Population, Immigration, Vaccines and Mass-Surveilance.

The Population Issue and its many facets

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

Girl child

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

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

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

Climate Change

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

Health Budget

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

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

Vaccine issues

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

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

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

Dr. Dipika Ghosh sharing an incident in Covid Ward

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

ICMR/DGCI approving internationally validated kits, Press release.

Twitter

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

Censorship

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

Gaurav on Trump-Biden on vaccination of their own citizens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fake websites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caste Issues

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

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

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

Situation going forward

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

The Great Train Robbery

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

UK Railways


How Privatization Fails : Railways

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

UK railway map with operators
UK railway map with operators

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

Japanese Railway

Below is the map of Japanese Railway

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

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

U.S. Railways

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


U.S. Railway lines with the different owners

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

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

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

Indian Railways

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

Covid news

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

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

Vaccine issues

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

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

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

Prices of AstraZeneca among various states and countries.

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

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

Internet Freedom and Aarogya Setu App.


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

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

Conclusion

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

what to write

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

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

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

Task-based menus for a file

XDG

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

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

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

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

Banking

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

Till later.

Making life difficult

Freedom house puts India in “partly free”

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

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

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

Color-coding journalists

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

Omega Seiki puts a manufacturing plant in Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starlink

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

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

Farmer Protests

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

Pandemic, Informal economy and Khau Galli.

Formal sector issues

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

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

The Informal economy

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

Khau galli

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inequality in Indian Education

Farmer on-going protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian Education can’t go online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insane Logic and Farming in other countries

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

The Soldier-Farmer

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

GOI pensions to ex-servicemen

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

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

India Defence Spending vis-a-vis other countries.

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

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

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

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

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

The Israeli Model

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

France

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

Italy

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

Asian economies

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

Brazil

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

Conclusion

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

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

Farm Laws and Too much Democracy

Issues with Farm Laws

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

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

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

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

Biggest issue with the laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Household 2013 Copyright – GOI,

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

I stand with farmers – Copyright – Sanitary Panels

Too much democracy – Amitabh Kant

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

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

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

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

Apart from that is the Economists own Democracy Index -2019

Click to access democracy-index-2019.pdf

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

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

Gag on Press and Media owners

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

India media ownership – 2016 Copyright – Caravan

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

Akarshan Uppal – Reporter, IBN24 Copyright – IBN24

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

Personal Anecdote on Data Collection and child marriages in India.

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

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

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

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

Women state in India and proposal for corporates in Indian banking

Gradle and Kotlin in Debian

Few months back, I was looking at where Gradle and Kotlin were in Debian. They still seem to be a work in progress. I found the Android-tools salsa repo which tells me the state of things. While there has been movement on both, a bit more on Kotlin, it still seems it would take a while. For kotlin, the wiki page is most helpful as well as the android-tool salsa kotlin board page . Ironically, some of the more important info. is shared in a blog post which ideally should also have been reflected in kotlin board page . I did see some of the bugs so know it’s pretty much dependency hell. I can only congratulate and encourage Samyak Jain and Raman Sarda. I also played a bit with the google-android-emulator-installer which is basically a hook which downloads the binary from google. I do not know what the plans are, but perhaps in the future they also might be build locally, who knows. Just sharing/stating here so it’s part of my notes whenever I wanna see what’s happening 🙂

Women in India

I am sure some of you might remember my blog post from last year. It is almost close to a year 2020 now and the question to be asked is, has much changed ? After a lot or hue and cry the Government of India shared the NCRB data of crimes against women and caste crimes. The report shared that crimes against women had risen by 7.3% in a year, similarly crimes against lower castes also went by similar percentage . With the 2020 pandemic, I am sure the number has gone up more. And there is a possibility that just like last year, next year the Government would cite the pandemic and say no data. This year they have done it for migrant deaths during lockdown , for job losses due to the pandemic and so on and so forth. So, it will be no surprise if the Govt. says about NCRB data next year as well. Although media has been showing some in spite of the regular threats to the journalists as shared in the last blog post. There is also data that shows that women participation in labor force has fallen sharply especially in the last few years and the Government seems to have no neither idea nor do they seem to care for the same. There aren’t any concrete plans to bring back the balance even a little bit.

