BBI, IP report, State Borders and Civil Aviation – I

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants – Issac Newton, 1675. Although it should be credited to 12th century Bernard of Chartres. You will know why I have shared this, probably at the beginning of Civil Aviation history itself.

Comments on the BBI court case which happened in Kenya, then and the subsequent appeal.

I am not going to share much about the coverage of the BBI appeal as Gautam Bhatia has shared quite eloquently his observations, both on the initial case and the subsequent appeal which lasted 5 days in Kenya and was shown all around the world thanks to YouTube. One of the interesting points which stuck with me was that in Kenya, sign language is one of the official languages. And in fact, I was able to read quite a bit about the various sign languages which are there in Kenya. It just boggles the mind that there are countries that also give importance to such even though they are not as rich or as developed as we call developed economies. I probably might give more space and give more depth as it does carry some important judicial jurisprudence which is and which will be felt around the world. How does India react or doesn’t is probably another matter altogether 😦 But yes, it needs it own space, maybe after some more time.

Report on Standing Committee on IP Regulation in India and the false promises.

Again, I do not want to take much time in sharing details about what the report contains, as the report can be found here. I have uploaded it on WordPress, in case of an issue. An observation on the same subject can be found here. At least, to me and probably those who have been following the IP space as either using/working on free software or even IP would be aware that the issues shared have been known since 1994. And it does benefit the industry rather than the country. This way, the rent-seekers, and monopolists win. There is ample literature that shared how rich countries had weak regulation for decades and even centuries till it was advantageous for them to have strong IP. One can look at the history of Europe and the United States for it. We can also look at the history of our neighbor China, which for the last 5 decades has used some provision of IP and disregarded many others. But these words are of no use, as the policies done and shared are by the rich for the rich.

Fighting between two State Borders

Ironically or because of it, two BJP ruled states Assam and Mizoram fought between themselves. In which 6 policemen died. While the history of the two states is complicated it becomes a bit more complicated when one goes back into Assam and ULFA history and comes to know that ULFA could not have become that powerful until and unless, the Marwaris, people of my clan had not given generous donations to them. They thought it was a good investment, which later would turn out to be untrue. Those who think ULFA has declined, or whatever, still don’t have answers to this or this.

Interestingly, both the Chief Ministers approached the Home Minister (Mr. Amit Shah) of BJP. Mr. Shah was supposed to be the ‘Chanakya‘ but in many instances, including this one, he decided to stay away. His statement was on the lines of you guys figure it out yourself.

There is a poem that was shared by the late poet Rahat Indori. I am sharing the same below as an image and will attempt to put a rough translation.

kisi ke baap ka hindustan todi hain – Rahat Indori

Poets, whether in India or elsewhere, are known to speak truth to power and are a bit of a rebel. This poem by Rahat Indori is provocatively titled ‘Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan todi hai’, It challenges the majoritarian idea that Hindustan/India only belongs to the majoritarian religion. He also challenges as well as asserts at the same time that every Indian citizen, regardless of whatever his or her religion might be, is an Indian and can assert India as his home. While the whole poem is compelling in itself, for me what hits home is in the second stanza –

:Lagegi Aag to aayege ghat kayi zad me, Yaha pe sirf hamara makan todi hai

The meaning is simple yet subtle, he uses Aag or Fire as a symbol of hate sharing that if hate spreads, it won’t be his home alone that will be torched. If one wants to literally understand what he meant, I present to you the cult Russian movie ‘No Escapes‘ or ‘Ogon’ as it is known in Russian.

If one were to decipher why the Russian film doesn’t talk about climate change, one has to view it from the prism of what their leader Vladimir Putin has said and done over the years. As can be seen even in there, the situation is far more complex than one imagines. Although, it is interesting to note that he decried Climate change as man-made till as late as last year and was on the side of Trump throughout his presidency. This was in 2017 as well as perhaps this. Interestingly, there was a change in tenor and note just a couple of weeks back, but that could be only politicking or much more. Statements that are not backed by legislation and application are usually just a whitewash. We would have to wait to see what concrete steps are taken by Putin, Kremlin, and their Duma before saying either way.

Civil Aviation and the broad structure

Civil Aviation is a large topic and I would not be able to do justice to it all in one article/blog post. So, for e.g. I will not be getting into Aircraft (Boeing, Airbus, Comac etc., etc.) or the new electric aircraft as that will just make the blog post long. I will not be also talking about cargo or Visa or many such topics, as all of them actually would and do need their own space. So this would be much more limited to Airports and to some extent airlines, as one cannot survive without the other. The primary reason for doing this is there is and has been a lot of myth-making in India about Civil Aviation in general, whether it has to do with Civil Aviation history or whatever passes as of policy in India.

A little early history

Man has always looked at the stars and envisaged himself or herself as a bird, flying with gay abandon. In fact, there have been many paintings, sculptors who imagined how we would fly. The Steam Engine itself was invented in 82 BCE. But the attempt to fly was done by a certain Monk called Brother Elmer of Malmesbury who attempted the same in 1010., shortly after the birth of the rudimentary steam engine The most famous of all would be Leonardo da Vinci for his amazing sketches of flying machines in 1493. There were a couple of books by Cyrano de Bergerac, apparently wrote two books, both sadly published after his death. Interestingly, you can find both the book and the gentleman in the Project Gutenberg archives. How much of M/s Cyrano’s exploits were his own and how much embellished by M/S Curtis, maybe a friend, a lover who knows, but it does give the air of the swashbuckling adventurer of the time which many men aspired to in that time. So, why not an author???

L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun). These two French books apparently had a lot of references to flying machines. Both of them were authored by Cyrano de Bergerac. Both of these were sadly published after his death, one apparently in 1656 and the other one a couple of years later.

By the 17th century, while it had become easy to know and measure the latitude, measuring longitude was a problem. In fact, it can be argued and probably successfully that India wouldn’t have been under British rule or UK wouldn’t have been a naval superpower if it hadn’t solved the longitudinal problem. Over the years, the British Royal Navy suffered many blows, one of the most famous or infamous among them might be the Scilly naval disaster of 1707 which led to the death of 2000 odd British Royal naval personnel and led to Queen Anne, who was ruling over England at that time via Parliament and called it the Longitude Act which basically was an open competition for anybody to fix the problem and carried the prize money of £20,000. While nobody could claim the whole prize, many did get smaller amounts depending upon the achievements.

The best and the nearest who came was John Harrison who made the first sea-watch and with modifications, over the years it became miniaturized to a pocket-sized Marine chronometer although, I doubt the ones used today look anything in those days. But if that had not been invented, we surely would have been freed long ago. The assumption being that the East India Company would have dashed onto rocks so many times, that the whole exercise would have been futile. The downside of it is that maritime trade routes that are being used today and the commerce would not have been. Neither would have aircraft or space for that matter, or at the very least delayed by how many years or decades, nobody knows. If one wants to read about the Longitudinal problem, one can get the famous book ‘Longitude‘.

In many mythologies, including Indian and Arabian tales, in which we had the flying carpet which would let its passengers go from one place to the next. Then there is also mention of Pushpak Vimana in ancient texts, but those secrets remain secrets. Think how much foreign exchange India could make by both using it and exporting the same worldwide. And I’m being serious. There are many who believe in it, but sadly, the ones who know the secret don’t seem to want India’s progress. Just think of the carbon credits that India could have, which itself would make India a superpower. And I’m being serious.

Western Ideas and Implementation.

Even in the late and early 18th century, there were many machines that were designed to have controlled flight, but it was only the Wright Flyer that was able to demonstrate a controlled flight in 1903. The ones who came pretty close to what the Wrights achieved were the people by the name of Cayley and Langley. They actually studied what the pioneers had done. They looked at what Otto Lilienthal had done, as he had done a lot of hang-gliding and put a lot of literature in the public domain then.

Furthermore, they also consulted Octave Chanute. The whole system and history of the same are a bit complicated, but it does give a window to what happened then. So, it won’t be wrong to say that whatever the Wright Brothers accomplished would probably not have been possible or would have taken years or maybe even decades if that literature and experiments, drawings, etc. in the commons were not available. So, while they did experimentation, they also looked at what other people were doing and had done which was in public domain/commons.

They also did a lot of testing, which gave them new insights. Even the propulsion system they used in the 1903 flight was a design by Nicolaus Otto. In fact, the Aircraft would not have been born if the Chinese had not invented kites in the early sixth century A.D. One also has to credit Issac Newton because of the three laws of motion, again without which none of the above could have happened. What is credited to the Wilbur brothers is not just they made the Kitty Hawk, they also made it commercial as they sold it and variations of the design to the American Air Force and also made a pilot school where pilots were trained for warfighting. 119 odd pilots came out of that school. The Wrights thought that air supremacy would end the war early, but this turned out to be a false hope.

Competition and Those Magnificent Men and their flying machines

One of the first competitions to unlock creativity was the English Channel crossing offer made by Daily Mail. This was successfully done by the Frenchman Louis Blériot. You can read his account here. There were quite a few competitions before World War 1 broke out. There is a beautiful, humorous movie that does dedicate itself to imagining how things would have gone in that time. In fact, there have been two movies, this one and an earlier movie called Sky Riders made many a youth dream. The other movie sadly is not yet in the public domain, and when it will be nobody knows, but if you see it or even read it, it gives you goosebumps.

World War 1 and Improvements to Aircraft

World War 1 is remembered as the Great War or the ‘War to end all wars ‘ in an attempt at irony. It did a lot of destruction of both people and property, and in fact, laid the foundation of World War 2. At the same time, if World War 1 hadn’t happened then Airpower, Plane technology would have taken decades. Even medicine and medical techniques became revolutionary due to World War 1. In order to be brief, I am not sharing much about World War 1 otherwise that itself would become its own blog post. And while it had its heroes and villains who, when, why could be tackled perhaps another time.

The Guggenheim Family and the birth of Civil Aviation

If one has to credit one family for the birth of the Civil Aviation, it has to be the Guggenheim family. Again, I would not like to dwell much as much of their contribution has already been noted here.

There are quite a few things still that need to be said and pointed out. First and foremost is the fact that they made lessons about flying from grade school to college and afterward till college and beyond which were in the syllabus, whereas in the Indian schooling system, there is nothing like that to date. Here, in India, even in Engineering courses, you don’t have much info. Unless until you go for professional Aviation or Aeronautical courses and most of these courses cost a bomb so either the very rich or the very determined (with loans) only go for that, at least that’s what my friends have shared. And there is no guarantee you will get a job after that, especially in today’s climate.

Even their fund, grants, and prizes which were given to people for various people so that improvements could be made to the United States Civil Aviation. This, as shared in the report/blog post shared, was in response to what the younger child/brother saw as Europe having a large advantage both in Military and Civil Aviation. They also made several grants in several Universities which would not only do notable work during their lifetime but carry on the legacy researching on different aspects of Aircraft.

One point that should be noted is that Europe was far ahead even then of the U.S. which prompted the younger son. There had already been talks of civil/civilian flights on European routes, although much different from what either of us can imagine today. Even with everything that the U.S. had going for her and still has, Europe is the one which has better airports, better facilities, better everything than the U.S. has even today. If you look at the lists of the Airports for better value of money or facilities, you would find many Airports from Europe, some from Asia, and only a few from the U.S. even though they are some of the most frequent users of the service. But that debate and arguments I would have to leave for perhaps the next blog post as there is still a lot to be covered between the 1930s, 1950s, and today. The Guggenheims archives does a fantastic job of sharing part of the story till the 1950s, but there is also quite a bit which it doesn’t. I will probably start from that in the next blog post and then carry on ahead.

Lastly, before I wind up, I have to share why I felt the need to write, capture and share this part of Aviation history. The plain and simple reason being, many of the people I meet either on the web, on Twitter or even in real life, many of them are just unaware of how this whole thing came about. The unawareness in my fellow brothers and sisters is just shocking, overwhelming. At least, by sharing these articles, I at least would be able to guide them or at least let them know how it all came to be and where things are going and not just be so clueless. Till later.

BBI Kenyan Supreme Court, U.P. Population Bill, South Africa, ‘Suli Deals’, IT rules 2021, Sedition Law and Danish Siddiqui’s death.

BBI Kenya and live Supreme Court streaming on YT

The last few weeks have been unrelenting as all sorts of news have been coming in, mostly about the downturn in the Economy, Islamophobia in India on the rise, Covid, and electioneering. However, in the last few days, Kenya surpassed India in live-streaming proceeds in a Court of Appeals about BBI or Building Bridges Initiative. A background filler article on the topic can be found in BBC. The live-streaming was done via YT and if wants to they can start from –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIQzpmVKvro

One can also subscribe to K24TV which took the initiative of sharing the proceedings with people worldwide. If K24TV continues to share SC proceedings of Kenya, that would add to the soft power of Kenya. I will not go into the details of the case as Gautam Bhatia who has been following the goings-on in Kenya is a far better authority on the subject. In fact, just recently he shared about another Kenyan judgment from a trial which can be seen here. He has shared the proceedings and some hot takes on the Twitter thread started by him. Probably after a couple of weeks or more when he has processed what all has happened there, he may also share some nuances although many of his thoughts would probably go to his book on Comparative Constitutional Law which he hopes to publish maybe in 2021/2022 or whenever he can. Such televised proceedings are sure to alleviate the standing of Kenya internationally. There has been a proposal to do similar broadcasts by India but with surveillance built-in, so they know who is watching. The problems with the architecture and the surveillance built-in have been shared by Srinivas Kodali or DigitalDutta quite a few times, but that probably is a story for another day.

Uttar Pradesh Population Control Bill

Hindus comprise 83% of Indian couples with more than two child children

The U.P. Population Bill came and it came with lot of prejudices. One of the prejudices is the idea that Muslims create or procreate to have the most children. Even with data is presented as shared above from NFHS National Family Health Survey which is supposed to carry our surveys every few years did the last one around 4 years back. The analysis from it has been instrumental not only in preparing graphs as above but also sharing about what sort of death toll must have been in rural India. And as somebody who have had the opportunity in the past, can vouch that you need to be extremely lucky if something happens to you when you are in a rural area.

Even in places like Bodh Gaya (have been there) where millions of tourists come as it is one of the places not to be missed on the Buddhism tourist circuit, the medical facilities are pretty underwhelming. I am not citing it simply because there are too many such newspaper reports from even before the pandemic, and both the State and the Central Govt. response has been dismal. Just a few months back, they were recalled. There were reports of votes being bought at INR 1000/- (around $14) and a bottle or two of liquor. There used to be a time when election monitoring whether national or state used to be a thing, and you had LTO’s (Long-time Observers) and STO’s (Short-Term Observers) to make sure that the election has been neutral. This has been on the decline in this regime, but that probably is for another time altogether. Although, have to point out the article which I had shared a few months ago on the private healthcare model is flawed especially for rural areas. Instead of going for cheap, telemedicine centers that run some version of a Linux distro. And can provide a variety of services, I know Kerala and Tamil Nadu from South India have experimented in past but such engagements need to be scaled up. This probably will come to know when the next time I visit those places (sadly due to the virus, not anytime soonish.:( ) .

Going back to the original topic, though, I had shared Hans Rosling’s famous Ted talk on population growth which shows that even countries which we would not normally associate with family planning for e.g. the middle-east and Africa have also been falling quite rapidly. Of course, when people have deeply held prejudices, then it is difficult. Even when sharing China as to how they had to let go of their old policy in 2016 as they had the thing for ‘leftover men‘. I also shared the powerful movie So Long my Son. I even shared how in Haryana women were and are trafficked and have been an issue for centuries but as neither suits the RW propaganda, they simply refuse to engage. They are more repulsed by people who publish this news rather than those who are actually practicing it, as that is ‘culture’. There is also teenage pregnancy, female infanticide, sex-selective abortion, etc., etc. It is just all too horrible to contemplate.

Personal anecdote – I know a couple, or they used to be a couple, where the gentleman wanted to have a male child. It was only after they got an autistic child, they got their DNA tested and came to know that the gentleman had a genetic problem. He again forced and had another child, and that too turned out to be autistic. Finally, he left the wife and the children, divorced them and lived with another woman. Almost a decade of the wife’s life was ruined. The wife before marriage was a gifted programmer employed at IBM. This was an arranged marriage. After this, if you are thinking of marrying, apart from doing astrology charts, also look up DNA compatibility charts. Far better than ruining yours or the women’s life. Both the children whom I loved are now in heaven, god bless them 😦

If one wants to, one can read a bit more about the Uttar Pradesh Population bill here. The sad part is that the systems which need fixing, nobody wants to fix. The reason being simple. If you get good health service by public sector, who will go to the private sector. In Europe, AFAIK they have the best medical bang for the money. Even the U.S. looks at Europe and hopes it had the systems that Europe has but that again is probably for another day.

South Africa and India long-lost brothers.

As had shared before, after the 2016 South African Debconf convention, I had been following South Africa. I was happy when FeesMustFall worked and in 2017 the then ANC president Zuma declared it in late 2017. I am sure that people who have been regular visitors to this blog know how my position is on student loans. They also must be knowing that even in U.S. till the 1970s it had free education all the way to be a lawyer and getting a lawyer license. It is only when people like Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and others from the civil rights movement came out as a major force that the capitalists started imposing fees. They wanted people who could be sold to corporate slavery, and they won. Just last week, Biden took some steps and canceled student loans and is working on steps towards broad debt forgiveness.

Interestingly, NASA has an affirmative diversity program for people from diverse backgrounds, where a couple of UC (Upper Caste) women got the job. While they got the job, the RW (Right-Wing) was overjoyed as they got jobs on ‘merit’. Later, it was found that both the women were the third or fourth generation of immigrants in U.S.

NASA Federal Equal Opportunity Policy Directive NPD 3713 2H

Going back to the original question and topic, while there has been a concerning spate of violence, some calling it the worst sort of violence not witnessed since 1994. The problem, as ascertained in that article, is the same as here in India or elsewhere.

