The News Editorial Analysis 15th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 15th November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 15th November 2021

Coal ‘phase-down’ is a right: Minister

India entitled to responsible use, he says of COP-26 deal

The News Editorial Analysis 15th November 2021

A day after the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow ended on Saturday, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, in a personal blog, dwelt on India’s last-minute intervention that played a key role in the final text of the agreement that called for coal to be “phased down” rather than “phased out”.

“Fossil fuels and their use have enabled parts of the world to attain high levels of growth. Even now, developed countries have not completely phased out coal. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) refers to mitigation of GHG emissions from all sources. UNFCCC is not directed at any particular source,” he wrote, “Developing countries have a right to their fair share of the global carbon budget and are entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels within this scope.”

He said the lack of commitment (by the West) to climate finance is “troublesome”.

Deliveries of S-400 systems have begun: Russian official

‘First division will be delivered by the end of 2021’

Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India early next month, Moscow has started deliveries of the S-400 air defence systems to India, a senior Russian official confirmed.

This risks the possibility of sanctions from the U.S. under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which would come up for discussion at the India-U.S. 2+2 ministerial dialogue, also scheduled for early December.

“Russia has started supplying S-400 air defence system to India, the first division will be delivered by the end of 2021,” said Dmitry Shugaev, Director of Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC). The supplies are proceeding on schedule, he added.

Festive sales have lifted economy: Goyal

India set to record highest-ever exports of $550 bn in 2021-22, says Minister

The economy is “bouncing back” strongly with festive sales hitting highs “not seen in a long time” and is set to record the highest-ever exports of $550 billion in 2021-22, Commerce, Industry and Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal said on Sunday.

Merchandise exports stood at $235 billion for the first seven months of the year and are “well on track” to hit $400 billion, while services exports are expected to go up to about $150 billion, Mr. Goyal said at the launch of the India International Trade Fair. “I am told several reports suggest that Deepavali sales, festival sales, earlier this month, were probably the highest seen in a long time. Every statistic, be it job creation or enrolments into the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, reflects a broad recovery,” he said.

“The economy is bouncing back if you look at the figures in every aspect, the PMI [Purchasing Managers’ Index] for services has hit a decade high, manufacturing PMI is above 55. GST collections… one normally sees a spike in collections in April, because it’s the year-end, but this October, we recorded ₹1.3 lakh crore,” he said.

Karnataka objects to violation of water tribunal awards

Centre urged not to give clearances to such projects

Reiterating the demand for Karnataka’s rightful share in Cauvery, Krishna and Pennar basins in the Godavari-Cauvery link project, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Sunday urged the Centre not to give statutory clearances to large-scale permanent projects planned for utilising surplus waters in violation of water tribunal awards.

“Though the shares of co-basin States have not been decided in the Godavari-Cauvery link, Tamil Nadu has been going ahead with the Cauvery-Vaigai-Gundar link which is inadmissible in law. The Karnataka Government has urged the Centre not to approve the proposal of Tamil Nadu for taking up the Cauvery-Vaigai-Gundar link as an advance action in anticipation of the realisation of the Godavari-Krishna-Pennar-Cauvery-Vaigai-Gundar link project,” Mr. Bommai said in his address at the 29th Southern Zonal Council meeting at Tirupati on Sunday.

The Chief Minister sought the rightful share for Karnataka as was done in the case of Godavari diversion to Krishna river under the Polavaram project.

With respect to construction of Rajiv Gandhi Sangama Banda barrage by Telangana, he said that Karnataka opposed the project as it will utilise the remaining water in the guise of savings which will come for review in 2050. Karnataka also urged the removal of inter-State differences in renewable energy tariffs for creating a level playing field. The CM said though Karnataka is the only State to achieve the renewable purchase obligation targets of the Centre, it’s not able to exploit great potential because of low tariffs that make it unviable for investors.

Striding back into the Afghan theatre

Though challenging, it would be a mistake to consider that there is no space for India to operate in Afghanistan

Amidst the multiple messages that New Delhi wished to send out by convening ‘The Third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan’ on November 10 — a National Security Adviser (NSA)-level meet — one stands out: that despite the current absence of an on-ground presence in the country, India continues to matter in Afghan affairs. To ensure that this thought was acknowledged by the Indian political and strategic classes as well as the region, Indian officials, in their background briefings, emphasised that India’s invitation was accepted by countries that have significant stakes in Afghanistan — Russia, Iran and all the five Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). They correctly downplayed Pakistan’s outright refusal to join the meeting and China’s lame excuse for its absence. Indeed, in the context of the present state of Sino-Indian ties and Pakistan’s obsession of keeping India away from Afghanistan, neither country’s decision was surprising.

Similar concerns

There is little doubt that the initiative succeeded in demonstrating that many regional countries accept that India has legitimate concerns relating to Afghanistan. The Delhi Declaration that emerged from the deliberations of the National Security Advisers/Secretaries of the National Security Councils of the participating states shows that all these countries share similar concerns which are also widely held in the international community. The Delhi Declaration demanded that Afghan soil is not used to spread terrorism or extremist ideologies. It called for a control on the production of Afghan opium. It reflected the widely held view that the Taliban have to conform to acceptable standards of behaviour on gender issues and minority rights. The Declaration also called for the formation of “an open and truly inclusive government” that was “representative of the will of the Afghan people” and had the participation of “all sections of society” in its “administrative and political structure”. This is a laudable objective, but is it realistic? The hard fact is that the Taliban achieved a military victory and unlike in the 1990s now control all of Afghanistan. Is any neighbour of Afghanistan willing to nurture a long-lasting insurgency to effectively pressure the Taliban?

Hurdles, an outreach

All the participants of the Delhi Dialogue except India have open contacts with the Taliban even if some of them consider the Taliban to be a negative political force. It is, therefore, likely that despite this clarion collective call for an inclusive government, these states will ultimately individually settle for a Taliban government that will show a degree of responsiveness on gender issues and minority rights, including of ethnic minorities. Even more they will look for how the Taliban are addressing their individual concerns on specific terrorist groups that target them. The Russian press statement after the Delhi Declaration itself reveals that each country will act not on the basis of common positions in this document but in keeping with its interests.

It is here that Indian policymakers are still struggling to accept the consequences and realities of the great change that took place in Afghanistan on August 15, when Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled from Kabul and the Taliban rolled in. This far-reaching development eroded the very basis of India’s Afghan policy. It required an immediate re-assessment of the regional situation and nimble, quick and comprehensive action with salience given to strategic considerations. It needed a ruthlessly cold ‘all of political and strategic classes’ approach unaffected by political considerations of any nature. Almost three months later this is still not discernible. And, the Delhi meeting, while serving a small diplomatic purpose, will not contribute to addressing the vast challenges that India now faces in its entire western neighbourhood, especially Afghanistan.

Pakistan link

Pakistan has avoided its mistake of the 1990s, of giving formal diplomatic recognition to the Taliban. It is however acting in a manner with the group’s government, which it helped put together, as it would have with a ‘recognised’ administration. It is no coincidence that the day the Delhi Dialogue was convened, the acting Afghan Foreign Minister, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, reached Islamabad leading a high-level delegation. In India’s absence in Kabul, Pakistan has a free hand. As it is with its deep and abiding relations with the Taliban it has a unique and enduring advantage. But should that mean that India ignores Afghanistan altogether and confines itself to only covert contacts with the Taliban? There has been no repeat of a Doha-like meeting between the Indian Ambassador and senior Taliban officials.

