Showing posts with label The Wire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Wire. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Longer Working Hours, Employee Productivity and the COVID-19 Economic Slump

Already buckling under the effects of the pandemic, working classes in India face an additional burden, that of the lengthening of the working day. Four state governments have passed orders that allow for the increase in working hours from 8 hours to 12 hours a day, a controversial order as global norms mandate an 8-hour working day – or a 48-hour work week. This move, as claimed in a notification by the Rajasthan labour department, will allow for firms to operate at full capacity while “…ensuring minimal presence of people in manufacturing and distribution.”

This idea, that longer working days are necessary in the current situation, finds a proponent in Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, who believes that workers would need to put in 60-hour work-weeks – 10 hours a day, 6 days of the week – for the next 2-3 years to help revive economic growth.

There’s no doubt that in some cases, but not all, longer working hours would increase labour productivity and output growth. But it is a move that shifts the burden disproportionately onto workers. Unless wages increase in proportion, it would worsen distribution by reducing the wage share. Moreover, unless investment rises, and businesses decide to create more jobs, having workers work longer hours might just lead to a reduction in employment.

A more suitable alternative is for the government to expand investment in the economy, which could be financed through measures such as a wealth tax.

Also Read: COVID-19 Will Usher in a New Normal. We Must Invest Accordingly.

Conditions of work

An increase in the working day would mean increasing productivity – measured in total output produced per worker – relative to a situation where working hours are not changed. Higher levels of productivity are essential for economies to generate larger output. Narayana Murthy’s proposal would imply faster rates of growth and larger output relative to one where workers see no increase in their working hours.

But what would this entail for workers? If workers are to be expected to work for longer hours, then they must be paid higher wages. While states like Rajasthan have mandated that workers who work longer hours must be paid overtime – which is substantially higher than regular wages – some states like Gujarat have not done so. In Gujarat, factories can pay for the extra hours at the same rate as before. Not paying overtime simply amounts to extracting more output and profits on the back of overworked labour without fair recompense.

If wages do not rise in proportion to the rise in productivity, it would imply a fall in the share of wages. This has actually been the case in most developed economies; since 1980, wages have largely remained stagnant, while productivity has been constantly rising, leading to rising inequality and falling wage shares.  

Even if wages were to increase relative to productivity, a situation where workers are expected to work longer hours for economic revival only entails an increase in growth and output, but not welfare. The human body is not a machine that can be replaced if it breaks down. Working longer hours will mean greater stress and lower quality of life for workers.

True development entails a productive economy that produces a high level of output, thereby generating high wages for workers, while also ensuring adequate leisure time. Policies that call for increasing working hours see workers as means to an end of increasing output and profits, and not as ends in themselves.

A worker pours molten iron from a ladle to make automobile spare parts inside an iron casting factory in Ahmedabad, January 31, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Amit Dave/Files

Longer working hours and employment

In fact, there would be very little benefits to working classes from an economy of longer working hours. A basic economic identity states that the rate of growth of employment equals the output growth minus productivity growth. The implication is that if longer working hours result in workers producing more, then for a given amount of output that has to be produced, fewer workers would be required. An increase in working hours could mean a reduction in employment, if such a policy is institutionalised for the coming years.

Of course, the argument above assumes that output growth will not rise substantially. A counter-argument could be made that if workers work longer, and the economy is more productive, there would be new economic opportunities, businesses would invest more, and employment generation will be raised even as productivity and working hours have increased.

Such an argument is flawed. Output growth depends on how much investment is being carried out, and the amount of investment undertaken depends on the expectations of future profits to be made. With growth rates already falling prior to the pandemic, there is nothing to believe that investment and output growth will be high in the months and years to come.

During a recession, businesses make lesser profits and workers face unemployment. But the situation is not the same. Workers want to work longer hours, since they cannot survive without an income. But businesses make the amount of profits they expect to make. They would only undertake investments if they expect to make profits. In an economy with high unemployment and low demand, and under the persistent threat of a pandemic, businesses would never undertake large investments because they do not foresee the ability to make increased profits. They would be perfectly happy with the increased profits being made through the extension of the working day. And this brings the essential unfairness of such a policy into stark relief. Businesses earn greater profits than in a situation where working hours are limited, while labour would not see an increase in employment.