Few Court judgements

But all hope is not lost. There have been a couple of good judgements, one from the CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) wherein in specific cases a wife can know salary details of her husband, especially if there is some kind of maintenance due from the husband. There was so much of hue and cry against this order that it was taken down from the livelaw RTI corner. Luckily, I had downloaded it, hence could upload and share it.

Another one was a case/suit about a legally matured women who had decided to marry without parental consent. In this case, the Delhi High Court had taken women’s side and stated she can marry whom she wants. Interestingly, about a week back Uttar Pradesh (most notorious about crime against women) had made laws called ‘Love Jihad‘ and 2 -3 states have followed them. The idea being to create an atmosphere of hate against Muslims and women have no autonomy about what they want. This is when in a separate suit/case against Sudharshan TV (a far-right leaning channel promoting hate against Muslims) , the Government of India itself put an affidavit stating that Tablighis (a sect of Muslims who came from Malaysia to India for religious discourse and assembly) were not responsible for dissemination of the virus and some media has correctly portrayed the same. Of course, those who are on the side of the Govt. on this topic think a ‘traitor’ has written. They also thought that the Govt. had taken a wrong approach but couldn’t tell of a better approach to the matter.

There are too many matters in the Supreme Court of women asking for justice to tell all here but two instances share how the SC has been buckling under the stress of late, one is a webinar which was chaired by Justice Subramaniam where he shared how the executive is using judicial appointments to do what it wants. The gulf between the executive and the SC has been since Indira Gandhi days, especially the judicial orders which declared that the Emergency is valid by large, it has fallen much more recently and the executive has been muscling in which have resulted in more regressive decisions than progressive.

This observation is also in tune with another study which came to the same result although using data. The raw data from the study could give so much more than what has been shared. For e.g. as an idea for the study, of the ones cited, how many have been in civil law, personal law, criminal or constitutional law. This would give a better understanding of things. Also what is shocking is none of our court orders have been cited in the west in the recent past, when there used to be a time when the west used to take guidance from Indian jurisprudence sometimes and cite the orders to reach similar conclusion or if not conclusion at least be used as a precedent. I guess those days are over.

Government giving Corporate ownership to Private Sector Banks

There was an Internal Working Group report to review extant ownership guidelines and Corporate Structure for Indian Private Sector Banks. – This is the actual title of the report.

Now there were and are concerns about the move which were put forth by Dr. Raghuram Rajan and Viral Acharya. While Dr. Rajan had been the 23rd Governor of RBI from 4th September 2013 to 4th September 2016.

His most commendable work which largely is unknown to most people was the report A hundred small steps which you buy from sage publications. Viral Acharya was the deputy governor from 23rd January 2017 – 23rd July 2019. Mr. Acharya just recently published his book Quest for Restoring Financial Stability in India which can be bought from the same publication house as well.

They also wrote a three page article stating that does India need corporates in banking? More interestingly, he shares two points from history both world war 1 and world war 2. In both cases, the allies had to cut down the businesses who had owned banks. In Germany, it was the same and in Japan, the zaibatsu’s dissolution, both of which were needed to make the world safe again. Now, if we don’t learn lessons from history it is our fault, not history’s.

What was also shared that this idea was taken up in 2013 but was put into cold-storage. He also commented on the pressure on RBI as all co-operative banks have come under its ambit in the last few months. RBI has had a patchy record, especially in the last couple of years, with big scams like ILFS, Yes Bank, PMC Bank, Laxmi Vilas Bank among others. The LVB Bank being the most recent one.

If new banking licenses have to be given they can be given to good NBFC’s who have been in the market for a long time and have shown maturity while dealing with public money. What is the hurry for giving it to Corporate/business houses ? There are many other good points in the report with which both Mr. Rajan and Mr. Acharya are in agreement and do hope the other points/suggestions/proposals are implemented. There was and is an interesting report by Reserve Bank of India called financial sector legislative reforms commission report volume 1 . If and when it gets deleted from RBI, I have put up a copy at my WordPress account, so we shall always have one.

