP generates power from the wastewater and is now running on self-generated power. In Patna, we linked all 16 ghats and have got a beautiful promenade that people can enjoy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aquatic life is a good indicator of the river's health. There have been so many sightings of dolphins and turtles and other such animals in recent times. Even [Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister] Yogi Adityanath recently said he saw dolphins in Varanasi.</p> <p><b>There was supposed to be a study to understand the river's self-cleaning mechanism, which keeps the water from going bad. Please update.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>NEERI [National Environment Engineering Research Institute], Nagpur, is doing the study. Its interim reports have already spoken about the viruses or bacteriophages that eat bacteria. All rivers have such bacteriophages. The Ganga is unique because it has more of them. That is why Gangajal can be kept for months or years. NEERI is doing a large study on the entire microbiology of the river now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think a change in power could affect the mission?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. We have designed it in such a way that it will continue despite any change in government. We have contracted projects for the next 15 years. One of our achievements is establishing a robust institutional structure. We are not just a mission or a special purpose vehicle; we are an authority. This gives us more power. Also, the Ganga has an emotional connect with every Indian. Which government will shy away from continuing the work?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the next big challenge?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is to ensure that the flow is maintained in the river. For this, we need to change age-old practices of agriculture. We must learn to catch the rain, improve water bodies and respect water.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/01/we-must-learn-to-respect-water.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/04/01/we-must-learn-to-respect-water.html Thu Apr 01 16:13:57 IST 2021 zycov-d-will-hit-markets-in-may-june <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/03/18/zycov-d-will-hit-markets-in-may-june.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/3/18/114-Pankaj-Patel.jpg" /> <p><b>VACCINES HAVE BEEN</b> a ray of hope in a world ravaged by Covid-19. While India has started mass production of two vaccines—Covishield by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech—a third one, ZyCoV-D by Zydus Cadila, is undergoing trials. Pankaj Patel, chairman of Zydus Group, says the DNA plasmid platform vaccine is expected to hit the market by May-June. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When did Zydus decide to make a Covid-19 vaccine?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somewhere in February 2020, we decided to develop a Covid vaccine. We realised that there could be a pandemic. We had experience making a vaccine for H1N1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When is ZyCoV-D expected in the market?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, we are undergoing phase III study. We have to complete the dosing and then wait for 150 symptomatic Covid patients; then we unlock and come out with efficacy data. Our guesstimate is that we should be completing the trial in May. ZyCoV-D will be in the market between May and June.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you not going in for emergency use approval?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In any case, approval will happen for emergency use. As a serious pharmaceutical company, we will have to complete the trial and then go for emergency use.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will the vaccine be exported?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, if the government allows. We do have a lot of requests from various countries. We would like to supply them, depending upon the government’s view at that time. Currently, it is allowing export. So, we will be exporting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What will be the price of the vaccine?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will not cost more than the current vaccines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the company lost the advantage of being the first mover?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not think there is a race here. We need good science and a good product for the people of India; it should be safe and efficacious at a reasonable price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why are there so many concerns about the side effects of Covid vaccines?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a communication issue. Many people have been reading articles, news reports. There is a lot of unsubstantiated and false data floating around. It creates apprehensions. Fears can be allayed through education. We did not find any side effects in our phase II trials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How many people were covered under phase I and phase II trials?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One thousand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How will ZyCoV-D be different from the two vaccines approved in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ours is a totally different platform compared with the current vaccines that have been approved in India and abroad. We have a DNA plasmid platform vaccine. This vaccine is given intradermally. It does not go deep inside the body. There is a specific device through which it is administered. It is needle-free, painless administering. People will not suffer side effects that are being seen in other vaccines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Should Covid-19 vaccination be made compulsory in India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, I do not think it will be a great idea to make anything compulsory. It should be voluntary. Increased education will allay the fears of people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is the investment that has gone into the manufacturing of ZyCoV-D?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have put up a manufacturing unit, we have done development and trials. In all, we are estimating (an outlay of) around Rs500 crore. Initially, we will produce 100 million doses and scale up to 250 million doses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Should people be compensated for the side effects of vaccines?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaccines always have some side effects, minor or major. The regulator and the governments in order to simply support the vaccination have taken the responsibility for compensation through a kind of a normative method and the companies are required to support. That is a global practice. In India, we currently do not have any practice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How did the idea of Zydus Hospital come up?