A place for India

India will have to play a multi-faceted diplomatic game to safeguard and promote its interests in Afghanistan and the region. It cannot join the game unless it re-establishes a presence in Kabul. All-important regional players and Russia have kept their missions open in Kabul. New Delhi must note that the Taliban spokesperson, taking note of the Dialogue said that India was an important regional country with which it desired good diplomatic relations.

India has to proceed with caution but without inhibitions. That can only be through an understanding of Afghan traditions and culture which has been under strain but which has not disappeared altogether. At no stage in Afghan history has any ruler or group not chafed at foreign dependence howsoever necessary it may have been. They have always looked to alternatives. Taliban signals on India to Pakistan should be taken in this context.

Besides, the Taliban are not immune from regional and tribal cleavages. This is not to underrate the difficulties in India’s path in Afghanistan but it would be a profound mistake to consider that there is no space for India to operate in Afghanistan; the Taliban public statements are themselves indicating that it does; Muttaqi has publicly said that India-Afghan trade via Wagah should be allowed by Pakistan.

Expressing concern for the “deteriorating socio-economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan” the Delhi Declaration called for “urgent humanitarian assistance” to the Afghan people. It also did well to emphasise that humanitarian assistance should be provided in an “unimpeded, direct and assured manner to Afghanistan”. This is directly relevant for India wishes to send 50,000 tonnes of wheat for the Afghan people overland via Pakistan. Obviously, the Taliban have welcomed the Indian offer and asked Pakistan to agree. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told Muttaqi that he will “favourably” consider the Taliban’s request. At this stage, India should be bold and enhance its offer to one million metric tonnes of wheat; that is what it pledged in 2002 at the Tokyo Afghanistan conference. It should also publicly declare, if needed, that it would hand the wheat over to the World Food Programme at the Wagah border. If Pakistan obstructs the additional offer, let it explain its negativity to the Afghan people.

On China

It is not only Pakistan that India will need to confront in Afghanistan but also China. The Chinese have always maintained contacts with the Taliban and their strategic and economic interests have and will continue to make them adopt pragmatic policies. Indian economic interests also demand its presence in Afghanistan. There is no time to lose for this purpose. A heavy and long-term price will have to be paid otherwise. In all this process India must remain grounded in reality but that seems absent in some Indian analysts who believe that it is a Eurasian power too. That should be the objective. But is it so today when it does not have connectivity to the region and is reluctant to play the Afghan game where it matters — the mountains and valleys of the Hindukush?

Learning from the best in India’s COVID-19 fight

Innovative interventions have helped communities across the country change the course of the pandemic response

A few months ago, as the country reeled under the impact of the second wave of COVID-19, officials deep inside Madhya Pradesh’s tribal districts had to contend with an additional crisis: vaccinating a people firmly resistant to any coronavirus vaccines.

A transformation

It was April 15, 2021, and less than 10% of the eligible population had been vaccinated in Jhabua, the district in Madhya Pradesh, per government figures, with one of the highest percentages of Scheduled Tribes population in India ( It was then that district officials decided to leverage tradition in their efforts to convey the message of timely vaccination. They started by organising khatla baithaks (khat means “woven bed,” and baithak means “meeting”), or community meetings, to dispel vaccine myths.

By July, Jhabua saw a five-fold increase in vaccination uptake, with approximately 40% of eligible people in the district having received at least one dose. In fact, as members from the department of Women and Child Development handed out turmeric-smeared rice to rural houses as a traditional means of welcoming people to vaccination programmes across the district, vaccination drives across the district saw a discernible uptick.

An easy interpretation of this intervention might make it seem that Jhabua district is an outlier in the larger narrative of COVID-19 containment strategies. However, the data has made us see that, quite simply, it is not. Like Jhabua, there are multiple districts and regions where individuals and groups, from both government and civil society, have stepped in to ensure that impact of COVID-19 was mitigated in any and every way possible — even if that meant the use of rice or khatla baithaks. But just as it is easy for such stories to dissolve in the predominant din of the news cycle, it is also easy to see why our journey over the last several months began.

Space for initiatives

In April and May 2021, when the nation was going through the peak of a crippling second wave, a small group of us — that soon grew to over 500 people — came together to form India COVID SOS. We realised that there existed a wide spectrum of people who had made it their mission to help society steer to safer shores in this pandemic: medical professionals who, despite the volume of patients, were managing COVID-19 in an evidence-informed, pragmatic way; teams vaccinating entire villages once overwhelmed by hesitancy; workers ensuring even the remotest areas had adequate oxygen supply, etc. These efforts needed to be foregrounded, and a space was essential to document learnings from such successful initiatives.

Subsequently, together with Exemplars in Global Health, our research led to the development of case studies from India; now publicly available, these case studies highlight interventions and innovations that drove meaningful outcomes in the pandemic response across India.

We confirmed that the story of Jhabua was not one of exception. As our case studies show, there are other commendable endeavours as well. For instance, in February 2021, when India’s vaccination drive was initiated, health-care workers in Janefal, a rural hamlet with just over 500 residents in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district had a difficult time convincing people to get vaccinated. Some had heard stories from neighbouring villages about people dying after vaccination. Others believed that people who were vaccinated had to amputate their arms.

To build trust and confidence, village heads and other front line workers set an example by getting vaccinated first. They had their photos taken while getting the vaccine, and later, to address apprehensions, spent time painting gram panchayat buildings. A task force was also set up. It comprised health workers, police officers and village council leaders who discovered villagers had an unprecedented fear of hospitals and were terrified doctors would kill them and rob them of their kidneys if they went in for treatment. With the nearest vaccination centre being eight kilometres away, the task force overcame both challenges by conducting a vaccination camp in the village, taking the vaccines to the people. They also did this on April 27, Hanuman Jayanti — an auspicious day for the locals. It was an insightful and clever way to leverage the occasion for the right cause.

In Tamil Nadu and Bihar

In Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, the district administration in collaboration with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) addressed vaccine hesitancy effectively, too. The NGOs enlisted the help of community members to write songs in tribal languages to share the benefits of getting vaccinated. The district administration also recorded statements from village leaders in their own languages, regarding the vaccine’s effectiveness, and broadcast those messages throughout the district’s different villages. This helped villagers engender trust, and soon, vaccination rates there went up, too.

In East Champaran, Bihar, district officials remarkably achieved 95% COVID-19 vaccination of adults in the Bankatwa block in just two days using what has been dubbed the “Bankatwa Way”. Bankatwa block historically had low routine immunisation coverage of just 64.3% due to challenges of difficult terrain, poor health infrastructure and vaccine hesitancy in the community, among others. To tackle this, the district adopted a mission mode approach. This was a concentrated effort of all government departments in collaboration with World Health Organization, civil society organisations, local elected leaders, and religious leaders to mobilise all eligible people in the district for COVID-19 vaccination. In just 48 hours, over 55,000 of the block’s 62,000 registered inhabitants were vaccinated by setting up vaccination sites in each of the area’s 102 villages and hamlets. The effort had a knock-on effect across the district with similar intensive effort campaigns, delivering 100% first dose coverage by early October.

Work in progress

Like these stories, there are many such novel, inspirational efforts that can be found in the case studies we have helped to collate ( and Our idea has always been to capture a broad canvas of learnings that could inform policy at the highest level, through critical vignettes showing what is working best (or not). But we are just getting started. It is essential that we keep working toward expanding the scope of our case studies, making them a reservoir of accurate information and inspiration. If we can effectively share and disseminate learnings and highlight the best interventions from across different domestic geographies, we can take a step towards being better equipped to tackle health crises in the future.

