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 😦

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 😦

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.

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.

The Constitution of Knowledge

Truth, Untruths and Education in India.

I read this somewhat disturbing and yet pretty raw truth from foreign affairs. It took me quite a few days to not only digest but also say yes and see the same situation playing out in India. I have been seeing the discourse on Twitter and while a part of it is the equivalent of road rage, a huge part is a disconnect to not acknowledge and be civil. We may come to different conclusions from the same data but being civil seems to be difficult for a lot of people. One part is of course ego, where nobody wants to lose, but more than that are the plain comprehension issues. Most of the literature, good literature is unfortunately based in English.

And while we can have differing opinions of what constitutes good literature, for me it’s books like Battle of Belonging,The:On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What it Means – Shashi Tharoor. From what little I have understood, the book makes the case of civic nationalism which is far more inclusive than the narrow confines of patriotism. Now this begs the question when you have such books and many books which do tell you about different aspects of social, political and knowledge, why are so many people prone to disinformation in India similar to U.S. and probably other countries as well. One of the biggest reasons per-se is lack of education and quality education. When the number of graduates is less than five percent how do you expect that population to be able to take decisions in their economic self-interest? So sadly the understanding is ingrained from WhatsApp and there is no need to check from alternate sources. And just like Mr. Trump followers, they believe those versions to be the unvarnished truth. I do understand that no truth is immutable except for life and death. All others are imperfect unless it is validated by some sort of scientific validation behind it. At the same time, these truths may themselves be invalidated if a stronger scientific evidence establishes itself. This is the reason why hypothesis and facts themselves are challenged again and again. Sharing couple of examples below.

Nationalization of Banking, RERA and RCEP

Most of the people want freedom of the banks i.e. private banking don’t really know that private banking existed at a time in free India before they were nationalized and these banks failed at surprisingly regular intervals. Now it isn’t as if this fact is hidden but it is not as popular as maybe some other facts or ideas. Now the Government in the center obviously doesn’t want to share these facts as they want corporates in banking. And if that fact is known by many people it will be a huge setback to their plans. RBI failures have been to many to count. Even recent legislations like RERA and others which were supposed to bring relief to millions of potential homeowners has become a pawn in the hands of builders and this has been known.

One of the interesting points of RCEP which is not so much in public domain is that RCEP would have a mere 4.5% duty on most products which will go down to 1.5% over a 20 year period. Now with India staying out of it, we have done two things. We have said that we will not be competitive even after 20 years of this which is the more damning part. And we will not take part in the growth that other countries will have due to this.

Contempt Proceedings against Comic Artist because she has an opinion on SC

The fall in SC and constitutional values grows day by day. The AG today consented to have contempt proceedings against a comic artist saying she insulted the SC. Gone are the days when an artist made fun of the PM, and she gave him a Padam Shri (one of the highest civilian honors) for his contributions. Then, even dissent or being cynical was looked as being a contribution to the national effort rather than today. This is the reason why India has been continuously falling in the Global Freedom of Expression Index. I have seen censoring many a time here. I, myself has been locked out of Wikipedia many times. Can you imagine, being locked out of Wikipedia which is perhaps one of the more neutral sites on the web. And then there was this wikibio thing, such a sad thing to happen. Guessing this is the future of the Indian interweb. 😦


Stick figure by Sanitary Panels on SC

Farmer Protests and RCEP

Farmer Protests

While I was hoping to write about RCEP exclusively, just today farmer protests have happened against three farm laws which had been passed by our Govt. about a month ago without consulting anybody. The bills benefit only big business houses at the cost of farmers. This has been amply shared by an open letter to one of the biggest business house which will benefit the most.

Now while that is a national experience and what it tells, let me share, some experience from the State I come from, Maharashtra. About 4-5 years back Maharashtra delisted fruit and vegetables from the APMC market. But till date, the APMC market is working, why, the reasons are many. However, what it did was it forced the change to sugarcane, a water guzzling crop much more than previously. This has resulted in lowering the water table in Maharashtra and put them more into debt trap and later they had to commit suicide.

