The News Editorial Analysis 13th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 13th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 13th November 2021 

Negotiators at COP26 brainstorm over draft

Next sessions of climate talks will be held in Egypt and UAE

The News Editorial Analysis 13th November 2021

The 2022 edition of the Conference of Parties, or the 27th COP, will take place at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and the 28th edition in 2023 will be held in the UAE, the Council decided even as a final agreement to conclude COP26 proved elusive until the time of going to press.

Even as the ongoing COP26 in Glasgow was reaching its conclusion on Friday evening in Glasgow, negotiators from 200 countries continued to be in discussions polishing a draft agreement that has been ready since Wednesday. For a final agreement, all countries have to agree to every word in the text agreement, drafted by the team of COP president Alok Sharma. This text is a synthesis of all the discussions since November 1 when the COP26 began.

The COP26 will not unveil a treaty as in 2015 when the Paris Agreement came into being but is expected to guide implementation of the Paris Agreement, that exhorted countries to take steps to keep temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century and “pursue efforts to keep it” to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Negotiators at Glasgow started ambitiously keeping the 1.5 degrees Celsius target but several outstanding issues and disagreements — most prominently on climate finance — have proved to be stumbling blocks.

Promises not kept

Developing countries such as India and China are pushing for formal acknowledgement from the West that they have not delivered on past promises of providing $100 billion annually until 2020.

Developed countries have promised to deliver on this by 2023-24 but India and several other low-income and developing countries have demanded financing post 2025 and also funds for the loss and damage that has already been incurred in their countries due to climate catastrophes.

Though much of the text is ready, bones of contention are usually single verbs that open paragraphs of the draft text: “Urges,” “Considers”, “Notes” as each of them, in UN climatespeak denote specific degrees of commitment.

For instance, para 48 of the text currently says: “(The Presidency) Urges developed country Parties to fully deliver on the USD 100 billion goal urgently and through to 2025 and emphasises the importance of transparency in the implementation of their pledges.”

Chennai rain 5 times above normal

New depression likely in Bay of Bengal on Nov. 15

Chennai received nearly five-and-a-half times more than the normal rainfall between November 7 and 12.

  1. Balachandran, Deputy Director General of Meteorology, Chennai, said the city has received 46 cm of rainfall during these six days. This is nearly 491% more than the normal quota of 8 cm in the city.

Similarly, the State recorded an overall rainfall of 10 cm during the recent rainspell triggered by the depression, which is 142% excess of the normal for the week.

After over three days of relentless rain, the city had a welcome break on Friday. However, while Thursday’s depression had weakened into a low pressure area over north interior Tamil Nadu and neighbourhood, the Meteorological department said another fresh low pressure area is likely to form over south Andaman sea by Saturday.

It may intensify into a depression over east-central and adjoining southeast Bay of Bengal on November 15.

On the fresh weather system likely to gain strength, Mr. Balachandran said: “The region where it would have its impact is being monitored. It would depend on the movement and intensification of the weather system.”

This weekend, rain bands may largely shift to other districts as a trough runs from coastal Andhra Pradesh to Comorin area across Rayalaseema and interior T.N. Heavy rain is possible in isolated places over 18 districts such as Kanniyakumari, Vellore, Coimbatore, Madurai and Namakkal on Saturday.

Wars are too expensive and unaffordable: Doval

Wars have ceased to become effective instruments for achieving political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable, and at the same time, there is uncertainty about the outcome, said National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Kumar Doval on Friday.

Industrial output falls 2.6% in September

Retail inflation rises to 4.48% in Oct.

India’s industrial output fell 2.6% month-on-month in September, even as retail inflation inched up marginally to 4.48% in October with a sharper rise in urban price trends, as per data from the National Statistical Office.

Compared to September 2020, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) grew 3.1% in September 2021, the pace of growth dipping sharply from the 12% recorded in August. Industry blamed the moderation in industrial output to supply side constraints. “High commodity prices and shortages of raw materials are impacting the production and overall growth of the IIP,” said PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Pradeep Multani, adding that input prices might subside a bit due to the fuel tax cuts.

India’s first coronavirus victims’ memorial installed

Recognition ceremony held for rural healthcare workers

India’s first COVID-19 victims’ memorial was inaugurated at Rajannapet village in the district by Project Madad, which is a voluntary group of Indian and Indian diaspora doctors and professionals, on Thursday, a press release said.

The memorial was installed at Rajannapet alongside a marker of the village’s COVID resilience.

A recognition ceremony was held for rural healthcare workers who went above the call of duty to ensure 100% vaccination in the village and help make Rajannapet, the country’s first village to achieve COVID-resilience on July 31, the press release added.