Even with normal working hours, the Indian economy could barely generate adequate employment. The years of high economic growth – from 2005-06 to 2010-11 – were a period of “jobless growth”, where output growth was high, but overall employment growth was negligible.

Following the twin shocks of demonetisation and GST, unemployment rose to a 45-year high in 2018. In such an economy, where informal work looms large and decent employment is hard to come by, where unemployment was at record levels even before the pandemic, extending working hours as a way to revive the economy would be disastrous for workers.

Also Read: COVID-19 Lockdown: In April, MGNREGA Work Crashed to Lowest in 7 Years

What’s the solution?

To truly revive the economy – assuming the pandemic is brought under control – government investment on a large scale is required to stimulate demand and increase the purchasing power of workers. Falling tax revenues indicate the limited ability of governments to rely on their own incomes, but resources could be generated through either borrowing, getting the Reserve Bank to print money, or by taxing wealth and using it for investment.

The wealth tax has been put forward by many economists as an important way for an economy to raise valuable resources. Wealth that lies idle – such as second or third homes, money in bank accounts, equity shares etc – do not contribute to the generation of demand and employment. If a certain part of this wealth is taxed, it can easily allow for the government to raise a substantial amount of resources. This can be used to expand government investment, raise aggregate demand, and generate output growth as well as employment. This would imply the burden of reviving the economy is borne by those who can truly bear the costs – wealth owners – as opposed to a labouring class that has already been battered by the effects of the pandemic.

Labour in India today suffers under multiple axes: low pay, bad working conditions, no job security etc. Outside of the protected formal sector, workers in the informal sector anyways work for more than 8 hours a day.

The idea that economic revival can only come about through extending the working day is a disconcerting idea that reduces working conditions across the board, when the task should be one of improving standards everywhere. Business cannot be practised as usual on the other side of the pandemic, and we certainly must not allow for hard-won rights to be sacrificed without compensation at the altar of output growth. 

Rahul Menon is assistant professor, School of Livelihoods and Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad.

from The Wire

Hizbul Mujahideen 'Operational Chief' Riyaz Naikoo Killed by Security Forces: Who Was He?

Srinagar: In a major operation, security forces on Wednesday killed top Hizbul Mujahideen militant, Riyaz Naikoo, in his native village of Beighpora in south Kashmir.

Naikoo was the “operational chief” of the outfit and had been the face of militancy in Kashmir since the killing of the young militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016.

A senior police official said Naikoo was cornered along with another militant, in the village, surrounded by paddy fields and apple orchards. “He was on the run for eight years. His killing is a major success,” the official said.

The operation was launched by a joint team of J&K police, army, and CRPF late on Tuesday night. The forces even pressed into service excavator machines to dig up a railway track in the village over suspicions of an underground hideout.

Naikoo had given the slip to the forces on several occasions in the past. He was killed in a residential building along with his associate, during the exchange of fire.

The defence spokesperson Rajesh Kalia confirmed the killing of two militants in Beighpora encounter. However, he did not reveal the identity of the slain.

Big jolt to Kashmir militancy

Naikoo’s killing is seen as a major jolt to militancy in Kashmir. A category A++ militant, he rose in the Hizb ranks to take over the reins of the outfit in the Valley in 2017.

He replaced Zakir Musa as “divisional commander” who parted ways with the outfit over ideological differences and joined Ansar Ghawzat-Ul-Hind, the al Qaeda cell that calls for the implementation of Islamic caliphate in Kashmir. Musa was killed in an encounter in May last year.

Also read: IS Operative’s Killing Reveals Power Struggle in Kashmir Militant Ranks

More than a month later in 2017, when security forces killed Yasin Yatoo alias Mehmood Ghaznavi, the operational chief of the Hizb, Naikoo replaced him.

Naikoo is credited with holding the Hizb ranks together and preventing an ideological split when al Qaeda announced setting up its wing in the Valley.

“After the killing of Burhan and defection of Musa, it was Naikoo who held the group together,” said another police official from south Kashmir. “He played a major role in preventing infighting among militant groups.”

Though Naikoo was close to Burhan, he maintained a low profile that helped him survive eight long years in Kashmir were the average tenure of a militant is barely a few months.

