India Lost $159 Billion And 167 Billion Work Hours To 2021 Heat Wave; With Needle Of Suspicion Pointing To IB, Institutions Must Push For The Truth About Pegasus
CCI fines Google for constraining search and app choices, US following Kashmiri Pulitzer winner’s grounding, Sitharaman caught out on claims of atmanirbhar 5G, ABVP beefs about BHU question paper
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
October 21, 2022
An independent study by Entrackr has confirmed OCCRP’s findings that in 2017 the Intelligence Bureau imported hardware from NSO Group, makers of Pegasus. The Indian government has consistently sidestepped the question of whether it has purchased Pegasus. Government officials have not testified before a Supreme Court-ordered committee. In Parliament, the government has issued carefully worded statements, never a categorical denial.
Another day, another record low. The rupee woke up feeling low yesterday, depreciated further to 83.29 against the dollar but recovered a bit after that. Analysts expect it to remain weak, and foretell that it will breach 84 to the dollar in the current quarter.
The Diwali shopping season is showing an uneven return to discretionary spending. Reflecting the general recovery trend, goods catering to very wealthiest are selling well, while demand for entry-level products is sluggish, reports Wall Street Journal.
Festive sales and increasing domestic demand have not created jobs. The unemployment rate has shot up to 7.86% this month from 6.43% in September, latest data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy shows. Rural and urban unemployment are at 8.01% and 7.53%. Rural unemployment was 5.84% in September, much lower than the previous month’s 7.68%.
Finance Minister N Sitharaman recently claimed that “the 5G that we have launched in our country is completely indigenous. There could be some critical parts coming from, say, Korea but certainly not coming from somebody else. Our 5G is not imported from somewhere else. It’s our own product.” As with many of her bombastic statements, this claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. India’s 5G gear is all imported — base stations, antennas, remote radio heads, servers etc — from Ericsson (Sweden), Nokia (Finland), Samsung (South Korea), and Cisco, HP and Dell (USA). Nokia, Ericsson and Cisco use Chinese equipment and components. Business Standard reports that Jio and Airtel have signed up with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Says a telecom exec: “We’re in a commercial business, so we can’t go wrong or experiment while building the 5G network.”
Hanuman is still asleep. Most companies, barring a handful of large conglomerates and state-run corporations, remain wary of new investments amid rising interest rates. Big spending is mainly restricted to government projects, plus a few large conglomerates like the Adani and Tata groups.
The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the Centre’s plea to modify its previous order restraining it from extending the tenure of Enforcement Directorate head Sanjay Kumar Mishra after November 2021. The matter will be heard on November 7. Mishra was granted his first one-year extension in 2020. After the NGO Common Cause challenged it as a violation of the CVC Act, in September 2021 it directed that Mishra will not get a further extension. However, Mishra was later given another extension till November 2022 through a November 2021 amendment in the CVC Act, which allowed up to three one-year extensions.
Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has said the vaccine manufacturer stopped producing Covishield in December 2021, by which time 100 million doses had expired. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the AGM of the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network (DCVMN), he said booster vaccines have no demand because people don’t care and are fed up with the pandemic. Covishield was produced at the SII’s Pune facility with a master seed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
UCO Bank and Yes Bank are in talks with Russian banks over a payment mechanism for trade. Reuters had reported large lenders are reluctant to process direct rupee trade transactions with Russia for fear of Western sanctions, and New Delhi is now counting on smaller banks like UCO and Yes. Options include the Indian rupee paired with the Russian rouble or Saudi Arabia’s riyal.
India suffered an income loss of $159 billion (5.4% of GDP) in the service, manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors due to extreme heat in 2021. Heat exposure cost 167 billion potential labour hours, a 39% increase from 1990-1999, said the Climate Transparency Report 2022, compiled by an international partnership. Labour productivity is projected to decline by 5% from the 1986-2006 baseline if global temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The recent case of a suspected human sacrifice in Kerala’s Elanthoor village has brought forth forgotten crimes of the past and put a spotlight on the blood-soaked history of ritual murders in the state.