Those, again, who have been on my blog know that ‘merit’ 90% of the time is a function of privilege and there is a vast amount of academic literature which supports that.

If, for a moment, you look at the data that is shared in the graph above which shows that 83% of Hindus and 13% of Muslims have more than 2 children, what does it show, it shows that 83+13 = 96% of the population is living in insecurity. The 5% are the ones who have actually consolidated more power during this regime rule in India. Similarly, from what I understood living in Cape Town for about a month, it is the Dutch ‘Afrikaans’ as they like to call themselves and the immigrants who come from abroad who have enjoyed the fruits of tourism and money and power while the rest of the country is dying due to poverty. It is the same there, it is the same here. Corruption is also rampant in both countries, and the judiciary is virtually absent from both communities in India and SA. Interestingly, South Africa and India have been at loggerheads, but I suspect that is more due to the money and lobbying power by the Dutch. Usually, those who have money power, do get laws and even press on their side, and it is usually the ruling party in power. I cannot help but share about the Gupta brothers and their corruption as I came to know about it in 2016. And as have shared that I’m related to Gupta’s on my mother’s side, not those specific ones but Gupta as a clan. The history of the Gupta dynasty does go back to the 3rd-4th century.

Equally interesting have been Sonali Ranade’s series of articles which she wrote in National Herald, the latest on exports which is actually the key to taking India out of poverty rather than anything else. While in other countries Exporters are given all sort of subsidies, here it is being worked as how to give them less. This was in Economic times hardly a week back 😦

Export incentive schemes being reduced

I can’t imagine the incredible stupidity done by the Finance Minister. And then in an attempt to prove that, they will attempt to present a rosy picture with numbers that have nothing to do with reality.

Interestingly enough, India at one time was a major exporter of apples, especially from Kashmir. Now instead of exporting, we are importing them from Afghanistan as well as Belgium and now even from the UK. Those who might not want to use the Twitter link could use this article. Of course, what India got out of this trade deal is not known. One can see that the UK got the better deal from this. Instead of investing in our own capacity expansion, we are investing in increasing the capacity of others. This is at the time when due to fuel price hike (Central taxes 66%) demand is completely flat. And this is when our own CEA (Chief Economic Adviser) tells us that growth will be at the most 6-7% and that too in 2023-2024 while currently, the inflation rate is around 12%. Is it then any wonder that almost 70% are living on Govt. ration and people in the streets of Kolkata, Assam, and other places have to sell kidneys to make sure they have some money for their kids for tomorrow. Now I have nothing against the UK but trade negotiation is an art. Sadly, this has been going on for the last few years. The politicians in India fool the public by always telling of future trade deals. Sadly, as any businessman knows, once you have compromised, you always have to compromise. And the more you compromise, the more you weaken the hand for any future trade deals. 😦

IIT pupil tries to sell kidney to repay loan, but no takers for Dalit organ.

The above was from yesterday’s Times of India. Just goes to show how much people are suffering. There have been reports in vernacular papers of quite a few people from across regions and communities are doing this so they can live without pain a bit.

Almost all the time, the politicians are saved as only few understand international trade, the diplomacy and the surrounding geopolitics around it. And this sadly, is as much to do with basic education as much as it is to any other factor 😦

Suli Deals

About a month back on the holy day of Ramzan or Ramadan as it is known in the west, which is beloved by Muslims, a couple of Muslim women were targeted and virtually auctioned. Soon, there was a flood and a GitHub repository was created where hundreds of Muslim women, especially those who have a voice and fearlessly talk about their understanding about issues and things, were being virtually auctioned. One week after the FIR was put up, to date none of the people mentioned in the FIR have been arrested. In fact, just yesterday, there was an open letter which was published by livelaw. I have saved a copy on WordPress just in case something does go wrong. Other than the disgust we feel, can’t say much as no action being taken by GOI and police.

IT Rules 2021 and Big Media

After almost a year of sleeping when most activists were screaming hoarsely about how the new IT rules are dangerous for one and all, big media finally woke up a few weeks back and listed a writ petition in Madras High Court of the same. Although to be frank, the real writ petition was filed In February 2021, classical singer, performer T.M. Krishna in Madras High Court. Again, a copy of the writ petition, I have hosted on WordPress. On 23rd June 2021, a group of 13 media outlets and a journalist have challenged the IT Rules, 2021.

The Contention came from Digital News Publishers Association which is made up of the following news companies: ABP Network Private Limited, Amar Ujala Limited, DB Corp Limited, Express Network Pvt Ltd, HT Digital Streams Limited, IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd, Jagran Prakashan Limited, Lokmat Media Private Limited, NDTV Convergence Limited, TV Today Network Limited, The Malayala Manorama Co (P) Ltd, Times Internet Limited, and Ushodaya Enterprises Private Limited. All the above are heavyweights in the markets where they operate. The reason being simple, when these media organizations came into being, the idea was to have self-regulation, which by and large has worked. Now, the present Govt. wants each news item to be okayed by them before publication. This is nothing but blatant misuse of power and an attempt at censorship. In fact, the Tamil Nadu BJP president himself made a promise of the same. And of course, what is true and what is a lie, only GOI knows and will decide for the rest of the country. If somebody remembers Joseph Goebbels at this stage, it is merely a coincidence. Anyways, 3 days ago Supreme Court on 14th July the Honorable Supreme Court asked the Madras High Court to transfer all the petitions to SC. This, the Madras High Court denied as cited/shared by Meera Emmanuel, a reporter who works with barandbench. The Court says nothing doing, let this happen and then the SC can entertain the motion of doing it that level. At the same time, they would have the benefit of Madras High Court opinion as well. It gave the center two weeks to file a reply. So, either of end-week of July or latest by August first week, we might be able to read the Center’s reply on the same. The SC could do a forceful intervention, but it would lead to similar outrage as has been witnessed in the past when a judge commented that if the SC has to do it all, then why do we need the High Courts, district courts etc. let all the solutions come from SC itself. This was, admittedly, frustration on the part of the judge, but due in part to the needless intervention of SC time and time again. But the concerns had been felt around all the different courts in the country.

Sedition Law

A couple of days ago, the Supreme Court under the guidance of Honorable CJI NV Ramanna, entertained the PIL filed by Maj Gen S G Vombatkere (Retd.) which asked simply that the sedition law which was used in the colonial times by the British to quell dissent by Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak during the Indian freedom struggle. A good background filler article can be found on MSN which tells about some recent cases but more importantly how historically the sedition law was used to quell dissent during India’s Independence. Another article on MSN actually elaborates on the PIL filed by Maj Gen S. G. Vombatkere. Another article on MSN tells how sedition law has been challenged and changed in 10 odd countries. I find it equally sad and equally hilarious that the Indian media whose job is to share news and opinion on this topic is being instead of being shared more by MSN. Although, I would be bereft of my duty if I did not share the editorial on the same topic by the Hindu and Deccan Chronicle. Also, an interesting question to ask is, are there only 10 countries in the world that have sedition laws? AFAIK, there are roughly 200 odd countries as recognized by WTO. If 190 odd countries do not have sedition laws, it also tells a lot about them and a lot about the remaining 10. Also, it came to light that police are still filing laws under sec66A which was declared null and void a few years ago. It was replaced with section 124A if memory serves right and it has more checks and balances.

Danish Siddiqui, Pulitzer award-winning and death in Afghanistan

Before I start with Danish Siddiqui, let me share an anecdote that I think I have shared on the blog years ago about how photojournalists are. Again, those who know me and those who follow me know how much I am mad both about trains and planes (civil aviation). A few months back, I had shared a blog post about some of the biggest railway systems in the world which shows that privatization of Railways doesn’t necessarily lead to up-gradation of services but definitely leads to an increase in tariff/fares. Just had a conversation couple of days ago on Twitter and realized that need to also put a blog post about civil aviation in India and the problems it faces, but I digress.

This was about a gentleman who wanted to take a photo of a particular train coming out of a valley at a certain tunnel at two different heights, one from below and one from above the train. This was several years ago, and while I did share that award-winning photograph then, it probably would take me quite a bit of time and effort to again look it up on my blog and share.

The logistics though were far more interesting and intricate than I had first even thought of. We came around a couple of days before the train was supposed to pass that tunnel and the valley. More than half a dozen or maybe more shots were taken throughout the day by the cameras. The idea was to see how much light was being captured by the cameras and how much exposure was to be given so that the picture isn’t whitened out or is too black.

Weather is the strangest of foes for a photojournalist or even photographers, and the more you are in nature, the more unpredictable it is and can be. We were also at a certain height, so care had to be taken in case light rainfall happens or dew falls, both not good for digital cameras.

And dew is something which will happen regardless of what you want. So while the two days our gentleman cameraman fiddled with the settings to figure out correct exposure settings, we had one other gentleman who was supposed to take the train from an earlier station and apprise us if the train was late or not.

The most ideal time would be at 0600 hrs. When the train would enter the tunnel and come out and the mixture of early morning sun rays, dew, the flowers in the valley, and the train would give a beautiful effect. We could stretch it to maybe 0700 hrs.

Anything after that would just be useless, as it wouldn’t have the same effect. And of all this depended on nature. If the skies were to remain too dark, nothing we could do about it, if the dewdrops didn’t fall it would all be over.

On the day of the shoot, we were told by our compatriot that the train was late by half an hour. We sank a little on hearing that news. Although Photoshop and others can do touch-ups, most professionals like to take as authentic a snap as possible. Everything had been set up to perfection. The wide-angle lenses on both the cameras with protections were set up. The tension you could cut with a knife. While we had a light breakfast, I took a bit more and went in the woods to shit and basically not be there. This was too tensed up for me. Returned an hour to find everybody in a good mood. Apparently, the shoot went well. One of the two captured it for good enough. Now, this is and was in a benign environment where the only foe was the environment. A bad shot would have meant another week in the valley, something which I was not looking forward to. Those who have lived with photographers and photojournalists know how self-involved they can be in their craft, while how grumpy they can be if they had a bad shoot. For those, who don’t know, it is challenging to be friends with such people for a long time. I wish they would scream more at nature and let out the frustrations they have after a bad shoot. But again, this is in a very safe environment.

Now let’s cut to Danish Siddiqui and the kind of photojournalism he followed. He followed a much more riskier sort of photojournalism than the one described above. Krittivas Mukherjee in his Twitter thread shared how reporters in most advanced countries are trained in multiple areas, from risk assessment to how to behave in case you are kidnapped, are in riots, hostage situations, etc. They are also trained in all sorts of medical training from treating gunshot wounds, CPR, and other survival methods. They are supposed to carry medical equipment along with their photography equipment. Sadly, these concepts are unknown in India. And even then they get killed. Sadly, he attributes his death to the ‘thrill’ of taking an exclusive photograph. And the gentleman’s bio reads that he is a diplomat. Talk about tone-deafness 😦

On another completely different level was Karen Hao who was full of empathy as she shared the humility, grace, warmth and kinship she describes in her interaction with the photojournalist. His body of work can be seen via his ted talk in 2020 where he shared a brief collage of his works. Latest, though in a turnaround, the Taliban have claimed no involvement in the death of photojournalist Danish Siddiqui. This could be in part to show the Taliban in a more favorable light as they do and would want to be showcased as progressive, even though they are forcing that all women within a certain age become concubines or marry the fighters and killing the minority Hazaras or doing vile deeds with them. Meanwhile, statements made by Hillary Clinton almost a decade, 12 years ago have come back into circulation which stated how the U.S. itself created the Taliban to thwart the Soviet Union and once that job was finished, forgot all about it. And then in 2001, it landed back in Afghanistan while the real terrorists were Saudi. To date, not all documents of 9/11 are in the public domain. One can find more information of the same here. This is gonna take probably another few years before Saudi Arabia’s whole role in the September 11 attacks will be known.

Last but not the least, came to know about the Pegasus spyware and how many prominent people in some nations were targeted, including in mine India. Will not talk more as it’s already a big blog post and Pegasus revelations need an article on its own.

Indian Capital Markets, BSE, NSE

I had been meaning to write on the above topic for almost a couple of months now but just kept procrastinating about it. That push came to a shove when Sucheta Dalal and Debasis Basu shared their understanding, wisdom, and all in the new book called ‘Absolute Power – Inside story of the National Stock Exchange’s amazing success, leading to hubris, regulatory capture and algo scam‘ . Now while I will go into the details of the new book as currently, I have not bought it but even if I had bought it and shared some of the revelations from it, it wouldn’t have done justice to either the book or what is sharing before knowing some of the background before it.

Before I jump ahead, I would suggest people to read my sort of introductory blog post on banking history so they know where I’m coming from. I’m going to deviate a bit from Banking as this is about trade and capital markets, although Banking would come in later on. And I will also be sharing some cultural insights along with history so people are aware of why things happened the way they did.

Calicut, Calcutta, Kolkata, one-time major depot around the world

Now, one cannot start any topic about trade without talking about Kolkata. While today, it seems like a bastion of communism, at one time it was one of the major trade depots around the world. Both William Dalrymple and the Chinese have many times mentioned Kolkata as being one of the major centers of trade. This was between the 13th and the late 19th century. A cursory look throws up this article which talks about Kolkata or Calicut as it was known as a major trade depot. There are of course many, many articles and even books which do tell about how Kolkata was a major trade depot. Now between the 13th and 19th century, a lot of changes happened which made Kolkata poorer and shifted trade to Mumbai/Bombay which in those times was nothing but just a port city like many others.

The Rise of the Zamindar

Around the 15th century when Babur Invaded Hindustan, he realized that Hindustan is too big a country to be governed alone. And Hindustan was much broader than independent India today. So he created the title of Zamindars. Interestingly, if you look at the Mughal period, they were much more in tune with Hindustani practices than the British who came later. They used the caste divisions and hierarchy wisely making sure that the status quo was maintained as far as castes/creed were concerned. While in-fighting with various rulers continued, it was more or less about land and power other than anything else. When the Britishers came they co-opted the same arrangement with a minor adjustment. While in the before system, the zamindars didn’t have powers to be landowners. The Britishers gave them land ownerships. A huge percentage of thess zamindars especially in Bengal were from my own caste Banias or Baniyas.

The problem and the solution for the Britishers had been this was a large land to control and exploit and the number of British officers and nobles were very less. So they gave virtually a lot of powers to the Banias. The only thing the British insisted on were very high rents from the newly minted Zamindars. The Zamindar in turn used the powers of personal fiefdom to give loans at very high interest rates when the poor were unable to pay the interest rate, they would take the land while at the same time slavery was forced on both men and women, many a time rapes and affairs. While there have been many records shedding light on it, don’t think it could be any more powerful as enacted and shared by Shabana Azmi in Ankur:the Seedling. Another prominent grouping was formed around the same time was the Bhadralok. Now as shared Bhadralok while having all the amenities of belonging to the community, turned a blind eye to the excesses being done by the Zamindars. How much they played a hand in the decimation of Bengal has been a matter of debate, but they did have a hand, that much is not contested.

The Rise of Stock Exchanges

Sadly and interestingly, many people believe and continue to believe that stock exchanges is recent phenomena. The first stock exchange though was the Calcutta Stock Exchange rather than the Bombay Stock Exchange. How valuable was Calcutta to the Britishers in its early years can be gauged from the fact that at one time it was made the capital of India in 1772 . In fact, after the Grand Trunk Road (on which there had been even Train names in both countries) x number of books have been written of the trade between Calcutta and Peshawar (Now in Pakistan). And it was not just limited to trade but also cultural give-and-take between the two centers. Even today, if you look at YT (Youtube) and look up some interviews of old people, you find many interesting anecdotes of people sharing both culture and trade.

The problem of the 60’s and rise of BSE

After India became independent and the Constitutional debates happened, the new elites understood that there cannot be two power centers that could govern India. On one hand, were the politicians who had come to power on the back of the popular vote, the other was the Zamindars, who more often than not had abused their powers which resulted in widespread poverty. The Britishers are to blame, but so do the middlemen as they became willing enablers to the same system of oppression. Hence, you had the 1951 amendment to the Constitution and the 1956 Zamindari Abolition Act. In fact, you can find much more of an in-depth article both about Zamindars and their final abolition here. Now once Zamindari was gone, there was nothing to replace it with. The Zamindars ousted of their old roles turned and tried to become Industrialists. The problem was that the poor and the downtrodden had already had experiences with the Zamindars. Also, some Industrialists from North and West also came to Bengal but they had no understanding of either the language or the cultural understanding of what had happened in Bengal. And notice that I have not talked about both the famines and the floods that wrecked Bengal since time immemorial and some of the ones which got etched on soul of Bengal and has marks even today 😦

The psyche of the Bengali and the ‘Bhadralok’ has gone through enormous shifts. I have met quite a few and do see the guilt they feel. If one wonders as to how socialist parties are able to hold power in Bengal, look no further than ‘Tarikh‘ which tells and shares with you that even today how many Bengalis still feel somewhat lost.

The Rise of BSE

Now, while Kolkata Stock Exchange had been going down, for multiple reasons other than listed above. From the 1950s onwards Jawaharlal Nehru had this idea of 5-year plans, borrowed from socialist countries such as Russia, China etc. His vision and ambition for the newly minted Indian state were huge, while at the same time he understood we were poor. The loot by East India Company and the Britishers and on top of that the division of wealth with Pakistan even though the majority of Muslims chose and remained with India. Travel on Indian Railways was a risky affair. My grandfather had shared numerous tales where he used to fill money in socks and put the socks on in boots when going between either Delhi – Kolkata or Pune – Kolkata.

Also, as the Capital became Delhi, it unofficially was for many years, the transparency from Kolkata-based firms became less. So many Kolkata firms either mismanaged and shut down while Maharashtra, my own state, saw a huge boon in Industrialization as well as farming. From the 1960s to the 1990s there were many booms and busts in the stock exchanges but most were manageable.