(India COVID SOS is an international non-profit volunteer group of scientists, clinicians, engineers, policy-makers, community organisers, and industrial partners. Exemplars in Global Health brings together researchers, funders, and collaborators around the globe with the mission of identifying countries that are positive outliers in global health. Their analyses of best practices strive to be a template that can be potentially replicated by others at a country/regional-level.)

Purnima Menon is a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.

Madhukar Pai is a professor of epidemiology and global health at McGill University, Canada. They are volunteers with India COVID SOS

History lessons

China is preparing for a major long-term shift in its politics under Xi

Following a meeting of its Central Committee last week, China’s Communist Party passed what it called a “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century”. Ostensibly about the past, it still holds enormous significance for China’s future. This is only the third such resolution on history passed by the party in its 100-year history. The previous two resolutions, passed by Mao Zedong in 1945 and Deng Xiaoping in 1981, marked important inflection points in China’s politics, and established them as the dominant leaders of their respective generations. The full text of the latest resolution has not been made public, but a 5,000 word communiqué issued after the closure of the four-day plenum gives a flavour. It heaps praise on the contributions of Mao, Deng and current leader Xi Jinping. It differs in one key aspect from the previous resolution of 1981, which acknowledged Mao’s mistakes that led to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), by describing the history of the party as one without flaws. “Looking back on the party’s endeavours over the past century,” it surmises, “we can see why we were successful in the past and how we can continue to succeed in the future.”

Explaining why the party saw the need for a new historical resolution, the communiqué said the party wanted to “strengthen our consciousness of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central party leadership”. The latest communiqué implicitly criticised the collective leadership model that Deng bequeathed his successors and enabled three peaceful transfers of power, praising Mr. Xi’s “core” leadership for having “solved many tough problems… never resolved and accomplished many things that were wanted but never got done”. It also called for “resolutely upholding Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee and in the Party… and upholding the Central Committee’s authority… to ensure that all Party members act in unison”. The significance of the 1945 and 1981 resolutions lay not in their reflections on the past but in how they would change the exercise of power, bringing dramatic consequences for China’s future. The first established Mao’s ideology as the party’s guiding ideology. By doing so, it made it heresy to question Mao and paved the way for the creation of his disastrous personality cult. In 1981, Deng too established his dominance, but used his power to bring an end to rule by ideology, instead turning the party’s attention to development and bringing China to its era of reform and opening up. Now, 40 years after Deng, as China’s current leader looks to write his place in the party’s history, the past might be held in reverence, but it will not be allowed to dictate the contours of the future when the country prepares to take yet another political turn.

A routine matter or a punishment post?

It is time for the Central government to clear the doubts being raised about the collegium’s recommendations

The Supreme Court collegium’s recommendation to transfer the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Sanjib Banerjee, to the Meghalaya High Court, as well as the senior-most judge of the Allahabad High Court, Munishwar Nath Bhandari, to the Madras High Court, has raised eyebrows.

Many questions

Justice Banerjee was appointed as a judge of the Calcutta High Court on June 22, 2006. He was appointed as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court on December 31, 2020, and he assumed office on January 4, 2021. Without a promotion, he would have to retire from office on November 1, 2023. He has two more years to serve at the Madras High Court.

The Calcutta High Court has a sanctioned strength of 72 judges and the Madras High Court has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges. The proposal is to transfer him to the Meghalaya High Court, established in 2013 and with a sanctioned strength of only four judges. It is therefore only fair that some would term the transfer of a judge, who was managing a large High Court for nearly 10 months, to a northeastern State as a punishment unless the collegium provides reasons for its decision.

Article 222 of the Constitution provides for the transfer of a judge (including Chief Justice) from one High Court to any other High Court. In the case of Justice Banerjee, since the proposal came from the Supreme Court collegium, the Central government, which has to advise the President of India, is entitled to ask for relevant material before tendering any advice. If it is not satisfied, the Central government can ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. Recently, the Union Law Minister, Kiren Rijiju, said that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) will “create a new dawn in judiciary”. The CJI in turn said that Mr. Rijiju was “ the only Law Minister or politician in recent times, who recognised our judicial hard work and appreciated us”. Therefore, it may be possible that both the decision-makers have a common intention for the transfer.

Justice Banerjee was appointed as the Chief Justice of a High Court with three years of service left. He was found suitable for that post. How is that within 10 months of his tenure he is being found unsuitable for the same High Court and is being transferred to a far-away State which has just two judges at present?

Another puzzling decision

Justice Bhandari’s transfer is equally puzzling. In its September 16th decision, the collegium recommended the transfer of Justice Bhandari to the Madras High Court. The details of his appointment show that he was initially appointed as a judge of the Rajasthan High Court on July 5, 2007. If he joins the Madras High Court, he will become the senior-most judge since Justice T.S. Sivagnanam was transferred to the Calcutta High Court and the next two judges — M. Duraiswamy and T. Raja — are admittedly junior to him. With his transfer, Justice Bhandari will become the Acting Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.

Even if the consultation process in making Justice Bhandari the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court is delayed because of, say, the State government raising any issues, Justice Bhandari will continue as Acting Chief Justice and will retire on September 12, 2022. Justice Bhandari’s tenure at the Rajasthan High Court was not free from controversy. After being appointed as a judge in that High Court, he was transferred to the Allahabad High Court. The collegium proposed his transfer in 2019 and the reason it provided was that the transfer was in the “interest of better administration of justice”.

Justice Bhandari requested through representations on January 18 and 23, 2019, that his proposed transfer be deferred for the time being for further consideration. The collegium rejected his representation and the note published, it stated: “the Collegium has carefully gone through the aforesaid representations and taken into consideration all relevant factors including his request to defer his proposed transfer for the time being for further consideration in future. On reconsideration, the Collegium is of the considered view that it is not possible to accede to his request”. Justice Bhandari joined the Allahabad High Court on March 15, 2019, and in due course, he became the senior-most judge in that Court.

If the Supreme Court collegium of 2019 thought that Justice Bhandari should leave the Rajasthan High Court in the “administration of justice”, what changed that prompted the collegium of 2021 to transfer him to the Madras High Court with the full knowledge that he will be heading that court? What was once a punishment transfer has now become a rewarding transfer. If a judge is not considered suitable for one High Court, then how he does he become suitable for another High Court? This is the question that is being asked in legal circles.

And does this mean that the decision to transfer Justice Banerjee to the Meghalaya High Court was made to facilitate Justice Bhandari’s elevation as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court? Also, if the decision was taken as early as on September 16, why was it made public only about one and a half months later? This is a question that many are asking.

Normally when such proposals are made, a judge in the Supreme Court who comes from the State in which the transferee judge is holding office is also consulted. With regard to Justice Banerjee’s transfer, there are four judges who are qualified to be called consultee judges. Why was consultation in the case of Justice Banerjee made only with the junior-most judge of the Supreme Court and not the senior judges?

Not a routine matter

Evaluations are not made on the discharge of duties of a judge as there is no reliable basis for making such an analysis. In terms of disposal of matters and writing skills, no one can find fault with the present Chief Justice. If there are other reasons for his transfer, then such a transfer proposal can only be termed as a punishment and not a routine matter. It is time for the Central government to step in and clear these doubts.

Justice K. Chandru is a retired judge of the Madras High Court

Creating safe digital spaces

It is imperative that digital platforms are free of cyberbullying, if learners have to access quality education

Recognising that school-related violence is an infringement of children’s right to education and to health and well-being, UNESCO Member States have declared the first Thursday of November as the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including cyberbullying. The aim is to raise awareness among students, parents, members of the school community, education authorities and others about the problem of online violence and cyberbullying.