Interestingly, while looking through the people who were part of the committee was a somewhat familiar name Murmu . This is perhaps the first time you see people from a sort of political background being in what should be a cut and dry review which have people normally from careers in finance or Accounts. It also turns out that only one person was in favor of banks going to corporates, all the rest were against.

It seems that the specific person hadn’t heard the terms ‘self-lending’, ‘connected-lending’ and conflict of interest. One of the more interesting comments in the report is if a corporate has a bank, then why would he go to Switzerland, he would just wash the money in his own bank. And if banks were to become to big to fail like it happened in the United States, it would be again private gains, public losses. There was also a Washington Post article which shares some of the reasons that Indian banks fail. I think we need to remind ourselves once again, how things can become –


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gK3s5j7PgA

Positive News at end

At the end I do not want to end on a sour notes, hence sharing a YouTube channel of Films Division India where you can see of the very classic works and interviews of some of the greats in Indian art cinema.

https://www.youtube.com/user/FilmsDivision/videos

Also sharing a bit of funny story I came to know about youtube-dl, apparently it was taken off from github but thanks to efforts from EFF, Hackernews and others, it is now back in action.

White Hat Senior and Education

I had been thinking of doing a blog post on RCEP which China signed with 14 countries a week and a day back but this new story has broken and is being viraled a bit on the interwebs, especially twitter and is pretty much in our domain so thought would be better to do a blog post about it. Also, there is quite a lot packed so quite a bit of unpacking to do.

Whitehat, Greyhat and Blackhat

For those of you who may not, there are actually three terms especially in computer science as well as security that one comes across. Those are white hats, grey hats and black hats. Now clinically white hats are like the fiery angels or the good guys who basically take permissions to try and find out weakness in an application, program, website, organization and so on and so forth. A somewhat dated reference to what hackers are could be Sandra Bullock (The Net 1995) , Sneakers (1992), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) . Of the three one could argue that Sandra was actually into viruses which are part of computer security but still she showed some bad-ass skills, but then that is what actors are paid to do 🙂 Sneakers was much more interesting for me because in that you got the best key which can unlock any lock, something like quantum computing is supposed to do. One could equate both the first movies in either as a White hat or a Grey hat . A Grey hat is more flexible in his/her moral values, and they are plenty of such people. For e.g. Julius Assange could be described as a Grey hat, but as you can see and understand those are moral issues.

A black hat on the other hand is one who does things for profit even if it harms the others. The easiest fictitious examples are all Die Hard series, all of them except the 4th one, all had bad guys or black hats. The 4th also had but is the odd one out as it had Matthew Farell (Justin Long) as a Grey hat hacker. In real life Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Robert Tappan Morris, George Hotz, Gary McKinnon are some examples of hackers, most of whom were black hats, most of them reformed into white hats and security specialists. There are many other groups and names but that perhaps is best for another day altogether.

Now why am I sharing this. Because in all of the above, the people who are using and working with the systems have better than average understanding of systems and they arguably would be better than most people at securing their networks, systems etc. but as we shall see in this case there has been lots of issues in the company.

WhiteHat Jr. and 300 Million Dollars

Before I start this, I would like to share that for me this suit in many ways seems to be similar to the suit filed against Krishnaraj Rao . Although the difference is that Krishnaraj Rao’s case/suit is that it was in real estate while this one is in ‘education’ although many things are similar to those cases but also differ in some obvious ways. For e.g. in the suit against Krishnaraj Rao, the plaintiff’s first approached the High Court and then the Supreme Court. Of course Krishnaraj Rao won in the High Court and then in the SC plaintiff’s agreed to Krishnaraj Rao’s demands as they knew they could not win in SC. In that case, a compromise was reached by the plaintiff just before judgement was to be delivered.

In this case, the plaintiff have directly approached the Delhi High Court. The charges against Mr. Poonia (the defendant in this case) are very much similar to those which were made in Krishnaraj Rao’s suit hence won’t be going into those details. They have claimed defamation and filed a 20 crore suit. The idea is basically to silence any whistle-blowers.

Fictional Character Wolf Gupta

The first issue in this case or perhaps one of the most famous or infamous character is an unknown. While he has been reportedly hired by Google India, BJYU, Chandigarh. This has been reported by Yahoo News. I did a cursory search on LinkedIn to see if there indeed is a wolf gupta but wasn’t able to find any person with such a name. I am not even talking the amount of money/salary the fictitious gentleman is supposed to have got and the various variations on the salary figures at different times and the different ads.

