Indian Healthcare System Plagued by Critical Personnel Shortage; What is The Basic Structure Of Jagdeep Dhankhar?
Half of Army gear is ‘vintage’, CAPF to get old pension scheme, Pak cracks down on cable operators airing Indian TV, Adani’s men in NDTV have nothing to do with media, India’s classical rail stations
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
January 13, 2022
Government data shows that while the overall shortage of specialists in rural community health centres (CHCs) is 80%, it’s even higher in specialities. There is a shortfall of 83.2% surgeons, 74.2% obstetricians and gynaecologists, 79.1% physicians and 81.6% paediatricians. The health personnel shortage continues in village sub-centres, with a 3.5% shortfall of female health workers and auxiliary nurse midwives and 66.6% for male health workers. The poor staff situation in UP, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Odisha and Tripura is mostly to blame for the national shortfall figure.
The Taliban are pushing the Modi government to allow it to station a representative in New Delhi, Afghan diplomatic officials have told The Print. Candidates for the position include Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the foreign ministry spokesperson who has intimidated journalists with death threats. The government has reopened its mission in Kabul but does not recognise the Taliban regime. This request now poses a complex diplomatic challenge for India as it seeks to build its influence with the repressive rulers of Afghanistan.
The influential Tuipuiral Group of the Young Mizo Association has claimed that one of the bombs dropped by Myanmar military jets on Camp Victoria, the headquarters of the Chin National Front (CNF) at around 3:30 pm on Tuesday, fell on Indian territory, causing some damage and affecting the lives of border villagers. Villagers panicked after Myanmar jets bombed the same area again on Wednesday. An Army officer denied the claim, but there has been no official denial from the Indian government. The bombing has increased the influx of refugees from Myanmar into Mizoram.
China’s top-selling electric carmaker BYD aims to become India’s second-largest EV company this year, behind only Tata Motors, as it rolls out more models including a premium saloon. The Shenzhen-based group, whose investors include Warren Buffett, said it might expand Indian production after 2025 if demand picked up. BYD assembles its EVs in Chennai from semi-knocked down kits (SKDs).
The Nepal Electricity Authority has sought India’s approval to export 40-50 MW of electricity to Bangladesh through India’s transmission lines, under an agreement reached between Nepal and Bangladesh in August. NEA has sent a request to the NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam. Bangladesh has also asked India to facilitate the power trade. “Initially, the Indian company responded that India’s existing transmission infrastructure may not have extra capacity,” said Kul Man Ghising, managing director of NEA. “We have made a second request to the Indian side and they have responded saying that they would reassess the transmission capacity and respond.”
Pakistan’s electronic media watchdog yesterday launched a crackdown on cable operators airing Indian content on TV channels in the country. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) field staff conducted raids at four cable operators “for airing illegal Indian channels as well as Indian content.” It told all cable TV operators to “immediately stop” airing Indian channels/content which are illegal or proscribed by the authority. In 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court reinstated a ban on airing Indian content, a tit-for-tat move after similar actions were taken by some channels and the entertainment industry in India against Pakistani content and artists.
“Kashmir’s immediate future appears to be as an impoverished police state, run from Delhi, with light shows and tulip gardens, but little peace, liberty or prosperity,” reports The Economist from the erstwhile state.
When New Delhi scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, one of the justifications by the Centre was that it was for the greater prosperity and economic development of the former state. But back-to-back government recruitment drives in Jammu and Kashmir have been plagued by allegations of corruption and irregularities – four of them in 2022. Thousands of candidates had spent months studying and training for recruitment exams.
Quashing an order by the Union government, the Delhi High Court yesterday said the central armed police forces (CAPF) are part of the armed forces of the Union government and entitled to the old pension scheme (OPS), which is applicable to the Army, Navy and Air Force. In a landmark judgement, it said that Article 246 of the Constitution envisages that Indian armed forces include “Naval, Military and Air Forces; any other armed forces of the Union”, and hence CAPF personnel deserve the OPS according to the notification of December 22, 2003 by the Ministry of Home Affairs. CAPFs will not be covered under the new pension scheme.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Akal Takht, the highest temporal body of the Sikhs, have objected to the Army’s plans to procure specialised ballistic helmets for Sikh soldiers. SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami yesterday wrote to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh urging him to withdraw the decision, which violates the Sikh code of conduct and “destroys” the unique identity of Sikhs in the forces.