The meeting was attended by District Medical and Health Officer (DM&HO) Dr. Suman Mohan Rao, Deputy DM&HO Dr. Sreeramulu, Community Health Officer, Yellareddypet mandal, Dr. Dharma Naik, Mandal Parishad President Renuka Kishen, Sarpanch M. Shankar and others.

Project Madad India Lead Balram Reddy gave away tokens of appreciation to the rural healthcare workers.

FTCCI, Dubai chamber to collaborate

The Federation of Telangana Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FTCCI) and Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry have decided to work together to increase the bilateral trade.

‘Double trade’

The chambers will work together to double the trade in next two years, with a special focus on increasing the trade from Telangana through exchange of information on the opportunities and by organising trade fairs, business meetings and training sessions for benefit of their members, FTCCI president Bhasker Reddy said in a release on Thursday.

His statement followed a meeting the visiting FTCCI and Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (TSIIC) delegation members had with Director-International Offices Omar Khan and other representatives of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The meeting, in which TSIIC MD Narsimha Reddy participated, was held on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020. The objective of the meeting was to facilitate knowledge sharing and cooperation between the two chambers, the release said.

Norovirus: Kerala asks people to be vigilant

Rare infection reported in Wayanad

A day after Norovirus cases were confirmed in Wayanad district, the Kerala Government has said people need to be vigilant about the very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

Symptoms of the rare Norovirus infection were reported in 13 students of a veterinary college at Pookode, near Vythiri, in Wayanad district two weeks ago. Health authorities were quick to collect samples and sent them to NIV in Alappuzha for testing.

Though the infection was brought under control and no further spread was reported, Health authorities said they were preparing a data bank of the students of the veterinary science college and holding an awareness class.

Veterinary college authorities said the infection was first found in students living in hostels outside the campus.

Health Minister Veena George chaired a meeting of Health officials here and took stock of the situation in Wayanad. According to a Health department release, she directed the officials to intensify activities to prevent spread of the virus.

The numbers game

In spite of the risks it poses, the climate crisis is yet to get political resonance in India

The 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland may not have a significant outcome as yet in sight. Prior to the summit, there was a frantic attempt by leaders of western countries, particularly the United States and summit host the United Kingdom, to have most countries agree on a mid-century net zero goal, or when emissions dip to near zero or are balanced out by taking out an equivalent from the atmosphere. This put China and India, both major greenhouse gas emitters, on the defensive, and they dug in their heels more strongly on issues such as climate equity and justice. Their argument, that the climate crisis is largely due to the West because of over a century of unmitigated carbon dioxide emissions, and so those countries must bear the lion’s share of reparations in the form of finance and access to clean technologies, is an old one, enshrined over the years in earlier COP deliberations. While China has indicated a 2060 net zero year, India surprisingly agreed to a net zero year of 2070 as well as more initiatives by 2030 to move towards having a significantly larger share of its energy needs met by renewable energy.

The target year 2070 is far from 2050, by when scientific consensus says, emissions must decline to zero for earth to have a fighting chance to keep temperatures at manageable levels. So India, now the third highest emitter of carbon dioxide, giving itself a 50-year deadline will unlikely help prevent temperatures from rising beyond the danger mark. However, India has also indicated that for its 2030 goals, it needs a trillion dollars, by 2030, from developed countries. India, it must be remembered, is a $2 trillion economy and expects to be a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25 — though the novel coronavirus pandemic has made it unlikely — and close to $10 trillion by 2030. Developing countries were collectively promised, nearly a decade ago, $100 billion annually until 2020 and only a small fraction has been realised. Even the Glasgow summit has shown how hotly contested every dollar is. The conundrum of global warming is that irrespective of how irrefutable the evidence is, it is unlikely that elected representatives of developed countries will impose punitive taxation on their citizens for climate reparations. However, a quicker transition to renewable energy sources may be made by enabling greater sharing of technology and at fora where countries discuss tariff barriers that impede better, cleaner technology from being adopted faster than they should be. In spite of the risks it poses, the climate crisis is yet to get political resonance in India. Unless it appears on electoral platforms, the push away from fossil fuel will not happen; and India might not have a realistic chance at adapting to disasters at minimal cost.

Focus on full vaccination

With the increased supply of doses, the inoculation pace should not slacken

Even as a small uptick in daily fresh cases has been reported in November, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) has said no new variants of interest or concern have been seen in India. And variants other than the Delta one are now “negligible in sequencing data from India”. AY4.2, a Delta variant sublineage, which is slowly increasing in proportion to reported cases in the U.K., is, it says, “very infrequent” in India. In other words, the Delta variant, first reported in India last year and responsible for the staggering number of daily cases and deaths this year, is still the dominant variant. According to WHO’s weekly epidemiological update of November 9, the Delta variant has become globally predominant and “outcompeted other variants” in most countries; 99.6% of genome sequences posted on the global database are Delta. Even as the daily fresh cases have been on an overall downward trend since a peak in early May, the pace of vaccination has slowed down sharply since hitting a peak in September. The average daily doses administered in November have been just four million, the lowest since mid-July, despite vaccine availability.