While the 60s began on a good note as Goa was finally freed from the Portuguese army and influence, the 1962 war with the Chinese made many a soul question where we went wrong. Jawaharlal Nehru went all over the world to ask for help but had to return home empty-handed. Bollywood showed a world of bell-bottoms and cars and whatnot, while the majority were still trying to figure out how to put two square meals on the table. India suffered one of the worst famines in those times. People had to ration food. Families made do with either one meal or just roti (flatbread) rather than rice. In Bengal, things were much more severe. There were huge milk shortages, so Bengalis were told to cut down on sweets. This enraged the Bangalis as nothing else could.

Note – If one wants to read how bad Indians felt at that time, all one has to read is V.S. Naipaul’s ‘An Area of darkness‘ .

This was also the time when quite a few Indians took their first step out of India. While Air India had just started, the fares were prohibitive. Those who were not well off, either worked on ships or went via passenger or cargo ships to Dubai/Qatar middle-east. Some went to Russia and some even to States. While today’s émigrés want to settle in the west forever and have their children and grandchildren grow up in the West, in the 1960s and 70s the idea was far different. The main purpose for a vast majority was to get jobs and whatnot, save maximum money and send it back to India as a remittance. The idea was to make enough money in 3-5-10 years, come back to India, and then lead a comfortable life.

Sadly, there has hardly been any academic work done in India, at least to my knowledge to document the sacrifices done by Indians in search of jobs, life, purpose, etc. in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s was also when alternative cinema started its journey with people like Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah who portrayed people’s struggles on-screen. Most of them didn’t have commercial success because the movies and the stories were bleak. While the acting was superb, most Indians loved to be captured by fights, car-chases, and whatnot rather than the deary existence which they had. And the alt cinema forced them to look into the mirror, which was frowned upon both by the masses and the classes. So cinema which could have been a wake-up call for a lot of Indians failed. One of the most notable works of that decade, at least to me, was Manthan. 1961 was also marked by the launch of Economic Times and Financial Express which tells that there was some appetite for financial news and understanding.

The 1970s was also a very turbulent time in the corporate sector and stock exchanges. Again, the companies which were listed were run by the very well-off and many of them had been abroad. At the same time, you had fly-by-night operators. One of the happenings which started in this decade is you had corporate wars and hostile takeovers, quite a few of them of which could well have a Web series or two of their own.

This was also a decade marked by huge labor unrest, which again changed the face of Bombay/Mumbai. From the 1950s till the 1970s, Bombay was known for its mills. So large migrant communities from all over India came to Bombay to become the next Bollywood star and if that didn’t happen, they would get jobs in the mills. Bombay/Mumbai has/had this unique feature that somehow you will make money to make ends meet. Of course, with the pandemic, even that has gone for a toss. Labor unrest was a defining character of that decade. Three movies, Kaala Patthar, Kalyug, and Ankush give a broad outlook of what happened in that decade. One thing which is present and omnipresent then and now is how time and time again we lost our demographic dividend. Again there was an exodus of young people who ventured out to seek fortunes elsewhere. The 1970s and 80s were also famous for the license Raj which they bought in. Just like the Soviets, there were waiting periods for everything. A telephone line meant waiting for things anywhere from 4 to 8 years. In 1987, when we applied and got a phone within 2-3 months, most of my relatives both from my mother and father’s side could not believe we paid 0 to get a telephone line. We did pay the telephone guy INR 10/- which was a somewhat princely sum when he was installing it, even then they could not believe it as in Northern India, you couldn’t get a phone line even if your number had come. You had to pay anywhere from INR 500/1000 or more to get a line. This was BSNL and to reiterate there were no alternatives at that time.

The 1990s and the Harshad Mehta Scam

The 90s was when I was a teenager. You do all the stupid things for love, lust, whatever. That is also the time you are introduced really to the world of money. During my time, there were only three choices, Sciences, Commerce, and Arts. If History were your favorite subject then you would take Arts and if it was not, and you were not studious, then you would up commerce. This is how careers were chosen. So I enrolled in Commerce. Due to my grandfather and family on my mother’s side interested in stocks both as a saving and compounding tool, I was able to see Pune Stock Exchange in action one day. The only thing I remember that day is people shouting loudly with various chits. I had no idea that deals of maybe thousands or even lakhs. The Pune Stock Exchange had been newly minted. I also participated in a couple of mock stock exchanges and came to understand that one has to be aggressive in order to win. You had to be really loud to be heard over others, you could not afford to be shy. Also, spread your risks. Sadly, nothing about the stock markets was there in the syllabus. 1991 was also when we saw the Iraq war, the balance of payments crisis in India, and didn’t know that the Harshad Mehta scam was around the corner.

Most of the scams in India have been caught because the person who was doing it was flashy. And this was the reason that even he was caught as Ms. Sucheta Dalal, a young beat reporter from Indian Express who had been covering Indian stock market. Many of her articles were thought-provoking.

Now, a brief understanding is required to know before we actually get to the scam. Because of the 1991 balance of payments crisis, IMF rescued India on the condition that India throws its market open. In the 1980s itself, Rajeev Gandhi had wanted to partially make India open but both politicians and Industrialists advised him not to do the same, we are/were not ready. On 21st May 1991, Rajeev Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE. A month later, due to the sympathy vote, the Narsimha Rao Govt. took power. While for most new Governments there is usually a honeymoon period lasting 6 months or so till they get settled in their roles before people start asking tough questions. It was not to be for this Govt. Immediately, The problem had been building for a few years. Although, in many ways, our economy was better than it is today. The only thing India didn’t do well at that time was managing foreign exchange. As only a few Indians had both the money and the opportunity to go abroad and need for electronics was limited. One of the biggest imports of the time then and still today is Energy, Oil. While today it is Oil/Gas and electronics, at that time it was only OIl. The Oil import bill was ballooning while exports were more or less stagnant and mostly comprised of raw materials rather than finished products. Even today, it is largely this, one of the biggest Industrialists in India Ambani exports gas/oil while Adani exports coal. Anyways, the deficit was large enough to trigger a payment crisis. And Narsimha Rao had to throw open the Indian market almost overnight. Some changes became quickly apparent, while others took a long time to come.

Satellite Television and Entry of Foreign Banks

Almost overnight, from 1 channel we became multi-channel. Star TV (Rupert Murdoch) bought us Bold and Beautiful, while CNN broadcasted the Iraq War. It was unbelievable for us that we were getting reports of what had happened 24-48 hours earlier. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was still very much a teenager to understand the import of what was happening. Even in my college, except for one or two-person, it wasn’t a topic for debate or talk or even the economy. We were basically somehow cocooned in our own little world.

But this was not the case for the rest of India and especially banks. The entry of foreign banks was a rude shock to Indian banks. The foreign banks were bringing both technology and sophistication in their offerings, and Indian Banks needed and wanted fast money to show hefty profits. Demand for credit wasn’t much, at least nowhere the level it today is. At the same time, default on credit was nowhere high as today is. But that will require its own space and article.

To quench the thirst for hefty profits by banks, Enter Harshad Mehta. At that point in time, banks were not permitted at all to invest in the securities/share market. They could only buy Government securities or bonds which had a coupon rate of say 8-10% which was nowhere enough to satisfy the need for hefty profits as desired by Indian banks. On top of it, that cash was blocked for a long time. Most of these Government bonds had anywhere between 10-20 year maturity date and some even longer. Now, one loophole in that was that the banks themselves could not buy these securities. They had to approach a registered broker of the share market who will do these transactions on their behalf. Here is where Mr. Mehta played his game. He shared both legal and illegal ways in which both the bank and he would prosper. While banking at one time was thought to be conservative and somewhat cautious, either because they were too afraid that Western private banks will take that pie or whatever their reasons might be, they agreed to his antics.

To play the game, Harshad Mehta needed lots of cash, which the banks provided him in the guise of buying securities that were never bought, but the amounts were transferred to his account. He actively traded stocks, at the same time made a group, and also made the rumor mill work to his benefit. The share market is largely a reactionary market. It operates on patience, news, and rumor-mill. The effect of his shenanigans was that the price of a stock that was trending at say INR 200 reached the stratospheric height of INR 9000/- without any change in the fundamentals or outlook of the stock. His thirst didn’t remain restricted to stocks but also ventured into the unglamorous world of Govt. securities where he started trading even in them in large quantities. In order to attract new clients, he coveted a fancy lifestyle. The fancy lifestyle was what caught the eye of Sucheta Dalal, and she started investigating the deals he was doing. Being a reporter, she had the advantage of getting many doors to open and get information that otherwise would be under lock and key. On 23rd April 1992, Sucheta Dalal broke the scam.

The Impact

The impact was almost like a shock to the markets. Even today, it can be counted as one of the biggest scams in the Indian market if you adjust it for inflation. I haven’t revealed much of the scam and what happened, simply because Sucheta Dalal and Debasis Basu wrote The Scam for that purpose. How do I shorten a story and experience which has been roughly written in 300 odd pages in one or two paragraphs, it is simply impossible. The impact though was severe. The Indian stock market became a bear market for two years. Sucheta Dalal was kicked out/made to resign out of Indian Express. The thing is simple, all newspapers survive on readership and advertisements with advertisements. Companies who were having a golden run, whether justified or not, on the bourses/Stock Exchange. For many companies, having a good number on the stock exchange was better than the company fundamentals. There was supposed to be a speedy fast-track court setup for Financial crimes, but it worked only for the Harshad Mehta case and still took over 5 years. It led to the creation of NSE (National Stock Exchange). It also led to the creation of SEBI, perhaps one of the most powerful regulators, giving it a wide range of powers and remit but on the ground more often that proved to be no more than a glorified postman. And the few times it used, it used on the wrong people and people had to go to courts to get justice. But then this is not about SEBI nor is this blog post about NSE. I have anyways shared about Absolute power above, so will not repeat the link here.

The Anecdotal impact was widespread. Our own family broker took the extreme step. For my grandfather on the mother’s side, he was like the second son. The news of his suicide devastated my grandfather quite a bit, which we realized much later when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Our family stockbroker had been punting, taking lots of cash from the market at very high rates, betting on stocks wildly as the stock market was reaching for the stars when the market crashed, he was insolvent. How the family survived is a tale in itself. They had just got married just a few years ago and had a cute boy and girl soon after. While today, both are grown-up, at that time what the wife faced only she knows. There were also quite a few shareholders who also took the extreme step. The stock markets in those days were largely based on trust and even today is unless you are into day-trading. So there was always some money left on the table for the share/stockbroker which would be squared off in the next deal/transaction where again you will leave something. My grandfather once thought of going over and meeting them, and we went to the lane where their house is, seeing the line of people who had come for recovery of loans, we turned back with a heavy heart.

There was another taboo that kinda got broken that day. The taboo was that the stock market is open to scams. From 1992 to 2021 has been a cycle of scams. Even now, today, the stock market is at unnatural highs. We know for sure that a lot of hot money is rolling around, a lot of American pension funds etc. Till it will work, it will work, some news something and that money will be moved out. Who will be left handing the can, the Indian investors? A Few days back, Ambani writes about Adani. Now while the facts shared are correct, is Adani the only one, the only company to have a small free float in the market. There probably are more than 1/4th or 1/3rd of well-respected companies who may have a similar configuration, the only problem is it is difficult to know who the proxies are.

Now if I were to reflect and compare this either with the 1960s or even the 1990s I don’t find much difference apart from the fact that the proxy is sitting in Mauritius. At the same time, today you can speculate on almost anything. Whether it is stocks, commodities, derivatives, foreign exchange, cricket matches etc. the list is endless. Since 2014, the rise in speculation rather than investment has been dramatic, almost stratospheric. Sadly, there are no studies or even attempts made to document this. How much official and unofficial speculation is there in the market nobody knows. Money markets have become both fluid and non-transparent. In theory, you have all sorts of regulators, but it is still very much like the Wild West. One thing to note that even Income tax had to change and bring it provisions to account for speculative income.So, starting from being totally illegitimate, it has become kind of legal and is part of Income Tax. And if speculation is not wrong, why not make Indian cricket officially a speculative event, that will be honest and GOI will get part of the proceeds.

Conclusion

I wish there was some positive conclusion I could drive, but sadly there is not. Just today read two articles about the ongoing environmental issues in Himachal Pradesh. As I had shared even earlier, the last time I visited those places in 2011, and even at that time I was devastated to see the kind of construction going on. Jogiwara Road which they showed used to be flat single ground/first floor dwellings, most of which were restaurants and whatnot. I had seen the water issues both in Himachal and UT (Uttarakhand) back then and this is when they made huge dams. In U.S. they are removing dams and here we want more dams 😦

Planes, Pandemic and Medical Devices – I

The Great Electric Airplane Race

It took me quite sometime to write as have been depressed about things. Then a few days back saw Nova’s The Great Electric Airplane Race. While it was fabulous and a pleasure to see and know that there are more than 200 odd startups who are in the race of making an electric airplane which works and has FAA certification. I was disappointed though that there no coverage of any University projects.

From what little I know, almost all advanced materials which U.S. had made has been first researched in mostly Universities and when it is close to fruition then either spin-off as a startup or give to some commercial organization/venture to make it scalable and profitable. If they had, I am sure more people could be convinced to join sciences and engineering in college. I actually do want to come to this as part of both general medicine and vaccine development in U.S. but will come later. The idea that industry works alone should be discouraged, but that perhaps may require another article to articulate why I believe so.

Medical Device – Ventilators in India

Before the pandemic, probably most didn’t know what a ventilator is and was, at least I didn’t, although I probably used it during my somewhat brief hospital stay a couple of years ago. It entered into the Indian twitter lexicon more so in the second wave as the number of people who got infected became more and more and the ventilators which were serving them became less and less just due to sheer mismatch of numbers and requirements.

Rich countries donated/gifted ventilators to India on which GOI put GST of 28%. Apparently, they are a luxury item, just like my hearing aid.

Last week Delhi High Court passed a judgement that imposition of GST should not be on a gift like ventilators or oxygenators. The order can be found here. Even without reading the judgement the shout from the right was ‘judicial activism’ while after reading it is a good judgement which touches on several points. The first, in itself, stating the dichotomy that if a commercial organization wanted to import a ventilator or an oxygenator the IGST payable is nil while for an individual it is 12%. The State (here State refers to State Government in this case Gujarat Govt.) did reduce the IGST for state from 12% to NIL IGST for federal states but that to till only 30.06.2021. No relief to individuals on that account.

The Court also made use of Mr. Arvind Datar, as Amicus Curiae or friend of court. The petitioner, an 85-year-old gentleman who has put it up has put broad assertions under Article 21 (right to live) and the court in its wisdom also added Article 14 which enshrines equality of everyone before law.

The Amicus Curiae, as his duty, guided the court into how the IGST law works and shared a brief history of the law and the changes happening before and after it. During his submissions, he also shared the Mega Exemption Notification no. 50/2017 under which several items are there which are exempted from putting IGST. The Amicus Curiae did note that such exemptions were also there before Mega Exemption Notification had come into play.

However, DGFT (Directorate General of Foreign Trade) on 30-04-2021 issued notification No. 4/2015-2020 through which oxygenators had been exempted from Custom Duty/BCD (Basic Customs Duty. In another notification on no. 30/2021 dated 01.05.2021 it reduced IGST from 28% to 12% for personal use. If however the oxygenator was procured by a canalizing agency (bodies such as State Trading Corporation of India (STC) or/and Metals and Minerals Corporation (MMTC) and such are defined as canalising agents) then it will be fully exempted from paying any sort of IGST, albeit subject to certain conditions. What the conditions are were not shared in the open court.

The Amicus Curiae further observed that it is contrary to practice where both BCD and IGST has been exempted for canalising agents and others, some IGST has to be paid for personal use. To share within the narrow boundaries of the topic, he shared entry no. 607A of General Exemption no.190 where duty and IGST in case of life-saving drugs are zero provided the life-saving drugs imported have been provided by zero cost from an overseas supplier for personal use.

He further shared that the oxygen generator would fall in the same entry of 607A as it fulfills all the criteria as shared for life-saving medicines and devices. He also used the help of Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 which provides such a relief.

The Amicus Curiae further noted that GOI amended its foreign trade policy (2015-2020) via notification no.4/2015-2020, dated 30.04.2021, issued by DGFT where Rakhi and life-saving drugs for personal use has been exempted from BCD till 30-07-2021. No reason not to give the same exemption to oxygenators which fulfill the same thing.

The Amicus Curiae, further observes that there are “exceptional circumstances” provisions as adverted to in sub-section (2) of Section 25 of the Customs Act, whereby Covid-19 which is known and labelled as a pandemic where the distinctions between the two classes of individuals or agencies do not make any sense. While he did make the observation that exemption from duty is not a right, in the light of the pandemic and Article 14, it does not make sense to have distinctions between the two classes of importers.

He further shared from Circular no. 9/2014-Customs, dated 19.08.2014 by CBEC (Central Board of Excise and Customs) which gave broad exemptions under Section 25 (2) of the same act in respect of goods and services imported for safety and rehabilitation of people suffering and effected by natural disasters and epidemics.

He further submits that the impugned notification is irrational as there is no intelligible differentia rule applied or observed in classifying the import of oxygen concentrators into two categories. One, by the State and its agencies; and the other, by an individual for personal use by way of gift. So there was an absence of ‘adequate determining principle’. To bolster his argument, he shared the judgements of –

a) Union of India vs. N.S. Rathnam & Sons, (2015) 10 SCC 681 (N.S. Ratnams and Sons Case)

b) Shayara Bano vs. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 1 (Shayara Bano Case)

The Amicus Curiae also rightly observed that the right to life also encompasses within it, the right to health. You cannot have one without the other and within that is the right to have affordable treatment. He further stated that the state does not only have a duty but a positive obligation is cast upon it to ensure that the citizen’s health is secured. He again cited Navtej Singh Johars vs Union of India (Navtej Singh Johar Case) in defence of right to life. Mr. Datar also shared that unlike in normal circumstances, it is and should be enough to show ‘distinct and noticeable burdensomeness’ which is directly attributable to the impugned/questionable tax. The gentleman cited Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Limited vs. Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641 (Indian Express case) 1985 which shared both about Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 21.