Though tech-savvy, he did not figure in any picture with Burhan on social media, at a time when militants are increasingly using Facebook and other platforms to post their photographs and messages.

“He was more into organisational matters and giving a political face to militancy in Kashmir,” said the police official. “He was among the longest surviving militants in Kashmir, even if you include militants who have come back into the fold.”

The official described Naikoo as sharp-minded militant who planned and carried out several attacks on security forces. He is believed to have revived the tradition of paying tributes to slain militants in Kashmir at their graves by firing shots in the air, wearing combat pouches and carrying an AK-47.

In 2018, Naikoo-led Hizb militants kidnapped 11 family members of policemen in south Kashmir, prompting the police to release his father Asadullah Mir from their custody.

The police had picked up Mir from his residence, a day after militants had killed four policemen in Shopian. Later, in an audio message, Riyaz warned the police of dangerous consequences if the relatives of militants were not released.

Naikoo was accused by J&K police for his involvement in killing several policemen in south Kashmir and threatening political workers to give up their affiliations or face consequences.

Who was Riyaz Naikoo?

In 2010, when the death of a teenager from Srinagar, Tufail Ahamad Mattoo, due to a teargas shell fired by a policeman to quell protests triggered unrest, scores of youth were arrested from across Kashmir. Naikoo was one among them.

He was booked under Public Safety Act. When he walked out of the jail in 2012, he spent a few months at home, before informing his family that he planned to apply for higher studies outside J&K.

On May 23 that year, Naikoo left home to meet his friends. When he did not return for some days the family started searching for him. They ultimately gave up when after police informed that Naikoo has joined militancy.

Born in 1985, he was known as ‘master’ among his friends and in the village. His father is a tailor by profession and owns a tract of an apple orchard in the village.

After J&K police listed Naikoo as one of the most wanted militants in Kashmir, security forces raided his residence multiple times, looking for him and allegedly harassing his family.

In a recent interview, Mir said Naikoo was a good a student who was “traumatised” to see his friends being “hauled off to torture centres”.

“He wanted to become an engineer. He was good at mathematics but he ended up with a gun in hand. I only saw him on the internet since he disappeared,” Mir also said.

from The Wire

Lockdown: Gujarat Power Plant Worker Dies Trying to Cycle Home to Uttar Pradesh Village

New Delhi: Reports of migrant workers and their family members taking ill or dying while trying to reach home have populated news since the beginning of the lockdown, announced by prime minister Narendra Modi with a four-hour notice on March 24.

The latest addition to this list is 40-year-old Rajesh Sahani, who was cycling home to Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh from Ankleshwar in Gujarat and died on the way.

Rajesh’s body was found at around 6.30 pm on May 4 by a passerby on National Highway 8. Rajesh had attempted to cycle the 1,500 km distance from Ankleshwar, where he residing in the staff quarters of a power plant, to his native Bahuas village in Kushinagar.

Also read: Fact Check: No, the Centre Isn’t Paying for Migrant Workers’ Train Journeys Home

Fifty five kilometres into the journey, Rajesh collapsed.

The doctors, who examined his body at the Karjan General Hospital in Gujarat, stated that he “died of exhaustion”. The hospital superintendent was quoted in reports as having said, “…as per preliminary reports of autopsy, he died due to exhaustion. He did not have any other co-morbidities and was healthy. He also did not have any symptoms of COVID-19…”

But for Rajesh’s family, the reason of his death was different. “Exhaustion did not kill him, his helplessness to meet his family in such times of crisis did. We could not even see him one last time,” his wife, Indravati, was quoted by The Indian Express as having said over phone.

The family got the news of Sahani’s death through his elder brother, Raju, who also stayed at the same Ankleshwar power plant.

In fact, Rajesh had met Raju on the morning of the fateful day before leaving for work. Raju was supposed to go to work in the following shift.

Also read: 22 Migrant Workers, Kin Have Died Trying to Return Home Since the Lockdown Started

It was during the day, that Sahani decided to set off for his native village. When Indravati called him over the phone, he did not answer her call. She then called up Raju to enquire where her husband was. When Raju called the police, he came to know that Rajesh had died.

Rajesh was one of the 26 migrants from his village who worked in Ankleshwar. He had come to Ankleshwar in February this year, a month after Raju did. While their father was a rickshaw-puller, they both worked as farm labourers back home.