A greater concern is that only 38% have been fully vaccinated though nearly 80% of all eligible adults have received the first dose. Since full protection is achieved only with two doses, State governments need to pull out all the stops to increase the percentage of the fully vaccinated even while relentlessly increasing coverage. With Covishield accounting for about 90% of vaccines administered, the rate of administration of the second dose after the mandatory gap between two doses has always been very low. Despite people over 60 years and everyone above 45 being one of the priority groups included back in March owing to an increased risk of progressing to severe disease and even dying, nearly 43% of people aged 45-59 years and over 37% of those above 60 are yet to receive the second dose. Worse, about 10% of health-care workers are yet to receive the second dose nearly 10 months after the start of the vaccination programme on January 16. One reason could be complacency, particularly since daily fresh cases, hospitalisation and deaths have been dropping since the second wave peaked. The nearly month-long door-to-door vaccination campaign across the country this month to reach out to people who have been unable to access vaccines is, therefore, a welcome step. As proven in the universal immunisation programme for children to deliver polio vaccine, outreach programmes have a greater rate of success immunising the target population and in overcoming hesitancy and complacency. All proven and innovative methods need to be deployed to drastically increase vaccine uptake if India is serious in vaccinating everyone above 18 years by the end of the year and before a new variant emerges.

The enduring relevance of Nehru’s legacy

That each day, Indians govern themselves in a pluralist democracy is testimony to his deeds and words

Four men embodied the vision of free India in the 1940s — Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Ambedkar. Gandhi’s moral rectitude, allied to Jawaharlal Nehru’s political passion, fashioned both the strategy and tactics for the struggle against British rule. Sardar Patel’s firm hand on the administration integrated the nation and established peace and stability. Ambedkar’s erudition and legal acumen helped translate the dreams of a generation into a working legal document that laid the foundations for an enduring democracy.


Setting the way

While the world was disintegrating into fascism, violence, and war, Gandhi taught the virtues of truth, non-violence, and peace. While the nation reeled from bloodshed and communal carnage, Ambedkar preached the values of constitutionalism and the rule of law. While parochial ambitions threatened national unity, Patel led the nation to a vision of unity and common purpose. While mobs marched the streets baying for revenge, Nehru’s humane and non-sectarian vision inspired India to yearn again for the glory that had once been hers.

Of the four, Gandhi and Nehru stood out. Despite differences over both tactics (Nehru wanted Independence immediately whereas Gandhi believed Indians had to be made ready for their own freedom) and philosophy (the agnostic Nehru had little patience for the Mahatma’s spirituality), the two men proved a formidable combination. Gandhi guided Nehru to his political pinnacle; Nehru in turn proved an inspirational campaigner as President of the Indian National Congress, electrifying the nation with his speeches and tireless travel.

Keeper of the flame

Upon the Mahatma’s assassination in 1948, just five months after Independence, Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, became the keeper of the national flame, the most visible embodiment of India’s struggle for freedom. Gandhi’s death could have led Nehru to assume untrammelled power. Instead, he spent a lifetime immersed in the democratic values Ambedkar had codified, trying to instill the habits of democracy in his people — a disdain for dictators, a respect for parliamentary procedures, an abiding faith in the constitutional system. Till the end of the decade, his staunch ally Patel provided the firm hand on the tiller without which India might yet have split asunder.

For the first 17 years of India’s Independence, the paradox-ridden Nehru — a moody, idealist intellectual who felt an almost mystical empathy with the toiling peasant masses; an aristocrat, accustomed to privilege, who had passionate socialist convictions; an Anglicized product of Harrow and Cambridge who spent over 10 years in British jails; an agnostic radical who became an unlikely protégé of the saintly Mahatma Gandhi — was India. Incorruptible, visionary, ecumenical, a politician above politics, Nehru’s stature was so great that the country he led seemed inconceivable without him. A year before his death a leading American journalist, Welles Hangen, published a book entitled After Nehru, Who? the unspoken question around the world was: “after Nehru, what?”