Bloggers note – At this juncture, I should point out which I am sharing the judgement and I would be sharing only the Amicus Curiae POV and then the judge’s final observations. While I was reading it, I was stuck by the fact that the Amicus Curiae had cited 4 cases till now, 3 of them are pretty well known both in the legal fraternity and even among public at large. Another 3 which have been shared below which are also of great significance. Hence, felt the need to share the whole judgement.

The Amicus Curiae further observed that this tax would have to be disproportionately will have to be paid by the old and the infirm, and they might find it difficult to pay the amounts needed to pay the customs duty/IGST as well as find the agent to pay in this pandemic.

Blogger Note – The situation with the elderly is something like this. Now there are a few things to note, only Central Govt. employees and pensioners get pensions which has been freezed since last year. The rest of the elderly population does not. The rate of interest has fallen to record lows from 5-6% in savings interest rate to 2% and on Fixed Deposits at 4.9% while the nominal inflation rate has up by 6% while CPI and real inflation rates are and would be much more. And this is when there is absolutely no demand in the economy. To add to all this, RBI shared a couple of months ago that fraud of 5 trillion rupees has been committed between 2015 and 2019 in banks. And this is different from the number of record NPA’s that have been both in Public and Private Sector banks. To get out of this, the banks have squeezed their customers and are squeezing as well as asking GOI for bailouts. How much GOI is responsible for the frauds as well as NPA’s would probably require its own space. And even now, RBI and banks have made heavy provisions as lockdowns are still a facet and are supposed to remain a facet till the end of the year or even next year (all depending upon when we get the vaccine).

The Amicus Curiae further argued that the ventilators which are available locally are of bad quality. The result of all this has resulted in a huge amount of unsurmountable pressure on hospitals which they are unable to overcome. Therefore, the levy of IGST on oxygenators has direct impact on health of the citizen. So the examination of the law should not be by what intention it was but how it is affecting citizen rights now. For this he shared R.C.Cooper vs Union of India (another famous case R.C. Cooper vs Union of India) especially paragraph 49 and Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Association of India vs. Union of India, (1989) at paragraph 46 (Federation of Hotel Case)

Mr. Datar further shared the Supreme Court order dated 18.12.2020, passed in Suo Moto Writ Petition(Civil) No.7/2020, to buttress the plea that the right to health includes the right to affordable treatment.

Blogger’s Note – For those, who don’t know Suo Moto is when the Court, whether Supreme Court or the High Courts take up a matter for public good. It could be in anything, law and order, Banking, Finance, Public Health etc. etc. This was the norm before 2014. The excesses of the executive were curtailed by both the Higher and the lower Judiciary. That is and was the reason that Judiciary is and was known as the third pillar of Indian democracy. A good characterization of Suo Moto can be found here.

Before ending his submission, the learned Amicus Curiae also shared Jeeja Ghosh vs. Union of India, (2016) (Jeeja Ghosh Case, an outstanding case as it deals with people with disabilities and their rights and the observations made by the Division Bench of Hon’ble Mr. Justice A. K. Sikri as well as Hon’ble Mr. Justice R. K. Agrawal.)

After Amicus Curiae completed his submissions, it was the turn of Mr. Sudhir Nandrajog, and he adopted the arguments and submissions made by the Amicus Curiae. The gentleman reiterated the facts of the case and how the impugned notification was violative of both Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Blogger’s Note – The High Court’s judgement which shows all the above arguments by the Amicus Curiae and the petitioner’s lawyer also shared the State’s view. It is only on page 24, where the Delhi High Court starts to share its own observations on the arguments of both sides.

Judgement continued – The first observation that the Court makes is that while the petitioner demonstrated that the impugned tax imposition would have a ‘distinct and noticeable burdensomeness’ while the State did not state or share in any way how much of a loss it would incur if such a tax were let go and how much additional work would have to be done in order to receive this specific tax. It didn’t need to do something which is down the wire or mathematically precise, but it didn’t even care to show even theoretically how many people will be affected by the above. The counter-affidavit by the State is silent on the whole issue.

The Court also contended that the State failed to prove how collecting IGST from the concerned individuals would help in fighting coronavirus in any substantial manner for the public at large. The High Court shared observations from the Navtej Singh Johar case where it is observed that the State has both negative and positive obligations to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy the right to health.

The High Court further made the point that no respectable person does like to be turned into a ‘charity case.’ If the State contends that those who obey the law should pay the taxes then it is also obligatory on the state’s part to lessen exactions such as taxes at the very least in times of war, famine, floods, epidemics and pandemics. Such an approach would lead a person to live a life of dignity which is part of Article 21 of the Constitution.

Another point that was made by the State that only the GST council is able to make any changes as regards to exemptions rather than the State were found to be false as the State had made some exemptions without going to the GST council using its own powers under Section 25 of the Customs Act.

The Court also points out that it does send a discriminatory pattern when somebody like petitioner has to pay the tax for personal use while those who are buying it for commercial use do not have to pay the tax.

The Court agreed of the view of the Amicus Curiae, Mr. Datar that oxygenator should be taxed at NIL rate at IGST as it is part of life-saving drugs and oxygenator fits the bill as medical equipment as it is used in the treatment, mitigation and prevention of spread of Coronavirus. Mr. Datar also did show that oxygenator is placed at the same level as other life-saving drugs. The Court felt further emboldened as the observations by Supreme Court in State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Linde India Limited, 2020 ( State of Andhra Pradesh vs Linde Ltd.)

The Court further shared many subsequent notifications from the State and various press releases by the State itself which does make the Court’s point that oxygenators indeed are drugs as defined in the court case above. The State should have it as part of notification 190. This would preserve the start of the notification date from 03.05.2021 and the state would not have to issue a new notification.

The Court further went to postulate that any persons similar to the petitioner could avail of the same, if they furnish a letter of undertaking to an officer designated by the State that the medical equipment would not be put to commercial use. Till the state does not do that, in the interim the importer could give the same undertaking to Joint Secretary, Customs or their nominee can hand over the same to custom officer.

The Court also shared that it does not disagree with the State’s arguments but the challenges which have arisen are in a unique time period/circumstances, so they are basing their judgement based on how the situation is.

The Court also mentioned an order given by Supreme Court Diary No. 10669/2020 passed on 20.03.2020 where SC has taken pains to understand the issues faced by the citizens. The court also mentioned the Small Scale Industrial Manufactures Association Case (both of these cases I don’t know) .

So in conclusion, the Court holds the imposition of IGST on oxygenator which are imported by individuals as gifts from their relatives as unconstitutional. They also shared that any taxes taken by GOI in above scenario have to be returned. The relief to the state is they will not have to pay interest cost on the same.

To check misuse of the same, the petitioner or people who are in similar circumstances would have to give a letter of undertaking to an officer designated by the State within 7 days of the state notifying the patient or anybody authorized by him/her to act on their behalf to share the letter of undertaking with the State. And till the State doesn’t provide an officer, the above will continue.

Hence, both the writ petition and the pending application are disposed off.

The Registry is directed to release any money deposited by the petitioner along with any interest occurred on it (if any) .

At the end they record appreciation of Mr. Arvind Datar, Mr. Zoheb Hossain, Mr. Sudhir Nandrajog as well as Mr. Siddharth Bambha. It is only due to their assistance that the court could reach the conclusion it did.

For Delhi High Court

RAJIV SHAKDHER, J.

TALWANT SINGH, J.

May 21, 2020

Blogger’s Observations – Now, after the verdict GOI does have few choices, either accept the verdict or appeal in the SC. A third choice is to make a committee and come to the same conclusions via the committee. GOI has done something similar in the past. If that happens and the same conclusions are reached as before, then the aggrieved may have no choice but to appear in the highest court of law. And this will put the aggrieved at a much more vulnerable place than before as SC court fees, lawyer fees etc. are quite high compared to High Courts. So, there is a possibility that the petitioner may not even approach unless and until some non-profit (NGO) does decide to fight and put it up as common cause or something similar.

There is another judgement that I will share, probably tomorrow. Thankfully, that one is pretty short compared to this one. So it should be far more easier to read. FWIW, I did learn about the whole freeenode stuff and many channels who have shifted from freenode to libera. I will share my own experience of the same but that probably will take a day or two.

Zeeshan of IYC (India Youth Congress) along with Salman Khan’s non-profit Being Human getting oxygenators

The above picture of Zeeshan. There have been a whole team of Indian Youth Congress workers (main opposition party to the ruling party) who have doing lot of relief effort. They have been buying Oxygenators from abroad with help of Being Human Foundation started by Salman Khan, an actor who works in A-grade movies in Bollywood.

Pandemic, Toolkit and India

Pandemic Situation in India.

I don’t know from where I should start. This is probably a good start. I actually would recommend Indiacable as they do attempt to share some things happening in India from day to day but still there is a lot thatt they just can’t cover, nobody can cover. There were two reports which kind of shook me all inside. One which sadly came from the UK publication Independent, probably as no Indian publication would dare publish it. The other from Rural India. I have been privileged in many ways, including friends who have asked me if I need any financial help. But seeing reports like above, these people need more help, guidance and help than I.

While I’m never one to say give to Foundations. If some people do want to help people from Maharashtra, then moneylifefoundation could be a good place where they could donate. FWIW, they usually use the foundation to help savers and investors be safe and help in getting money when taken by companies with dubious intentions. That is their drive. Two articles show their bent. The first one is about the Algo scam which I have written previously about the same in this blog. Interestingly, when I talk about this scam, all Modi supporters are silent. The other one does give some idea as to why the Govt. is indifferent. That is going to a heavy cross for all relatives to bear. There has been a lot that has been happening. Now instead of being limited to cities, Covid has now gone hinterland in a big way. One could ask also Praveen as he probably knows what would be good for Kerala and surrounding areas.

The biggest change, however, has been that India is now battling not just the pandemic but also Mucormycosis also known as black fungus and its deadlier cousin the white fungus. Mucormycosis came largely due to an ill-advise given that applying cow dung gives protection to Corona. And many applied it due to faith. And people who know science do know that in fact it has that bacteria.

Sadly, those of us who are and were more interested in law, computer science etc. has now also have to keep on top of what is happening in the medical field. It isn’t that I hate it, but it has a lot of costs. From what I could gather on various social media and elsewhere, a single injection of anti-fungal for the above costs INR 3k/- and that needs to be 5 times in a day and that course has to be for three weeks. So even the relatively wealthy people can and will become poor in no time. No wonder thousands of those went to UK, US, Dubai or wherever they could find safe-harbor from the pandemic with no plans of arriving back soon.

There was also the whole bit about FBS or Fetal Bovin Serum. India ordered millions of blood serum products from abroad and continues to. This was quickly shut down as news on Social Media. Apparently, it is only the Indian cow which is worthy of reverence. All other cows and their children are fair game according to those in power. Of course, that discussion was quickly shut down as was the discussion about IGP (Indian Genome Project). People over the years had asked me why India never participated for the HGP (Human Gnome Project). I actually had no answer for that. Then in 2020, there was idea of IGP which was put up and then it was quickly shot down as the results could damage a political party’s image. In fact, a note to people who want to join Indian civil services tells the reason exactly. While many countries in the world are hypocrites, including the U.S. none can take the place that India has made for itself in that field.

The Online experience

The vaccination process has been made online and has led to severe heartburn and trouble for many including many memes. For e.g. –

Daily work, get up, have a bath, see if you got a slot on the app, sleep.
People trying desperately to get a slot, taken from Hindi Movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaygenge.

Just to explain what is happening, one has to go to the website of cowin. Sharing a screenshot of the same.

Cowin app. sceeenshot

I have deliberately taken a screenshot of the cowin app. in U.P. which is one of the areas where the ruling party, BJP has. I haven’t taken my state for the simple reason, even if a slot is open, it is of no use as there are no vaccines. As have been shared in India Cable as well as in many newspapers, it is the Central Govt. which holds the strings for the vaccines. Maharashtra did put up an international tender but to no effect. All vaccine manufacturers want only Central Govt. for purchases for multiple reasons. And GOI is saying it has no money even though recently it got loans as well as a dividend from RBI to the tune of 99k crore. For what all that money is, we have no clue.

Coming back though, to the issue at hand. the cowin app. is made an open api. While normally, people like us should and are happy when an API is open, it has made those who understand how to use git, compile, etc. better than others. A copy of the public repo. of how you can do the same can be found on Github. Now, obviously, for people like me and many others it has ethical issues.

Kiran’s Interview in Times of India (TOI)

There isn’t much to say apart from I haven’t used it. I just didn’t want to. It just is unethical. Hopefully, in the coming days GOI does something better. That is the only thing we are surviving on, hope.

The Toolkit saga

A few days before, GOI shared a ‘toolkit’ apparently made by Congress to defame the party in power. That toolkit was shared before the press and Altnews did the investigation and promptly shredded the claims. Congress promptly made an FIR in Chhattisgarh where it is in power. The gentleman who made the claims Mr. Sambit Patra refused to appear against the police without evidence citing personal reasons and asking 1 week to appear before them. Apart from Altnews which did a great job, sadly many people didn’t even know that there is something called WYSIWYG. I had to explain that so many Industries, whether it is politics, creative industries, legal, ad industries, medical transcription, and imaging all use this, and all the participants use the same version of the software. The reason being that in most Industries, there is a huge loss and issue of legal liabilities if something untoward happens. For e.g. if medical transcription is done in India is wrong (although his or her work will be checked by a superior in the West), but for whatever reason is not, and a wrong diagnosis is put (due to wrong color or something) then a patient could die and the firm who does that work could face heavy penalties which could be the death of them.

There is another myth that Congress has unlimited wealth or huge wealth. I asked if that was the case, why didn’t they shift to Mac. Of course, none have answers on this one.

There is another reason why they didn’t want to appear. The Rona Wilson investigation by Arsenal Experts also has made them cautious. Previously, they had a free run. Nowadays, software forensic tools are available to one and all. For e.g. Debian itself has a good variety of tools for the same. I remember Vipin’s sharing few years back. For those who want to start, just install the apps. and try figuring out. Expertise on using the tools takes years though, as you use the tool day in night.

Update – 25/05/2021 – Apparently because Twitter made and showcased few tweets as ‘Manipulated Media’, those in Govt. are and were dead against it. So they conducted a ‘raid’ against Twitter India headquarters, knowing fully well that there would be nobody except security. The moment I read this, my mind went to the whole ‘Fruit of the poisonous tree‘ legal doctrine. Sadly though, India doesn’t recognize it and in fact, still believes in the pre-colonial era that evidence however collected is good. A good explanation of the same can be found here. There are some exceptions to the rule, but they are done so fine that more often than not, they can’t be used in the court of law in India. Although a good RTI was shared by Mr. Saket Gokhale on the same issue, which does raise some interesting points –

Twitter India Raid, Saket Gokhale RTI – 1
Saket Gokhale RTI query , Twitter India Raid – 2

FWIW, Saket has been successful in getting his prayers heard either as answers to RTI queries or then following it up in the various High Courts of India. Of course, those who are in the ruling party ridicule him but are unable to find faults in his application of logic. And quite a few times, I have learned from his applications as well as nuances or whatever is there in law, a judgment or a guideline which he invokes in his prayer. For e.g. the Lalitha Kumari Guidelines which the gentleman has shared in his prayer can be found here. Hence now, it would be upto the Delhi Police Cell to prove their ‘case’ in response to RTI. He has also trapped them as he has shared they can’t give excuses/exemptions which they have tried before.

As I had shared earlier, High Courts in India have woken up, whether it is Delhi, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha or Kerala. Just today i.e. on 25th May 2021, Justices Bela Trivedi and Justice Kalra had asked how come all the hospitals don’t have NOC from the Fire De[partment. They also questioned the ASG (Assistant Solicitor General) as how BU (Building Use Certificate) has been granted as almost all the 400 hospitals are in residential area. To which the ASG replies, it is the same state in almost 4000 schools as well as 6000 odd factories in Ahemdabad alone, leave the rest of the district and state alone. And this is when last year strict instuctions were passed. They chose to do nothing sadly. I will share a link on this when bar and bench gives me 🙂

The Hindu also shared the whole ‘raid’ on twitter saga.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I sincerely do not where we are headed. The only thing I know is that we cannot expect things to be better before year-end and maybe even after that. It all depends on the vaccines and their availability.

After that ruralindia article, I had to see quite a few movies and whatnot just to get that out of my head. And this is apart from the 1600 odd teachers and workers who have died in the U.P. poll duty. Now, what a loss, not just to the family members of the victims, but a whole generation of school children who would not be able to get quality teaching and be deprived of education. What will be their future, God only knows.

The only good Bollywood movie which I saw was Ramprasad ki Teravi ‘. The movie was an accurate representation of most families in and around me. There was a movie called ‘Sansar‘ (1987) which showed the breakup of the joint family and into a nuclear family. This movie could very well have been a continuation of the same. Even Marathi movies which at one time were very progressive have gone back to the same boy, girl love story routine. Sameer, though released in late 2020, was able to see it only recently. Vakeel Saab was an ok copy of ‘Pink‘. I loved Sameer as, unlike Salman Khan films, it showed pretty much an authentic human struggle of a person who goes to the Middle East without any qualifications and works as a laborer and the trials he goes through. Somehow, Malayalam movies have a knack for showing truth without much of budget. Most of the Indian web series didn’t make an impact. I think many of them were just going through the motions, it seems as everybody is concerned with the well-being of their near and dear ones. There was also this (Trigger Warning: This story discusses organized campaigns glorifying and advocating sexual violence against Muslim women.) Hoping people somehow make it to the other side of the pandemic.