“He never shared any plans about cycling back home. We decided to stay back as work resumed and we were promised wages too. I do not know why he left without informing anyone,” Raju said.

from The Wire

Why Age Fraud in Indian Sports Is So Prevalent

During the 2018 Indian Super League (ISL) season, Gourav Mukhi, a 16-year-old Jamshedpur FC player, was announced as the youngest ever goal-scorer in the league’s history when he scored in his club’s 2-2 draw with Bengaluru FC. The joy was short-lived. Later, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) found that Mukhi falsified his age and suspended him for six months. The ban was lifted on September 9, 2019 after Mukhi submitted the correct birth certificate. Falsification of documents is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code, but the AIFF did not report the crime to the police and instead preferred to act as a referee on its own.

In June 2019, cricketer Manjot Kalra, who was the man of the match in India’s U-19 World Cup-winning 2018 team in New Zealand, was chargesheeted by the Delhi police for age fraud. Since Kalra was a minor at the time of committing the offence, his parents are also named in the chargesheet. Along with them, there are eleven other parents too named in separate chargesheets who have falsified the date of birth of their children who are playing for different Delhi teams. Also named in the chargesheet is a DDCA official who owns the Lal Bahadur Shastri cricket club for which these players play and who had apparently encouraged them to produce false birth certificates.

Manipulation of date of birth by athletes in order to qualify for participation in junior competitions is the bane of Indian sports. The problem is spread across all sports and it happens with the blessings of parents, coaches and school authorities.

This practice has been thriving because of the complacency of sports governing bodies. Instead of dealing with fraudulent birth certificates as a criminal offence and reporting the matter to the police,   sports bodies have found a golden opportunity of “fishing in muddy waters” by rejecting all types of birth certificates; genuine as well as fake and subject junior athletes to X-rays to determine their bone age where officials, X-ray imaging centres and radiologists make good money. Sports bodies like the BCCI, AIFF and the Sports Authority of India are spending millions of rupees in subjecting thousands of juniors to wrist X rays for age determination tests which in itself is not a foolproof method for certifying age as stated by the International Olympic Committee.

Thanks to the multiple initiatives taken by the government in the past two decades, the birth registration status in the country has improved drastically. As per 2013 statistics, the level of birth registration is 95.6% at the national level: urban registration is 98% and rural is 95.5%. Even in tribal pockets, the figures are pretty high. In addition, 17 states and UTs have achieved the target of 100% birth registration. Gone are the days when ‘over smart’ athletes could successfully befool the system claiming that they didn’t have birth registration certificates because institutional delivery rates were low.

The problem is not that the athletes don’t have original birth registration certificates. The cheats among them conceal the certificates when they come to know that the age entered in their original birth certificates make them ineligible to participate in junior competitions. Instead, with the connivance of unscrupulous touts, they “manufacture“ fake birth certificates which make them eligible to participate in the relevant competition. Leading the pack are our young cricketers who aspire to play in different age group tournaments organised by the BCCI. They also know that if caught, they are not sent to jail because the callous sports officialdom which is not keen to get the certificates verified from issuing authorities or report the crime to the law enforcement agencies.

It should be made binding on the part of sports bodies to accept genuine birth registration certificates produced by athletes as proof of age. Blind refusal on their part to do so is a slap on the face of the government, which is striving hard to streamline the birth registration system in the country. This practice also treats law-abiding parents who meticulously follow the government’s rules at the time of the births of their children as suspects when the bone age determination tests, which as discussed earlier, are not foolproof and can contradict the age recorded in genuine birth registration certificates.

The costs associated with the bone tests is another issue here. Expenses on bone age determination tests vary from Rs 2,000-3,000 per subject. Eyeing the fortune which one can make through these tests, instead of being selective, sports bodies enthusiastically subject all the juniors participating in a competition to the tests. This is irrespective of the fact the X-ray tests may have radiation hazards, are time-consuming, cumbersome, expensive and above all inconclusive to ascertain the age of the subject.