Today, looking back on his 132nd birthday and nearly six decades after his death, we have something of an answer to the latter question. As an India still seemingly clad in many of the trappings of Nehruvianism steps out into the 21st century, a good deal of Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy appears intact — and yet hotly contested. India has moved away from much of Nehru’s beliefs, and so (in different ways) has the rest of the developing world for which Nehruvianism once spoke. As India nears its 75th anniversary of Independence from the British Raj, a transformation — still incomplete — has taken place that, in its essentials, has changed the basic Nehruvian assumptions of postcolonial nationhood. Nehru himself, as a man with an open and questing mind, would have allowed his practical thinking to evolve with the times, even while remaining anchored to his core beliefs.

The pillars of his imprint

In my 2003 biography, Nehru: The Invention of India, I sought to examine this great figure of 20th-century nationalism from the vantage point of the beginning of the 21st. Jawaharlal Nehru’s life is a fascinating story in its own right, and I tried to tell it whole, because the privileged child, the unremarkable youth, the posturing young nationalist, and the heroic fighter for independence are all inextricable from the unchallengeable Prime Minister and peerless global statesman. At the same time, I sought to analyse critically the four principal pillars of Nehru’s legacy to India — democratic institution-building, staunch pan-Indian secularism, socialist economics at home, and a foreign policy of non-alignment — all of which were integral to a vision of Indianness that is fundamentally challenged today.

Of these, it is the edifice of democracy that Nehru constructed that remains the most indispensable pillar of his contributions to India.

It was by no means axiomatic that a country like India, riven by so many internal differences and diversities, beset by acute poverty and torn apart by Partition, would be or remain democratic. Many developing countries found themselves turning in the opposite direction soon after Independence, arguing that a firm hand was necessary to promote national unity and guide development. With Gandhi’s death, Nehru could have very well assumed unlimited power within the county. And yet, he himself was such a convinced democrat, profoundly wary of the risks of autocracy, that, at the crest of his rise, he authored an anonymous article warning Indians of the dangers of giving dictatorial temptations to Jawaharlal Nehru. “He must be checked,” he wrote of himself. “We want no Caesars.” And indeed, his practice when challenged within his own party was to offer his resignation; he usually got his way, but it was hardly the instinct of a Caesar.

A deference to the system

As Prime Minister, Nehru carefully nurtured the country’s infant democratic institutions. He paid deference to the country’s ceremonial presidency and even to its largely otiose vice-presidency; he never let the public forget that these notables outranked him in protocol terms. He wrote regular letters to the Chief Ministers of the States, explaining his policies and seeking their feedback. He subjected himself and his government to cross-examination in Parliament by the small, fractious but undoubtedly talented Opposition, allowing them an importance out of all proportion to their numerical strength, because he was convinced that a strong Opposition was essential for a healthy democracy. He took care not to interfere with the judicial system; on the one occasion that he publicly criticised a judge, he apologised the next day and wrote an abject letter to the Chief Justice, regretting having slighted the judiciary. And he never forgot that he derived his authority from the people of India; not only was he astonishingly accessible for a person in his position, but he started the practice of offering a daily darshan at home for an hour each morning to anyone coming in off the street without an appointment, a practice that continued until the dictates of security finally overcame the populism of his successors.

It was Nehru who, by his scrupulous regard for both the form and the substance of democracy, instilled democratic habits in our country. His respect for Parliament, his regard for the independence of the judiciary, his courtesy to those of different political convictions, his commitment to free elections, and his deference to institutions over individuals, all left us a precious legacy of freedom.

The American editor, Norman Cousins, once asked Nehru what he hoped his legacy to India would be. “Four hundred million people capable of governing themselves,” Nehru replied. The numbers have grown, but the very fact that each day over a billion Indians govern themselves in a pluralist democracy is testimony to the deeds and words of the man whose birthday we commemorate tomorrow.

Shashi Tharoor is a third-term Member of Parliament (Congress Party) representing Thiruvananthapuram and an award-winning author of 22 books, including most recently, ‘The Battle of Belonging’

NAM at 60 marks an age of Indian alignment

The ideological moorings of India’s non-alignment faded along with Jawaharlal Nehru’s idealism

The birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru this month and the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement prompt reflection on Nehru’s major contribution to the field of international relations. The concept of not aligning a country’s policy with others can be traced to the Congress of Vienna of (1814-15) when the neutrality of Switzerland, by which that country would keep out of others’ conflicts, was recognised.


One world and free India

Mahatma Gandhi, icon of Indian Independence, believed in non-violent solutions and spirituality, with India having a civilising mission for mankind which accorded well with Nehru’s desire to innovate in world politics and his conception of modernity. In 1946, six days after Nehru formed the national government, he stated, “we propose… to keep away from the power politics of groups aligned against one another… it is for One World that free India will work.” Nehru, the theoretician, saw world problems as interlinked; not a binary of right and wrong, but as a practical person, his instructions to delegates at international meetings were to consider India’s interests first, even before the merits of the case; this was the paradox of a moral orientation in foreign policy and the compulsions of the real world.