In India, an estimated 71 million children aged 5-11 years access the Internet on the devices of their family members, constituting about 14% of the country’s active Internet user base of over 500 million. It should also be noted that two-thirds of Internet users in India are in the age group of 12-29 years.

Tackling all kinds of bullying

School closures as a response to the COVID-19 lockdowns have led to an unprecedented rise in unsupervised screen time for children and young people, which in turn exposed them to a greater risk of online violence. Various reports have indicated increased incidence of cyberbullying and online child sexual exploitation by adults.

In the same vein, there is growing scientific evidence which suggests that cyberbullying has negative consequences on the education, health and well-being of children and young people. Published in 2019 and drawing on data from 144 countries, UNESCO’s report ‘Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying’ highlighted the extent of the problem, with almost one in three students worldwide reporting being bullied at least once in the preceding month. Therefore, cyberbullying prevention interventions should aim at tackling all types of bullying and victimisation experiences at the same time, as opposed to each in silo.

Effective interventions also require gender-sensitive and targeted approaches that respond to needs of learners who are most likely to be the victims of online violence. A 2020 study by Plan International, involving 14,000 women aged 15-25 from across 22 countries, revealed that 58% of girls in the Asia-Pacific region reported online harassment. Globally, of the girls who were harassed, 14% who self-identified as having a disability and 37% who identified themselves as from an ethnic minority said they get harassed because of it.

The impact of online sexual harassment could have long-term negative impacts on mental health and well-being. Data on school bullying demonstrates its harmful impacts on students’ educational outcomes, mental health, and quality of life. Children who are frequently bullied are nearly three times more likely to feel left out at school than those who are not. They are also twice more likely to miss out on school and have a higher tendency to leave formal education after finishing secondary school.

Tackling the menace

Although online violence is not limited to school premises, the education system plays a crucial role in addressing online safety. Concerted efforts must be made to provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills to identify online violence so that they can protect themselves from its different forms, whether perpetrated by peers or adults. Teachers also play a critical role by teaching students about online safety, and thus supporting parental involvement.

For those looking to prevent and counter cyberbullying, the information booklet brought out by UNESCO in partnership with NCERT on Safe Online Learning in Times of COVID-19 can be a useful reference. It supports the creation of safe digital spaces and addresses the nuances of security. Similarly, to prevent the adverse effect of online gaming and the psycho-emotional stress that children could be undergoing, the Department of School Education and Literacy has circulated exhaustive guidelines to raise children and parental awareness.

At a time when COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in online bullying, we must redouble our efforts to tackle this menace. Cyberbullying may take place in a virtual world, but it has a very real impact on children’s health. The Union Ministry of Education and UNESCO are committed to ensuring access to safe, inclusive and health-promoting learning environments for all children.

It is imperative that digital and social media platforms are free of cyberbullying, if learners have to access quality education. More importantly, confidential reporting and redress services must be established. We encourage students, parents, schools, education authorities, members of the education community and its partners to take part in preventing online violence and promoting the safety and well-being of young people.

Santosh Sarangi is Additional Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of India, and Eric Falt is Director, UNESCO New Delhi

Kaiser-i-Hind is Arunachal’s State butterfly

The insect with a 90-120 mm wingspan is found in the eastern Himalayas

An elusive swallowtail butterfly carrying ‘India’ in its name and found in next-door China will become the State butterfly of Arunachal Pradesh.

The State Cabinet headed by Chief Minister Pema Khandu on Saturday approved the large, brightly coloured Kaiser-i-Hind as the State butterfly. The Cabinet meeting was for the first time held outside State capital Itanagar at an unusual location — Pakke Tiger Reserve.

The Cabinet also adopted the Pakke Tiger Reserve 2047 declaration on climate change-resilient and responsive Arunachal Pradesh aimed at lowering emissions and sustainable development.

Kaiser-i-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis) literally means Emperor of India. This butterfly with a 90-120 mm wingspan is found in six States along the eastern Himalayas at elevations from 6,000-10,000 feet in well-wooded terrain.

The butterfly also flutters in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and southern China.

The State Wildlife Board had in January 2020 accepted the proposal from Koj Rinya, the divisional forest officer of Hapoli Forest Division in the Lower Subansiri district to accept the Kaiser-i-Hind as the State butterfly. The proposal was made with a view to boosting butterfly tourism and saving the species from extinction in the State.

Protected areas under the Hapoli Forest Division are popular with butterfly enthusiasts.

Although the Kaiser-i-Hind is protected under Schedule II of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, it is hunted for supply to butterfly collectors.

Habitat conservation

According to Assam-based butterfly expert Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi, the species is confined to very few pockets of Arunachal Pradesh and could become extinct if not conserved.

“The State butterfly tag can translate into its habitat conservation,” she said.

The first dead specimen of Kaiser-i-Hind was recorded in Sikkim by Usha Lachugpa, a senior forest official of the State, in 2012. It was captured live on camera by a few participants during a butterfly watching meet in Arunachal Pradesh’s Talle Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in 2014.

Divide between haves, have-nots remains: CJI

‘There is no real freedom without economic freedom’

The stark divide between haves and have-nots is still a reality, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said here on Sunday.

“Despite our being a part of a welfare state, benefits are not trickling down to the intended beneficiaries at the desired levels. People’s aspiration about leading a dignified life are often met with challenges. One of them, primarily, being poverty,” the CJI said.

Chief Justice Ramana quoted Jawaharlal Nehru on the impact of poverty and a fragmented society in a country’s growth: “There could be no real freedom without economic freedom” and that “to call a starving man free, is but to mock him”.

He was speaking at a pan-Indian legal awareness and outreach campaign programme which coincided with the birth anniversary of Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

‘Dignity for all’

Chief Justice Ramana reminded that the “fundamental mission of our Independence struggle was to find life and dignity for all”.

The top judge reminisced how the Independence movement fought and won against the colonial attitude that “poverty is a misfortune for which the law cannot take any responsibility at all”.

“The struggles and aspirations of our people shaped our Constitution, the document which promised us an egalitarian future,” the CJI said.

Judicial independence

The CJI said an independent and robust district judiciary was the foremost sign of a healthy judiciary.

A woman in distress, a child in care of need, an illegal detainee approach the trial court first.

“The mind of the Indian judiciary can be known to millions largely through the actions of the trial court and the district judiciary. For an overwhelming majority of litigants, what is real and existing is only the district judiciary. Without robust justice delivery system at the grassroots level, we cannot imagine a healthy judiciary,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

The CJI reinforced the need to practise a justice delivery system which reached out to those in need and rendered them help without delay.

The CJI said such people care little for “well-dressed, erudite lawyers or colossal court buildings”.

“All they want is to be relieved of their pain quickly, without exhausting all their resources,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

Article 370 not diluted in haste, says V-P

Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu on Sunday said the dilution of Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, was not done in haste.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was adopted after a detailed debate, giving opportunity to all parties. “It was a historic moment in my life,” the Rajya Sabha Chairman said while taking part in the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Swarna Bharat Trust, a social service organisation, along with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who had piloted the Bill in the Upper House.

Speaking further on the repeal of the constitutional provision, he said: “It was my life’s ambition and mission since my student days as Kashmir is an integral part of India.” Countrymen were now rejoicing over the repeal, he said. This was achieved thanks to the determination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Shah, who ensured that the Bill was passed smoothly, he said.

A day before the passage, the Prime Minister had wanted the Bill to be taken up first in the Rajya Sabha though he [Mr. Naidu] had suggested that it could be taken up in the Lok Sabha where the BJP had a two-thirds majority, Mr. Naidu recalled. While he was worried about the passage of the Bill, his family members were worried about his health, Mr. Naidu said. But his cardiologist, Balram Bhargava (Indian Council of Medical Research Director-General), allayed their fears saying that he would be in the gallery and would take care.