If I wanted to, I could have asked few of the kind souls whom I know are working in Google to see if they can find such a person using their own credentials but it probably would have been a waste of time. When you show a LinkedIn profile in your social media, it should come up in the results, in this case it doesn’t. I also tried to find out if somehow BJYU was a partner to Google and came up empty there as well. There is another story done by Kan India but as I’m not a subscriber, I don’t know what they have written but the beginning of the story itself does not bode well.

While I can understand marketing, there is a line between marketing something and being misleading. At least to me, all of the references shared seems misleading at least to me.

Taking down dissent

One of the big no-nos at least from what I perceive, you cannot and should not take down dissent or critique. Indians, like most people elsewhere around the world, critique and criticize day and night. Social media like twitter, mastodon and many others would not exist in the place if criticisms are not there. In fact, one could argue that Twitter and most social media is used to drive engagements to a person, brand etc. It is even an official policy in Twitter. Now you can’t drive engagements without also being open to critique and this is true of all the web, including of WordPress and me 🙂 . What has been happening is that whitehatjr with help of bjyu have been taking out content of people citing copyright violation which seems laughable.

When citizens critique anything, we are obviously going to take the name of the product otherwise people would have to start using new names similar to how Tom Riddle was known as ‘Dark Lord’ , ‘Voldemort’ and ‘He who shall not be named’ . There have been quite a few takedowns, I just provide one for reference, the rest of the takedowns would probably come in the ongoing suit/case.

Whitehat Jr. ad showing investors fighting


Now a brief synopsis of what the ad. is about. The ad is about a kid named ‘Chintu’ who makes an app. The app. Is so good that investors come to his house and right in the lawn and start fighting each other. The parents are enjoying looking at the fight and to add to the whole thing there is also a nosy neighbor who has his own observations. Simply speaking, it is a juvenile ad but it works as most parents in India, as elsewhere are insecure.

Jihan critiquing the whitehatjr ad

Before starting, let me assure that I asked Jihan’s parents if it’s ok to share his ad on my blog and they agreed. What he has done is broken down the ad and showed how juvenile the ad is and using logic and humor as a template for the same. He does make sure to state that he does not know how the product is as he hasn’t used it. His critique was about the ad and not the product as he hasn’t used that.

The Website

If you look at the website, sadly, most of the site only talks about itself rather than giving examples that people can look in detail. For e.g. they say they have few apps. on Google play-store but no link to confirm the same. The same is true of quite a few other things. In another ad a Paralympic star says don’t get into sports and get into coding. Which athlete in their right mind would say that? And it isn’t that we (India) are brimming with athletes at the international level. In the last outing which was had in 2016, India sent a stunning 117 athletes but that was an exception as we had the women’s hockey squad which was of 16 women, and even then they were overshadowed in numbers by the bureaucratic and support staff. There was criticism about the staff bit but that is probably a story for another date.

Most of the site doesn’t really give much value and the point seems to be driving sales to their courses. This is pressurizing small kids as well as teenagers and better who are in the second and third year science-engineering whose parents don’t get that it is advertising and it is fake and think that their kids are incompetent. So this pressurizes both small kids as well as those who are learning, doing in whatever college or educational institution . The teenagers more often than not are unable to tell/share with them that this is advertising and fake. Also most of us have been on a a good diet of ads. Fair and lovely still sells even though we know it doesn’t work.

This does remind me of a similar fake academy which used very much similar symptoms and now nobody remembers them today. There used to be an academy called Wings Academy or some similar name. They used to advertise that you come to us and we will make you into a pilot or an airhostess and it was only much later that it was found out that most kids were doing laundry work (housekeeping) in hotels and other such work. Now I don’t mean that housekeeping is bad or something, it is an essential service like others that are required, but the difference is what you showcase and what you deliver as a product in the end.

Many had taken loans, went bankrupt and even committed suicide because they were unable to pay off the loans due to the dreams given by the company and the harsh realities that awaited them. They were sued in court but dunno what happened but soon they were off the radar so we never came to know what happened to those million of kids whose life dreams were shattered.