In essence, Indian non-alignment’s ideological moorings began, lived and died along with Nehru’s idealism, though some features that characterised his foreign policy were retained to sustain diplomatic flexibility and promote India while its economic situation improved sufficiently to be described as an ‘emerging’ power. Nehru was opposed to the conformity required by both sides in the Cold War, and his opposition to alliances was justified by American weapons to Pakistan from 1954 and the creation of western-led military blocs in Asia. Non-alignment was the least costly policy for promoting India’s diplomatic presence, a sensible approach when India was weak and looked at askance by both blocs, and the best means of securing economic assistance from abroad. India played a lone hand against colonialism and racism until many African states achieved independence after 1960.

India played a surprisingly prominent role as facilitator at the 1954 Geneva Peace Conference on Indochina, whereafter non-alignment appeared to have come of age. The difficulty was always to find a definition of this policy, which caused a credibility gap between theory and practice. In the early years, there was economic dependence on donor countries who were nearly all members of western military pacts. Indian equidistance to both Koreas and both Vietnams was shown by India recognising neither; yet it recognised one party in the two Chinas and two Germanies, and the Treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation between India and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of 1971, fashioned with the liberation war of Bangladesh in view, came dangerously close to a military alliance,

NAM’s failures

When Yugoslavia and Egypt became non-aligned by defying the great powers and convened the first Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, Nehru, who never endorsed confrontational methods, became a third but hesitant co-sponsor, because in theory, a coalition or movement of non-aligned nations was a contradiction in terms. According to then Defence Minister Krishna Menon’s epigram, true non-alignment was to be non-aligned towards the non-aligned. Nehru’s misgivings were confirmed when only two members, Cyprus and Ethiopia, of the conference supported India in the war with China. Among the Non-Aligned Movement’s members was a plenitude of varying alignments, a weakness aggravated by not internalising their own precepts of human rights and peaceful settlement of disputes on the grounds of not violating the sacred principle of sovereign domestic jurisdiction. Other failures were lack of collective action and collective self-reliance, and the non-establishment of an equitable international economic or information order. The Movement could not dent, let alone break, the prevailing world order.

The years following Nehru’s death saw the atrophy of his idealism, and non-alignment during his successors moved from pragmatism under Indira Gandhi and opportunism after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, to the semi-alignment of today. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, by ideology, inclination and threat perception, is inclined to greater alignment with the United States whether under the nebulous rubric of the Indo-Pacific or otherwise.

Longevity of organisations

The Centre for Policy Research produced a document in 2012 titled ‘Non-alignment Mark 2.0’ which left no trace; the same body’s paper, ‘A rethink of foreign policy’, this year elides it altogether. Every international organisation has a shelf life, though many survive for years in semi-neglect. The League of Nations was given the coup de grâce after seven years of inactivity only in 1946, even after the United Nations had come into being. The Commonwealth will last only as long as the British find it useful. It is hard to see any future for Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) or its various institutional offspring, given the state of India-China relations. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has faded into oblivion. Few among even our serving diplomats could tell what transpired at the last Non-aligned Conference or where the next will be held, while the symbolic anniversary, unanimously agreed upon in 1981 of ‘The First September, Day of Non-alignment’, has come and gone unnoticed.

Krishnan Srinivasan is a former Foreign Secretary

‘Remote education was inaccessible to most children’

Dropout rate was high due to COVID-19: survey

Only 20% of school-age children in India had access to remote education during the pandemic, of whom only half participated in live online lessons, according to a new national sample survey by ICRIER and LIRNEAsia, a think tank focused on digital policy. In fact, 38% of households said at least one child had dropped out of school completely due to COVID-19.

The survey, released on Friday, found that although digital connectivity shot up 40% during the pandemic, low access to devices, poor signal and high costs prevented most children from reaping the benefits.

The face-to-face survey, conducted between March and August this year, covered a nationally representative sample of 7,000 households. Only Kerala was excluded, due to high COVID-19 cases.

Among children aged 5-18 years, it found that 80% of those who were enrolled in schools prior to the pandemic did not receive any educational services at all during school closure. The situation was significantly worse among those from lower socio-economic classes, where the head of the household had lower education levels, and among rural households.

Among the 20% who received education, only 55% had access to live online classes, while 68% had access to recorded audio or video lessons. Three-fourths of the students had work sent to them over a smartphone, usually via WhatsApp, and 61% via text messages. Almost 70% had contact with their teachers via phone calls.

PM to inaugurate Kashi Corridor project

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor project on December 13 in Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency, alongside families of those displaced by the project.