Though people wanted Article 370 to go, their wish had not been fulfilled for various reasons, he added.

Describing the Rajya Sabha Chairman as a “model custodian of the Constitution”, Mr. Shah recalled how Mr. Naidu used to argue for taking out the provision from the statute book. God had given Mr. Naidu the opportunity to chair the historic session.

U.S., China trade barbs ahead of summit

As Biden, Xi prepare for Tuesday’s virtual meet, top diplomats from both countries spar over Taiwan

The lead-up to Tuesday morning’s virtual summit between United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping has seen the two countries exchange sharp remarks on Taiwan, one of many thorny issues on which both sides are unlikely to make much headway.

In a telephone call between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats, both sides expressed concerns over the other’s position on Taiwan, with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi attacking “the U.S.’s wrong words and deeds” and saying that “any connivance of and support for the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces…would only boomerang in the end.”

China last also week hit out at a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation to Taiwan, while the People’s Liberation Army carried out more drills that have followed recent record aerial intrusions into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone.

In the phone call, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressed concern regarding the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] continued military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan” and “urged Beijing to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve cross-Strait issues peacefully and in a manner consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan.”

‘Red lines’

Mr. Xi however is expected to reinforce China’s “red lines” on the Taiwan issue in Tuesday’s virtual summit, one of many points of difference on which the two sides are unlikely to reach a meeting of minds.

The measured expectation ahead of the summit is a lowering of temperatures and an improvement in tone after years of a rancorous relationship marked by a trade war during the term of the Trump administration and tensions that have continued this year under the Biden administration, a reflection of an increasingly bipartisan consensus in Washington on the approach to China.

One point of difference with the new administration appears to be its keenness to find common ground with China on some issues such as climate change, on which the two countries recently announced a new cooperation agreement, even though officials have made clear they still viewed China as the primary strategic challenge. On the other hand, the Biden administration has said it would seek to work more effectively with U.S. allies and partners, including with the Quad grouping, in coming up with a more coherent approach to China, while also speaking out more on human rights issues.

Common ground

Underlining the state of relations, Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi have only had two phone calls this year, the first shortly after the inauguration. In the second call in September, the U.S. President told his counterpart that both sides needed “to ensure competition does not veer into conflict” as they deal with a growing list of differences.

Two months before that call, the Chinese side had presented the U.S. in talks in Tianjin with two “lists” of demands, named a “List of U.S. Wrongdoings that Must Stop” and a “List of Key Individual Cases that China Has Concerns With.” Among those demands were unconditionally removal of visa restrictions on Communist Party members and withdrawal of an extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of tech firm Huawei who was arrested in Canada for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. The latter demand was met, with Ms. Meng allowed to return to China in October.

Tuesday’s summit may pave the way for other limited agreements, including on reopening consulates that were closed down during the time of the Trump administration and on visas. Fundamental differences, however, remain, with Mr. Biden likely to repeat U.S. concerns on Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong and Mr. Xi expected to rebuff them.

India, the first nation to transition to endemic Covid

India has become the world’s first country to reach endemic prevalence. What does it mean for us? Dr T Jacob John and Dr MS Seshadri explain.

The Covid pandemic is far from over as daily numbers are still high in many countries, without their epidemic waves declining to low and steady figures that represent endemic prevalence.  On 27 June 2021, India transitioned from the epidemic phase to endemic prevalence, sustained for the past 140 days as of November 14.

Are we out of the woods yet? After the first wave abated, we entered a 10-week endemic phase, only to be interrupted by the second wave. The Delta variant of the second wave had far higher transmission efficiency than the first wave variant (Wuhan-G614D). The recent AY.4.2 variant remains below 0.1%, showing low transmission efficiency that cannot overtake Delta transmission. India has thus become the world’s first country to reach endemic prevalence.

Epidemic means daily numbers of Covid cases rise to a crescendo and decline until a steady state with low numbers (endemic prevalence) is reached. The second wave peaked on May 6 (4,14,433 cases) and declined to less than 50,000 cases per day (seven-day moving average) on June 27. After 73 days, on September 8, daily numbers fell below 40,000; after 16 days (September 24) below 30,000; after 14 days (October 8) below 20,000; after 19 days (October 27) below 15,000, sustained for 18 days (November 14).

Also Read: Third Covid jab to counter another wave? Anxious doctors, nurses take booster shots in Bengaluru

Transmission dynamics is represented by R, indicating numerical variations of cases on a continuous scale. During the ascending phase of the epidemic, R is greater than 1 and during the descending phase, it is less than 1. During the endemic phase, R is equal to 1 (with minor fluctuations). As the susceptible population pool shrinks, with daily infections and progressive increase in vaccination coverage, case numbers must slowly dwindle. The continuous addition of an immunity-naive population through birth allows continued endemic transmission.

At this historic juncture, we ask two questions: What determined the transition? What changes in strategy should India adopt to mitigate the ill-effects of endemic Covid?

Nearly 85% of Covid infections are asymptomatic; only 15% exhibit symptoms of disease—therefore the reported Covid cases are only a subset of infected people. Epidemic and endemic prevalence refer to disease numbers, irrespective of the magnitude of the invisible backdrop of asymptomatic infections. Although re-infections do occur, they are mostly subclinical without contributing significantly to disease numbers.

Why should Covid epidemic transition to the endemic phase? At any point in time, the number, proportion and distribution of non-immune versus immune people determines the transmission speed R. When the pool of the susceptible is large, R rises above 1 and when the pool of the immune is large, R falls below 1. The end of the epidemic denotes that the herd immunity threshold (HIT) applicable to the particular variant has been reached. HIT is the proportion of immune individuals required for the transition from epidemic to endemic prevalence, when rapid transmission (R>1) and rapid decline (R<1) settle down to slow steady transmission (R=1).The HIT of Wuhan-G614D was a fraction of that of the Delta variant, explaining the sequence of the first wave, endemic phase and the large second wave.

Also Read: The need for vaccine booster shots as COVID deaths rise

ICMR had conducted periodic surveys of the proportions of population with immunity. The fourth survey in July, after the second wave had ended, showed 67.4% of those above six years of age had antibodies. In the second survey, only 64% of those with previously RT-PCR positive infection had detectable antibodies. Although antibody titres wane below the range of test detection, immunity does not disappear altogether. Therefore, the immune population was much higher than 67.4%,  as many among the antibody negative 32.6% would have had previous infection and immunity. Thus, a huge majority had been infected with some virus variant and the HIT of the Delta variant had been reached and surpassed—this is the reason why the epidemic ended. Now the immunity-naive population is not large enough to allow a third wave, unless a variant that defies current levels of immunity in the population emerges. The variant horizon is under constant watch by scientists.

Our Covid vaccination roll-out was aimed at reaching the HIT of the Delta variant for ending the epidemic. Now that we have reached there, vaccination policy has to be revised to achieve two ends: mitigate risks of severe disease during endemic prevalence and reduce the sources of infection.

Also Read: COVID effect? Onset of diabetes, BP in 35-40 per cent of patients in Karnataka

The risks of serious disease when infected are the same during epidemic and endemic phases for the vulnerable—pregnant women, people aged above 60 or those with comorbidities and conditions affecting the immune system, like those having immune suppressants, organ transplantation, cancers and their treatments, etc. They must be protected by high levels of immunity elicited by two doses during pregnancy the first time and a single booster dose in the next pregnancy, and in all others, a booster dose six months to one year after the second dose. Booster doses save lives and retard further virus transmission.