Now let us see why the Punjab farmers have been so agitated that they are walking all the way to Delhi. They are right now, somewhere between Haryana-Delhi border. The reason is that because even their experiments with contract farming have not been good. This is why they are struggling to go to Delhi to make their collective voices heard and get the farm bills rolled back. Even the farmers from Gujarat were sued, but because of elections were put back, the intentions though are clear. This has also happened in Uttar Pradesh and for sugarcane and that too by Bajaj Company. At the end of the day, the laws made by the Govt. leaves our farmer at the mercy of big corporations. It is preposterous to believe that the farmer, with their small land holdings will be able to stand up to the Corporation. Add to that, they cannot go to Court. It is the SDM (Sub-Divisonal Magistrate) who will decide on the matters and has the last word. If this is allowed, in a couple of years there will be only few farmers or corporations who would have large hand-holdings, and they would be easily co-opted by the Government in power.

Just in – A gentleman who turned off water cannon being shot at farmers has been charged for murder 😦

Currently, the Government procures rice in vast quantities and the farmers are assured at least some basic income, in the states of Punjab and Haryana –

Procurement of Rice by Various States

Recently there was also an article in Indian Express which shares the farmer’s apprehensions and does share that it’s a complex problem with no easy solutions. The solution can only be dialogue between the two parties. This was also shared by Vivek Kaul, who is far more knowledgable than me on the subject and made a long read on the subject.

The Canada Way

Recently, while sparring on the Internet, came to know of the Canada way. Here, the Government makes the farmer a corporation and the Government helps them. But the Canada way seems to largely work as the Canadian Government owns the majority of the lands in question. And yes, Indians have benefited from it but that is also due to a. the currency differential between Canadian dollar and Indian Rupee and the 99-year land lease. There may be other advantages that the Canadian Government bestows and that is the reason possibly that most Punjabi farmers go to Canada and UK to farm.

While looking at it, I also came across the situation in the United States and it seems the situation there seems to be becoming even more grim.

RCEP

RCEP stands for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. We were supposed to be part of this partnership. Now why didn’t we join, for two reasons, our judicial infrastructure is the worst. It took 8 years to decide on a tax retrospective case (Vodafone) and that too finally outside India. And that decision, by no means an end. The other thing is all those who have joined RCEP have lesser duties, tariffs then India. What this means is that they are much more competitive than India. While there is fear that perhaps that China may take over its assets as it has done with few countries around the world, the opportunity for those countries was too good to pass up even with the dangers. But, then even India has taken loans from the Asian Infrastructure Investment (AIIB) Bank where China is the biggest shareholder. So it doesn’t make sense to be insecure on that front. And again, it is up to India or any other sovereign country to decide to take loans from some country, some multilateral organization or any other way and on what terms.

What China has done and doing is similar to what IMF (being used primarily by the United States) had done in its past. The only difference is that time it was the United States, now it is China. America co-opted Governments, and got assets, China doing the same, no difference in tactics, more or less the same.

There has also been a somewhat interesting paper which discusses how the RCEP may unfold in different circumstances. In short, it tells that the partners will benefit, some more than others. It also does compare the RCEP to CPTPP (The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). While the study is a bit academic in nature as the United States has walked out and the new president-elect Joe Biden hasn’t made any moves and is unlikely to make any moves as there is deep divide and resentment about multilateral trade partnerships domestically within the United States. This news and understanding was quite shocking to me as it shows that unlike the United States of the past, which was supposed to be a beacon of capitalism and seemed to enjoy capitalism, it seems to be an opportunist only. There is also this truth that under Biden, there is only so many things on which he would need and can spend his political capital on.

Statistica Chart of differences between Republicans and Democrats

As can be seen, economy at least for the democrats, this time around is pretty far round the corner. He has a host of battles and would have to choose which to fight and which to ignore.

In the end, we are left to our own devices. At the moment, India does not know when it’s economy will recover –

PTI News, Nov 27, 2020

There has been another worrying bit of news, now all newspapers will need to get some sort of permission, certification from Govt. of India about any news of the world. This is harking back on the 1970’s, 1980’s era