Security

Now comes the security part. They have alleged that Mr. Poonia broke into their systems. While this may be true, what I find funny is that with the name Whitehat, how can they justify it? If you are saying you are white hat you are supposed to be much better than this. And while I have not tried to penetrate their systems, I did find it laughable that the site is using an expired https:// certificate. I could have tried further to figure out the systems but I chose not to. How they could not have an automated script to get the certificate fixed is beyond me, this is known as certificate outage and is very well understood in the industry. There are tools like Let’s Encrypt and Certbot (both EFF) and many others. But that is their concern, not mine.

Comparison

A similar offering would be unacademy but as can be seen they neither try to push you in any way and nor do they make any ridiculous claims. In fact how genuine unacademy is can be gauged from the fact that many of its learning resources are available to people to see on YT and if they have tools they can also download it. Now, does this mean that every educational website should have their content for free, of course not. But when a channel has 80% – 90% of it YT content as ads and testimonials then they surely should give a reason to pause both for parents and students alike. But if parents had done that much research, then things would not be where they are now.

Allegations

Just to complete, there are allegations by Mr. Poonia with some screenshots which show the company has been doing a lot of bad things. For e.g. they were harassing an employee at night 2 a.m. who was frustrated and working in the company at the time. Many of the company staff routinely made sexist and offensive, sexual abusive remarks privately between themselves for prospective women who came to interview via webcam (due to the pandemic). There also seems to be a bit of porn on the web/mobile server of the company as well. There also have been allegations that while the company says refund is done next day, many parents who have demanded those refunds have not got it. Now while Mr. Poonia has shared some quotations of the staff while hiding the identities of both the victims and the perpetrators, the language being used in itself tells a lot. I am in two minds whether to share those photos or not hence atm choosing not to. Poonia has also contended that all teachers do not know programming, and they are given scripts to share. There have been some people who did share that experience with him –

Suruchi Sethi

From the company’s side they are alleging he has hacked the company servers and would probably be using the Fruit of the poisonous tree argument which we have seen have been used in many arguments.

Conclusion

Now that lies in the eyes of the Court whether the single bench chooses the literal meaning or use the spirit of the law or the genuine concerns of the people concerned. While in today’s hearing while the company asked for a complete sweeping injunction they were unable to get it. Whatever may happen, we may hope to see some fireworks in the second hearing which is slated to be on 6.01.2021 where all of this plays out. Till later.

Rights, Press freedom and India

In some ways it is sad and interesting to see how personal liberty is viewed in India. And how it differs from those having the highest fame and power can get a different kind of justice then the rest cannot.

Arnab Goswami

This particular gentleman is a class apart. He is the editor as well as Republic TV, a right-leaning channel which demonizes the minority, women whatever is antithesis to the Central Govt. of India. As a result there have been a spate of cases against him in the past few months. But surprisingly, in each of them he got hearing the day after the suit was filed. This is unique in Indian legal history so much so that a popular legal site which publishes on-going cases put up a post sharing how he was getting prompt hearings. That post itself needs to be updated as there have been 3 more hearings which have been done back to back for him. This is unusual as there have been so many cases pending for the SC attention, some arguably more important than this gentleman . So many precedents have been set which will send a wrong message. The biggest one, that even though a trial is taking place in the sessions court (below High Court) the SC can interject on matters. What this will do to the morale of both lawyers as well as judges of the various Sessions Court is a matter of speculation and yet as shared unprecedented. The saddest part was when Justice Chandrachud said –

Justice Chandrachud – If you don’t like a channel then don’t watch it. – 11th November 2020 .

This is basically giving a free rope to hate speech. How can a SC say like that ? And this is the Same Supreme Court which could not take two tweets from Shri Prashant Bhushan when he made remarks against the judiciary .

J&K pleas in Supreme Court pending since August 2019 (Abrogation 370)

After abrogation of 370, citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, the population of which is 13.6 million people including 4 million Hindus have been stuck with reduced rights and their land being taken away due to new laws. Many of the Hindus which regionally are a minority now rue the fact that they supported the abrogation of 370A . Imagine, a whole state whose answers and prayers have not been heard by the Supreme Court and the people need to move a prayer stating the same.

