Sputnik V Rollout in India on Hold, Choksi Back in Safe Harbour

Plus: Assam's Cow Protection Bill riles Meghalaya, UN report finds spectacular growth in Indian poverty, why cooperatives matter, police use water cannon to douse ardour of water scarcity protesters

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
July 13, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

More than three months after senior military commanders of India and China met to defuse posturing along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, dates for a fresh round of talks have still not been agreed upon, though the agenda has been exchanged. The talks hope to focus on “disengagement and de-escalation” of troops, weapons and equipment from Gogra and Hot Springs, but will not include any conversation on the strategically important Depsang plains.

BJP Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh Ravi Kishan and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan Kirori Lal Meena are scheduled to introduce private members’ bills on population control and the uniform civil code, respectively, in the very first week of the Parliament session which begins on July 19. Kishan himself has four children

‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, an annual flagship report jointly prepared by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, has grim news on the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU). The growth in the ranks of the poor in India has been spectacular. India has been bunched alongside Colombia, Philippines, Thailand and Sudan as countries affected by economic downturn, conflict and climate extremes. (See Page 69 of the report)

Thomas Cleary, translator of Asian religious and spiritual literature, has died in Oakland, aged 72. He translated over 50 books and collections ― Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Islamic texts from Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic. Standout translations from our region include works from Islamic and Sufi culture, and the Dhammapada. Internationally, Cleary was celebrated for racier renderings ― of the I Ching, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings

The BBC has a long report on “the myth of India’s population explosion”, with reference to UP’s two-child policy. It says that experts have warned against a “coercive” policy that denies women agency and further increases unsafe or sex-selective abortions, given the deep-rooted and overwhelming preference for sons.

WhatsApp faces consumer action in Europe, where the coercive manner in which it is trying to roll out amended terms of service is seen to be in breach of consumer protection law. It has threatened consequences familiar to users in India, such as the app just shutting down, and like in India, there is an exodus to competing messaging platforms like Telegram and Signal. In India, the controversial update to the ToS has been suspended until a data protection law is in force

The Delhi High Court is hearing a complaint by lawyer Prashant Bhushan that the Indian government is refusing to act on evidence of corruption and its own version of the infamous ‘Panama papers’ scandal of tax evasion, which was reported some years back based on correspondence involving tax consulting firm, Nitish Desai Associates. The Pioneer reports: “The 33 files include communication between Desai Associates and  Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group,  Jaicorp (file name is Reliance Industries Jaicorp), Accenture, Asian Genco Morgan Stanley, DSP, Embassy Group of Bengaluru, Ernst and Young, Hiranandani Trust, Kotak FMP, venture capital firms Sequoia, Nexus Venture Capital and 2i Capital, Piramal Indiareit, Viacom Network 18, Pepsi Co, etc.”

Himanta Biswa Sarma may have coordinated the Northeast for the BJP and won electoral support, but as chief minister of Assam, he is ruffling feathers even outside the state. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has threatened to seek the Union government’s intervention if the Cow Protection Bill proposed by Assam affects the state’s economy. Sarma said his government would table the bill in the budget session of the state Assembly, which began yesterday.

The story of the advance of the monsoon and its advent over Delhi had been reduced to roulette by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), with at least four forecasts in as many weeks, all of them dead wrong. The government issued a press release yesterday to say that prediction failures have been rare, and this one is the fault of “numerical models”! The weather department is blaming its tools. But then, maybe because IMD did not predict rain today, it has rained in Delhi. 

Nepal Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba is sworn in today as the new prime minister after the country’s Supreme Court faulted outgoing PM KP Sharma Oli for premature dissolution of parliament. This is his fifth term, but Deuba is short of a majority. And Yashpal Sharma, middle order batsman in the Indian cricket team which won the 1983 World Cup, passed away this morning. He was 66.  


Choksi returning to safe harbour in Antigua and Barbuda

In a massive setback to the Modi government’s spin of having got hold of fugitive businessman Mehul Choksi, a Dominican court has granted interim bail to him and allowed him to travel to Antigua and Barbuda, where he is a citizen. The proceedings against him in the illegal entry case filed by the Dominican police have been adjourned. Pictures of a visibly injured Choksi went viral after he was nabbed in dramatic circumstances and incarcerated. The bail is “strictly for medical treatment”. 

Choksi had approached the Dominica high court last week seeking judicial review of the criminal case against him, alleging that he had been abducted from Antigua and Barbuda and brought to Dominica through collusion between the two island nations and the Indian government. Choksi went missing from Antigua on May 23 and was found in Dominica the next day. The Indian government has sought his deportation directly from Dominica, where he was detained for illegal entry, while in Antigua, he enjoys constitutional and legal protection.


Aftermath of the ‘bed scam’ that wasn’t

The lives of 16 young Muslim men were upended on May 4 when the BJP’s Bengaluru south MP Tejasvi Surya , flanked by three party MLAs, stormed into the Bengaluru municipality’s Covid-19 war room and read out the names of only the 16 Muslim men out of 205 people who worked there. In a cleverly planned press meet the same day, the MP revealed a bed booking scam in the BBMP. Within hours, the list of the 16 Muslims was being shared on social media, with people calling them the ‘terrorists behind the bed scam’.