The sports bodies which favour bone age determination tests claim inconvenience when they are advised to get the original birth certificates verified from issuing authorities. Ironically, they do not seem to face any “inconvenience” when certificates related to death, marriage, caste, income, school/university degrees, require to be checked and are promptly verified. If these certificates are found fake, they are reported to the police, which takes legal action for forgery and put the culprits behind the bars. When we start sending parents of athletes who produce fake birth certificates to jail, the menace of age fraud will automatically be controlled.

Acceptance of original birth certificate, issued within one year of birth, needs to be adopted as a policy by sports bodies to stop the racketeering on indiscriminate bone age determination tests. In those cases where there is a promising talent but no original birth registration certificate, it is fair to subject the athlete to bone age verification test to ascertain the age.

Age fraud is as serious an offence as doping. In the case of doping, there is the WADA code which books and punishes dope cheats. In the case of age fraud, it is high time the government enforces a code of conduct to deal with it.

In 2015, former Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid hit the nail on the head when he said, “If a child sees his parents and coaches cheating and creating a fake birth certificate, will he not be encouraged to become a cheat?… At 14, it may be in the matter of the age criteria, at 25 it may be fixing and corruption.”

P.S.M. Chandran is former director (sports sciences), Sports Authority of India and president, Indian Federation of Sports Medicine.

from The Wire

Chief Labour Commissioner's Office Has No Data on Stranded Migrant Workers, RTI Reveals

The lockdown imposed by governments since March 25, 2020, to contain the spread of COVID-19 epidemic across India, now in its third phase, has hit migrant workers, among others, the hardest. Not a day goes by without stories of their travails being highlighted in the print, electronic, digital and social media.

What is the magnitude of migrant workers under distress due to the lockdown? Is it four million, or forty million or much more?  The office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment claims, it does not have state-wise and district-wise data despite the CLC directing the regional heads based in 20 centres across the country to enumerate every migrant worker stranded due to the lockdown within three days during the second week of April, 2020.

The problem leading to the RTI intervention

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and their children who had migrated out of their home states to other cities, towns and villages in search of gainful employment, suddenly found themselves jobless and penniless as the economy came to a grinding halt due to the lockdown. With inter-state borders sealed during the first two phases of the lockdown, they had few options for keeping body and soul together and the coronavirus at bay. They were forced into government-run relief camps or shelters or compelled to remain at the worksites of their employers or simply remain bundled up in clusters near highways and other open spaces.

Reports of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers protesting their forcible incarceration and demanding they be allowed to return to their hometowns have come from Kerala, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Surat, Mumbai and other places. Some tried to find their way back home travelling inside water and milk tankers and concrete putty mixers paying hefty sums of money to owners who sought to profit from their suffering. Even more heartbreaking are stories of migrant workers, walking alone or in groups, hundreds to thousands of kilometres under the blazing sun to get back to their families and some perishing within reach of their homes. Meanwhile, many of us saluted other frontline workers combatting the virus with sound and light shows, flypasts and fireworks on the seas.

Also read: The Lockdown is a Dangerous Experiment, India’s Democracy Will Not Emerge Unscathed

Amidst this humanitarian crisis of gargantuan proportions, on April 8, 2020, the office of the chief labour commissioner issued a circular to his regional heads based in 20 centres across the country to collect data about every stranded migrant worker in every district and state. Templates were issued for data capture during the enumeration process. Both blue and white collared workers were to be enumerated in this manner. The regional heads were given three days to collect this data and send it to the CLC.

After waiting in vain for almost two weeks for the official announcement of the results of the enumeration exercise, on April 21, 2020, I submitted an RTI application with the office of the CLC through the RTI Online Facility, seeking the following information under the RTI Act:

“Apropos the D.O. dated 08 April, 2020 issued by the Chief Labour Commissioner to all Regional Heads regarding urgent collection of data about migrant workers who are stranded and placed in various temporary shelters/relief camps arranged by:

a) the State Government authorities,

b) employers IN-SITU/at workplace itself, and

c) where they are generally clustered in some localities:-

 I am seeking access to the following information available in your office, as on date, under the RTI Act, 2005:

1) the State-wise names of districts from which data about the stranded migrant workers has been received,

2) the district-wise numbers of male and female migrant workers belonging to each of the three categories mentioned above as reported from each State,

3) the occupation-wise number of male and female migrant workers reported from each State as per the List of Occupations mentioned in Annexure-I of the said D.O.,

4) the Sector-wise number of male and female migrant workers reported from each State as per the List of Sectors mentioned in Annexure-II of the said D.O., and

5) the Native State-wise cumulative figures for male and female migrant workers according to each Occupation and Sector mentioned in Annexure-I and Annexure-II, respectively of the said D.O., reported from each State.”