100 Journalists, activists languishing in Jail without even a hearing

55 Journalists alone have been threatened, booked and in jail for reporting of pandemic . Their fault, they were bring the irregularities, corruption made during the pandemic early months. Activists such as Sudha Bharadwaj, who giving up her American citizenship and settling to fight for tribals is in jail for 2 years without any charges. There are many like her, There are several more petitions lying in the Supreme Court, for e.g. Varavara Rao, not a single hearing from last couple of years, even though he has taken part in so many national movements including the emergency as well as part-responsible for creation of Telengana state out of Andhra Pradesh .

Then there is Devangana kalita who works for gender rights. Similar to Sudha Bharadwaj, she had an opportunity to go to UK and settle here. She did her master’s and came back. And now she is in jail for the things that she studied. While she took part in Anti-CAA sittings, none of her speeches were incendiary but she still is locked up under UAPA (Unlawful Practises Act) . I could go on and on but at the moment these should suffice.

Petitions for Hate Speech which resulted in riots in Delhi are pending, Citizen’s Amendment Act (controversial) no hearings till date. All of the best has been explained in a newspaper article which articulates perhaps all that I wanted to articulate and more. It is and was amazing to see how in certain cases Article 32 is valid and in many it is not. Also a fair reading of Justice Bobde’s article tells you a lot how the SC is functioning. I would like to point out that barandbench along with livelawindia makes it easier for never non-lawyers and public to know how arguments are done in court, what evidences are taken as well as give some clue about judicial orders and judgements. Both of these resources are providing an invaluable service and more often than not, free of charge.

Student Suicide and High Cost of Education

For quite sometime now, the cost of education has been shooting up. While I have visited this topic earlier as well, recently a young girl committed suicide because she was unable to pay the fees as well as additional costs due to pandemic. Further investigations show that this is the case with many of the students who are unable to buy laptops. Now while one could think it is limited to one college then it would be wrong. It is almost across all India and this will continue for months and years. People do know that the pandemic is going to last a significant time and it would be a long time before R value becomes zero . Even the promising vaccine from Pfizer need constant refrigeration which is sort of next to impossible in India. It is going to make things very costly.

Last Nail on Indian Media

Just today the last nail on India has been put. Thankfully Freedom Gazette India did a much better job so just pasting that –

Information and Broadcasting Ministry bringing OTT services as well as news within its ambit.

With this, projects like Scam 1992, The Harshad Mehta Story or Bad Boy Billionaires:India, Test Case, Delhi Crime, Laakhon Mein Ek etc. etc. such kind of series, investigative journalism would be still-births. Many of these web-series also shared tales of woman empowerment while at the same time showed some of the hard choices that women had to contend to live with.

Even western media may be censored where it finds the political discourse not to its liking. There had been so many accounts of Mr. Ravish Kumar, the winner of Ramon Magsaysay, how in his shows the electricity was cut in many places. I too have been the victim when the BJP governed in Maharashtra as almost all Puneities experienced it. Light would go for just half or 45 minutes at the exact time.

There is another aspect to it. The U.S. elections showed how independent media was able to counter Mr. Trump’s various falsehoods and give rise to alternative ideas which lead the team of Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Biden now being the President-elect while Kamala Harris being the vice-president elect. Although the journey to the white house seems as tough as before. Let’s see what happens.

Hopefully 2021 will bring in some good news.

Update – On 27th November 2020 Martin who runs the planet got an e-mail/notice by a Mr. Nikhil Sethi who runs the wikibio.com property. Mr. Sethi asked to remove the link pointing Devangana Kalita from my blog post to his site as he has used the no follow link. On inquiring further, the gentleman stated that it is an ‘Updated mandate’ (his exact quote) from Google algorithm. To further understand the issue, I went to SERP as they are one of the more known ones on the subject. I also looked it up on Google as well. Found that the gentleman was BSing the whole time. The page basically talks about weightage of a page/site and authoritativeness which is known and yet highly contested ideas. In any case, the point for me was for whatever reason (could be fear, could be something else entirely), Mr. Sethi did not want me to link the content. Hence, I have complied above. I could have dragged it out but I do not wish Mr. Sethi any ill-being or/and further harm unduly and unintentionally caused by me. Hence, have taken down the link.