However, these young men had nothing to do with the alleged scam, and are not accused in any FIR. Six days later, when he was asked why he read out the names of 16 Muslims, Tejasvi Surya had no proper reply. More than two months later, these young men continue to bear the brunt of the theatrics of the BJP leaders. The News Minutespoke to all 16 men to understand how things have changed and what the future holds. Only one out of the 16 was taken back into the municipality’s war room; three got new jobs while most others are still desperately looking for work. One young man left for Mumbai, because he found it unbearable and wanted to get away.


Sputnik V on hold, even Delhi short of vaccines

Full rollout of the Sputnik V vaccine in India will have to be put on hold until the Russian producer provides equal quantities of its two differing doses, according to Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. Dr Reddy’s had received about 3 million first doses by June 1 and only about 360,000 doses of the second by early this month. Dr Reddy’s had originally planned a full rollout in mid-June, but is currently running a pilot programme at select hospitals across the country.

Covaxin manufacturer Bharat Biotech has announced that all documents required for Emergency Use Listing (EUL) of Covaxin were submitted to the WHO on July 9. Dr Krishna Ella of Biotech claims that “the review process has now commenced”. Vaccine rates continue to be low and now, even the capital, Delhi has run out of its stock of Covishield and some Covid vaccination centres are likely to be closed today. Government vaccination centres were shut on Sunday, too. 

Vaccines remain critical. The WHO has expressed deep concern over the variant first found in India, the Delta variant. After 10 weeks of declines, deaths are increasing again. The Delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, this report quotes the WHO as saying.


Economy figures still don’t recover

Headline retail inflation for June was at 6.26%, but food and fuel inflation remained elevated at 5.15% and 12.6% respectively. Regardless of why prices rise, if they overtake incomes, purchasing power falls. In May 2021, the Index for Industrial Production stood at 116.6 points compared to 90.2 points a year earlier. But the index was at 135.4 points in May 2019 as per the NSO data. It means that industrial production had recovered somewhat over 2020 but was still below the pre-pandemic level in May 2019.


The Long Cable

Amit Shah’s new portfolio: More aggressive regulation of coops ahead?

Siraj Hussain

Finally, the Centre has realised what most of the states had understood long ago: the importance of cooperatives in the development narrative of Indian agriculture, and allied sectors. The establishment of a separate Ministry of Cooperation has been a subject of discussion in the media, since the home minister has been given additional charge of the new ministry. If the minister was someone else, so much attention would not have been invited. 

The new ministry is in fulfilment of the promise made in the Finance Minister’s budget speech of 2021-22, in which she had proposed a separate administrative structure in order to develop multi-state cooperatives and to streamline ease of doing business for them. 

The Department of Cooperation in most states is headed by a cabinet minister. At the Centre, it was part of the credit division, headed by a joint secretary, who is also designated as the central registrar of cooperative societies. 

Cooperative societies are of two types. Those whose objects are limited to a state are registered under the Cooperative Societies Acts of respective states. The Registrar, Cooperatives, is the regulatory authority of state-level cooperatives. The Multi State Cooperative Societies Act, 2002, regulates cooperative societies whose objects are not confined to a single state. 

At the state level, cooperative institutions have played a critical role in providing short-term credit to farmers (crop loans). At the village level, the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS) provide crop loans to farmers. There are District Cooperative Banks (DCBs) at the district level. At the state level, there are State Cooperative Banks (StCBs). The StCBs and DCCBs are registered under the State Cooperative Societies Acts, but they are also regulated by the Reserve Bank of India and Nabard. Then, there are several Urban Cooperative Banks (UCBs) which collect deposits from the public and extend credit. About 15-16% of outstanding agricultural credit has been provided by cooperative institutions.

In the last few years, there have been several instances of financial irregularities in DCCBs, StCBs and UCBs. In some cases, RBI has imposed a penalty for compliance issues. Several institutions are under investigation for embezzlement. In September 2020, Parliament amended the Banking Regulation Act and rightly brought cooperative banks under the direct supervision of the RBI. Now, the RBI has the power to supersede the board of directors of DCCBs and StCBs.

While the cooperative banks are regulated by the RBI, it is feared that the new ministry may use malfeasance as an excuse to interfere in the regulation of other state-level cooperatives, also. Even though the State Registrar of Cooperatives is the regulatory authority, the new ministry may threaten to use central agencies for investigation, so as to force them to toe the Centre’s political line.

Many cooperative societies in the processing sector like sugar mills and textile mills are registered as multi-state cooperative societies. There are large institutions with thousands of members and turnover in crores of rupees. They are prized objects of political control. The battle for control of milk unions affiliated to Amul is well known.

It is possible that the creation of a Ministry of Cooperation may be the beginning of a more aggressive regulatory regime for cooperatives. It is up to the government to send a message that there would be no political interference in the functioning of the multi-state cooperatives and the central registrar would be allowed to use his quasi-judicial powers without political interference.

For several decades, the project of computerisation of PACS has been in progress. The new ministry can earn laurels if it completes this work by 2022-23. It would be a gift to farmers who depend on PACS for their credit needs. 