The inauguration comes with just a few months to go for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and has significance for the cultural politics for the State.

According to senior sources in the BJP, at least 400 families were asked to vacate the area and many of the encroachments around the historic temple cleared to make way for the project that encapsulates the vision of the Holkar queen of Indore, Ahalya Bai Holkar, who created a series of temples and vistas leading up to the Ganga ghat. The project connects the temple with the ghats, with a paved walkway around 320 metres long and 20 metres wide. It will have a museum, a library, a pilgrim facilitation centre and a salvation house. According to Shashi Kumar, head of U.P. BJP’s social media cell, the function would see the presence of the main archakas of the 12 Jyotirlingas (of which Kashi is one), with water from all major rivers of the country being brought in for the abhishek of the main deity Baba Vishwanath (Lord Shiva).

The project is important for Mr. Modi and is pegged at around ₹600 crore after launch in March 2018. An estimated ₹300 crore was spent on purchasing land and buildings, and for resettlement compensation.

Permanent commission for 11 women Army officers

Centre’s decision follows SC warning of contempt action

The Union Government on Friday agreed to grant permanent commission (PC) to 11 women Army officers who met the eligibility criteria after the Supreme Court threatened to initiate contempt proceedings.

The Centre, which was initially reluctant, conveyed its acquiescence to a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud to grant PC to the officers within 10 days.

Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers, who have not approached the court but nonetheless meet the various eligibility criteria, would be granted PC in three weeks, the Government informed the court.

In October, the court similarly intervened in favour of granting PC to 39 other SSC women officers.

“We appreciate the fair stand of the Army authority in putting at rest all outstanding issues pertaining to women SSC officers,” the court recorded at the end.

The Bench, also comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna, was hearing a contempt petition filed by the 11 officers, who alleged they were denied PC despite crossing the eligibility threshold.

However, the court clarified that “by way of abundant caution, it is clarified that those officers who have disciplinary and vigilance clearance will be eligible to grant of PC, subject to their meeting of other conditions…”

In August, over 70 women officers approached the court, challenging the Army’s decision finding them ineligible for PC. They said they were disqualified despite satisfying the 60% assessment threshold for PC as prescribed by the court. The order had said PC should be given to women SSC officers who obtained 60% marks in their assessment, subject to their meeting the medical criteria prescribed by the Army’s August 1, 2020, order and receiving disciplinary and vigilance clearance.

SC takes up plea on hate speech proliferation

Bench to hear what Govt. has to say

The Supreme Court on Friday took up a plea filed by former member of Planning Commission Syeda Hameed and Delhi University professor Alok Rai about the liability of authorities in preventing the proliferation of hate speech, especially in social media.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar asked the petitioners’ lawyer, Shahrukh Alam, to serve copies of the petition on the Centre, the Delhi Government and the police. However, the court did not issue a formal notice. The Bench said it would, rather than deal with the case piecemeal, hear what the authorities had to say. The court posted the case later in November.

The petition urged the court to fix the extent of liability of public authorities in case they wilfully allow hate speech in violation of the law. It said public authorities have a “duty of care” to prevent hate speeches targetting particular communities. The petition also sought the implementation of the anti-lynching guidelines issued by the court.

Loads of lessons from latest round of Chennai flooding

Chennai and other coastal districts of Tamil Nadu have taken the brunt of another intense spell of rainfall during the last few days and many places were inundated

Chennai and other coastal districts of Tamil Nadu have taken the brunt of another intense spell of rainfall during the last few days and many places were inundated. Comparing it with the 2015 deluge may be inapposite, but the incessant rains and heavy winds brought back without fail the haunting memories to many. It is definitely worth mentioning that this time around, various government agencies and municipal corporations were much better prepared and on their toes, bringing help to the thousands of people suddenly immobilised by the rains.

Though electricity and water supply issues remain to be sorted out in many areas that are still under water, the agencies were swift to evacuate people marooned by the sudden surge. It was heartening to see how the Chennai Corporation’s common kitchens served up pongal, upma and other dishes and kept the urban poor from going hungry. The death toll of 18 from across the state was way below 174 reported during the 2015 rains. A regulated release of water from dams and other resources around Chennai kept the city from excessive flooding. 

However, there are many lessons that need to be learnt. This newspaper has reported several instances of encroachments along the banks of the Adyar and Cooum rivers. Government agencies and private players have also encroached upon the Ennore-Kosasthalaiyar basin, which protects residents of north Chennai by taking in huge amounts of flood water. The government needs to bring in effective measures to protect whatever is left of this fragile ecosystem.

