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 😦