Population, Immigration, Vaccines and Mass-Surveilance.

The Population Issue and its many facets

Another couple of weeks passed. A Lot of things happening, lots of anger and depression in folks due to handling in pandemic, but instead of blaming they are willing to blame everybody else including the population. Many of them want forced sterilization like what Sanjay Gandhi did during the Emergency (1975). I had to share ‘So Long, My son‘. A very moving tale of two families of what happened to them during the one-child policy in China. I was so moved by it and couldn’t believe that the Chinese censors allowed it to be produced, shot, edited, and then shared worldwide. It also won a couple of awards at the 69th Berlin Film Festival, silver bear for the best actor and the actress in that category. But more than the award, the theme, and the concept as well as the length of the movie which was astonishing. Over a 3 hr. something it paints a moving picture of love, loss, shame, relief, anger, and asking for forgiveness. All of which can be identified by any rational person with feelings worldwide.

Girl child

What was also interesting though was what it couldn’t or wasn’t able to talk about and that is the Chinese leftover men. In fact, a similar situation exists here in India, only it has been suppressed. This has been more pronounced more in Asia than in other places. One big thing in this is human trafficking and mostly women trafficking. For the Chinese male, that was happening on a large scale from all neighboring countries including India. This has been shared in media and everybody knows about it and yet people are silent. But this is not limited to just the Chinese, even Indians have been doing it. Even yesteryear actress Rupa Ganguly was caught red-handed but then later let off after formal questioning as she is from the ruling party. So much for justice.

What is and has been surprising at least for me is Rwanda which is in the top 10 of some of the best places in equal gender. It, along with other African countries have also been in news for putting quite a significant amount of percentage of GDP into public healthcare (between 20-10%), but that is a story for a bit later. People forget or want to forget that it was in Satara, a city in my own state where 220 girls changed their name from nakusha or ‘unwanted’ to something else and that had become a piece of global news. One would think that after so many years, things would have changed, the only change that has happened is that now we have two ministries, The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) and The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MoHFW). Sadly, in both cases, the ministries have been found wanting, Whether it was the high-profile Hathras case or even the routine cries of help which given by women on the twitter helpline. Sadly, neither of these ministries talks about POSH guidelines which came up after the 2012 gangrape case. For both these ministries, it should have been a pinned tweet. There is also the 1994 PCPNDT Act which although made in 1994, actually functioned in 2006, although what happens underground even today nobody knows 😦 .

On the global stage, about a decade ago, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt argued in their book ‘ Freakonomics‘ how legalized abortion both made the coming population explosion as well as expected crime rates to be reduced. There was a huge pushback on the same from the conservatives and has become a matter of debate, perhaps something that the Conservatives wanted. Interestingly, it hasn’t made them go back but go forward as can be seen from the Freakonomics site.

Climate Change

Another topic that came up for discussion was repeatedly climate change, but when I share Shell’s own 1998 Confidential report titled ‘Greenhouse effect‘ all become strangely silent. The silence here is of two parts, there probably is a large swathe of Indians who haven’t read the report and there may be a minority who have read it and know what already has been shared with U.S. Congress. The Conservative’s argument has been for it is ‘jobs’ and a weak ‘we need to research more ‘. There was a partial debunk of it on the TBD podcast by Matt Farell and his brother Sean Farell as to how quickly the energy companies are taking to the coming change.

Health Budget

Before going to Covid stories. I first wanted to talk about Health Budgets. From the last 7 years the Center’s allocation for health has been between 0.34 to 0.8% per year. That amount barely covers the salaries to the staff, let alone any money for equipment or anything else. And here by allocation I mean, what is actually spent, not the one that is shared by GOI as part of budget proposal. In fact, an article on Wire gives a good breakdown of the numbers. Even those who are on the path of free markets describe India’s health business model as a flawed one. See the Bloomberg Quint story on that. Now let me come to Rwanda. Why did I chose Rwanda, I could have chosen South Africa where I went for Debconf 2016, I chose because Rwanda’s story is that much more inspiring. In many ways much more inspiring than that South Africa in many ways. Here is a country which for decades had one war or the other, culminating into the Rwanda Civil War which ended in 1994. And coincidentally, they gained independence on a similar timeline as South Africa ending Apartheid in 1994. What does the country do, when it gains its independence, it first puts most of its resources in the healthcare sector. The first few years at 20% of GDP, later than at 10% of GDP till everybody has universal medical coverage.

Coming back to the Bloomberg article I shared, the story does not go into the depth of beyond-expiry date medicines, spurious medicines and whatnot. Sadly, most media in India does not cover the deaths happening in rural areas and this I am talking about normal times. Today what is happening in rural areas is just pure madness. For last couple of days have been talking with people who are and have been covering rural areas. In many of those communities, there is vaccine hesitancy and why, because there have been whatsapp forwards sharing that if you go to a hospital you will die and your kidney or some other part of the body will be taken by the doctor. This does two things, it scares people into not going and getting vaccinated, at the same time they are prejudiced against science. This is politics of the lowest kind. And they do it so that they will be forced to go to temples or babas and what not and ask for solutions. And whether they work or not is immaterial, they get ‘fixed’ and property and money is seized. Sadly, there are not many Indian movies of North which have tried to show it except for ‘oh my god‘ but even here it doesn’t go the distance. A much more honest approach was done in ‘Trance‘. I have never understood how the South Indian movies are able to do a more honest job of story-telling than what is done in Bollywood even though they do in 1/10th the budget that is needed in Bollywood. Although, have to say with OTT, some baggage has been shed but with the whole film certification rearing its ugly head through MEITY orders, it seems two steps backward instead of forward. The idea being simply to infantilize the citizens even more. That is a whole different ball-game which probably will require its own space.

Vaccine issues

One good news though is that Vaccination has started. But it has been a long story full of greed by none other than GOI (Government of India) or the ruling party BJP. Where should I start with. I probably should start with this excellent article done by Priyanka Pulla. It is interesting and fascinating to know how vaccines are made, at least one way which she shared. She also shared about the Cutter Incident which happened in the late 50’s. The response was on expected lines, character assassination of her and the newspaper they published but could not critique any of the points made by her. Not a single point that she didn’t think about x or y. Interestingly enough, in January 2021 Bharati Biotech was supposed to be share phase 3 trial data but hasn’t been put up in public domain till May 2021. In fact, there have been a few threads raised by both well-meaning Indians as well as others globally especially on twitter to which GOI/ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) is silent. Another interesting point to note is that Russia did say in its press release that it is possible that their vaccine may not be standard (read inactivation on their vaccines and another way is possible but would take time, again Brazil has objected, but India hasn’t till date.)

What also has been ‘interesting’ is the homegrown B.1.617 lineage or known as ‘double mutant’. This was first discovered from my own state, Maharashtra and then transported around the world. There is also B.1.618 which was found in West Bengal and is same or supposed to be similar to the one found in South Africa. This one is known as ‘Triple mutant’. About B.1.618 we don’t know much other than knowing that it is much more easily transferable, much more infectious. Most countries have banned flights from India and I cannot fault them anyway. Hell, when even our diplomats do not care for procedures to be followed during the pandemic then how a common man is supposed to do. Of course, now for next month, Mr. Modi was supposed to go and now will not attend the G7 meeting. Whether, it is because he would have to face the press (the only Prime Minister and the only Indian Prime Minister who never has faced free press.) or because the Indian delegation has been disinvited, we would never know.

A good article which shares lots of lows with how things have been done in India has been an article by Arundhati Roy. And while the article in itself is excellent and shares a bit of the bitter truth but is still incomplete as so much has been happening. The problem is that the issue manifests in so many ways, it is difficult to hold on. As Arundhati shared, should we just look at figures and numbers and hold on, or should we look at individual ones, for e.g. the one shared in Outlook India. Or the one shared by Dr. Dipshika Ghosh who works in Covid ICU in some hospital –

Dr. Dipika Ghosh sharing an incident in Covid Ward

Interestingly as well, while in the vaccine issue, Brazil Anvisa doesn’t know what they are doing or the regulator just isn’t knowledgeable etc. (statements by various people in GOI, when it comes to testing kits, the same is an approver.)

ICMR/DGCI approving internationally validated kits, Press release.

Twitter

In the midst of all this, one thing that many people have forgotten and seem to have forgotten that Twitter and other tools are used by only the elite. The reason why the whole thing has become serious now than in the first phase is because the elite of India have also fallen sick and dying which was not the case so much in the first phase. The population on Twitter is estimated to be around 30-34 million and people who are everyday around 20 odd million or so, which is what 2% of the Indian population which is estimated to be around 1.34 billion. The other 98% don’t even know that there is something like twitter on which you can ask help. Twitter itself is exclusionary in many ways, with both the emoticons, the language and all sorts of things. There is a small subset who does use Twitter in regional languages, but they are too small to write anything about. The main language is English which does become a hindrance to lot of people.

Censorship

Censorship of Indians critical of Govt. mishandling has been non-stop. Even U.S. which usually doesn’t interfere into India’s internal politics was forced to make an exception. But of course, this has been on deaf ears. There is and was a good thread on Twitter by Gaurav Sabnis, a friend, fellow Puneite now settled in U.S. as a professor.

Gaurav on Trump-Biden on vaccination of their own citizens

Now just to surmise what has been happened in India and what has been happening in most of the countries around the world. Most of the countries have done centralization purchasing of the vaccine and then is distributed by the States, this is what we understand as co-operative federalism. While last year, GOI took a lot of money under the shady ‘PM Cares fund’ for vaccine purchase, donations from well-meaning Indians as well as Industries and trade bodies. Then later, GOI said it would leave the states hanging and it is they who would have to buy vaccines from the manufacturers. This is again cheap politics. The idea behind it is simple, GOI knows that almost all the states are strapped for cash. This is not new news, this I have shared a couple of months back. The problem has been that for the last 6-8 months no GST meeting has taken place as shared by Punjab’s Finance Minister Amarinder Singh. What will happen is that all the states will fight in-between themselves for the vaccine and most of them are now non-BJP Governments. The idea is let the states fight and somehow be on top. So, the pandemic, instead of being a public health issue has become something of on which politics has to played. The news on whatsapp by RW media is it’s ok even if a million or two also die, as it is India is heavily populated. Although that argument vanishes for those who lose their dear and near ones. But that just isn’t the issue, the issue goes much more deeper than that –

Oxygen:12%
Remedisivir:12%
Sanitiser:12%
Ventilator:12%
PPE:18%
Ambulances 28%

Now all the products above are essential medical equipment and should be declared as essential medical equipment and should have price controls on which GST is levied. In times of pandemic, should the center be profiting on those. States want to let go and even want the center to let go so that some relief is there to the public, while at the same time make them as essential medical equipment with price controls. But GOI doesn’t want to. Leaders of opposition parties wrote open letters but no effect. What is sad to me is how Ambulances are being taxed at 28%. Are they luxury items or ‘sin goods’? This also reminds of the recent discovery shared by Mr. Pappu Yadav in Bihar. You can see the color of ambulances as shared by Mr. Yadav, and the same news being shared by India TV news showing other ambulances. Also, the weak argument being made of not having enough drivers. Ideally, you should have 2-3 people, both 9-1-1 and Chicago Fire show 2 people in ambulance but a few times they have also shown to be flipped over. European seems to have three people in ambulance, also they are also much more disciplined as drivers, at least an opinion shared by an American expat. –

Pappu Yadav, President Jan Adhikar Party, Bihar – May 11, 2021

What is also interesting to note is GOI plays this game of Health is State subject and health is Central subject depending on its convenience. Last year, when it invoked the Epidemic and DMA Act it was a Central subject, now when bodies are flowing down the Ganges and pyres being lit everywhere, it becomes a State subject. But when and where money is involved, it again becomes a Central subject. The States are also understanding it, but they are fighting on too many fronts.

Snippets from Karnataka High Court hearing today, 13th March 2021

One of the good things is most of the High Courts have woken up. Many of the people on the RW think that the Courts are doing ‘Judicial activism‘ . And while there may be an iota of truth in it, the bitter truth is that many judges or relatives or their helpers have diagnosed and some have even died due to Covid. In face of the inevitable, what can they do. They are hauling up local Governments to make sure they are accountable while at the same time making sure that they get access to medical facilities. And I as a citizen don’t see any wrong in that even if they are doing it for selfish reasons. Because, even if justice is being done for selfish reasons, if it does improve medical delivery systems for the masses, it is cool. If it means that the poor and everybody else are able to get vaccinations, oxygen and whatever they need, it is cool. Of course, we are still seeing reports of patients spending in the region of INR 50k and more for each day spent in hospital. But as there are no price controls, judges cannot do anything unless they want to make an enemy of the medical lobby in the country. A good story on medicines and what happens in rural areas, see no further than Laakhon mein ek.

Allahabad High Court hauling Uttar Pradesh Govt. for lack of Oxygen is equal to genocide, May 11, 2021

The censorship is not just related to takedown requests on twitter but nowadays also any articles which are critical of the GOI’ s handling. I have been seeing many articles which have shared facts and have been critical of GOI being taken down. Previously, we used to see 404 errors happen 7-10 years down the line and that was reasonable. Now we see that happen, days weeks or months. India seems to be turning more into China and North Korea and become more anti-science day-by-day 😦

Fake websites

Before going into fake websites, let me start with a fake newspaper which was started by none other than the Gujarat CM Mr. Modi in 2005 .

Gujarat – Satya Samachar – 2005 launched by Mr. Modi.

And if this wasn’t enough than on Feb 8, 2005, he had invoked Official Secrets Act –

Mr. Modi invoking Official Secrets Act, Feb 8 2005 Gujarat Samachar

The headlines were ‘In Modi’s regime press freedom is in peril-Down with Modi’s dictatorship.’ So this was a tried and tested technique. The above information was shared by Mr. Urvish Kothari, who incidentally also has his own youtube channel.

Now cut to 2021, and we have a slew of fake websites being done by the same party. In fact, it seems they started this right from 2011. A good article on BBC itself tells the story. Hell, Disinfo.eu which basically combats disinformation in EU has a whole pdf chronicling how BJP has been doing it. Some of the sites it shared are –

Times of New York
Manchester Times
Times of Los Angeles
Manhattan Post
Washington Herald
and many more.

The idea being take any site name which sounds similar to a brand name recognized by Indians and make fool of them. Of course, those of who use whois and other such tools can easily know what is happening. Two more were added to the list yesterday, Daily Guardian and Australia Today. There are of course, many features which tell them apart from genuine websites. Most of these are on shared hosting rather than dedicated hosting, most of these are bought either from Godaddy and Bluehost. While Bluehost used to be a class act once upon a time, both the above will do anything as long as they get money. Don’t care whether it’s a fake website or true. Capitalism at its finest or worst depending upon how you look at it. But most of these details are lost on people who do not know web servers, at all and instead think see it is from an exotic site, a foreign site and it chooses to have same ideas as me. Those who are corrupt or see politics as a tool to win at any cost will not see it as evil. And as a gentleman Raghav shared with me, it is so easy to fool us. An example he shared which I had forgotten. Peter England which used to be an Irish brand was bought by Aditya Birla group way back in 2000. But even today, when you go for Peter England, the way the packaging is done, the way the prices are, more often than not, people believe they are buying the Irish brand. While sharing this, there is so much of Naom Chomsky which comes to my mind again and again 🙂

Caste Issues

I had written about caste issues a few times on this blog. This again came to the fore as news came that a Hindu sect used forced labor from Dalit community to make a temple. This was also shared by the hill. In both, Mr. Joshi doesn’t tell that if they were volunteers then why their passports have been taken forcibly, also I looked at both minimum wage prevailing in New Jersey as a state as well as wage given to those who are in the construction Industry. Even in minimum wage, they were giving $1 when the prevailing minimum wage for unskilled work is $12.00 and as Mr. Joshi shared that they are specialized artisans, then they should be paid between $23 – $30 per hour. If this isn’t exploitation, then I don’t know what is.

And this is not the first instance, the first instance was perhaps the case against Cisco which was done by John Doe. While I had been busy with other things, it seems Cisco had put up both a demurrer petition and a petition to strike which the Court stayed. This seemed to all over again a type of apartheid practice, only this time applied to caste. The good thing is that the court stayed the petition.

Dr. Ambedkar’s statement “if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem” given at Columbia University in 1916, seems to be proven right in today’s time and sadly has aged well. But this is not just something which is there only in U.S. this is there in India even today, just couple of days back, a popular actress Munmun Dutta used a casteist slur and then later apologized giving the excuse that she didn’t know Hindi. And this is patently false as she has been in the Bollywood industry for almost now 16-17 years. This again, was not an isolated incident. Seema Singh, a lecturer in IIT-Kharagpur abused students from SC, ST backgrounds and was later suspended. There is an SC/ST Atrocities Act but that has been diluted by this Govt. A bit on the background of Dr. Ambedkar can be found at a blog on Columbia website. As I have shared and asked before, how do we think, for what reason the Age of Englightenment or the Age of Reason happened. If I were a fat monk or a priest who was privileges, would I have let Age of Enlightenment happen. It broke religion or rather Church which was most powerful to not so powerful and that power was more distributed among all sort of thinkers, philosophers, tinkers, inventors and so on and so forth.