Importers of items with a history of customs duty evasion through undervaluation will face higher scrutiny and greater disclosure norms, under new rules empowering authorities. The move follows reports about systematic under-invoicing of imports from China. While China claimed that trade with India touched $103 billion in the first nine months of 2022, India’s data showed that bilateral trade stood at just $91 billion.
Professor Amartya Sen said the progress of science and human knowledge is possible only when one nation learns from another. “There is no shame in learning from others and then putting what we have learned to good use and going on to create new knowledge. This exchange of ideas and scientific dynamism is much needed. We not only need to research but also see how we can apply that new research,” said the Nobel laureate on Tuesday, in Kolkata. Professor Sen made the remarks at an event organised at the Amartya Sen Research Centre, a flagship initiative of Pratichi (India) Trust.
Across India, Jewish tombs are venerated according to Hindu and Muslim rituals, including those of a Jew-turned-Sufi saint whose severed head recited love poems and a Yemenite Kabbalist with supernatural powers, reports Haaretz. They are a part of India’s Jewish heritage, and the reverence in which they are held by India’s major religious communities is evidence of an inclusive and expansive idea of human nature, faith and “Indianness”.
Rehman Rahi, Kashmir’s unofficial poet laureate, died in Srinagar on Monday aged 97. The New York Times says “he gave voice to the rich culture of a bitterly divided territory and helped give his mother tongue a distinct literary identity.”
EC concerned about too much money in polls
Submitting that it is seriously concerned about the increasing use of money power in elections, the Election Commission of India has informed the Supreme Court that to curb this it has successively enforced the Election Expenditure Monitoring Mechanism since the Bihar Assembly polls of 2010. “One of the reasons for more money being seized today is increased vigilance and the efforts of ECI,” the affidavit states. It was filed in response to the plea of Prabhakar Deshpande, seeking to direct the ECI to come up with a comprehensive plan to curb excess election expenditures.
Indian hockey’s medal drought may end
The Hockey World Cup in Odisha got off to a glitzy start. The matches are being played at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium and Rourkela’s Birsa Munda Stadium. This will be the 15th edition of the tournament, and the second consecutive World Cup in India.
Odisha has been the home of Indian hockey over the past decade. The state has hosted multiple international matches including the FIH Pro League games. The 2018 edition of the World Cup was also held in the state, but only in Bhubaneswar. This year, another stadium in Rourkela has been added to host the 16-team tournament.
Between them, they have played five Hockey World Cups, and former India captain MM Somaya, Edgar Mascarenhas and Adrian D’Souza believe that the tournament beginning today is a huge opportunity for India to end the four-decade medal drought.
Carbide successors reject Bhopal depreciation claim
Successor firms of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) have told the Supreme Court that the depreciation of the rupee since 1989, when the company settled with the Centre, cannot be a ground to now seek a “top-up” of compensation for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, which claimed 3,000 lives and poisoned the environment. A five-judge bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul reserved its verdict on a curative petition of the Centre seeking an additional Rs 7,844 crore from UCC’s successor firms.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the respondents, told the bench that the Government of India never suggested at the time of the settlement that it was inadequate: “There are series and series of affidavits starting from 1995 and ending as late as 2011, where the Union of India has opposed every single attempt to suggest that the settlement (of 1989) is inadequate. Affidavits upon affidavits were filed.”
Almost half of Army gear is ‘vintage’
“In our current profile, I would say it is 45% vintage, 41% current and 12-15% state of the art,” Army chief Gen Manoj Pande said at his annual press conference about Army equipment. “By 2030, because of our modernisation plans, we will reach close to 35% current and 45% state of the art,” he claimed. A balanced profile is seen as 35% vintage, 35% current and 30% state of the art. About vintage equipment, he said the Army is upgrading its existing tanks, artillery and electronic warfare equipment. So while legacy systems age, they remain current in terms of ability, he added.