Punjab recently became the first state in India to allow prisoners conjugal visits, and a 60-year-old murder accused was its first beneficiary. Gurjeet Singh, lodged in Goindwal Jail in Tarn Taran, told the BBC that he was “lonely and depressed” in jail and that he felt “a great relief when I was allowed to meet my wife and spend a couple of hours with her in private”. Punjab prison authorities in Punjab said inmates with good conduct would be allowed to see their their spouses for two hours every two months. Over 1,000 prisoners have applied for permission and nearly half of them have had visits.
When she was released on conditional bail in the Bhima Koregaon case, after over three years in jail, one of the first things Sudha Bharadwaj asked her daughter to send from her home were her black coat and her lawyer’s sanad. She is back to lawyering full time. Her first clients were the women prisoners she met at Yerawada and Byculla jails.
Dismiss reservation petition for Dalit Christians and Muslims, says Centre
The Union government, in a fresh affidavit before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, said it had noted the demands from Dalit Christian and Dalit Muslim communities for inclusion in the SC list and formed a three-member Commission of Inquiry headed by former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan to look into the issue because it “is a seminal and historically complex sociological and constitutional question”. However, in the affidavit, it has reiterated the position it took in November 2019, and argued that the petitions were “devoid of merits” and should be dismissed, “without prejudice” to the fact that a commission had been appointed.
The Centre limited the question to whether SC converts to other religions suffer from the “same degree of oppressiveness as suffered by Scheduled Castes practising Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism”. It argued that after conversion, the only way to establish backwardness is to see if they are “still suffering from the same social disability, that he is following the customs and traditions of the community which he earlier belonged to and also be accepted by other members of the caste as a member of such tribe/caste”. Without these, extending reservation “would cause grave injustice and abuse of the process of law” and affect the rights of SCs.
ABVP beefs about BHU hotel management paper
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad has a beef with Banaras Hindu University because of a question set in a Bachelor of Vocational Course (B.Voc) paper in catering and hotel management: “Write a classification of beef. Define.” The ABVP demanded action against the person who set the question paper and those who moderated it. ABVP leaders said it hurt the sentiments of Hindus and was against the varsity’s founder, Madan Mohan Malviya, who supported cow protection.
Earlier, an MA history paper had carried a question about the demolition of Varanasi temples by Aurangzeb. They figure in the ongoing legal battle over the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Mosque in a Varanasi court. “In which book is there a reference to the demolition of the Adi Vishweshwara Temple by Aurangzeb?” and “Describe Aurangzeb’s policy of demolition of temples” were asked. Muslim leaders and Opposition parties slammed the university for setting questions on sub judice issues.
US following Kashmiri Pulitzer winner’s grounding
The US says that it is closely tracking the case of Pulitzer Prize winner Sanna Irshad Mattoo, the Kashmiri journalist whom immigration authorities in New Delhi prevented from travelling to New York to receive her award, despite having a valid passport and US visa. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said, “We are aware of the reports of Ms Mattoo being prevented from travelling to the US and are tracking these developments closely. We are committed to supporting press freedom. And as the Secretary has noted, a shared commitment to democratic values, including respect for the independence of the press, is a bedrock of the US-India relationship.”
In Washington, US Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he was “disturbed” and that “efforts to harass and silence the media” must end. Schiff is a senior Democrat and a close confidant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
CCI fines Google for constraining search and apps markets
The Competition Commission of India has fined Google Rs 1,337.76 crore for abusing its dominant position in multiple markets in the Android mobile device ecosystem, issued a cease and desist order and defined a timeline for Google to modify its conduct. Google can neither force OEMs of smart devices to pre-install its apps, nor prevent users from uninstalling them. Further, the US company can’t offer incentives to OEMs to ensure exclusivity of its search services.