Situation going forward

I believe things are going to be far more complex and deadly before they get better. I had to share another term called ‘Comorbidities‘ which fortunately or unfortunately has also become part of twitter lexicon. While I have shared what it means, it simply means when you have an existing ailment or condition and then Coronavirus attacks you. The Virus will weaken you. The Vaccine in the best case just stops the damage, but the damage already done can’t be reversed. There are people who advise and people who are taking steroids but that again has its own side-effects. And this is now, when we are in summer. I am afraid for those who have recovered, what will happen to them during the Monsoons. We know that the Virus attacks most the lungs and their quality of life will be affected. Even the immune system may have issues. We also know about the inflammation. And the grant that has been given to University of Dundee also has signs of worry, both for people like me (obese) as well as those who have heart issues already. In other news, my city which has been under partial lockdown since a month, has been extended for another couple of weeks. There are rumors that the same may continue till the year-end even if it means economics goes out of the window.There is possibility that in the next few months something like 2 million odd Indians could die –

The above is a conversation between Karan Thapar and an Oxford Mathematician Dr. Murad Banaji who has shared that the under-counting of cases in India is huge. Even BBC shared an article on the scope of under-counting. Of course, those on the RW call of the evidence including the deaths and obituaries in newspapers as a ‘narrative’. And when asked that when deaths used to be in the 20’s or 30’s which has jumped to 200-300 deaths and this is just the middle class and above. The poor don’t have the money to get wood and that is the reason you are seeing the bodies in Ganges whether in Buxar Bihar or Gajipur, Uttar Pradesh. The sights and visuals makes for sorry reading 😦

Pandit Ranjan Mishra son on his father’s death due to unavailability of oxygen, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 11th May 2021.

For those who don’t know Pandit Ranjan Mishra was a renowned classical singer. More importantly, he was the first person to suggest Mr. Modi’s name as a Prime Ministerial Candidate. If they couldn’t fulfil his oxygen needs, then what can be expected for the normal public.

Conclusion

Sadly, this time I have no humorous piece to share, I can however share a documentary which was shared on Feluda . I have shared about Feluda or Prodosh Chandra Mitter a few times on this blog. He has been the answer of James Bond from India. I have shared previously about ‘The Golden Fortress‘. An amazing piece of art by Satyajit Ray. I watched that documentary two-three times. I thought, mistakenly that I am the only fool or fan of Feluda in Pune to find out that there are people who are even more than me. There were so many facets both about Feluda and master craftsman Satyajit Ray that I was unaware about. I was just simply amazed. I even shared few of the tidbits with mum as well, although now she has been truly hooked to Korean dramas. The only solace from all the surrounding madness. So, if you have nothing to do, you can look up his books, read them and then see the movies. And my first recommendation would be the Golden Fortress. The only thing I would say, do not have high hopes. The movie is beautiful. It starts slow and then picks up speed, just like a train. So, till later.

Update – The Mass surveillance part I could not do justice do hence removed it at the last moment. It actually needs its whole space, article. There is so much that the Govt. is doing under the guise of the pandemic that it is difficult to share it all in one article. As it is, the article is big 😦

The Great Train Robbery

I had a twitter fight few days back with a gentleman and the article is a result of that fight. Sadly, I do not know the name of the gentleman as he goes via a psuedo name and then again I’ve not taken permission from him to quote him in either way. So I will just state the observations I was able to make from the conversations we had. As people who read this blog regularly would know, I am and have been against Railway Privatization which is happening in India. And will be sharing some of the case studies from other countries as to how it panned out for them.

UK Railways


How Privatization Fails : Railways

The Above video is by a gentleman called Shaun who basically shared that privatization as far as UK is concerned is nothing but monopolies and while there are complex reasons for the same, the design of the Railways is such that it will always be a monopoly structure. At the most what you can do is have several monopolies but that is all that can happen. The idea of competition just cannot happen. Even the idea that subsidies will be less or/and trains will run on time is far from fact. Both of these facts have been checked and found to be truthful by fullfact.org. It is and argued that UK is small and perhaps it doesn’t have the right conditions. It is probably true but still we do deserve to have a glance at the UK railway map.

UK railway map with operators
UK railway map with operators

The above map is copyrighted to Map Marketing where you could see it today . As can be seen above most companies had their own specified areas. Now if you had looked at the facts then you would have seen that UK fares have been higher. In fact, an oldish article from Metro (a UK publication) shares the same. In fact, UK nationalized its railways effectively as many large rail operators were running in red. Even Scotland is set to nationalised back in March 2022. Remember this is a country which hasn’t seen inflation go upwards of 5% in nearly a decade. The only outlier was 2011 where they indeed breached the 5% mark. So from this, what we see is ‘Private Gains’ and “Private Gains Public Losses’ perhaps seem fit. But then maybe we didn’t use the right example. Perhaps Japan would be better. They have bullet trains while UK is still thinking about it. (HS2).

Japanese Railway

Below is the map of Japanese Railway

Railway map of Japan with ‘private ownership’ – courtesy Wikimedia commons

Japan started privatizing its railway in 1987 and to date it has not been fully privatized. And on top of it, amount as much as ¥24 trillion of the long-term JNR debt was shouldered by the government at the expense of taxpayers of Japan while also reducing almost 1/4th of it employees. To add to it, while some parts of Japanese Railways did make profits, many of them made profits by doing large-scale non-railway business mostly real estate of land adjacent to railway stations. In many cases, it seems this went all the way up to 60% of the revenue. The most profitable has been the Shinkansen though. And while it has been profitable, it has not been without safety scandals over the years, the biggest in recent years was the 2005 Amagasaki derailment. What was interesting to me was the Aftermath, while the Wikipedia page doesn’t share much, I had read at the time and probably could be found how a lot of ordinary people stood up to the companies in a country where it is a known fact that most companies are owned by the Yakuza. And this is a country where people are loyal to their corporation or company no matter what. It is a strange culture to west and also here in India where people change jobs on drop of hat, although nowadays we have record unemployment. So perhaps Japan too does not meet our standard as it doesn’t do competition with each other but each is a set monopoly in those regions. Also how much subsidy is there or not is not really transparent.

U.S. Railways

Last, but not the least I share the U.S. Railway map. This is provided by A Mr. Tom Alison on reddit on channel maporn. As the thread itself is archived and I do not know the gentleman concerned, nor have taken permission for the map, hence sharing the compressed version –


U.S. Railway lines with the different owners

Now the U.S. Railways is and has always been peculiar as unlike the above two the U.S. has always been more of a freight network. Probably, much of it has to do that in the 1960’s when oil was cheap, the U.S. made zillions of roadways and romanticized the ‘road trip’ and has been doing it ever since. Also the creation of low-cost airlines definitely didn’t help the railways to have more passenger services, in fact the opposite.

There are and have been smaller services and attempts of privatization in both New Zealand and Australia and both have been failures. Please see papers in that regard. My simple point is this, as can be seen above, there have been various attempts at privatization of railways and most of them have been a mixed bag. The only one which comes close to what we think as good is Japanese but that also used a lot of public debt which we don’t know what will happen on next. Also for higher-speed train services like a bullet train or whatever, you need to direct, no hair pen bends. In fact, a good talk on the topic is the TBD podcast which while it talks about hyperloop, the same questions is and would be asked if were to do in India. Another thing to be kept in mind is that the Japanese have been exceptional builders and this is because they have been forced to. They live in a seismically active zone which made Fukushima disaster a reality but at the same time, their buildings are earthquake-resistant.

Standard Disclaimer – The above is a simplified version of things. I could have added in financial accounts but that again has no set pattern. For e.g. some Railways use accrual, some use cash and some use hybrid. I could have also shared in either the guage or electrification but all have slightly different standards, although uniguage is something that all Railways aspire for and electrification is again something that all Railways want although in many cases it just isn’t economically feasible.

Indian Railways

Indian Railways itself recently made the move from Cash to Accrual couple of years back. In-between for a couple of years, it was hybrid. The sad part is and was you can now never measure against past performance in the old way because it is so different. Hence, whether the Railways will be making a loss or a profit, we would come to know only much later. Also, most accountants don’t know the new system well, so it is gonna take more time, how much unknown. Sadly, what GOI did a few years back is merge the Railway budget into the Union Budget. Of course, the excuse they gave is too many pressures of new trains, while the truth is, by doing this, they decreased transparency about the whole thing. For e.g. for the last few years, the only state which had significant work being done is in U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) and a bit in Goa, although that is has been protested time and again. I being from the neighborly state of Maharashtra , and have been there several times. Now it does feels all like a dream, going to Goa :(.

Covid news

Now before I jump on the news, I should share the movie ‘Virus’ (2019) which was made by the talented Aashiq Abu. Even though, am not a Malayalee, I still have enjoyed many of his movies simply because he is a terrific director and Malayalam movies, at least most of them have English subtitles and lot of original content.. Interestingly, unlike the first couple of times when I saw it a couple of years back. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t sleep a wink for a week. Even the next time, it was heavy. I had shared the movie with mum, and even she couldn’t see it in one go. It is and was that powerful Now maybe because we are headlong in the pandemic, and the madness is all around us. There are two terms that helped me though understand a great deal of what is happening in the movie, the first term was ‘altered sensorium’ which has been defined here. The other is saturation or to be more precise ‘oxygen saturation‘. This term has also entered the Indian twitter lexicon quite a bit as India has started running out of oxygen. Just today Delhi High Court did an emergency hearing on the subject late at night. Although there is much to share about the mismanagement of the center, the best piece on the subject has been by Miss Priya Ramani. Yup, the same lady who has won against M.J. Akbar and this is when Mr. Akbar had 100 lawyers for this specific case. It would be interesting to see what happens ahead.

There are however few things even she forgot in her piece, For e.g. reverse migration i.e. from urban to rural migration started again. Two articles from different entities sharing a similar outlook.Sadly, the right have no empathy or feeling for either the poor or the sick. Even the labor minister Santosh Gangwar’s statement that around 1.04 crores were the only people who walked back home. While there is not much data, however some work/research has been done on migration to cites that the number could be easily 10 times as much. And this was in the lockdown of last year. This year, again the same issue has re-surfaced and migrants learning lessons started leaving cities. And I’m ashamed to say I think they are doing the right thing. Most State Governments have not learned lessons nor have they done any work to earn the trust of migrants. This is true of almost all state Governments. Last year, just before the lockdown was announced, me and my friend spent almost 30k getting a cab all the way from Chennai to Pune, how much we paid for the cab, how much we bribed the various people just so we could cross the state borders to return home to our anxious families. Thankfully, unlike the migrants, we were better off although we did make a loss. I probably wouldn’t be alive if I were in their situation as many didn’t. That number is still in the air ”undocumented deaths’ 😦

Vaccine issues

Currently, though the issue has been the Vaccine and the pricing of the same. A good article to get a summation of the issues outlined has been shared on Economist. Another article that goes to the heart of the issue is at scroll. To buttress the argument, the SII chairman had shared this few weeks back –

Adar Poonawala talking to Vishnu Som on Left, right center, 7th April 2021.

So, a licensee manufacturer wants to make super-profits during the pandemic. And now, as shared above they can very easily do it. Even the quotes given to nearby countries is smaller than the quotes given to Indian states –

Prices of AstraZeneca among various states and countries.

The situation around beds, vaccines, oxygen, anything is so dire that people could go to any lengths to save their loved ones. Even if they know if a certain medicine doesn’t work. For e.g. Remdesivir, 5 WHO trials have concluded that it doesn’t increase mortality. Heck, even AIIMS chief said the same. But both doctors and relatives desperation to cling on hope has made Remdesivir as a black market drug with unoffical prices hovering anywhere between INR 14k/- to INR30k/- per vial. One of the executives of a top firm was also arrested in Gujarat. In Maharashtra, the opposition M.P. came to the ‘rescue‘ of the officials of Bruick pharms in Mumbai.

Sadly, this strange affliction to the party in the center is also there in my extended family. At one end, they will heap praise on Mr. Modi, at the same time they can’t get wait to get fast out of India. Many of them have settled in horrors of horror Dubai, as it is the best place to do business, get international schools for the young ones at decent prices, cheaper or maybe a tad more than what they paid in Delhi or elsewhere. Being an Agarwal or a Gupta makes it easier to compartmentalize both things. Ease of doing business, 5 days flat to get a business registered, up and running. And the paranoia is still there. They won’t talk on the phone about him because they are afraid they may say something which comes back to bite them. As far as their decision to migrate, can’t really blame them. If I were 20-25 yeas younger and my mum were in a better shape than she is, we probably would have migrated as well, although would have preferred Europe than anywhere else.

Internet Freedom and Aarogya Setu App.


Internet Freedom had shared the chilling effects of the Aarogya Setu App. This had also been shared by FSCI in the past, and recently had their handle being banned on Twitter. This was also apparent in a legal bail order which the high court judge gave. While I won’t go into the merits and demerits of the bail order, it is astounding for the judge to say that the accused, even though he would be on bail install an app. so he can be surveilled. And this is a high court judge, such a sad state of affairs. We seem to be putting up new lows every day when it comes to judicial jurisprudence. One interesting aspect of the whole case was shared by Aishwarya Iyer. She shared a story that she and her team worked on quint which raises questions on the quality of the work done by Delhi Police. This is of course, up to Delhi Police to ascertain the truth of the matter because unless and until they are able to tie in the PMO’s office in for a leak or POTUS’s office it hardly seems possible. For e.g. the dates when two heads of state can meet each other would be decided by the secretaries of the two. Once the date is known, it would be shared with the press while at the same time some sort of security apparatus would kick in place. It is incumbent, especially on the host to take as much care as he can of the guest. We all remember that World War 1 (the war to end all wars) started due to the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

As nobody wants that, the best way is to make sure that a political murder doesn’t happen on your watch. Now while I won’t comment on what it would be, it would be safe to assume that it would be z+ security along with higher readiness. Especially if it as somebody as important as POTUS. Now, it would be quite a reach for Delhi Police to connect the two dates. They either will have to get creative with the dates or some other way. Otherwise, with practically no knowledge in the public domain, they can”t work in limbo. In either case, I do hope the case comes up for hearing soon and we see what the Delhi Police says and contends in the High Court about the same. At the very least, it would be irritating for them to talk of the dates unless they can contend some mass conspiracy which involves the PMO (and would bring into question the constant vetting done by the Intelligence dept. of all those who work in PMO). And this whole case is to kind of shelter to the Delhi riots which happened in which majorly the Muslims died but their deaths lay unaccounted till date 😦

Conclusion

In Conclusion, I would like to share a bit of humor because right now the atmosphere is humorless, both with authoritarian tendencies of the Central Govt. and the mass mismanagement of public health which they now have left to the state to do as they fit. The peice I am sharing is from arre, one of my goto sites whenever I feel low.

what to write

First up, I am alive and well. I have been receiving calls from friends for quite sometime but now that I have become deaf, it is a pain and the hearing aids aren’t all that useful. But moreover, where we have been finding ourselves each and every day sinking lower and lower feels absurd as to what to write and not write about India. Thankfully, I ran across this piece which does tell in far more detail than I ever could. The only interesting and somewhat positive news I had is from south of India otherwise sad days, especially for the poor. The saddest story is that this time Covid has reached alarming proportions in India and surprise, surprise this time the villain for many is my state of Maharashtra even though it hasn’t received its share of GST proceeds for last two years and this was Kerala’s perspective, different state, different party, different political ideology altogether.

Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac views on GST, October 22, 2020 Indian Express.

I briefly also share the death of somewhat liberal Film censorship in India unlike Italy which abolished film censorship altogether. I don’t really want spend too much on how we have become No. 2 in Covid cases in the world and perhaps death also. Many people still believe in herd immunity but don’t really know what it means. So without taking too much time and effort, bid adieu. May post when I’m hopefully emotionally feeling better, stronger 😦

Task-based menus for a file

XDG

Just throwing this out for wider talk perhaps. I have been silently watching a list called xdg@lists.freedesktop.org. Now the list talks about freedesktop standards which basically is trying to have some sort of standards that all desktop environments can follow. One of the discussions on the specific list shared above is and was about ‘New MimeType fields in .desktop’ . It is a fascinating thread with many people giving loads of interesting view points. If you are into desktops even casually, you would enjoy the discussions thoroughly. Seriously thinking, I shared the below on the list –

“Hi all, I read quite a bit of the fascinating thread. As a user I have often had to fix the same at my end and at times had to re-fix it again. For me it’s the ‘mkv’ and related media file types. Now I have different applications which are for different things, For e.g. mpv is exclusively the player (followed at times by vlc) for playing the content. Mediainfo to have technical knowledge/bits about the content. ffmpeg for doing some basic stuff (extracting subtitles or adding subtitles etc.) to the content, re-encoding into smaller resolution etc etc. Sadly, none of the solutions as of date tell me if I hover or even go into properties of a mkv file which application does what. I do know this is perhaps a bit outside the discussion having, but does anybody have any ideas? At the very least, it should make the user more aware of what he can do with particular applications perhaps. One way is to perhaps have a database so if I ask in a way that the system understands which are the editors which can be used to manipulate or edit mkv files, it should give me a list available from debian database. I do know that apt, aptitude etc. do try to do something on those lines but it has many shortcomings. And as somebody else mentioned, don’t think the solution would be done tomorrow but at least sometime in future.”

While I stopped at the above on the list, allow me to extrapolate or share a bit more where I am coming from. Somebody did share that this should be actually done by the desktop provider, and GNOME 1 did provide a solution in the early days, now then they have moved to being a more ‘dumb’ desktop or in their words simplifying. In any case, while I haven’t hadn’t had the opportunity to see the new MAC desktop, Windows 10 desktop interface is nothing to write home about. All our DE’s starting from GNOME, MATE, XFCE, could and should be giving us much more than it has, making users having richer and better experiences than they have today. And while I shared about .mkv (the Matroska Multimedia Container), the above applies and can apply to any file format which can be manipulated in different ways using different tools. I just shared the one I use most often as a use-case scenario. And this should be made easier now that we have processors have multiple cores (for e.g. Intel and AMD quad cores are now there at decent prices) . So would it be too much of an ask to have something which helps people be more productive. As of today, for anybody who is new to either Debian or any X desktop, there is still such a substantial learning curve and more so applications and how they fit in the puzzle and what can be done and what cannot be done.

