Brazil Suspends Covaxin Deal; 'Tolerant' Indians Don't Like Inter-Religious Marriages

Plus: India denies Jaishankar met Taliban, Modi's credit guarantees don't add up to stimulus, Derek Chauvin gets jail but not Faizan's cop killer, Delhi Police file child porn case against Twitter

A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
June 30, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Overruling the Modi government’s assertion that compensation of Rs 4 lakh could not be paid to Covid-19 victims as it would exhaust disaster relief funds, and that the disaster management law mandates that relief applies only to natural disasters, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to frame guidelines to pay compensation to their families. The National Disaster Management Authority must ascertain within six weeks the amount that can be paid.

A few years ago, India earned the dubious distinction of leading the world in accidental deaths while clicking selfies in dangerous locations. Now, a district administration has cracked down, perhaps a little too hard. Taking selfies has been made a criminal offence in Gujarat’s Dang district ― all of it. But no law can protect someone from bad taste. A selfie some Delhi Police constables posed for with Olympic wrester – and murder accused – Sushil Kumar has triggered an official enquiry.

The digital divide is even deeper than was feared. The Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) reports that in 2019-20, when the pandemic began, only 39% of schools had computers and only 22% were connected to the internet. But 90% of schools had hand-washing facilities in 2019-20, a major improvement from 2012-13, when it was just 36.3 per cent.

At the behest of Brazil’s comptroller, its health minister has suspended a deal for 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which has turned into a political threat for the already beleaguered President Jair Bolsonaro. The operation of the contract, in which overpricing and other irregularities were suspected, has been suspended pending an investigation. 

A cascading series of failures, from the central government down to the local level, left hospitals across India without medical oxygen, killing hundreds. The New York Times reports a tragic night in Delhi. Meanwhile, black fungus continues to kill in large numbers. Doctors say that Covid and the treatment protocols being used for it have led to the surge. The BBC reports from a public hospital in Pune.

Cipla will soon facilitate the import of Moderna’s vaccine, which yesterday became the fourth to get emergency use authorisation. Separately, it will produce and distribute the vaccine commercially. Moderna could be used for children, who are still uncovered, since it has been tested in the 12-17 age group in the US. 

“We spent years fighting for our right to break the cage. Now imagine the absurdity of the situation ― we landed up in the biggest cage with the biggest lock that there possibly could be,” Devangana Kalita, who was released after 13 months in prison along with fellow student activist Natasha Narwal, told the BBC. Their group, Pinjra Tod, was created to fight misogyny and discriminatory rules on college campuses ― hostels for female students were locked up at dusk while male students rarely had curfew timings. 

A Hindu woman who converted to Islam has moved the Delhi High Court and sought protection, while claiming that she is facing an extreme threat to her life and that of her immediate family members, who are allegedly being witch-hunted by the UP Police. 

The Biden administration has named Atul Keshap, a career diplomat and an old South Asia hand, as its new chargé d’affaires in India. Keshap will replace former deputy secretary of state Daniel Smith, whom the US had appointed chargé d’affaires in New Delhi in May, but who has retired from service now.

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs have denied that external affairs minister S. Jaishankar met members of the Taliban in Qatar. The intriguing thing is that it is not being officially denied, and in fact, a foreign diplomat had confirmed the meeting, on the record. 

India and China will resume military talks on Ladakh but The Tribune reports that Beijing has refused to discuss Depsang Plains and the agenda will be restricted to Hot Springs and Gogra. And, the Chinese communist party honoured one of the PLA soldiers killed in Galwan last June with a ‘July 1’ medal.

What happened to the Smart Cities Mission announced by the Modi government in 2016? As the first deadline for the mission looms, IndiaSpend reports that 49% of projects remain unfinished.

Jacobabad in Sindh province, Pakistan, has become too hot and humid for human endurance, as sweating fails to cool the body. If climate change continues unabated, more cities in Pakistan and north India would become hostile to human life in the summers. Besides, property prices would fall. In the north, it’s a fate worse than death. 

The Economist has a fictional scenario of what is to come. It’s the summer of 2041 and “in New Delhi, India’s capital, the roads have begun to melt.” But that’s not science fiction. It’s modern history. Delhi’s roads have been melting for decades. Perhaps South Asia’s thermocalypse is closer than the Economist imagines. 