The sources of virus now are two-fold: all unvaccinated and all with waned immunity after two doses of the vaccine (breakthrough infections) or after past infection (reinfection). Keeping this in mind, the focus of the vaccine roll-out should shift towards achieving source-reduction.

The most important source of the virus, especially as schools reopen, is school children. Their vaccination is an urgent priority during the endemic phase; fast-tracking safety data collection, regulatory assessment and extension of emergency use authorisation for children are urgent needs.

The next priority for vaccination (including boosters) ought to be for those whose occupation brings them in contact with numerous people in social interactions—healthcare, police, religious, education, commerce and sales, transportation, manufacturing, hospitality, etc. Completion of their inoculation can be supervised by their respective administrative officers. An enabling policy revision is needed to accomplish this.

Currently, India is the only country in the world to have reached a sustained endemic state while in other nations, the pandemic is still raging. This is a historic opportunity for us to show the world how to tackle endemic Covid-19.

Pegasus order calls for cautious optimism

International targeted surveillance with a political agenda, to fulfil the interests of the market forces or of those who run the electoral autocracies, poses a civilisational threat.

Recently, the Supreme Court passed an order constituting an expert committee to probe into the allegations on the use of Pegasus spyware. The accusation that the government has, in collaboration with a foreign company, snooped on its own people and institutions is serious. As the court indicated in its order on October 27, the constitutional and democratic concerns involved in the issue cannot be lost in the political thicket. Allegedly, about 50,000 devices were snooped all over the world. Persons working across various fields were named as victims of the surveillance.

After the Puttaswamy verdict (2017), privacy rights were asserted before the Supreme Court in many cases. But in the instant case of Manohar Lal Sharma v. Union of India, the right to privacy is manifested in multiple forms in the personal and public lives of the citizens. The very legitimacy of a regime that harshly used nationalism and patriotism to incarcerate the citizens is now clearly under a judicial scanner. At a time when the opposition in the country faces an existential dilemma, the court, with all its limits, asked certain inconvenient and tough questions.

The Orwellian concerns expressed in the court order go far beyond political parties and national boundaries. Illegal surveillance strikes at the root of the right to privacy. International targeted surveillance with a political agenda, to fulfil the interests of the market forces or of those who run the electoral autocracies, poses a civilisational threat to humankind. French philosopher Michel Foucault has explained the fundamental nexus between dictatorial power, surveillance and social control. In his memoir Permanent Record (2019), Edward Snowden talks about “surveillance capitalism” and the relevance of an “international opposition movement”. He also indicates the contradiction of the law being “country-specific, whereas technology is not”. Therefore, it is essential to equip the laws to address the global and technical challenges involved in the Pegasus issue.

Before the Supreme Court, the government did not specifically answer a short and straightforward question: whether it used Pegasus for surveillance. According to the provisions in the Civil Procedure Code, failure, or refusal to clearly answer the “point of substance” can invite adverse findings and consequences. In constitutional litigations, the government has a duty to reveal all the facts and information in its possession to the court, as stated in Ram Jethmalani v. Union of India (2011) and reiterated in the present order of the court. More than a matter of law, this reflects an approach of prudence and common sense. The regime’s silence on the point is noteworthy. It aggravated the apprehensions about selective surveillance with a specific hidden agenda.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) movement that gained momentum after the Emergency suffered a setback in recent times due to multiple reasons. Lack of seriousness and procedural certainty, coupled with abuse of the jurisdiction, resulted in trivialisation of the device. Anuj Bhuwania has elaborated on the qualitative deterioration that the institution of PIL faced in India in his seminal work, Courting the People (2017). The order in the Pegasus case gives hope for the re-emergence of genuine and serious social action litigations.

The court order has an instructive and intrinsic value as well. Sometimes, constitutional courts can act as great public educators, though their primary function is different. The order says that in an ambience of surveillance, the press or the people cannot be free. The court traced the quintessential relation between freedom of expression and freedom from surveillance. In the words of the court, “the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights” and “such a scenario might result in self-censorship”. Indisputably, surveillance is policing thoughts, dreams and imagination of the individuals and their collectives. It annihilates the freedom of the press in tremendous ways. It intimidates even the source of information, the foundation of the fourth estate. It is an egregious trespass into the forbidden zones. The order is valuable for its authoritative emphasis on “protection of journalistic sources”.

The challenges before the committee are enormous. If the government continues to take a stubborn attitude, as it took before the court, or does not cooperate in the steps ahead, timely and effective judicial interventions may be needed. The device called ‘continuing mandamus’, where the court constantly oversees the progress of the activities or lack of it, and issues directives from time to time, may turn out to be a processual imperative.

We need an effective mechanism to ensure cybersecurity for the nation. In the event of unauthorised intrusions, access to quick legal remedies should be guaranteed. Planting spyware in the targeted devices and email accounts is an aggravated form of surveillance that warrants severe punishment.

But at the end of the day, the Pegasus litigation calls not only for judicial vigilance but alertness of the civil society at large. Digital surveillance has the potential to turn democracies upside down. As such, no one can live with a false notion of individual security. As writer Thor Benson reminds us: “Don’t oppose mass surveillance for your own sake. Oppose it for the activists, lawyers, journalists and all of the other people our liberty relies on.”

Coal got a breather from India at climate summit

After two weeks of tough UN negotiations on climate change in Glasgow that got extended by a day, the 26th conference of its kind produced a compromise agreement where India had the last word.

After two weeks of tough UN negotiations on climate change in Glasgow that got extended by a day, the 26th conference of its kind produced a compromise agreement where India had the last word. It insisted on softening the language on eliminating coal-based power production, saying developing nations had the right to use the leftover carbon budget, which is the quantity of CO2 the world can release before it reaches the global warming threshold of 1.5°C. The Earth will witness catastrophe if it heats up beyond 1.5°C of pre-industrialisation levels. This was the first time the UN pressed for reduction of fossil fuels. India’s objection had support from China and other coal-intensive economies. In the end, a word in a sentence on ‘phasing out’ of unabated use of coal power was changed to ‘phasing down’, bringing the curtains down on the hard-fought deal. 

There is no denying that the present mess is largely because of the profligacy of rich nations that powered up their economic engines over the years using dirty energy.  India emerged as the voice of the global south that requires cost-effective resources to lift millions out of poverty. It had already demanded ample climate finance from developed countries for a quick switch to green energy, and made its net-zero commitment by 2070 conditional to ironclad guarantees of funds. However, rich nations failed to keep their promise made in 2009 to provide $100 billion per year from 2020 as climate finance, but reset the target to $500 billion by 2025. All nations agreed on a yearly review of their pledges to incrementally improve them. Further, new rules were incorporated for greater scrutiny of emissions reporting to prevent fudging. 

However, a lot more needs to be done to save the planet. While pledges before COP26 were to keep emissions at 52.4 gigatonnes by 2030, it came down to 41.9 at the summit, which would work out to 1.8°C warming. That is not good enough as the required figure is 26.6 if we are to not exceed 1.5°C. As for India, it needs to shake up its coal basket to stay within acceptable limits.

Is Supreme Court an ISIS accomplice, Mr Khurshid?

Hindutva depicts the way of life of Indian people, their state of mind and ethos.

Hindutva depicts the way of life of Indian people, their state of mind and ethos. Hindu, Hindutva and Hinduism cannot be confined to the narrow limits of religion alone excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. Or confined to merely describing persons practising the Hindu religion as a faith. Hindutva or Hinduism cannot be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry or as depicting hostility, enmity or intolerance towards other religious faiths or as professing communalism.” Who said this? Wait. It is only half the question. Here is the other half.