Talking of the impact of the Ukraine crisis, he said that the Army’s reliance on Soviet-origin equipment was assessed. “Sustenance of these weapon systems and equipment, in terms of spares and ammunition, is one issue that we have addressed. We got a waiver and sanction to procure even if it is ex-imports for the next two to three years. We have 40 such cases, including spares and ammunition, largely pertaining to air defence and the tank fleet. We are looking at how sustenance requirement is met and finding alternate sources of supply of these spares.”
“Though unpredictable, the situation at the northern borders is stable and under control,” he said about the China border. “We have been able to maintain a robust defensive posture to prevent our adversary from changing the status quo along the LAC,” he claimed, without specifying if this was the new status quo created by the Chinese.
The Long Cable
What is the basic structure of Jagdeep Dhankhar?
The Kesavananda Bharati case resulted in a landmark judgment in 1973, which reinforced our democracy and the basic structure of the Constitution. Kesavanand Bharati, head pontiff of a mutt in Kasargod, had challenged a Kerala Land Reform Act and established the principle that the Supreme Court is the guardian of the basic structure of the Constitution. The verdict involved the largest bench ― of 13 judges ― ever to sit in the apex court. The case is significant for its ruling that the Constitution can be amended, but not its basic structure. This became an article of faith across the political spectrum in subsequent years, especially after the Emergency, when all constitutional guarantees were sought to be upended. Therefore, it is shocking that the judgment should be questioned by the Vice President of India at a time when India is projecting itself as the “Mother of Democracies” under her G-20 presidentship!
Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar has questioned the validity of the Kesavananda Bharati judgment, implying that Parliament must have the sovereign right to amend the Constitution regardless of whether it impinges on the basic structure, which also defines fundamental rights.
Senior Supreme Court advocates who have known and interacted closely with Dhankhar, himself a senior member of the SC Bar for decades, do not recall him opposing the Kesavananda Bharati verdict, ever. Indeed, it has been an article of faith for jurists, without exception.
So what is the motivation for Vice President Dhankhar to question the 1973 verdict which was hailed across the board for its sagacity? Dhankhar’s former Bar colleagues are wondering where he is coming from. Opposition leaders have swiftly reacted with shock and disbelief.
Rajya Sabha MP and an old colleague of Dhankhar’s at the SC Bar Association, Vivek Tankha has tweeted to remind people that in Parliament, BJP leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Arun Jaitley have sworn their allegiance to the basic structure of the Constitution. Tankha told me he would dig up statements in Parliament by well-known leaders who considered the basic structure of the Constitution to be sacrosanct, as established by the Kesavananda Bharati case.
Former finance minister and a senior member of the Bar P Chidambaram has weighed in, saying, “The Hon’ble Chairman of the Rajya Sabha is wrong when he says that Parliament is supreme. It is the Constitution that is supreme. The basic structure doctrine was evolved in order to prevent a majoritarian-driven assault on the foundational principles of the Constitution.”
The timing of Dhankhar’s statement is also odd, coming as it does in the middle of PM Modi’s project of showcasing India as the ‘mother of democracies’ as part of the nationwide celebration of India’s G-20 Presidentship. Surely it will embarrass the ruling party before the global community that a high constitutional functionary holds such a view.
Recently, Dhankar was also severely critical of the SC’s 2015 rejection of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, passed by Parliament for higher judicial appointments. The Vice President made the case that SC’s rejection of the law was tantamount to an erosion of Parliament’s supremacy.
One does not know whether the latest pronouncement by the Vice President is part of a larger plan to send a message to the Supreme Court. Interestingly, no one from the ruling party has reacted so far as Dhankhar’s revisionist view on the basic structure of the Constitution. One will have to wait and see how the judiciary responds to it. The timing of this debate is also very interesting, when politics is poised to become more combative as the 2024 Lok Sabha polls near. There is never a dull moment under this regime.