It is an unfortunate reality that cooperatives in many states have basically depended on the infusion of share capital from state governments. Promoters of these large cooperatives are the primary beneficiaries of these investments by the state governments. With Amit Shah as the minister, it is expected that the financial allocations for cooperatives in the Union budget will get a handsome increase. 

The author is Visiting Senior Fellow, ICRIER. He has served as registrar, cooperative societies, UP, and Union agriculture secretary.


Reportedly

Champat Rai, general secretary of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, is under the scanner of not just the Opposition but the RSS too following allegations of impropriety in the purchase of land in Ayodhya. Rai recently met senior RSS functionaries in Chitrakoot, and Deccan Herald reports that he pleaded innocence. The Sangh leadership, however, is in a dilemma about removing Rai, barely months ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, as it would amount to accepting the allegations. Rai may survive, though the temple trust he heads  bought land for Rs 18 crore minutes after it was sold for Rs 2 crore.


‘UP administration has collapsed’, say former civil servants

A letter by the Constitutional Conduct Group has among the signatories eminent citizens, not all of whom are ex-officials. It condemns the “complete breakdown” of governance and violation of the rule of law in UP, saying that CM Adityanath’s government has “ushered in a model of governance which swerves further and further away from the values of the Constitution and the rule of law with each passing day.” The letter says that all branches of the administration in UP, including the executive, magistrates and the police, have “collapsed” and the “destruction of democracy itself” is feared. (Full text)


Prime Number: 60,82,130
The number of vacant posts in the Union and state governments, as per official data. PM Modi had promised 2 crore new jobs every year before he became prime minister in 2014.

What Stan Swamy left behind 

“In life, Stan Swamy, who traversed the long journey from his village in Tamil Nadu to Jharkhand to the Philippines to Bengaluru and then back to Jharkhand and finally a jail and hospital in Mumbai, dedicated himself to the most dispossessed and marginalised. And with his death, he brought the focus back on fundamental rights of all Indian citizens, the legal architecture that curtailed these rights, what it meant for those who worked with communities, at the grassroots, through legal and non-violent means, and the conditions of prisons. In his life and death, Swamy left lessons for India,” reports Hindustan Times.


Deep Dive

Villagers living in the Uttar Pradesh sugar belt bear the brunt of poorly implemented environmental regulations and water scarcity. The Third Pole finds that while sugar is the backbone of the local economy, its growing environmental impacts are being ignored


Sirisha Bandla back from edge of space 

Indian-American astronaut Sirisha Bandla says it was an “incredible” and “life-changing” experience to see the earth from space during her maiden trip on Virgin Galactic’s first fully-crewed suborbital test flight. Bandla, a 34-year-old aeronautical engineer, on Sunday joined British billionaire Richard Branson and four others on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity to make a journey to the edge of space from New Mexico. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Gideon Rachman writes in the Financial Times, citing the arrest of former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, that the “political future of countries such as Turkey, India, Brazil and Israel may also hinge on whether the courts are strong enough to rein in the autocratic tendencies of their leaders. All four are democracies that have elected strongman figures who display disdain for democratic checks and balances.”

  • Bharat Dogra writes on the disturbing violence in UP’s local polls, where 40% seats were won uncontested by the dominant party. He says that “violence, intimidation and unfair practices have played an important role and should be investigated.”

  • “Barking up the wrong tree” is how Ashwini Deshpande characterises UP’s proposed population control law: “The need is to address factors leading to above-replacement fertility rates.”

  • To defeat the BJP, the Samajwadi party would need to “go well beyond plebeian caste consolidation and minority insecurity, and court floating voters with a broad-based, positive message of development. In this regard, Akhilesh Yadav can borrow from his own template of 2012,” writes Asim Ali.

  • Harinder Baweja writes in ‘A personal chronicle of the Taliban in Afghanistan’ that unlike in 1996, when India refused to recognise the Taliban government in Afghanistan, it has now opened some communication channels, “but one thing can be certain: there is neither sincerity nor certainty when it comes to any deal” with them.

  • Mahesh Vyas writes that job losses in the second wave should concern us. More urban male jobs have been lost and as these “are the better quality jobs and their disproportionate loss could imply a greater fall in income than witnessed so far.

  • Writing for Dawn, Maleeha Lodhi explores Pakistan’s options in dealing with the new situation in Afghanistan.


Listen Up

India’s most ambitious plan to transform its military under new CDS General Rawat has run into controversy. Defence expert Manoj Joshi decodes what’s going on and what’s at stake.


Watch Out

Economist Kaushik Basu tells Faye D’Souza: “I’m worried about the Indian Economy.”


Over and Out

Bombay cinema has huge pay gaps between male and female leads, but Hollywood’s equal pay debate hasn’t got its foot in the door. But actor Huma Qureshi has bluntly asked why female actors should not be paid the same for doing the same amount of work as their male co-stars.

In Delhi, the BJP turned out to protest against Arvind Kejriwal over the water crisis. The Delhi Police, who report to Amit Shah, doused their enthusiasm with water cannon. There’s some kind of joke in this, somewhere


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.