A book titled Sunrise over Ayodhya authored by an eminent political leader but not so eminent a lawyer and released recently says that the Hindutva movement in India is the ideological counterpart of international Islamist  terror outfits — Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Nigerian Boko Haram. Both have killed tens of thousands of innocent people, kept thousands as sex slaves and concubines, tortured and mutilated human bodies, forcibly converted people and waged war against states with the aim of establishing a global Islamic State consisting of only Muslims, and eliminating all others. What is that book and who is its author? The answer to both will make the full story.

The answer to the first is that it is the Supreme Court which in 1995 expounded on facts and ruled that Hindutva and Hinduism are the way of life, culture and ethos of Indian people. The author of the book who equates Hindutva to ISIS and Boko Haram is Salman Khurshid, a Congress leader, also a lawyer who asked the court in 2019 to reconsider its 1995 decision. Now, is Khurshid just equating the philosophy of Hindutva to the ideology of ISIS or Boko Haram? Or is he mocking the Supreme Court for expounding the ISIS-like Hindutva as the ethos, culture and way of life of India? Interesting questions which the Indian discourse is unfortunately ignoring.     

Convergent threesome 
Khurshid’s party colleagues P Chidambaram, a better known lawyer and Digvijaya Singh, a better known leader, were at his book release event. They are an ideologically convergent threesome. Khurshid defended the terrorist outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), banned by both the Vajpayee and Manmohan governments, in courts to get it declared as a peaceful outfit, and also wanted the Hindutva judgment uprooted.  Chidambaram, a better legal brain, used it as the Home Minister to fabricate the idea of Hindu terror as an equivalent to Islamic terror.

Digvijaya Singh had been endeavouring to create and sustain the image of Hindu terror for long. The three gentlemen share the view that either terror has no religion, or if it has, Hindu terror has to be innovated to give company to Islamic terror. Khurshid’s book now attempts to upgrade the idea of Hindu terror from local to global status by equating the Hindutva movement in India with ISIS and Boko Haram. Now look at what ISIS and Boko Haram are, with which Khurshid compares the Hindutva movement.

ISIS and Boko Haram
The ISIS claims to be the inheritor of the Islamic Caliphate founded by the earliest Islam to which it mandates the world’s Muslims should owe loyalty. According to the US think tank Wilson Center, ISIS divides the world as Muslims on the one side and non-Muslim Kufrs on the other, led by America, Russia and Jews. It celebrates “terrorism as worship of Allah as He ordered” Muslims. The Islamic Networks Group (ING) lists murdering innocents, persecuting Christians and Yazidis, forced conversions, human torture and mutilation of bodies, oppression of women, sex slavery, concubinage, harsh punishments as ISIS’ pastime in its endeavour to establish global Islamic rule.

According to ISIS has killed, between 2013 and 2018, over 28,000 innocents. The reported in 2018 that ISIS holds some 3,000 women and girls as sex slaves and gifts them to foreign fighters. Good looking girls of the small Yazidi community of 4,00,000 are its first choice as sex slaves. An NBC report of 2015 says some 1,100 ISIS sex slaves are living in Germany. 

Now come to Boko Haram. The Nigerian jihadi group wants to eliminate fake Muslims and establish true Islamic state in Nigeria. Reuters reported in 2015 that 2.3 million people were displaced by Boko Haram, and some 2,50,000 people ran away from Nigeria as refugees. The Independent reported in the same year that in 2014 alone some 6,600 were killed by Boko Haram. It is with terror outfits with such a record that Khurshid compares the democratic and electoral movement for Hindutva. 

In 2016, 21 years later, a seven-judge bench of the Court refused to reconsider the Hindutva decision. In 2019, Khurshid moved the court to refer the Hindutva ruling to a five-judge bench, but failed. Having failed in the court, he has now written a book equating Hindutva with ISIS and Boko Haram. Is it an attack on Hindutva or on the court that approved Hindutva?          

SC views on Hindutva date back to 1960s and 1970s
The Hindutva judgment was not shaped by politics. It was rendered when its opponent, the Congress party, was in power and its exponent, the BJP, was in opposition. Hindutva entered the Indian political domain in 1991 to be precise, when the BJP and Shiv Sena had included it as their philosophic mascot  in election manifestos. Their elections were challenged on the ground that Hindutva constituted a religious, communal appeal. This forced the Supreme Court to answer whether Hindutva was religious and communal. 

In 1995, the Court ruled that Hindutva had an expansive meaning and inclusive content and was not religious. But the verdict that Hindutva was dominantly the way of life, culture and ethos of India was not an innovation by the court in 1995. It rested on a series of past Constitutional bench decisions of the Court on what Hinduism meant, including a remarkable judgment by the famous Justice Gajendragadkar in 1966 and the landmark decision in 1976 by a Constitution bench consisting of Chief Justice A N Ray, Jaswant Singh, M H Beg, P N Shinghal, R S Sarkaria. 

The 1976 case had called for a judicial probe into the Hindu philosophy to decide whether a Hindu family consisting of a Christian wife and child could be regarded as a Hindu undivided family. In a path-breaking verdict, quoting precedents, the Court ruled that, Hinduism being not limited to religion, a Hindu undivided family could have Christian members — a most liberal decision indeed in the world of hostile religious ideologies. The court quoted the global literature, Encyclopaedia Britannica, to support its ruling on Hinduism.

Not religious, civilisational 
Encyclopaedia Britannica makes nine profound points about Hinduism. One, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without selecting or eliminating any; two, the Hindu, inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others — both Hindus and non-Hindus — to follow whatever creed and worship suit them best; three, a Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu; four, the Hindu is disposed to regard other forms of worship, strange gods, and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable; five, the Hindu tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of mankind; six, the Hindu considers few religious ideas to be finally irreconcilable; seven, the core of Hinduism does not even depend on the existence or non-existence of God or on whether there is one God or many; eight, since religious truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is not conceived in dogmatic terms in Hinduism; and nine, Hinduism is both a civilisation and a conglomerate of religions, with no beginning, no founder, no central authority, no hierarchy, and no organisation. Besides the 1976 decision, the 1995 decision pointed out that even in the Constitution (Art 25), the word Hindu includes Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, implying that Hindu is not just a religious term. 

The 1995 ruling also relied on the philosopher-statesman Dr S Radhakrishnan and historian Arnold Toynbee to hold Hinduism is not a religion. Toynbee said: “Hinduism takes it for granted that there is more than one valid approach to truth and to salvation and that these different approaches are not only compatible with each other, but are complementary.” This matches with the first six points in Encyclopaedia Britannica. According to Dr Radhakrishnan, Hindu had originally a territorial and not a credal significance, and implied residence in a well-defined geographical area. Aboriginal tribes, savage and half-civilised people, the cultured Dravidians and the Vedic Aryans were all Hindus as they were the sons of the same mother. For him, the Hindu is a civilisational idea. 

The 1995 Hindutva ruling also quoted from justices Bharucha and Ahmedi in the 1994 Ayodhya demolition case. They had said, “Hinduism is a tolerant faith. It is that tolerance that has enabled Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism to find shelter and support upon this land.” If Hinduism were just a religion, would it have sheltered other aggressive religions and helped them to grow? How can the Hindutva ruling, which rests on such undisputed and unalterable philosophical, historical, factual and legal grounds, be intellectually disputed or legally reviewed?