It should also consider adopting green solutions to address flooding. Rainwater harvesting needs to be made mandatory for all new real estate projects and individual houses. All existing water bodies and temple tanks can be deepened and desilted so as to retain more water. While the new stormwater drains have helped bring down the water levels quickly in several places, they seem to defy natural gradients in other areas. A scientific review should be carried out to address the problem. 

Those who deserve to be in the doghouse

The number of strays in India is declining and will come down even more. If it is not a stray, I don’t understand a person’s antipathy towards a dog.

The Kerala High Court recently passed a judgment (People for Animals versus State of Kerala). Can a society have a by-law or agreement that absolutely prohibits residents from keeping pets? No, it can’t. That will be unconstitutional and void. 

Flowing from Article 21 of the Constitution, I have the right to keep a pet. However, naturally, every society has the right to frame rules for keeping pets. “While holding such clauses as illegal, unconstitutional and unenforceable, we have to observe that the aforesaid freedoms recognised in animals, and the co-relational right recognised in pet owners, is by no means absolute or unconditional and must necessarily be qualified by safeguards designed to protect the competing rights of others including the owners/residents of neighbouring apartments.”  There can be rules on the pet riding a general lift, littering at random, or biting as it pleases.  Though I said pet, usually, in such cases, one means a dog.  The municipality can frame rules on how many dogs can be kept in an apartment or a house and insist on these being registered and vaccinated. I recall Bengaluru’s draft municipal rules from three years ago, where the municipality also sought to determine what breeds could be kept in an apartment, allowing a Labrador or a Dalmatian, but ignoring our very own Indie dogs. I think the new version is awaited.

Personally, I don’t think a municipality getting into breed questions is a very good idea.  We might want to maintain our distance from a Dobermann or a Rottweiler, but not every German Shepherd is vicious. Singapore may not be the best example to follow. The Singapore Housing Development Board suggested pet dogs that bark excessively should be debarked, by removing a section of the dog’s vocal chord. In my visits to Singapore, I have rarely seen a crow or a sparrow. They are probably confined to Jurong Bird Park. Dogs may well head in that direction. 

How many dogs are there in India? The 20th Livestock Census, for 2019, gives us a figure of 9.4 million, a decline from the 11.7 million of 2012. The gender bias has also become worse. In 2012, there were 2.61 male dogs per female dog. In 2019, that figure has become 2.97. Of the total number of dogs, 6.9 million are rural and 2.5 million are urban.

Where do you find the most dogs? Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  Counting dogs in a census is difficult. If it is a pet dog that stays inside the household, matters are relatively easy. The problem is with semi-pets that freely wander around and strays. Dogs have been part of the Livestock Census since 1982, but no one takes the canine part of the census seriously. The figure of 9.4 million is an under-count. That is a figure for stray dogs. As every country urbanises and develops, there is a switch from stray to pet and rural to urban. That same pattern occurs across states too. For pets, gender bias becomes more pronounced. People prefer male dogs, not female ones.

How many dogs are there in India, including pets? I don’t think we have a clear handle on the figure, since registration isn’t mandatory and if so, there is no enforcement. A figure of 20 million floats around for pets, but that probably includes cats too. If one ignores that and allows cats to be counted as dogs, we are talking about 20 million pet dogs and 10 million strays, a figure of around 30 million. Alarmist figures of 60 million cannot simply be true. 

How many dogs are there in the US? The figure should make us blink, around 90 million. Or take Israel, with a very high dog/human ratio. How many dogs are there in the world? Probably around 900 million and around 500 million are proper pets (there are wild dogs too).  In most developed countries, the dog/human ratio stabilises at between 1:6 and 1:10. Stated differently, we don’t have too many dogs in India. We have too few.

The world is divided into dog-lovers and dog-haters and I can understand antipathy on the part of those who are scared of strays and rabies. In his 1926 “Is this Humanity?” series, Mahatma Gandhi was also extremely harsh about stray dogs. “There should be no stray dogs even as we have no stray cattle.” Elsewhere in the same series, “Failing such (municipal) provision, all stray dogs should be shot.” We continue to have stray dogs and stray cattle.  No sensible person will suggest stray cattle should be shot.  “What, then, can a humane man do for stray dogs? He should set apart a portion of his income and send it on to a society for the protection of those animals if there be one. If such a society is impossible—and it is very difficult even if it is not impossible—he should try to own one or more dogs.” Such societies are not difficult or impossible and do exist. There have been incidents from assorted parts (MP, UP, Punjab) where individuals have taken Gandhiji’s advice seriously and have shot not strays but neighbours’ dogs. There are others, who, lacking firearms, kill strays through other means. As I have pointed out, the number of strays is declining and will come down even more. If it is not a stray, I don’t understand a dog-hater’s antipathy towards a dog, or towards an animal in general. They deserve to be in a doghouse.

