The India Cable: World Bank Scraps Ease Of Doing Business; IT Rules Stayed Again

AUKUS agitates China, France, Raid Raj bodes ill for democracy, UP parents pawn property for kids' health, Kerala food companies hit by hate campaign, and Dainik Bhaskar's mea culpa

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
September 17, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The abundance of fake news in India, cheer-led from the corridors of power, is getting global attention. India is the world’s biggest source of misinformation about coronavirus, according to a study in Canada covered by The Times, London. The researchers examined 9,657 units of misinformation in January-March 2020, tracing their spread across platforms. India accounted for 16% of the fake stories, topping the chart of ignominy of 138 countries surveyed, with purported cures for Covid-19 “from squirting lemon juice up your nose to covering yourself in cow pat”. The US is a distant second with 9%. Most were spread on social media.

VK Paul of the Niti Aayog described a New York Times report on political interference in Covid management by top scientists in India as an “out of context report that is not desirable”, while Indian Council of Medical Research chief Balram Bhargava said it was “provocative and attention-seeking [and] doesn’t merit any attention”. Accusing the ICMR of “criminal culpability” in trying to fudge Covid-19 data to spin a “false narrative” favouring the Modi government, the Congress has demanded a criminal investigation against the Prime Minister, former Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and senior ICMR officials.

China claims 1 billion fully inoculated, bringing it closer to its goal of vaccinating 80% of its people by the end of the year. It has administered 2.16 billion doses, nearly three times the figure for India, reports The New York Times.

Slow vaccination? Record levels will be seen today – to celebrate the birthday of the dear leader. Closed schools, unemployment and economic crisis? The Prime Minister’s three-week birthday bash starting today, branded ‘Seva aur Samarpan Abhiyan’, will bring cheer everywhere with NaMo app promotions, 71 environmental cleanups, blood donation camps and exhibitions and the screening of films on his life. The PM himself will receive 5 crore postcards from all over, reports Deccan Herald. That should perk Modi up since his popularity is at the lowest since he took office. Following on from protests last year, the Youth Congress is observing his birthday as National Unemployment Day

Australian, French and Indian foreign ministers were to hold a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week in New York. The meet was cancelled by France following Australia’s decision to join the UK and US in the new AUKUS grouping and do a switcheroo on a lucrative submarine deal. French officials cancelled a gala in their embassy in Washington to celebrate the anniversary of a decisive French naval victory which aided the American revolution. In India, the Ministry of External Affairs says it is difficult to bring back stranded Indians and some Afghan nationals from Kabul until flight services resume.

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar met Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Dushanbe to discuss disengagement in Ladakh. Jaishankar “emphasised that India does not subscribe to any clash of civilisations theory. It is also essential that China does not view its relations with India through the lens of a third country.” 

The Wire has received the International Press Institute’s (IPI) Free Media Pioneer Award for 2021. “Founded as a digital news venture in 2015, The Wire built its success on reader support and independent watchdog reporting. Today, The Wire’s journalists continue their work amid growing political pressure on media in India. The IPI network stands with them,” the IPI citation says.

Strangulating independent media coverage in Kashmir, the administration requires journalists to seek a permit to report. They can be prevented if their work threatens “peace” and “public tranquillity”. The order issued last month by the district magistrate of Kupwara directs “unauthorised/unregistered” journalists to “complete their registration or obtain approval”, a demand that experts say has no basis in law.

Over 600 academics, civil servants, journalists, creative people and others have expressed their support for Harsh Mander, whose offices and home were raided yesterday.  

The GST Council met physically for the first time in 20 months today. Correcting an inverted tax structure, treating food delivery firms as aggregators and bringing fuels into GST are on the agenda. Live updates by Moneycontrol

The government has announced a Rs 36,500 crore backstop to cover redemption shortfalls of  buyers of bad debt pooled by the National Asset Reconstruction Company Ltd. But India does not have a proper market for impaired assets, so will this state-run exercise work? In the unorganised sector, only 11% of street vendors have received the Rs 10,000 loan under the PM SVANidhi scheme, a micro-credit programme to help street vendors formalise their businesses.

Adults have a right to choose their matrimonial partner irrespective of religion, the Allahabad High Court said, granting protection to an interfaith couple. Sadly, courts must reiterate the obvious. 

Distressed Myanmarese are entering Mizoram. Chief Minister Zoramthanga has again written to Prime Minister Modi, requesting him to provide humanitarian aid. A 19-year-old student in Tezpur, who turned up in shorts for an entrance test to the Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat, was made to wrap a curtain around her legs before she was allowed to take the exam.