A much screwy thing to add to the mix is file format and which file format version can a particular app. read. The biggest and the most common culprit here is pdf. A good webpage which shares the versions and the comments which tell how people are still having issues with various versions of pdf. Most of the foss tools I use top out at pdf 1.4 which is quite an old format 😦 . I am open to testing and debugging if somebody does try decoding the new versions. For me, this is also an issue as most I.T. notices and what not we get, at times I have to try and figure out things, at times go to MS and use an acrobat reader and that is dumb.

Banking

There are also lot of banking stuff that we cannot do on free software, especially in India as lot of powerful proprietary interests are there which make sure that no public API’s are available, or even if there is, it would be something half-done or after back and forth, they say, this is just for show, as had shared last year. I would probably add another section later to talk about it. From what little I know, in Europe the law mandates that there are public API’s not only for banking but wherever public money (read taxpayer money) is involved. Again, not all countries, but some more than others. At least, that is what I had seen over the years.

Till later.

Making life difficult

Freedom house puts India in “partly free”

Just couple of days ago, freedom house published its 2020 rankings for all countries including India. While freedom house shared how democracy in the world has weakened, India chose to take offense about it being called “partly free” .

India, leader in Internet shutdowns – Access Now (copyright)

The above illustration is shared by accessnow . The next big ones who have Internet shutdowns are Yemen – 6 and Ethiopia – 4. Such internet shutdowns have and will have sad repercussions as would share in another story as well.

Color-coding journalists

A story was broken by caravan magazine yesterday and which was followed by newslaundry which shows how the Govt. is looking to just drive some narrative, does not matter whether it’s true or false, it should just show that the Govt. is right and others are all wrong. As can be seen, almost all reporters barring a few have kept silent rather than refuting statements attributed to them or happenings which didn’t happen. And this goes to a much larger narrative and disinformation route taken by the Govt. which doesn’t have any semblance to the truth or reality as people know it. I would illustrate couple of examples below which shares that. In all my young and even adult-life I hadn’t seen a Govt. this much against its own people.

Omega Seiki puts a manufacturing plant in Bangladesh

Now Omega Seiki is an Indian vendor who chose or had to go to manufacture their electric vehicles in Bangladesh. Now while this is a slightly old story this was broken on social media recently. Everybody starting blaming both the vendor and saying we should break FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with Bangladesh, not knowing that despite the FTA, India has put tariff barriers between India and Bangladesh. I had to share research from Brookings to show where India has been losing. Of course, those who don’t want to see, wouldn’t see anything wrong in the picture.

Teen raped, asked to marry the accused when she turns 18

Now you may see the above headlines and feel it is ridiculous, but the fact is that these orders were put or given by Madras High Court couple of months back. This was then reported by both Livelaw and BarandBench respectively. Now to be truthful, this news didn’t make much noise as it should have, probably as I had shared previously that the Govt. wants to lower the marriageable age to 15 or even less. And this is despite all the medical evidence on the contrary, because it assuages this Govt’s “masculinity.” There is also the very recent case where the SC CJI asked the rapist if he is willing to marry a girl who was underage when she reaches maturity. Another one in which it seems martial rape is not a crime according to the CJI. So it seems these are the state of things in which India finds itself today. There are judges like Vrinda Grover who do question CJI but they are few and there are costs to them who ask questions.

Although, as shared this news was overtaken by other news and would have remained so, if not one of the leaders of the present Govt. , a Ramesh Jarkiholi, who hails from Belagavi region of north Karnataka was caught in a sex CD scandal basically asking sexual favors for a permanent Govt. job. He had made statements after the Madras High Court case applauding the judgement given by the judge. While, due to public pressure he had to resign, but not before stating that he had everybody ‘blue films’ including the Chief Minister of the State. And sad to report that six Karnataka Ministers rushed today or rather yesterday to put a petition in the civil court to restrain media from airing/printing/publishing any defamatory content against them. The court has granted a media gag against 68 media houses for the same. Sadly, the recent happening only reinforce what has been happening in Karnataka since a decade.

Update – 07/03/2021 – Seems yesterday another 10 odd ministers rushed to get the same order.

Seems different laws apply to politicians vis-a-vis others. A recent example of Rhea Chakravarthy, an actress and girlfriend of Sushant Singh who was hounded in his suicide case and many accusations made on TV but no evidence till date. From what we know as facts, Sushant committed suicide as he was not getting work due to cronyism in Bollywood. In fact, those who were behind it have white-washed themselves, deleted their tweets etc. and while the public knows, no accountability on them. In fact, there is and was so much that I wanted to share as to what has been happening to women, sadly and thankfully arre did the needful for me. They wrote an entire article which tells what the situation for women in India today is. And if you are wondering why I said, that is because when a site which was made exclusively for people to laugh and have a good time and get relief, when they start writing serious articles, you can be sure that things have gone horribly wrong 😦

Asking Tesla to come to India and at the same time ambivalent on battery

Recently, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, a prominent minister of the present Govt. invited Tesla and gave all sorts of incentives to start a manufacturing plant here in India. And while it seems that Tesla has accepted, looking at the Vodafone case, hopefully Tesla does make such contracts where if something goes wrong and they need to sue the Govt. they can do it in States or elsewhere. The way the Govt. acted in the Vodafone case had been a dampener to any MNC investments so far. Although to be fair to both Tesla and GOI, the basic models even if they are manufactured in India will go to less than 1% of the population. The cheapest Tesla Model Y which retails in the U.S. for USD 40k would be around INR 30 lakh. And this is their cheapest car to date. I do know there are rumors of the 25k but that is probably 2-3 years away as shared by Tesla China President Tom Zhu in an interview shared on YT.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH5leMWFBxI

There are couple of interesting comments being made. The fact that China is going to fully open its automobile market to western companies shows how confident China feels about their own vendors. And I’m not much impressed about Tesla as I am about the tiny car revolution happening in China. India, if it wanted to, could learn many lessons from China. Even the electric buses they had started in 2010 itself where people in our auto industry thought it was all a fad. Sadly, we are missing most of the technology and if and by the time Tesla starts a production line, dunno where we could get our lithium. India hasn’t been as aggressive as other countries when it comes to securing raw natural resources in other countries, as some other countries have. 😦

Even besides that, it has been tough when you have so many people who still believe that ICE vehicles (Internal Combustion Engines) are better than EV’s and even if they know they choose to believe the propaganda. Couple of months ago a young UK girl who had died due to asthma, an inquest found that air pollution was a factor. The girl’s name was Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. This is the first case where the doctor ruled air pollution as a chief factor in a person’s death. Probably first of its kind of ruling anywhere in the world. I also shared TCO studies between BEV and ICE vehicles done by people who are considering an electric vehicle but those studies seem to fall on deaf ears.

Starlink

This is another of Elon Musk’s ventures and would be a money spinner for sure in around the globe. While Starlink has asked TRAI for permission, I don’t think they will get it. There is also Bharti Global’s Oneweb which probably has a better chance of getting permissions. The reason is censorship. As shared above, India is now a leader in Internet shutdowns and do see this trend only accelerate rather than go the other way around. For people who don’t remember, remember how satellite phones were made illegal even though only businessmen could afford it. And this was just 5 years ago.

As shared Oneweb would have better shot as they would accept all Government directives without a second thought. Unless Starlink gives a binding to the Govt. to be a willing partner when it wants to have internet shutdowns, it will not work. Now how Elon approaches that is to be seen and known. FWIW, you can’t access Starlink webpage on BSNL broadband. My broadband provider gives at the most 300 kbps and sometimes, at late nights or early mornings, around 500 kbps.

Farmer Protests

Lastly, farmer protests have entered 100 days. In the interim, Vivek Kaul, an economist took stock of the Bihar APMC to see if things have really worked as the Govt. supporters were telling. The investigation and the results didn’t inspire the confidence as the Govt. said. The sad part is though, that nowadays nobody, at least those in power as well as those who are supporters are keen to read, understand and even argue otherwise. They are all happy with whatsapp knowledge. Till date 200+ people have died in the farmer protests. All mainstream media houses have stopped talking about farmers in the hope that they will disappear. At the end of the day the Govt. wants that the corporates should win at whatever the cost.

Pandemic, Informal economy and Khau Galli.

Formal sector issues

Just today it was published that output from eight formal sectors of the economy who make the bulk of the Indian economy were down on a month to month basis . This means all those apologists for the Government who said that it was ok that the Govt. didn’t give the 20 lakh crore package which was announced. In fact, a businessman from my own city, a certain Prafull Sarda had asked via RTI what happened to the 20 lakh crore package which was announced? The answers were in all media as well as newspapers but on the inside pages. You can see one of the article sharing the details here. No wonder Vivek Kaul also shared his take on the way things will hopefully go for the next quarter which seems to be a tad optimistic from where we are atm.

Eight Sectors declining in Indian Economy month-on-month CNBC TV 18

The Informal economy

The informal economy has been strangulated by the current party in power since it came into power. And this has resulted many small businesses which informal are and were part of culture of cities and towns. I share an article from 2018 which only shows how good and on the mark it has aged in the last two years. The damage is all to real to ignore as I would share more of an anecdotes and experiences because sadly there never has been any interest shown especially by GOI to seek any stats. about informal economy. Although CMIE has done some good work in that even though they majorly look at formal, usually blue-collar work where again there is not good data. Sharing an anecdote and a learning from these small businesses which probably an MBA guy wouldn’t know and in all honesty wouldn’t even care.

Khau galli

Few years back, circa 2014 and on wards, when the present Govt. came into power, it did come with lot of promises. One of which was that lot of informal businesses would be encouraged to grow their businesses and in time hopefully, they become part of the formal economy. Or at least that was the story that all of us were told. Due to that they did lot of promises and also named quite a few places where street food was in abundance. Such lanes were named ‘Khau galli’ for those who are from North India, it was be easily known and understood. This was just saying that here are some places where you could get a variety of food without paying obscene prices as you would have to vis-a-vis a restaurant. Slowly, they raised the rates of inputs (food grains), gas cylinder etc. which we know of as food inflation and via ‘GST’ made sure that the restaurants were able to absorb some of the increased inputs (input credit) while still being more than competitive to the street food person/s. The restaurant F&B model is pretty well known so not going there at all. It is however, important to point out that they didn’t make any new ‘khau gallis’ or such, most or all the places existed for years and even decades before that. They also didn’t take any extra effort either in marketing the khau gallis or get them with chefs or marketing folks so that the traditional can marry to the anew. They just named them, that was the only ‘gain’ to be seen on the ground.

In its heyday, the khau galli near my home used to have anywhere between 20-30 Thelas or food carts. Most of the food carts would be of wood and having very limited steel. Such food carts would cost anywhere around INR 15-20k instead of the food cart you see here. The only reason I shared that link is to show how a somewhat typical thela or food cart looks in India. Of course YouTube or any other media platform would show many. On top of it, you need and needed permission from the municipality a license for the same which would be auctioned. Now that license could well run from thousands into lakhs depending on various factors or you gave something to the Municipal worker when he did his rounds/beat much like a constable every day or week. Apart from those, you also have raw material expenditure which could easily run into few thousands depending upon what sort of food you are vending. You also would typically have 2-3 workers so a typical Thela would feed not only its customers but also 2-3 families who are the laborer families as well as surrounding businesses.

As I used to be loyal and usually go to few whom I found to be either tasty or somehow they were good for me. In either case, a relationship was formed. As I have been never fond of crowds, I usually used to in their off-beat hours either when they are close to packing up of when I know they usually have a lull. That way I knew I would get complete attention of the vendor/s. Many a times I used to see money change hands between the vendors themselves and used to see both camaraderie as well as competition between them. This is years ago, once while sharing a chai (tea) with one of the street vendors I casually asked I have often seen you guys exchanging money with each other and most of the time quite a bit of the money is also given to the guy who didn’t make that much sales or any sales at all.

The vendor replied sharing practical symbiotic knowledge. All of us are bound by a single thing called poverty. All of us are struggle. Do you know why so many people come here, because they know that there would be a variety of food to be had. Now if we stopped helping each other, the number of people who would make the effort would be also less, we know we are not the only game in town. Also whatever we give, sooner or later it gets adjusted. Also if one of us has good days, he knows hardship days are not far. Why, simply because people change tastes or want variety. So irrespective of good or bad the skills of the vendor is, she or he is bound to make some sales. The vendor either shares the food with us or whatever. Somehow these things just work out. And that doesn’t mean we don’t have our fights, we do have our fights, but we also understand this. Now you see this and you understand that these guys have and had a community. Even if they changed places due to one reason or the other, they kept themselves connected. Unlike many of us, who even find a hard time keeping up with friends let alone relatives.

Now cut to 2020, and where there used to be 20-30 thelas near my home, there are only 4-5. Of course, multiple reasons, but one of the biggest was of course demonetization. That was a huge shock to which many of thela walas succumbed. Their entire savings and capital were turned to dust. Many of their customers will turn up with either a INR 500 or INR 2000/- Re note where at the most a dish costed INR 100/- most times half or even 1/3rd of that amount. How and from where the thela walas could get that kind of cash. These are people who only if they earn, they and their family will have bread at night. Most of the loose change was tied up at middle to higher tier restaurants where they were giving between INR 20/- 30/- for every INR 100/- change of rupees and coins. Quite a few bankers made money by that as well as other means where the thela walas just could not compete. These guys also didn’t have any black money even though they were and are part of the black/informal economy. Sadly, till date no economist or even sociologist as far as I know has attempted or done any work from what I know on this industry. If you want to formalize such businesses then at the very least understand their problems and devise solutions. And I suspect, what is and has happened near my house has also happened everywhere else, at least within the geographical confines of the Indian state. Whether it was the 2016 demonetization or the pandemic, the results and effects have been similar the same all over. Some states did do well and still do, the suffering still continues.

With the hope that the new year brings cheer to you as well some more ideas to remain in business by the thela walas, I bid you adieu and see you in new year 🙂

Inequality in Indian Education

Farmer on-going protests

Before I start with the education system in India which I have talked about many times in the past, first let me share couple of pieces about the farmer movement which is still at Sanghu Delhi border.

<Manjeet Kaur,62 at farmer protest with her friends.

The above picture became somewhat viral as it showed Manjeet Kaur, who drove down from Patiala, Punjab to Sanghu border along with her friends to take part in the on-going protests. The picture not only shares how the women are part and parcel of this protest but also they are independently taking part in the protest.

The other were two articles I read today, first was an article in tribune which questions that if the policy worked, why it didn’t work in the state of Bihar. The other by a young law student who had to go from Chandigarh to Delhi with family for some work and her experience with the ongoing protest. In fact, an interesting observation was made by the CJI in the many suits against farmer protests in the SC. This makes for much more interesting read when you see an RTI query filed by Saket Gokhale to NHAI , a Central Govt. agency which is supposed to be independent and asks if they had filed an FIR and asked compensation from Haryana State and Haryana State Police which had dug up National Highway 44 and if any permission was asked for the same from NHAI. And NHAI unable to take any action for the same. If this isn’t shameful, I dunno what is –

Saket Gokhale’s RTI query on digging up NH44
NHAI response to Saket Gokhale’s query.

Sadly, the way the response has been worded makes it impossible for NHAI to discharge its own responsibilities and this becomes a precedent for other states now that know that NHAI is vulnerable. A pretty sad turn on events.

Indian Education can’t go online

There was a recent article on scroll which shared how Indian education can’t go online as only a few have computers with decent netlink speeds as well as other factors which are needed for online education. But there are also many things that the article doesn’t take into account which actually make the task more difficult and raise the boundary more.

Now in most schools and colleges, the number of students to teacher ratio could be anywhere between 70-150 or even more. In the last few years, a lot of schools have been closed down by various Governments, including and not limited to the ruling Govt. They have in fact intensified closures of public schools wherever their Govt. has been in power. Closing to 5000+ schools in one state in a year is a dramatic shift and such has been happening time and again. In fact, the rising costs of Indian education has made many to leave Indian shores and do studies abroad. And once they do their masters or whatever, the chances of them coming back to India become more and more remote. In India the costs have been becoming so bad that NBFC’s have started products targeting the same. How NBFC and Banks have (both public and private) have fared with respect to Indian consumers needs its own blog post but one word to describe it is ‘bad’. But as shared above, needs its own blog post.

Coming to the Indian context though, what has not been captured in that article is that the responsibility of making new content also raises huge barriers for teachers. My own experience in teacher’s trainings for ICT usage has shown that most teachers do not know and use internet effectively both to sustain their own curiosity as well as their students. Part of which is whether you are private employee or a public school teacher, the teacher is not paid enough. I have had multiple conversations with friends over the years who are teachers who shared that they get 50% salary in-hand while they sign for 100%. This is more in the case or private schools though. In Govt. schools, the teachers apart from their regular administrative duties apart from teaching duties are also unpaid labor for Govt. policy. Take the recent covid crisis, it was the teachers who for months together went from door-to-door asking if they had a covid patient. This was all over India. Even for voter registration, census, polio and various other immunization efforts, the teachers are roped in. So apart from that, they somehow have to figure out how to make ends meet and also boost student morale. Hence the attention is only limited to the first couple of benches rather than the whole as a 45-minute to an hr. session is just not enough to go through a class of 70-150 school students giving individual attention. And this is when for most teachers, teaching is a means to an end and not the end itself.

I am going to take one example of science and sort of break-it-down in multiple steps and how I would have approached that topic for say the 5th-6th standard students in say a public school in Pune and especially if Covid would not have been an issue so you have face-to-face meetup.

There was recent news about a mysterious radio signal which came from one of our closest galactic neighbors Proxima Centauri. Now let’s say there was a class I was teaching/sharing which I had shared before and there already is trust formed.

So before coming to the news, I would tell the students about frequency and more generally the notation of why we like to measure things and how we measure things. There is so much beautiful history which could be acted and enacted which can show and remains in mind why measurement is needed. Once that is understood, discussed and an underpinning is established, we could move to human perception or the lack of it. We know that humans have lots of limits in almost everything, whether it is talking, touching, hearing, all of our five senses are pretty limited with what we know of spectrum available in the immediate family kingdom as well as in the Universe. I would start with how far can a person throw his voice and be heard without using any other means. There does come a point where they need to use anything from a megaphone to a loudspeaker and what it actually does.