Kanhadasa’s Yaksha of Pitalkhora – Kubera

A unique exception to this common phenomena of the artist unknown is the so-called ‘Yaksha from Pitalkhora’, now in New Delhi’s National Museum.

In ancient India, the name of the artist who had created works of art, say a sculpture, usually remained unknown; for, often the sculpture contained no signature, and no other source provided any information about the sculptor. A unique exception to this common phenomena is the so-called ‘Yaksha from Pitalkhora’, now in New Delhi’s National Museum. Like many other yaksha sculptures, this was also named after the place, Pitalkhora, in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, where it was found in c. 1953 by archaeologist M N Deshpande in front of a Buddhist chaitya (shrine), now known as Cave No. 3.

The sculpture from Maharashtra’s

What is unique about the sculpture is that it bears an inscription in Brahmi script of c. 2nd century BCE on the back of the palm of the right hand of the work. It reads, “kanhadaasena hiramkaarena kataa” or ‘made by Kanhadasa, a goldsmith’. This text is unanimously considered as the artist’s signature and so, all scholars had agreed that the work was carved by Kanhadasa. But the precise identification of the yaksha of Kanhadasa remains unresolved so far. Deshpande wrote that “the… yaksha sculpture… is almost intact from the knees upwards except the missing left forearm. The sculpture represents a standing corpulent male yaksha with its hands raised upwards to hold a shallow bowl”.

Further, a vihara (monastery) at Pitalkhora contains a badly damaged relief, which shows a horse along with a few other figures. It contains an inscription that reads, “Done by Kanha, the son of Samasa of Dhenukaakata.” Another Buddhist chaitya at Kondane in Raigad district, Maharashtra, contains a large male figure with an inscription that reads, “Made by Balaka, the pupil of Kanha”. These three works make it clear that Kanha was a great master sculptor and trained many students, including Kanhadasa and Balaka. Since making sculptures was a family profession in ancient times, Samasa of Dhenukaataka might have been a sculptor as well.

Soon after Kanhadasa’s work came to light, art historian Pramod Chandra had written that a Buddhist tantric text by name Mahamayuri mentions a yaksha named Sankarin as residing at Pitangalya, the ancient name of Pitalkhora. Deshpande said that the sculpture of Kanhadasa happens to be “the most prominent of its kind in Pitalkhora”, and hence it may represent Sankarin. But in the mid-1960s, M S Mate had said, “The Pitalkhora Yaksha, highly artistic creation though it is, is a motif and symbol common in the Sunga-Kushan-Andhra art and has little to do with any Sankarin.” Later, Pramod Chandra wrote a detailed note on the sculpture under the title, ‘A Dwarf Yaksha by Artist Kanhadasa’. As he had omitted Sankarin in the note, I presume that the art historian had put aside his own earlier identification of the sculpture. In ‘Yaksha Cult and Iconography’, R N Misra had also rejected the identification of the sculpture as Sankarin, and suggested tentatively that the work may represent Nalakubara, one of the two sons of Kubera, the god of wealth.

The name, Kubera, has been interpreted etymologically in different ways by many previous scholars. Way back in 1912, L A Waddell had considered Kubera as a compound word made of ku and pito, which mean respectively ‘the earth’ and ‘a grain basket’ (from pit or ‘to collect’). Thus apparently, Kubera means ‘the heaper of (the product of) the earth’; and, the same meaning in turn goes well with the divinity’s chief role as ‘the God of riches’. Since Kanhadasa’s sculpture is shown holding with both the hands a basket on the head, the work in my opinion seems to be representing Kubera. Many scholars had also said that Kubera is shown as having only eight teeth. Further, as Deshpande had described, “The expression of the face” of Kanhadasa’s sculpture “is full of wild joy resulting in a chuckle which exposes the teeth”. In case Kanhadasa had only carved eight teeth in the open mouth of the yaksha, it would also strengthen the identification of the work as Kubera. Kanhadasa had also designed and carved in his sculpture a unique necklace, which contains two male figures. Incidentally, many ancient Indian texts mention a pair of male nidhis (hidden treasures) by name Padma Nidhi and Sankha Nidhi as the chief subordinates of Kubera. In the well-known Besnagar Kalpavriksha sculpture (3rd century BCE), now in the Indian Museum at Kolkata, the two nidhis were shown in the form of a lotus and a conch respectively. In case Kanhadasa, being a goldsmith, had carved the two chief nidhis as personified figures in the necklace, the same would further confirm the identification of the sculpture as Kubera. But either to agree with or refute the new identification, which has been proposed here by me, the work needs to be re-examined further closely, sooner than later.



The News Editorial Analysis 12th November 2021 

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