Did the Modi government investigate Pegasus after it was brought to light in 2019? A series of RTIs reveal that it did not. The Union government has “no information” on the matter.

It is exactly a year since the BJP rammed the three controversial farm bills through the Lok Sabha.


IT Rules stayed again

Another High Court has concurred with the decision of the Bombay High Court staying aspects of the controversial Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules 2021). The Madras High Court finds that coercive application against intermediaries violates Article 19(1)(a) and the oversight mechanism restricts media freedoms, says Live Law. The court affirmed the Bombay High Court’s stay on Rule 9(3), holding that it applies across the country. The court also held that any action taken under Rules 3 and 7 shall be subject to its decision.


Chinese question Indian missile

China yesterday cited a United Nations Security Council resolution issued after the 1998 nuclear tests to question India’s missile programme, and a test of the Agni V ICBM. “As for whether India can develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the UNSCR 1172 already has clear stipulations,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said about the upcoming test, which has drawn attention in the Chinese press. “Maintaining peace, security and stability in South Asia meets the common interests of all.” The resolution, passed under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, is not enforceable.


In UP, property mortgaged for children’s health

The horror of seriously ill children continues in UP. Mathura villagers are mortgaging property to save their children’s lives. The outbreak of dengue and scrub typhus in Koh has caused 11 deaths in six weeks. Hundreds of children across north Bengal have been hospitalised with viral infection and at least six have died.


World Bank scraps ease of doing business index 

The Doing Business index of the World Bank, which the Modi government loves to tom-tom, is in question in the years when India showed a phenomenal rise in rankings. The index has been scrapped altogether. 

The World Bank said yesterday: “After data irregularities on Doing Business 2018 and 2020 were reported internally in June 2020, the World Bank management paused the next Doing Business report and initiated a series of reviews and audits of the report and its methodology… World Bank Group management has taken the decision to discontinue the Doing Business report.” 


The Long Cable

Raid Raj is making examples of a few to silence the rest

Sidharth Bhatia

Harsh Mander is an activist for peace and communal harmony. The government sees him as an annoying and possibly dangerous busybody who raises inconvenient questions and therefore must be harassed, if not quashed. As has happened frequently in recent times, his premises were ‘raided’ by the Enforcement Directorate under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Essentially, the allegation is that behind the fig leaf of social work, he siphons off donations and grants, especially from foreign donors. That there is no evidence of this is a different matter altogether.

Nor is he alone — all kinds of people, from actor Sonu Sood, who worked tirelessly to help migrants trying desperately to get home during the first lockdown, to Youth Congress chief BV Srinivas, who had organised oxygen cylinders and medicines for desperate Covid patients, have come under the investigative radar, and either been raided by the Income Tax Department or questioned by the police.

Sood and others like him are not necessarily critics of the government or the BJP, but their work exposes shortcomings and failures in official policies, directly or indirectly ― like the massive failure of the government during the Covid crisis, when it left migrants and patients to their own devices, bereft of empathy and assurance. Citizens stepped in, and that the government clearly does not like.

The critics are not spared, either — in a bleak scenario, where most of the media has become like Nipper, the mixed terrier listening to His Master’s Voice, a few dissenters do stand out. They soon attract official attention — online portals Newslaundry and Newsclick were recently visited by the Income Tax authorities for a ‘survey’ and their staff questioned. Both frequently write against the government and the BJP.

In July, nearly 30 offices of Dainik Bhaskar, an influential and highly-circulated Hindi daily in several states, were raided for alleged tax evasion. Bhaskar has been an unqualified supporter of Narendra Modi, but in May, it had investigated a large number of bodies found on the banks of the Ganga in UP, all apparently Covid victims. This was journalism as it should be done, and not surprisingly, it attracted the wrath of the Yogi Adityanath government — and therefore that of the Centre ― because it showed up the sheer callousness of the former’s regime, destroying his claims of excellence. Adityanath has been particularly vindictive against all kinds of ‘anti-nationals’, from comedians to doctors to, of course, journalists, including one who sought to write about the gangrape, murder and hurried cremation by the police in Hathras. Siddique Kappan was arrested on his way to Bhulgarhi village. He hadn’t even written a story. 

Kappan happens to be a Muslim, but all the others who have been raided, are not. When it comes to trying to shut down questioners, the BJP government is not necessarily communally-minded. 

Authoritarian governments, even if democratically elected, are hostile to any dissent because it busts carefully constructed narratives, and this government has been particularly touchy. The constant refrain of its many ‘achievements’, even if the reality on the ground is the opposite, and the daily amplification provided by loyalist media, have not only convinced the avid followers — bhakts — of Narendra Modi, but also the government itself. Any opposing view tears through those claims and demolishes them. That just won’t do. Hence the harsh reaction of sending official agencies to intimidate them and possibly shut them up. It rarely works. Neither Mander nor the targeted media houses are likely to remain quiet. They will not just continue to speak up, but will continue their work with vigour.