Hearing loss, pandemic, lockdown

Sorry for not being on blog for sometime, the last few months have been brutal. While I am externally ok, because of the lockdown I sensed major hearing loss. First, I thought it may be a hallucination or something but as it persisted for days, I got myself checked and found out that I got 80% hearing loss in my right ear. How and why I don’t know. Is this NIHL or some other kind of hearing loss is yet to be ascertained. I do live what is and used to be one of the busiest roads in the city, now for last few months not so much. On top of it, you have various other noises.

Tinnitus

I also experienced Tinnitus which again I perceived to be a hallucination but found it’s not. I have no clue if my eiplepsy has anything to do with hearing loss or both are different. I did discover that while today we know that something like Tinnitus exists, just 10-15 years back, people might mistake it for madness. In a way it is madness because you are constantly hearing sound, music etc. 24×7 , that is enough to drive anybody mad.

During this brief period, did learn what an Otoscope is . I did get audiometry tests done but need to get at least a second or if possible also a third opinion but those will have to wait as the audio clinics are about 8-10 kms. away. In the open-close-open-close environment just makes it impossible to figure out the time, date and get it done. After that is done then probably get a hearing device, probably a Siemens Signia hearing aid. The hearing aids are damn expensive, almost 50k per piece and they probably have a lifetime of about 5-6 years, so it’s a bit of a expensive proposition. I also need a second or/and third opinion on the audiometry profile so I know things are correct. All of these things are gonna take time.

Pandemic Situation in India and Testing

Coincidentally, was talking to couple of people about this. It is sad to see that we have the third highest number of covid cases at 1/10th the tests we are doing vis-a-vis U.S.A. According to statistical site ourworldindata , we seem to be testing 0.22 per thousand people compared to 2.28 people per thousand done by United States. Sadly it doesn’t give the breakup of the tests, from what I read the PCR tests are better than the antibody tests, a primer shares the difference between the two tests. IIRC, the antibody tests are far cheaper than the swab tests but swab tests are far more accurate as it looks for the virus’s genetic material (RNA) . Anyways coming to the numbers, U.S. has a population of roughly 35 crores taking a little bit liberty from numbers given at popclock . India meanwhile has 135 crore or almost four times the population of U.S. and the amount of testing done is 1/10th as shared above. Just goes to share where the GOI priorities lie . We are running out of beds, ventilators and whatever else there is. Whatever resources are there are being used for covid patients and they are being charged a bomb. I have couple of hospitals near my place and the cost of a bed in an isolation ward is upward of INR 100k and if you need a ventilator then add another 50k . And in moment of rarity, the differences between charges of private and public are zero. Meaning there is immense profiteering happening it seems in the medical world. Heck, even the Govt. is on the act where they are charging 18% GST on sanitizers. If this is not looting then I dunno what is.

Example of Medical Bills people have to pay.

China, Nepal & Diplomacy

While everybody today knows how China has intruded and captured quite a part of Ladakh, this wasn’t the case when they started in April. That time Ajai Shukla had shared this with the top defence personnel but nothing came of it. Then on May 30th he broke/shared the news with the rest of the world and was immediately branded anti-national, person on Chinese payroll and what not. This is when he and Pravin Sawnhey of Force Magazine had both been warning of the same from last year itself. Pravin, has a youtube channel and had been warning India against Chinese intentions from 2015 and even before that. He had warned repeatedly that our obsession with the Pakistan border meant that we were taking eyes of the border with China which spans almost 2300 odd kms. going all the way to Arunachal Pradesh. A good map which shows the conflict can be found at dw.com which I am sharing/reproducing below –

India-China Border Areas – Copyright DW.com 2020

Note:- I am sharing a neutral party’s rendering of the border disputes or somebody who doesn’t have much at stake as the two countries have so that things could be looked at little objectively.