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We often have to go to hospitals and I observed that many a time people face certain issues (on the management side). Being from the field of management, I wanted to minimise this. The idea was to give an acceptable level of service to patients and doctors. Hence, the hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first one came up in Anand (my hometown), and the second one in Ahmedabad. The third one will be in collaboration with Maruti Udyog in Bechraji, near Ahmedabad. It is a joint CSR project for both companies. The fourth one will be commissioned in Vadodara in 2022.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/03/18/zycov-d-will-hit-markets-in-may-june.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/03/18/zycov-d-will-hit-markets-in-may-june.html Fri Mar 19 12:32:42 IST 2021 safe-journey <a href="http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/03/18/safe-journey.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/magazine/theweek/specials/images/2021/3/18/118-Safe-journey.jpg" /> <p>A week ago, the ministry of road transport and highways made dual airbags compulsory for all passenger vehicles. Interestingly, except for a few entry-level cars, most manufacturers had already voluntarily included the feature in most models. This shows a departure from the industry’s early strategy of sacrificing safety features to keep prices low. It also reflects a change in customer preference—they are willing to pay more for safer cars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the latest regulation, the mandatory safety equipment in cars include anti-lock braking system (ABS), rear parking sensors, front occupant seatbelt reminders and a speed alert system, in addition to dual airbags. The government is deliberating on making active safety devices like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and electronic stability control (ESC) also mandatory in new vehicles in 2022-2023. ESC counters over-steering or understeering on corners and loss of traction on slippery roads by braking individual wheels and regulating engine power. AEB uses radars and cameras to automatically apply the brakes to prevent an impending collision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it will not be much of a trouble for carmakers to include these features in premium cars, the affordable ones will struggle to strike a balance between price and features. “The real challenge is bringing in maximum safety at an affordable cost so that cost of vehicles does not go up steeply,” said Abhay Damle, who was joint secretary at the ministry of road transport and highways.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Technologies usually become more affordable with time and by scaling up. AEB has become a common feature in many advanced markets, and in India, economies of scale will reduce its cost significantly. ESC, on the other hand, shares a lot of systems with ABS and can easily be implemented in the existing models.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trickling down of technology (from upper class to lower) happens quite fast these days in the automobile sector. Compact sedans and compact SUVs in the Rs10 lakh-Rs15 lakh segment now offer features that used to be the highlights of luxury cars a while ago. Features like vehicle stability management (helps avoid losing control during sudden braking or acceleration) and hill assist control (prevents the vehicle from rolling back) are being packed into some hatchbacks even. The penetration level of such technologies, however, remains pretty low in India. ESC, for instance, is present in less than 10 per cent of passenger cars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just about a decade ago, crash tests were virtually absent in India. In 2013-14, India implemented the UN Regulation 94 crash test standards, which checked the impact of a crash at around 56kmph. It was not as stringent as the European crash tests. The following year, Nitin Gadkari, minister for road transport and highways, said that India would apply UN equivalent crash test standards for front and side impact. A Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme (BNVSAP) is also being implemented in a phased manner and cars will be given star ratings based on their safety performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barely meeting the safety standard, however, is not always enough. According to David Ward, secretary-general of the Global New Car Assessment Programme, many Indian cars scrape by on the bare minimum required. “That approach risks completely misunderstanding the reality of a very global industry where India has the potential to be a great exporter of cars if they are as safe as international automobiles,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The application of many modern-day safety features is often hindered by the state of Indian roads. Lane keep assist systems, for instance, can inform the driver of a vehicle veering off its lane and intervene with steering assistance to keep the vehicle in its intended lane. But these systems need clear lane markings, which are rare in India, to work properly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A bigger challenge, however, is compliance. Indians still need to be prodded to wear seatbelts. A driver or passenger not wearing a seatbelt is as bad as the car not having one. According to the American Automobile Association, wearing seatbelts reduces the chances of death by half.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Data from the ministry of road transport and highways says road accidents kill 17 people every hour. Negligence, the condition of roads and the condition of vehicles contribute to this. The single most important factor that can bring down the number of road accidents and related deaths is safer vehicles. Safety is no longer just a function of vehicles’ strength; technology has made them so smart they can even override human error to prevent accidents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had been slow in adopting global safety standards, owing to sluggish policy making and unfavourable market dynamics. But it has made up a lot of ground in the past few years. New norms, changing customer preferences and new market dynamics will make this shift quicker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SAFETY GUARANTEED</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are some mandatory features in passenger vehicles</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>DUAL FRONT AIR BAGS</b></p> <p>The driver-side airbag was made mandatory in 2019, and now passenger side airbags are also mandatory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ABS</b></p> <p>The anti-lock braking system prevents the locking of tyres in case of braking. It was made mandatory in 2019 under BNVSAP norms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>REAR PARKING SENSORS</b></p> <p>These sensors ensure the safety of the pedestrians while reversing the car and help drivers while parking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SPEED WARNING SYSTEM</b></p> <p>All passenger vehicles made after July 2019 are fitted with a speed-warning system that emits a beep at a speed of 80kmph. At a speed of over 120 kmph, the vehicle will beep continuously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SEAT BELT WARNING</b></p> <p>A seat belt-warning lamp and an alarm for both the driver and the front passenger seat are mandatory for all cars made after July 2019.</p> http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/03/18/safe-journey.html http://www.theweek.in/theweek/specials/2021/03/18/safe-journey.html Sat Aug 07 15:46:01 IST 2021