The recent appointment of Aman Kumar Singh, group head and corporate brand custodian for the Adani Group and former principal secretary to Chhattisgarh’s BJP chief minister, and Sunil Kumar, former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh, as non-executive independent directors at NDTV, has raised a few eyebrows. Both were powerful bureaucrats in Raman Singh’s BJP government. Singh, a former IRS officer, handled finance and planning, while Kumar headed the state administration. The two would have been directly involved in handling the Adani Group’s controversial coal mining projects in the tribal-majority state. These retired bureaucrats have been installed on the NDTV board not for their media expertise but for something else. What is that?
Prime Number: 39 consecutive months
With CPI inflation at 5.72% in December, headline retail inflation has now spent 39 consecutive months above the RBI’s medium-term target of 4%.
The BJP-led Union government continued systematic discrimination and stigmatisation of religious and other minorities in India, particularly Muslims, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2022, which was released yesterday: “BJP supporters increasingly committed violent attacks against targeted groups … The government’s Hindu majoritarian ideology was reflected in bias in institutions, including the justice system and constitutional authorities like the National Human Rights Commission.”
The report cited the Gujarat government’s decision to grant early release to 11 life-term convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, the “online auction” of over 100 Muslim women and the demolition of Muslim-owned properties. The report also mentions the arrests of AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair and journalist Siddique Kappan, targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir, and raids by tax officials on NGOs. Raids on Oxfam India, the Centre for Policy Research and the Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation in Bengaluru were politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Harish Khare says the Bharat Jodo Yatra has helped the country move away from the fear of fragmentation invented by the authors of the tukde-tukde gang bogey.
Apoorvanand asks how any good can be expected, least of all in education, under a government that propagates untruths and wreaks violence upon the weak, the poor and minorities.
While the government may have scored political points with NFSA and PMGKY, its move does not benefit consumers reeling under inflation, or farmers in distress. It is also a missed opportunity to take bold steps towards reforming the PDS in line with NFSA goals, writes Himanshu.
The issue in Tamil Nadu is not just about partisan politics or political ideologies but about the role of a governor and how far such a confrontation can be allowed to go, writes TM Veeeraraghav.
A National Security Strategy would formalise what the government is already doing and provide clarity and credibility. For the transformation of the armed forces, it is imperative to formalise it, writes Lt Gen HS Panag (retd).
RK Raghavan writes that phone-tapping impinges on democracy and the protection of every citizen’s fundamental right to privacy, and it’s a problem if such invasion of personal space is off the record and without the clearance of competent officials.
Destroying MGNREGA could be the final step in creating a vulnerable population that could become bonded labourers or, worse, enslaved people in a neoliberal economy, writes Alinda Merrie Jan.
Vir Sanghvi writes that the nationwide walkathon has transformed Rahul Gandhi’s image and boosted the battered morale of Congress workers. And it has provided a national counterpoint to the politics of the BJP.
In the subcontinent, a low-magnitude extinction began about 30,000 years ago when some megafauna like giant elephants started disappearing. But in the Americas, Europe and Australia, the arrival of humans led to rapid, large-scale extinctions of megafauna like woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. Why did megafauna persist after the arrival of modern humans here? Why did only some species disappear? Why do we still have elephants, tigers and rhinos in India? Paleobiologist Advait Jukar is trying to answer these questions. His clues lie in fossils.
A fun conversation between poet-lyricists Gulzar and Javed Akhtar (in Hindustani).
Over and out
The Burning of Pappanji, the annual event that attracts thousands to Fort Kochi in Kerala on New Year’s Eve, will now be held on multiple beaches in Ernakulam, including Vypeen, Kuzuppilly and Cherai. The development comes in the wake of a stampede-like situation in Fort Kochi last year. This year, the BJP said Pappanji resembled PM Modi and so the effigy had to be altered.
An excerpt from Indian Railway Buildings: Heritage, History and Beyond by Vinoo N Mathur tells the story of India’s classical railway buildings in pictures.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, 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.