Being aware of the possibility that the CLC’s office would not be fully functional, I did not seek copies of official records. Instead, I requested the CLC’s office to upload all the information described in my RTI application and inform me the URL of the database on the official website. Given the widespread debate about the plight of migrant workers and the yeomen service provided by several government agencies, hundreds of NGOs and thousands concerned citizens to ensure that many of them were served food, water and other essentials, this information I believed has an enormous public interest dimension attached to it.

Also read: Migrant Workers in Punjab Continue Long Walk Home, Ask for Government Support

The CPIO’s reply 

On May 5, 2020, a day after the third phase of the lockdown began, the RTI online facility sent me an automated email stating that my RTI application had been disposed of. When I checked the status of my RTI application on the website, instead of a proper response under his name and signature, the CPIO has entered the following reply:

“As per the stat section is concerned, no such details are available based on requisite information.”

There was no indication whether my RTI application would be transferred to any other section or public authority, or if any effort would be made to collate the information from the enumeration exercise and make it publicly available.

Migrant workers walk towards a bus station along a highway with their families as they return to their villages, during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, March 29, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

What is wrong with the CPIO’s reply?

Under the RTI Act the CPIO has only three options available while dealing with an RTI application:

  1. if the information sought is not available with one’s public authority, it must be transferred to another public authority which may have custody of such information; or
  2. supply the information after collecting copying charges (which would not apply in my case as I did not ask for copies, but requested proactive disclosure on the website); or
  3. reject the RTI application if it is covered by one or more of the exemptions provided in Sections 8, 9 or 24.

The CLC’s CPIO resorted to none of these actions. He did not even send a signed reply. Most other CPIOs upload a scanned copy of their reply on the RTI online facility in addition to emailing it to the RTI applicant under their name and signature. So the CLC CPIO’s cryptic one-liner reply raises serious doubts about the availability of data about migrant workers despite the launching of the enumeration exercise. Does the CLC or any other public authority in government have accurate data about the number of stranded migrant workers or is there any reason why it does not want to make such information public?

I have already filed a complaint before the central information commission in this case requesting an early hearing. if this case is put at the end of the queue of nearly 36,000 cases currently pending before the CIC the matter may come up for hearing in 2021 when the information would be devoid of any value. As it is the enumeration figures are becoming irrelevant with the public authorities making arrangements to return migrant workers to their states of domicile by road or rail transport.

RTI activists suggest measures for more transparent and accountable implementation of the COVID relief package

Two days after the CLC issued its circular seeking enumeration of migrant workers, CHRI organised a webinar of RTI activists and advocates of transparency to take stock of the effect of the lockdown on people in general and the vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in particular.

Participants from across 12 states and UTs came identified several problems with the manner of implementation of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana Relief Package. They also identified some practical solutions for relieving hardships people have faced due to the lockdown.

These suggestions continue to have relevance for most parts of the country during lockdown 3.0:

1) RBI must issue a circular for hassle-free reactivation of the inoperative PMJDY bank accounts (23% of the total) particularly, for beneficiaries eligible for ex gratia at their doorstep through post office employees and turning fixed location Banking Correspondents into itinerant Bank Mitras for the period of ex-gratia distribution. They may be directed to strictly adhere to COVID-19 related precautionary measures while moving about;

2) The government of India must issue circular clarifying how the free gas cylinders benefit may be availed by beneficiaries. Itinerant Bank Mitras may be roped in to disburse DBT benefit to beneficiaries at their doorstep, with due regard to COVID-19 related precautionary measures;

3) Oil marketing companies must issue strict instructions to their supplier agencies to deliver gas cylinders at the doorstep upon receiving bookings, with due regard to COVID-19 related precautionary measures;