The other thing I would then talk is about the radio and ask the students to find more about the internals of a radio. If possible to bring an old radio to school where it could be disassembled. After they are familiar with some names of the electronic components and what they do, take them to the electronics market where they try to source all the things needed to make a radio and whatever they encounter. This would allow the students to try and do bargain shopping as well as learn from where to source things. Some might even get a copy or two of electronic projects where the shop themselves sell blueprints to hobbyists so that they can tinker.

If there is a place in the school where soldering can be done, then all can try and sooner or later we come to know if something works or not. There is also possibility of talking about noise cancellation and then the topic of ITU can also be bought up and how they do frequency allocation. Last but not the least then the topic can be approached about an alien civilization and an unknown radio signal and what it means and what it can mean.

Now if just one topic can give such a wide range of things to do and develop an understanding about not the subject itself but surrounding subjects as well I see no reason why teachers can’t do this except they are handcuffed to lot of policy as well as real-life constraints.

For e.g. I remember in my school days, we used to go out once or twice a year and that used to be either a school picnic or something similar. The only other I know is going to Mumbai for Nehru planetarium and Nehru science Centre. Unfortunately, I didn’t go at that time because the school was taking students via air and the tickets were super costly at the time and that too for a 10 minute journey between the two cities. Those were different days, today you can’t have a direct flight between the two cities as it doesn’t make an economic sense. It makes more sense to go to Mumbai via train or bus as you will reach Mumbai in about couple of hrs. Of course, Pune does have its own planetarium at New English school and there are a few amateur astronomy clubs in Pune but nothing on the scale that what Mumbai has, but then this is getting off-topic.

Now, again in an online world could this be done? Not without both the teacher and the student both spending lot of resources online and even then will be a lower understanding as both the hands-on experience as well as interacting with other students and learning from other students (aping) would be hugely limited. Even the social skills that students develop in a school setting will be rusted. My own social skills probably have weakened and rusted as I have very limited interaction with people over the past few months due to Covid fears and would be at least for the next few years till a large enough population is not vaccinated.

Insane Logic and Farming in other countries

The people who are pro-Government and in this case pro-Corporate do not have any success stories that they can share. Hence, most of the time the arguments are that the other are bad. For e.g. quite a few people argue that we don’t need farmers, we can just order from restaurant. They have completely disassociated the idea that even then you need farmers as unless the farmers put the seed in, till the soil and wait for the rains or have irrigation you won’t get ripe vegetables which then has to be taken out, and somehow sold to the wholesaler from where it comes to the restaurant and then to your plate. Sadly, even the farm-to-fork infographics are so depressingly sad, you want to look away. If you see the infographic you see it is just not non-veg but also vegetarian food grains which go under lot of questionable practices. Even, with such scenarios that is done by corporations our people want to go ahead. I will share stories from other countries which tell how they are doing more.

The Soldier-Farmer

Another sad part of these protests have been soldiers who have been returning their medals. The ones who oppose have the gall to say they should return the cash rewards they got. So just like farmers, seems soldiers also do not need money to survive. They are supposed to live only on air and water. This is after the present Govt. has reduced their pensions after retirement and that too without any discussion –

GOI pensions to ex-servicemen

Now I nor anybody else would have minded if these conditions were shared going forward rather than doing it retrospectively. People who usually go to the army are not in it for money but for the adventure and glory they bring. But they do also have a family and have a family responsibility. In most other countries, the soldier and his families are well-looked after. If you know that even after you die, the Government would look after your family, you will do your best. Unfortunately, many veterans in India themselves are asked to help by many war widows as the widows don’t get family pensions. The ‘proposal’ naturally has left many miffed. In fact many of the veterans who used to advise people to join the armed forces now advise young people to pursue civilian life and careers. This is when Indian Army has been ironically having shortage of officers from well over a decade and stresses felt by Army personnel also known for a long time.

Even under this ‘nationalistic’ Government, if it cannot take care of its soldiers, then forget about others.

India Defence Spending vis-a-vis other countries.

Now it is nobody’s argument that India needs to improve its tooth-to-tail ratio but this is the wrong way to go about it. I would probably talk about that some other time as that totally needs its whole place.

Even OROP, which was the mandate of this Government hasn’t had been done in full as there are quite a few cases in the Supreme Court. Almost all the cases have been heard and only decisions have to be given which the SC for whatever reason doesn’t want to give. They just keep changing the date of the hearing. Nowadays, in many suits/cases, the SC asks for fresh hearings even though all the old records are there. This is a newish phenomena which is being observed in SC. Why is it being done? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing for sure has changed, the SC which used to be citizen-focussed or enabler of human rights and used to be held as a beacon for judicial activism has changed but these are other topics which need their own space.

Update – 16/12/2020 – The SC recommends setting up a committee to discuss farmer issues. And this is nothing new. This is called death by committee. When there is already so much literature on the subject, including the works done by Swaminathan Commission. There has been 6 reports which do look at farmer issues in a holistic manner. This is the Supreme Court giving an escape route to GOI. They also have abstained from having a whole session citing Covid. This is when the ruling Govt. is putting a massive 1000 crore on a new building on which the SC has put on hold. And even then the GOI went ahead and did a Bhoomi-Pujan (traditional ceremony when making a new construction from scratch.)

Naturally due to the double whammy of both the ‘pension reforms’ and now the laws to make corporate farming more aggressive has left a deep impact on the soldier-farmer that the state does not think or feel for him.

Even the United States farm-aid eloquently describes how corporate farming has made independent farmers suffer. You read that, and it seems it is as the state of our farmers here in India. Even their average land-holding has dropped a bit. I have shared about the state of farmers in India, in two blog posts previously. And it is not just farm owners who have had it bad, even farm workers in U.S. The issue may look to be about the pandemic but goes far deeper.

The Israeli Model

The Israelis have always used collective farming and do have a large share in farming there. The old model called Kibbutz is what made Israelis self-sufficient in food and water and actually are world-leaders where they export their services to other nations on the same thing.

France

Just like many other countries, France also seems to have favored farmer co-operatives. Almost 75% of all farmers are in co-operatives.

Italy

The country world-famous for its wines and cheese are made by its co-operatives. In fact co-ops are the buzzword it seems in Italy, more so in Northern Italy.

Asian economies

Even Asian economies, especially East Asian economies by and large have been turning to co-operatives.

Brazil

Now Brazil is almost 40% more than India. In fact, in most of the indices, Brazil beats India handsomely. So one would be forgiven to think that Brazil must have corporate farming. But nothing could be further from the truth. The only downer is that they have high crime in some areas. Otherwise, they are in many ways better than India. In fact, I was surprised a few years ago to learn about Mercsour. I would have to admit though I learned much about Brazil when Debian was holding a debconf about a year back. Otherwise, I had known about the country for number of years but apart from its carnival and samba, hadn’t known much about it. I did come to know that most of Latin America also loves spices as much as Indians do. They show that love by using hot sauces. I do one day wanna try one of their sauces to see what makes it tick. I do know they like to barbecue vegetables as much as barbecuing non-veg food. This is going a bit OT but then that’s the foodie in me 🙂

Conclusion

I could have shared more countries which have chosen the co-operative way rather than corporate farming and that is simply because they know what is best for their people and what is best even politically. The new farm laws are neither grounded in farmer’s welfare nor anything else. The Govt. has been trying to undermine the farmers for years together. In fact, Madhya Pradesh has openly said that they will not allow farmers from other states to sell in their state. Although, even before these laws there was nothing to restrict the farmer from selling his produce anywhere in the country. Angering the farmers is not good politics as was found sometime back but guessing some lessons need to be re-learned.

One comment though, on social media I have seen many people especially youngsters having no real understanding of what ‘inflation’ is all about. For e.g. if you ask them how come we are having a sort of record inflation in a technical recession (there has been a contraction, actually) and you see them putting themselves into bigger and bigger ditches. This does explain in part why the BJP wins in elections. If you do more rhetoric, which BJP is good as, rather than educating people than you are bound to win. You don’t need plans, you don’t need a vision, just rhetoric will do. What more evidence is needed when the economy is and was in a worse shape even before the pandemic and BJP won. I would probably write about that as that again needs lot of background and understanding as well as related terms.

Farm Laws and Too much Democracy

Issues with Farm Laws

While I have written about the farm laws a bit sometime back. The issue is still in the nation’s eye and that is due to the policies which have been done. I have been reading up on it quite a bit and also have been seeing what has been happening in here and now. The problems are with the three bills themselves which I have shared as below –

Click to access farmers-produce-trade-and-commerce-promotion-and-facilation-bill.pdf

Click to access farmers-empowerment-and-protection-bill.pdf

Click to access essential-commodities-bill-2020.pdf

Biggest issue with the laws

While there are many issues with the laws themselves but for me the biggest issue is that the fundamental right of the farmer to get justice via civil courts has been railroaded. From the laws itself. Standard disclaimer – not a lawyer, please consult one for any issues per-se. –

Farmers-produce-trade-and-commerce (promotion and facilitation-bill) 2020

Page 4 Chapter 3 Section 8 (1)8. (1) In case of any dispute arising out of a transaction between the farmer and a trader under section 4, the parties may seek a mutually acceptable solution through conciliation by filing an application to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate who shall refer such dispute to a Conciliation Board to be appointed by him for facilitating the binding settlement of the dispute.

(2) Every Board of Conciliation appointed by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate under sub-section (1), shall consist of a chairperson and such members not less than two and not more than four, as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate may deem fit.10

(5) If the parties to the transaction under sub-section (1) are unable to resolve the dispute within thirty days in the manner set out under this section, they may approach the Sub-Divisional Magistrate concerned who shall be the “Sub-Divisional Authority” for settlement of such dispute.

(8) Any party aggrieved by the order of the Sub-Divisional Authority may prefer an appeal before the Appellate Authority (Collector or Additional Collector nominated by the Collector) within thirty days of such order who shall dispose of the appeal within thirty days from the date of filing of such appeal.

10. (1) Any person aggrieved by an order under section 9 may, prefer an appeal within sixty days from the date of such order, to an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India to be nominated by the Central Government for this purpose:

Page 6 of the bill. 13. No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government or the State Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder.

Page 7 of the bill, 15. No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter, the cognizance of which can be taken and disposed of by any authority empowered by or under this Act or the rules made thereunder.

Now the same laws have been reiterated for the farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

The problem is that too much power is being put into the hands of the executive. All the three, whether it is SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) , the Appellate Authority or the Government Secretary directly are subservient to the whims and fancies of the Central Govt. They after all get their salaries from the Govt. itself. So there will be no independent oversight to any injustices done to the farmer.

The third bill i.e. the Essential Commodities Bill, 2020 does away with stock limits on traders and big players like Adani and Ambani. This means that both these players can take and keep produce at their end thereby forcing consumers like you and me who at the retail end would have to pay higher prices for fruits and vegetables while from the producer they will take at the lowest price possible.

While I have shared is just one of the points. That is the reason why even the Supreme Court bar association which almost never takes part in politics has been forced to take sides with the farmers. In many ways, one is forced to remember the Emergency 😦

Update – 11/12/20 – Came across this article on the wire which tells how everybody’s rights, not just the farmer’s rights are being shod over. I think it depicts correctly the signs of time to come. While arguing on SM, also came to know about Article 300 (1), thanks to Sachin Kumar which shows multiple instances where Government was sued because somebody was working in official capacity and did mistakes, malafide or otherwise and it was the state who was made to pay.

FWIW, today farmers from Maharashtra, my state arrived at Delhi border where they were also kept at bay. I did come across an infographic which shows how the various states have fared. Most tellingly, is the state of Bihar. It was in 2006 (one of the most backward states) where APMC was taken off. While others have tried to paint a flattering picture of Bihar, they have failed to share that in the interim 15 odd years, there hasn’t been any sort of infrastructure created for farmers which is the reason it is still the lowest earner. These are the last available figures we have about the farmer’s income. From 2014 to 2020 there hasn’t been any update.

Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Household 2013 Copyright – GOI,

This concludes just one portion of the bill. I will take other parts of the bill. I may dwell on some other parts as and when I have the time. A cartoon which depicts the current issue –

I stand with farmers – Copyright – Sanitary Panels

Too much democracy – Amitabh Kant

Yesterday, the Niti Aayog chief Amitabh Kant remarked that we are too much of a democracy at an event called for Atmanirbhar Bharat which is basically a coinage for import substitution. Whether this is desirable or not I have argued and if needed will re-argue the same later as well. What is and was interesting were the gentleman’s context, the media reactions and our overall Democracy Index which has been going downhill for quite some years. Now the gentleman who is the Niti Aayog chief and who is supposed to have the ear of the Prime Minister had opined it in an event organized by Swarajya Magazine (a far-right magazine) known to be Islamophobic and all things undemocratic. It has been a target of defundthehate campaign and with good reason. But that’s a different story altogether. His full statement was as below –

“Tough” reforms are “very difficult in the Indian context,” as “we are too much of a democracy” but the government has shown “courage” and “determination” in pushing such reforms across sectors, including mining, coal, labour and agriculture. – Niti Aayog chief. The upper quotation remarks and the statement has been from the article in Indian Express which I have linked to. I have archived it as a pdf just in case the link goes dead. Yesterday, after the statement became viraled, tweets of media houses which shared the tweet suddenly become unavailable. Seems too much democracy, became too little democracy all of a sudden. I think Mr. Amitabh Kant didn’t visualize as the opposition as well as most people who are on Twitter to share their opinion on the same. Few examples –

Too much Democracy – copyright Satish Acharya
Too much democracy – Illustration and Copyright Alok
Sterlite protest – 13 dead, 100 injured – Copyright Business Standard – too much democracy
Erosion of Democracy – V-dem institute – Copyright – The Hindu Web Team

The last one requires a bit more information. This comes from V-Dem Institute which is an independent research institute based out of Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. I am gonna leave the methods they use for another day as the blog post itself has become rather big/large.

Apart from that is the Economists own Democracy Index -2019

Click to access democracy-index-2019.pdf

Now for many people, both the V-Dem report and the Economist Index are some sort of attack against India. Doesn’t matter that in V-Dem 200+ countries have been taken a variety of indicators and data or the Economist which has data from 150+- countries. Somehow India is supposed to be bigger than all these countries, they do think that other countries’ data specifically our neighbor China or any other neighbor, those are all accurate. How the dissonance is, has to be gauged from statements of various people.

Update – 11/12/20 – Sadly, the newest V-Dem report marks India as getting into authoritarianism.

Gag on Press and Media owners

I had shared about the gag on the press especially with respect to western media or reports or anything. This news made its way to straitstimes which normally covers a wide-range of stories covering East Asia vis-a-vis India/South-East Asia. What has also been a big worry that most of the media has been in the hands of a few people. Caravan ran a story on the same in 2016, it has been four years, god only knows what the current situation might be. Any wonder that there is dearth of investigative journalism in India.

India media ownership – 2016 Copyright – Caravan

Incidentally, a reporter called Akarshan Uppal, who is a reporter on a channel called IBN24 had showecased just few days back how Adani has got land which was shot down for land change use in 2017 to 2020 around 100 acres. There seem to be very less details as to how the land was acquired, whose land it was etc. etc. The reporter was supposedly following a story on drugs on which he was attacked and is now lying in hospital.

Akarshan Uppal – Reporter, IBN24 Copyright – IBN24

While it would take a whole article/blog post to talk about either Adani or Ambani, in the recent case, the land that has been taken over by Adani is 100 acres and there are private rail lines. And all of this was secret till few days back. The place where these massive godowns/silos have been made are Panipat’s Jondhan Kalan and Naultha villages in Haryana. This is Adani AgiLogistics. Almost 7 odd companies have registered and come up in the last couple of years. As can be seen, almost all have come up within the last 2-3 years. Seems to be a lot of coincidence, isn’t it?

Personal Anecdote on Data Collection and child marriages in India.

Around 1995 -96 when Internet had started to become a thing in India, there had been quite a few non-profits which were working on various issues. One of those which I initially came in contact with and which I found to be a bit absurd was non-profit which was working in the field of women against Violence. Now it is and was not the concept or the idea which was absurd to me, it was what these women were doing. Instead of the traditional ways in which you counsel women and try and figure out issues, these women were collecting data points from newspapers and magazines. This was way way before data science became a thing in India. They had their own structure where a story about violence against women which would be above the fold would be 5 points, the one below 2.5 points, in inner pages, it would be less and less. Patriarchy at that time was so strong, even today is but at that time it was such, that it felt a waste of time. I did consult them but never said that but did privately feel the above. In hindsight, they were doing the right thing and yet even today crimes against women goes unreported and is suppressed by both State and Central Governments as well as NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau).

Interestingly, just few days back, the case against M.J. Akbar by Priya Ramani had taken a back seat and the defamation case by M.J. Akbar was taken forward. Even then, Priya Ramani’s counsel’s arguments were such that the court wound up in half an hour when they were expecting to do a whole day hearing. The next hearing would be happening today which I will look at in few hours from now. Why Priya Ramani was singled out rather than other tweets may probably be because she is an NRI and most NRI’s usually do not want to be part of the bureaucratic Indian court system. This is also the reason that most companies from outside India especially those who are into startups prefer to change ownership, IPR etc. to their own or any country outside India which does make a loss to the exchequer. But this again is a story for another day.

At the end, while I did not want to end on a negative note, it seems in many ways status-quo remains. For e.g. 2 years back, a BJP candidate (part of the ruling dispensation) had made a controversy saying that if they win the police won’t interfere in child marriages. This is and was in Rajasthan where they have been trying to eradicate it forever. Till date, neither the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) nor NCW (National Commission for Women) has taken cognizance of the statement. This is our state of democracy.