Of course, such intimidation has a chilling effect on others, journalists included, who may harbour ideas of speaking out. The fear of being visited by official investigative agencies and even being arrested can scare most people who may then decide that discretion is the better part of valour. Businessmen, celebrities, and otherwise influential people have already learnt this lesson. Others may follow soon, and that can only be bad for Indian democracy.


Reportedly

Under AUKUS, the new Indo-Pacific triad on the block, the US and UK will provide Australia with the capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines. China has hit out and France called it a “stab in the back” as the plan to use French technology was abandoned and France was kept out of the ‘alliance’. But India is suffering in silence. The grouping steals the thunder of the Quad that India has been anxious to play up, and India itself has been slighted by the big three Western powers Modi wants to be seen to be close to, after the US departure from Afghanistan, resulting in substantial gains for Pakistan and China.


Prime Number: 400%

A quick reminder that since Modi came to power, the BJP has got 400% more funding than the Congress. It is also a reminder that it is the fourth year of the Supreme Court not hearing the electoral bonds case, the biggest source of large-scale non-transparent funding that allows the ruling party to gain undue and overwhelming advantage.


Virat steps down

BCCI President Sourav Ganguly hailed Virat Kohli as a “true asset” to Indian cricket, following news that he is stepping down from the T-20 captaincy. Ganguly said “the decision has been made keeping in mind the future roadmap”. Jay Shah thanked Kohli, but did not read out a statement like his last, when he welcomed Dhoni as mentor.


Deep Dive

In a sharp set of five lectures on gender economics, Jayati Ghosh shows how one’s understanding of the economy, theory and policy changes sharply with the adoption of a gender perspective.


Covid-compliant Chardham Yatra 

The Uttarakhand High Court has vacated its stay on the Chardham Yatra and directed the state government to conduct the pilgrimage strictly under Covid norms.The bench said 800 pilgrims would be allowed at Kedarnath, 1,200 in Badrinath, 600 in Gangotri and 400 in Yamunotri every day. Pilgrims cannot bathe in springs.


Hate campaign against more food companies

Two food-processing companies in Kerala have become targets of a communal hate campaign and boycott call in connection with a bishop’s allegations about a “love jihad” and “narcotics jihad”. Based in Kottayam and owned by Muslims, they are being “accused” on social media of facilitating a protest march against Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt.

Ajmi Flour Mills India and KKFM India, which sell ready-to-cook breakfasts, have denied political affiliations. They are accused of provided free transport to the protesters, which is perfectly legal. Police have launched a case and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan instructed his administration to take “stringent action” against communal hatred.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • India’s claim of being a meaningful democracy is hollow, “its social foundations shattered, its political institutions corrupted and the judiciary in thrall to despots. India ranks near the bottom in numerous global indices, including those for nutrition, air and water quality, schooling and health,” writes Brian Toohey.

  • The Taliban are identifying Afghans who worked with the prior government and military forces by querying a central biometric database of citizens. This is what happens when a high technology ID system falls into the wrong hands ― or that of an oppressive government, says Sanjay Kapoor.

  • Massive public investment is needed to form cooperatives and collectives in agriculture and industry. Handing over rights to public properties to private individuals would take the country back to the colonial era, writes KN Balagopal.


Listen Up

In the podcast Maed in India, Tamil-Canadian mridangam player, singer and producer Yanchan talks about forcing his parents to let him learn the instrument as a child, and the beauty of beat tapes. He shares his latest release, The Scarborough Beat Tape.


Watch Out

Statistician CR Rao, born in Huvanna Hadagali, now in Karnataka, turned 101 this month. He is professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University and Research Professor at the University at Buffalo. He was awarded the US National Medal of Science in 2002. The American Statistical Association describes him as “a living legend whose work has influenced not just statistics, but has had far reaching implications for fields as varied as economics, genetics, anthropology, geology, national planning, demography, biometry and medicine.” A film on the life of the pioneer.


Over and Out

The love affair of Sajita and Rahman in Kerala caused a sensation when it was revealed that they had lived hidden in a tiny room for 11 years. Following a missing person report, police found Rahman three months ago. The two married at the sub-registrar’s office, Nenmara, under the Special Marriage Act. 

No news is good news. But the news on TV has become so dreadful that an achhe din good news channel had to be invented. But is it news, at all?


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.