Madhya Pradesh caught fudging again 

The controversy over the sudden spike in vaccinations on Monday, June 21, after the slump in states for days before and just after that date, has deepened. In Madhya Pradesh, which led the rally with over 17 lakh shots, it is reported that some certificates were issued without vaccines being administered. One certificate is issued in the name of a 13-year old girl, who was not eligible. There are reports from Bhopal, based on the examination by Dainik Bhaskar of 10,000 vaccinated people, that on the basis of 555 Aadhar numbers, twice as many shots were administered. Against 90 numbers, three shots each were recorded, and one lucky number had 16 people listed as vaccinated. It is going to be hard to sift truth from fiction on the ‘record’ rate on the first day of the U-turned vaccine policy. Madhya Pradesh has consistently fielded charges of fudging ― in testing numbers, vaccine trials and now the shot itself.


Labour Ministry fails migrants, SC reprimands

The Supreme Court yesterday expressed strong displeasure at the ‘unpardonable apathy’ of the Union Labour Ministry towards migrant labourers during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it failed to even establish the National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW). It observed that registration of migrant labourers is needed to ensure that government schemes actually benefit them. It noted that despite several directions, no concrete steps have been taken by the ministry. 

“When the unorganised workers are waiting for registration and waiting to reap the benefit of various welfare schemes of the states and Centre, the apathy and lackadaisical attitude by the Ministry of Labour and Employment is unpardonable,” the Bench remarked. It noted that the direction for creation of a registration portal dated back to August 21, 2018. However, the attitude of the Ministry of Labour and Employment shows that it “is not alive to the concerns of the migrant workers and the non-action of the Ministry is strongly disapproved.”


Child rights body files FIR against Twitter

Acting on a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the Delhi Police have registered an FIR against Twitter for allegedly allowing access to child pornography. The case has been registered under relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the IT Act. This comes days after the NCPCR, the apex child rights body, asked Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Cell) Anyesh Roy to explain why no action had been taken against Twitter as per its letter to the Delhi Police dated May 29. 

Meanwhile, Twitter has appointed its California-based global legal policy director Jeremy Kessel as its new grievance officer for India, in an attempt to fulfil criteria under the new IT Rules, 2021. However, they call for an Indian resident for the role. Earlier, Google had also shared the details of Joe Grier, a resident of California, for any “summons or notices in civil proceedings against Google LLC in India”.


Taxman doesn’t know and won’t tell anyway

The Income Tax Department has given a “contradictory” response when asked for tax returns of political parties under the Right to Information Act, by first saying that it doesn’t have the information, and then citing wrong exemption clauses to refuse to disclose it, according to RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak. Nayak had sought returns filed by political parties in the last 10 years. The Central Information Commission had ordered in 2008 that tax returns of political parties should be disclosed under the RTI law.  


The Long Cable

Credit guarantees aren’t ‘stimulus’, can’t spur demand

MK Venu

NDTV India interviewed tour operators, guides and restaurant owners about the Rs 6.28 lakh crore stimulus package for distressed sectors announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, which is mostly in the form of bank credit guarantees (There is a special focus this time on the tourism ecosystem, a big employment provider). Almost all said they wouldn’t borrow from banks because their financial condition is very weak and there is no guarantee of tourist inflows in the near future. 

The Agra tourism ecosystem has collapsed, with guides dipping into savings and borrowing from friends and relatives. Tourist operators and restaurant owners said the guarantee of bank credit had no meaning because it is just debt, which cannot be repaid without income support. A tour operator said there was no point in announcing 5 lakh gratis visas if visitors won’t travel to India until the pandemic is contained. The vaccination strategy is a mess, just 4% of the population is covered, and critical mass is far away. 

Tourism and related trade, transport and restaurants provide a large chunk of employment and the revival of this sector depends on quick mass vaccination. Vaccination of a critical mass of people would be the biggest psychological stimulus. In the meanwhile, the government needs to provide income support to the vulnerable.

CMIE data shows that 97% of workers have suffered income losses ― both nominal and real ― after the second wave, and youth unemployment was at 28% in April and May. Credit guarantees cannot act as a stimulus after the devastation and excessive fear caused by the second wave.

The actual additional budgetary allocation by the Centre in this fiscal is only about Rs 50,000 crore, consisting of extra free foodgrains for the poor until November, and increased fertiliser subsidy, which was already announced. The rest of the so-called package of Rs 6.28 lakh crore is in the form of bank credit guaranteed by the government in sectors like health, tourism, MSMEs etc.

Direct income support rather than supply side measures is critical after the second wave because savings were eroded heavily by the first wave. Even last year, most economists argued for direct income support to the poor and lower middle class to boost demand. But the Centre’s package of Rs 20 lakh crore mostly consisted of liquidity support by RBI and various forms of credit guarantees and support to domestic manufacturing under the Atmanirbharta scheme. These were all supply side measures whose effect will be felt later. 