Hindutva and Hinduism not different
Wayanad Congress MP Rahul Gandhi keeps parroting that ‘Hinduism and Hindutva are not the same, Hinduism is good but Hindutva is bad.’ Obviously he hasn’t read the Supreme Court judgments of 1966, 1976 on Hinduism, on the basis of which it had rendered its Hindutva judgment in 1995. Rahul cannot be aware that even his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru had once held the same views as the Supreme Court now. In his Glimpses of World History (1935) Nehru even accepted the concept of Hindu nationalism. He had said, “It (is) not easy….to draw a line between Hindu nationalism and true nation­alism. The two overlap as India is the only home of Hindus and they form a majority there” (p 720).

And he went on to say, “A famous disciple of Ramakrishna’s was Swami Vivekananda, who very eloquently and forcibly preached the gospel of nationalism. This was not in any way anti-­Muslim or anti anyone else. Vivekananda’s nationalism was Hindu nationalism, and it had its roots in Hindu religion and culture” (p 507). Nehru had no objection to Vivekananda’s Hindu nationalism. Writing later in the Foreign Affairs magazine (January 1937), Nehru emphasised that the “Indian background and unity is essentially cultural; not religious in the narrow sense of the word” — exactly what the Supreme Court had said in 1995. That Nehru changed his mind later, cannot retroactively alter the facts. 

Maharishi Aurobindo had said in his famous Uttarpara speech that India will live as long as Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma will. Mahatma Gandhi said in his fundamental text Hind Swaraj written in 1909, in which he refused to change a comma or full stop as late as in 1940, that Sethu in the South, Jangannath in the East and Hardwar in the North and sacred rivers brought about the unity of India. There was broad convergence among Vivekananda, Gandhi, Nehru, Aurobindo on the Hindu character of India. It was blatant pseudo secular, minority appeasement vote bank politics that distorted the Hindu cultural foundation of India. 

QED: Even his party colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad rejects Khurshid’s atrocious book equating Hindutva with ISIS! As Khurshid has equated Hindutva approved by the Supreme Court to ISIS, here is the question to him: Is the Supreme Court an ISIS accomplice, Mr Khurshid?

The world needs syringes. This Indian company jumped in to make 5,900/minute

As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to put an end to the COVID-19 outbreak, a second scramble is unfolding for syringes. Vaccines aren’t all that useful if health care professionals lack a way to inject them into people.

In late November, an urgent email popped up in the inbox of Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices, one of the world’s largest syringe makers.

It was from UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, and it was desperately seeking syringes. Not just any would do. These syringes must be smaller than usual. They had to break if used a second time, to prevent spreading disease through accidental recycling.

Most important, UNICEF needed them in vast quantities. Now.

“I thought, ‘No issues,’” said Rajiv Nath, the company’s managing director, who has sunk millions of dollars into preparing his syringe factories for the vaccination onslaught. “We could deliver it possibly faster than anybody else.”

As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to put an end to the COVID-19 outbreak, a second scramble is unfolding for syringes. Vaccines aren’t all that useful if health care professionals lack a way to inject them into people.

Officials in the United States and the European Union have said they don’t have enough vaccine syringes. In January, Brazil restricted exports of syringes and needles when its vaccination effort fell short.

Further complicating the rush, the syringes have to be the right type. Japan revealed last month that it might have to discard millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if it couldn’t secure enough special syringes that could draw out a sixth dose from its vials. In January, the Food and Drug Administration advised health care providers in the United States that they could extract more doses from the Pfizer vials after hospitals there discovered that some contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — person.

“A lot of countries were caught flat-footed,” said Ingrid Katz, the associate director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “It seems like a fundamental irony that countries around the world have not been fully prepared to get these types of syringes.”

The world needs between 8 billion and 10 billion syringes for COVID-19 vaccinations alone, experts say. In previous years, only 5% to 10% of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were meant for vaccination and immunization, said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, and an expert on health care supply chains.

Wealthier nations like the United States, Britain, France and Germany pumped billions of dollars of taxpayer money into developing the vaccines, but little public investment has gone to expand manufacturing for syringes, Yadav said.

“I worry not just about the overall syringe manufacturing capacity but capacity for the specific types of syringes,” he said, “and whether syringes would already be in locations where they are needed.”

Not all of the world’s syringes are suited to the task.

To maximize the output from a vial of the Pfizer vaccine, for example, a syringe must carry an exact dose of 0.3 milliliters. The syringes also must have low dead space — the infinitesimal distance between the plunger and the needle after the dose is fully injected — to minimize waste.

The industry has ramped up to meet demand. Becton Dickinson, which is based in New Jersey and a major syringe manufacturer, said it will spend $1.2 billion over four years to expand capacity in part to deal with pandemics.

The United States is the world’s largest syringe supplier by sales, according to Fitch Solutions, a research firm. The United States and China are neck and neck in exports, with combined annual shipments worth $1.7 billion. While India is a small player globally, with only $32 million in exports in 2019, Nath of Hindustan Syringes sees a big opportunity.

Each of his syringes sells for only three cents, but his total investment is considerable. He invested nearly $15 million to mass-produce specialty syringes, equal to roughly one-sixth of his annual sales, before purchase orders were even in sight. In May, he ordered new molds from suppliers in Italy, Germany and Japan to make a variety of barrels and plungers for his syringes.

Nath added 500 workers to his production lines, which crank out more than 5,900 syringes per minute at factories spread over 11 acres in a dusty industrial district outside New Delhi. With Sundays and public holidays off, the company churns out nearly 2.5 billion a year, though it plans to scale up to 3 billion by July.

Hindustan Syringes has a long history of supplying UNICEF immunization programs in some of the poorest countries, where syringe reuse is common and one of the main sources of deadly infections, including HIV and hepatitis.

In late December, when the World Health Organization cleared Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use, Robert Matthews, a UNICEF contract manager in Copenhagen, and his team needed to find a manufacturer that could produce millions of syringes.

“We went, ‘Oh, dear!’” said Matthews, as they looked for a syringe that would meet WHO specifications and was compact for shipping. Hindustan Syringes’ product, he said, was the first.

The company is set to begin shipping 3.2 million of those syringes soon, UNICEF said, provided they clear another quality check.

Nath has sold 15 million syringes to the Japanese government, he said, and over 400 million to India for its COVID-19 inoculation drive, one of the largest in the world. More are in line, including UNICEF, for which he has offered to produce about 240 million more, and Brazil, he said.

Inside the company’s Plant No. 6, machines coated in yellow paint hum as they squirt out plastic barrels and plungers. Other machines, from Bergamo, Italy, assemble each component, including needles, monitored by sensors and cameras. Workers in blue protective suits inspect trays full of syringes before unloading them into crates that they hand carry to a packaging area next door.

To increase efficiency, Nath relies on a syringe design by Marc Koska, a British inventor of safety injections, and its ability to produce all of the components in-house. Hindustan Syringes makes its needles from stainless steel strips imported from Japan. The strips are curled into cylinders and welded at the seam, then stretched and cut into fine capillary tubes, which machines glue to plastic hubs. To make the jabs less painful, they are dipped in a silicone solution.

The syringe business is a “bloodsucker,” Nath said, where upfront costs are astronomical and profits marginal. If demand for his syringes drops by even half in the next few years, he will lose almost all of the $15 million he invested.

It’s clearly a frugal operation. The blue carpet in Nath’s office looks just as old as his desk or the glass chandelier by the stairs, fixtures his father put in place in 1984, before he handed over the company to Nath and his family.

A family business is exactly how he likes it. No shareholders, no interference, no worries. In 1995, when Nath needed money to increase production and buy lots of new machines, he sought private capital for the first time. Had that been the case today, he said, he wouldn’t be able to follow his gut and produce his syringes at this enormous scale.


The News Editorial Analysis 14th November 2021


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