The Prime Minister on the other hand, made the comment which made galvanising a made-up word into verb . It means to go without coming in. In fact, several news sites shared the statement told by the Prime Minister and the majority of people were shocked. In fact, there had been reports that he gave the current CDS, General Rawat, a person of his own choosing, a peace of his mind. But what lead to this confrontation in the first place ? I think many pieces are part of that puzzle, one of the pieces are surely the cutting of defense budget for the last 6 years, Even this year, if you look at the budget slashes done in the earlier part of the year when he shared how HAL had to raise loans from the market to pay salaries of its own people. Later he shared how the Govt. was planning to slash the defence budget. Interestingly, he had also shared some of the reasons which reaffirm that it is the only the Govt. which can solve some of the issues/conundrum –

“First, it must recognize that our firms competing for global orders are up against rivals that are being supported by their home governments with tax and export incentives and infrastructure that almost invariably surpasses India’s. Our government must provide its aerospace firms with a level playing field, if not a competitive advantage. The greatest deterrent to growth our companies face is the high cost of capital and lack of access to funds. In several cases, Indian MSMEs have had to turn down offers to build components and assemblies for global OEM supply chains simply because the cost of capital to create the shop floor and train the personnel was too high. This resulted in a loss of business and a missed opportunity for creating jobs and skills. To overcome this, the government could create a sector specific “A&D Fund” to provide low cost capital quickly to enable our MSMEs to grab fleeting business opportunities. ” – Ajai Shukla, blogpost – 13th March 2020 .

And then reporting on 11th May 2020 itself, CDS Gen. Rawat himself commented on saving the budget, they were in poor taste but still he shared what he thought about it. So, at the end of it one part of the story. The other part of the story probably lies in India’s relations with its neighbors and lack of numbers in diplomats and diplomacy. So let me cover both the things one by one .

Diplomats, lack of numbers and hence the hands we are dealth with

When Mr. Modi started his first term, he used the term ‘Maximum Governance, Minimum Government’ but sadly cut those places where it indeed needs more people, one of which is diplomacy. A slightly dated 2012 article/opinion shared writes that India needs to engage with the rest of the world and do with higher number. Cut to 2020 and the numbers more or less remain the same . What Mr. Modi tried to do is instead of using diplomats, he tried to use his charm and hugopolicy for lack of a better term. 6 years later, here we are. After 200 trips abroad, not a single trade agreement to show what he done. I could go on but both time and energy are not on my side hence now switching to Nepal

Nepal, once friend, now enemy ?

Nepal had been a friend of India for 70 odd years, what changed in the last few years that it changed from friend to enemy ? There had been two incidents in recent memory that changed the status quo. The first is the 2015 Nepal blockade . Now one could argue it either way but the truth is that Nepal understood that it is heavily dependent on India hence as any sovereign country would do in its interest it also started courting China for imports so there is some balance.

The second one though is one of our own making. On December 16, 2014 RBI allowed Nepali citizens to have cash upto INR 25,000/- . Then in 2016 when demonetization was announced, they said that people could exchange only upto INR 4,500/- which was far below the limit shared above. And btw, before people start blaming just RBI for the decision, FEMA decisions are taken jointly by the finance ministry (FE) as well as ministry of external affairs (MEA) . So without them knowing the decision could not have been taken when announcing it. The result of lowering of demonetization is what made Nepal move more into Chinese hands and this has been shared by number of people in numerous articles in different websites. The wire interview with the vice-chairman of Niti Ayog is pretty interesting. The argument that Nepal show give an estimate of how much old money is there falls flat when in demonetization itself, it was thought of that around 30-40% was black money and would not be returned but by RBI’s own admissions all 99.3% of the money was returned. Perhaps they should have consulted Prof. Arun Kumar of JNU who has extensively written and studied the topic before doing that fool-hardy step. It is the reason that since then, an economy which was searing at 9% has been contracting ever since, I could give a dozen articles stating that, but for the moment, just one will suffice. The slowing economy and the sharp divisions between people based on either outlook, religion or whatever also encouraged China to attack us. This year is not good for India. The only thing I hope Indians and people all over do is just maintain physical distances, masks and somehow survive till middle of next year without getting infected when probably most of the vaccine candidates have been trialed, results are in and we have a ready vaccine. I do hope that at least for once, ICMR shares data even after the vaccine is approved, whichever vaccine. Till later.