Google had argued about the competitive constraints being faced from Apple. Looking at the Android and iOS ecosystems, the CCI noted the differences between their business models, which affect incentives behind business decisions. It directed Google to allow users to choose their default search engine at setup and for all search entry points. “Users should have the flexibility to easily set as well as easily change the default settings in their devices, in minimum steps possible,” it said. Moreover, Google has to allow developers of other app stores to distribute through the Android Play Store.
Goa excise commissioner defends Silly Souls licence
BJP-ruled Goa’s Excise Commissioner Narayan M Gad yesterday dismissed a complaint that sought cancellation of the liquor licence of Silly Souls Bar and Restaurant in Assagao, ruling that a procedural lapse did not warrant it. “If a liquor licence is suspended or cancelled on petty issues, it not only hampers the business but also affects the revenue of the state,” the commissioner said. “If a liquor licence holder dies, should the business come to an end? …A running business cannot be allowed to be closed all of a sudden.”
Lawyer Aires Rodrigues, who had said on June 29 that the excise department illegally renewed the licence in the name of the deceased Anthony D’Gama, will challenge the decision in the High Court. It is alleged that Union minister Smriti Irani’s family is involved in illegally running a bar at Silly Souls and that it was on account of her influence that the excise officials bent rules. The minister filed a civil defamation suit in the Delhi High Court against three Congress leaders for linking her daughter’s name to the restaurant. Silly Souls Café & Bar has remained closed since the controversy broke out in July.
The Long Cable
With needle of suspicion pointing to IB, institutions must push for the truth on Pegasus
The latest revelations by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project have it that India’s Intelligence Bureau had “bought hardware from the Israeli spyware firm NSO Group that matches the description of equipment used elsewhere to deploy the company’s flagship Pegasus software,” according to import documents. This, says the international group looking at organised crime and corruption, corroborates reports by the New York Times earlier this year, that the Modi government had purchased Pegasus spyware in 2017 as part of a major arms deal with Israel.
One of the Forbidden Stories consortium’s reports, which appeared prominently in Haaretz (July 20, 2021) was on NSO’s military-grade spyware going wherever then Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu went for “improving ties”. India found itself in the company of Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Azerbaijan, the UAE, Rwanda, Morocco and Mexico. The newspaper went on to say, “Notice the timeline: In India, the earliest numbers appear in the NSO database in July 2017, exactly when Modi was dipping his toes into the Mediterranean Sea.”
The story so far
Perhaps cognizant of the implications of admitting to snooping, the government has refused any discussion in Parliament. It has also refused to submit an affidavit to the Supreme Court on the matter. The issue is serious ― a government using billions of dollars of public money to spy on its own citizens, amassing information which can fully subvert the level playing field that democracy presupposes. The targets included senior Opposition leaders, an Election Commissioner, possibly a Supreme Court judge, people in the registry of the apex court, along with 11 persons connected with a woman staffer who had brought charges of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India, senior lawyers, journalists, people associated with investigative agencies and involved with sensitive investigations, MLAs in Opposition-run states just before their governments were toppled, wives, sisters, friends, gardeners and drivers connected with important persons, including two ministers.
Implications of latest revelations
The Supreme Court had taken up petitions challenging the government to come clean and be accountable last year and a committee appointed by the Supreme Court has submitted an (as yet) confidential report to it in August. The technical committee set up by the court has confirmed malware in five phones it examined, and said clearly that the government has not cooperated with its work. The latest revelations by OCCRP, in the now-forgotten tradition of suo motu in India’s top court, must push it to demand answers from the government.
Reputed international forensic firms have reported hacking and planting of documents on the devices of two prominent persons in jail for over two years in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Those must be looked into, in the light of yesterday’s reports of the IB allegedly being the importer of goods that fulfil the specifications for Pegasus.
French and Belgian intelligence agencies, a UK court and the European Commission have each examined phones which were first reported by the Pegasus Project as infected – and confirmed the findings. The Indian Supreme Court’s technical committee has confirmed malware, but is silent on whether it is Pegasus. This news must be used to prod the committee to share its findings and seek confirmations from Amnesty International and the Citizen Lab.