For instance, RBI’s liquidity easing since last year is yet to translate into any significant increase in overall bank credit to industry. Both gross fixed capital formation and private consumption expenditure dropped in 2020-21, possibly because of an excessive focus on supply side measures. A direct income support scheme would have helped more by boosting private consumption expenditure.

The government is making the same mistake after the second wave. Even industry leader Uday Kotak, President of CII, has argued for direct income support for the poor and vulnerable to boost demand in the economy. Normally, industrialists only ask for supply side sops like corporate tax cuts, labour reforms and lower capital costs but now, they realise that there can’t be growth without demand. This simple logic eludes the Modi government, which insists on providing more bank credit to already weak and bankrupted small and informal businesses.

Last year, as the economy opened up fully around Diwali, some pent-up demand was seen as the upper middle class had saved during the lockdown. It may not happen this year due to insecurity, as the RBI consumer confidence survey shows. Modi’s promise of a $5 trillion economy by March 2025 may not materialise before 2028. The sinews of the broader economy had been weakened even before the pandemic arrived, and mismanagement of the second wave has caused more damage.

It is becoming increasingly clear that PM Modi will now preside over the worst stagnation in income, savings, investment and employment of his decade-long tenure. His economic legacy is a near-total write-off, a failure of Tughlaqian proportions.


Reportedly

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has tried to parry Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee yesterday, who had called him a “corrupt man” named in the Jain diaries hawala case. He dared her to state which chargesheet carried his name. Journalist Vineet Narain (watch till 02:10), who had filed the PIL in the Supreme Court, said he was named (along with Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan) as did journalist Sanjay Kapoor, who wrote a book on the affair at the time. The Jain hawala diaries case involved names of several leaders, the tallest being LK Advani, who had resigned “on moral grounds”. The names came to light dramatically in 1991 when the arrest of some Kashmiri militants led to a diary with names of leaders and pay-offs to them. Nothing came of it in court.


Prime Number: 9 out of 11
Nine of the 11 finalists for this year’s US Spelling Bee contest are Indian-Americans, highlighting the community’s strong performance in this prestigious test for more than a decade now. The spellers will compete for the champion’s title during the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals on July 8.

Indians see themselves as ‘tolerant’ but draw the line at inter-religious marriage

“Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation”, the Pew Research Centre’s latest survey on Indian perceptions of national identity and religious freedom said. “Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be ‘truly Indian’. Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same Constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often don’t feel they have much in common with one another… Many Indians, across a range of religious groups, say it is very important to stop people in their community from marrying into other religious groups.”

While 95% of Muslims interviewed said they are proud to be Indian, almost one in five admitted to facing religious discrimination. Discrimination in the north affects 40% of Muslims and 18% in central India. The predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley was excluded due to security concerns.


Deep Dive

The divergence (in percentage terms) of excess rainfall from actual rainfall across flood-affected districts this June has never been sharper, according to an analysis of weather data by Down To Earth. Several states and districts in India experience floods every year. But what is highly unusual this year is the early arrival of floods due to heavy showers across the Gangetic and Brahmaputra basins, ranging from Uttarakhand to Upper Assam.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Devika Prasad and Zeba Sikora write that India is tragically very far from the vision of Méndez ― to provide “a cohesive blueprint of practical measures to replace torture and coercive interrogation with ‘rapport-based’ interviews, reinforced through legal and procedural safeguards.” 

  • The UAPA experience has been worse than that of TADA. The recent bail order of the Delhi High Court that led to the release of three student activists, has come as a bolt from the blue for the Delhi Police. The system must take note of this new definition of terrorism, writes Faizan Mustafa.


Listen Up

What's a Man? Masculinity in India ― a podcast with Deepa Narayan, writer and researcher, explores what it means to be a man today. In one of 11 sessions, she wonders why not a single straight man of the 250 men interviewed, chose love as part of their definition of masculinity and being a man? 


Watch Out

On Friday, June 25, American policeman Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and killing him, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. Just 13 months after the crime, and a video shot by a bystander was the main evidence. What about Faizan? A video shot at Kardampuri during the northeast Delhi riots on February 24, 2020, shows Faizan and four others unarmed, badly beaten, lying on the road, being kept down by the lathis of five or six policemen standing over them. He died of head injuries.


Over and Out

The Greenwich Royal Observatory’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021 shortlist is out ― ‘Pleiades Sisters’ by Jashanpreet Singh Dingra from India has made it, an outstanding image of the constellation in Taurus, as seen from India in the winter sky.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.