Most importantly, the silence of the present government on very serious charges has acquired a menacing character. This is not the first time that the government is silent on charges, and now the needle of suspicion is hovering on a specific agency. The Union government’s inexplicable actions on the Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, its abrupt withdrawal after detailed consultations, more than five years after the Supreme Court interpreted privacy as a fundamental right, should spell a credibility crisis.
The biggest implication of this report will be to test if India’s institutions still have some juice left. Even if they are denied answers, can courts, bureaucrats, the media and others tasked with safeguarding citizens against a deeply centralised and closed government at least frame the right questions?
The recent annual conference of principal secretaries of states and Union territories had one overriding theme. Union Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh asked the states to spare more IAS, IPS and IFoS officers for central deputation, which has become a major issue. He urged babus to overcome their reluctance to serve at the Centre. The Union government faces a shortage of 1,472 IAS officers and 864 IPS officers. To bridge the gap, it even tweaked the rules in 2021, making the state government’s concurrence unnecessary for a posting at the Centre. But even bureaucrats from the BJP-ruled states are keeping away from Delhi.
Prime Number: 5.745
India has 5,745 dams, the third highest number in the world, and follows China with 23,842 and the US with 9,261. The real concern is that 80% of the dams are more than 25 years old. Some 6% are more than 100 years old, and 18% are 50-100 years old. The risks are obvious.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj provides a brief history of privatisation in India, its policy, politics and failures. Most worrying is privatisation by stealth, as the government quietly withdraws from the social sector. By spending less on health and education, the government is bringing in the private sector by the back door. The pandemic has emphasised the need to keep essential services free of market forces.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Dilip D’Souza writes that the Global Hunger Index is based on specific malnourishment measures, which food handouts over 2.5 years don’t measurably change.
Himanshu writes that the GHI and UNDP’s Multidimensional Poverty Index have both indicated the need to end deprivation quickly in India. The government must accept inconvenient truths rather than discredit survey data.
Modern authoritarianism doesn’t look like the uniformed and jackbooted fascism of a century ago, or the military-led dictatorships of the Cold War era. Today, democracy can be and usually is undermined from within, writes Aakar Patel.
With the Bilkis Bano case, we must accept that there are people in positions of influence and power whose hatred of Muslims is so great that it negates their basic humanity, writes Vir Sanghvi.
Shakir Mir writes that the Union government’s “important reforms” are viewed as attempts to marginalise Kashmiris in their homeland and to undermine the structures of self-governance in the region.
Rather than simplistic narratives of “Islamic invasions” of a uniformly Hindu region, the reality of the mediaeval world is one of fluid, complex interactions between many simultaneously-evolving cultural zones, writes Anirudh Kanisetti.
PDT Achary writes that since the southern States cannot decide who will rule from Delhi, it is all the more necessary to address the concerns of their people about language.
The Congress presidential poll is a breakthrough moment for the Congress and the party system, writes Zoya Hasan.
Aparajita Gogoi writes that women must have complete and unconditional autonomy over their bodies and reproductive choices. But men have a vital role to play in ensuring they become equal partners.
The headlines may come from cricket operations, but the power and the money actually rest in policy decisions. Shah Jr calls such a range of shots because he is the one signing the cheques, issuing the diktats, choosing the uniforms, selecting the menu, and doing everything other than picking the team, writes Sharda Ugra.
The UN has published data to show that India would surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2023 or earlier. According to the 2018-19 Economic Survey, India’s demographic dividend will peak around 2041, when the share of the working age population is expected to hit 59%. Poonam Muttereja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India and Sonalde Desai, Professor at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, discuss if we need a whole new population policy.
‘Lessons from the Emergency’ moderated by independent journalist Neha Dixit, features journalist and author Kalpana Sharma and senior advocate Chander Uday Singh. The discussion spans the Emergency, its repercussions and the role of journalism.
Over and out
According to the Financial Times’ tracker, based on Betfair data, as the contest to pick another new PM for Britain gets underway, Indian-origin Rishi Sunak is the early favourite followed by Penny Mordaunt and once more, Boris Johnson.
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