4) District administration must be directed to make PDS supply and distribution related information available to beneficiaries on a weekly basis through the various methods of dissemination mentioned under the “Explanation” to Section 4 of the RTI Act, 2005 (disclosure through internet, radio, TV, newspapers, notice boards, other kinds of announcements using public address system and beat of drums etc.) Doordarshan’s country-wide outreach must be used for disseminating information about the manner and status of implementation of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana package;

Also read: Understanding the Implications of the COVID-19 Lockdown on Migrant Workers’ Children

5) Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) must issue advisories to all State Governments to urge the respective State Information Commissions to restart work along the modalities adopted by the Central Information Commission;

6) DoPT must issue advisories to the state governments to urge the respective Lokayuktas and Anti-Corruption Bureaus to restart accepting and inquiring into complaints of corruption from the general public. A toll-free helpline may be established in every State to receive and forward complaints of corruption from the public to the respective anti-corruption bodies. These numbers must be advertised widely;

7) The Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014 must be enforced immediately across all states by notifying competent authorities to receive and inquire into complaints of attacks and harassment of whistleblowers. The state police must be issued advisories to lodge FIRs in all such cases of attacks without delay and conduct speedy investigations to book the culprits;

8) Empowered groups of officers must be set up at the state, district and sub-district level to coordinate relief and rehabilitation efforts to between the public sector and private sector players;

9) Government agencies must not insist on production of identity proof for migrant workers for accessing benefits under the relief and rehabilitation measures. Mere self-declaration of identity and domicile status should be treated as adequate for accessing such benefits. Circulars may be issued to all State and district level authorities for this purpose;

10) Lockdown passes must be issued on a priority basis to caregivers for PwDs to provide services to them on a daily basis. Audio-visual training modules must be developed and disseminated for them to explain the social distancing and other precautionary measures to ensure that PwDs do not contract the coronavirus. All telecasts of important speeches including that of the Hon’ble PM and daily press conferences that are televised must be accompanied in real time by sign language interpretation visible adequately on the TV screens;

11) Alternative arrangements must be made for ensuring that people living in areas without mobile phones or internet connectivity are able to access their entitlements under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana without any delay;

12) Households in remote hamlets and settlements not covered by PM Ujjwala Yojana must be supplied with adequate fuel sources including firewood for daily use at their doorstep. Officials of the concerned departments including the forest department may be engaged to supply fuel to such households at least twice a week at their doorstep with due regard to COVID-19 related precautionary measures

13) There is an urgent need to reactivate lower courts in order to provide justice delivery services to the people. The statutory Legal Services Authorities at the national, state, district and tehsil levels must also be reactivated. Their contact numbers, as well as those of lawyers, empanelled to provide legal aid must be widely advertised through various mass media and other offline methods so that people may contact them for getting redress for their grievances against the administration’s actions and omissions; and

14) Governments must increase budgetary allocation for the health and education sectors. Increasing public spending on the welfare of women, children and vulnerable groups like migrant workers must become a priority.

Whether the governments will pay attention to these practical suggestions coming from the grassroots level, remains to be seen.

Venkatesh Nayak is programme head of the Access to Information Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

from The Wire

Aarogya Setu: Building a Wooden Bridge Won't Take Us to a Safer Future

In the past few weeks, we have all been forced to add new words to our vocabulary — lockdown, coronavirus, flattening the curve, PPE, contact tracing and Aarogya Setu being a few of them.

As the pandemic has confined us all to our homes at great costs to the economy, everyone is anxious to get back to “normal life”.

Governments and institutions under pressure have pinned their hopes on technology to provide a reliable solution for us to return to work and play.

Tracking tracking

“Contact tracing” is the process of tracing and monitoring the contacts of an infected person. It involves working backwards from an infected person to identify people who may have been exposed to the disease, so that they can be tested, isolated and hospitalised if required. This process relies on human labour that requires large cadres of contact tracers.

Digital tools have emerged as a method to expand the reach and efficiency of these contact tracers. Mobile apps for “contact tracing” – perhaps more accurately called “exposure notification apps” – can work if they are secure, reliable and used as a tool in conjunction with other proven techniques.

Keep in mind that such tracing is only useful to inform us about who has been exposed. Without widely available rapid testing and treatment facilities, these notifications with their inherent problems merely become a nuisance for citizens already reeling from the pandemic.

Men wearing protective masks move past figures with face masks installed outside a fuel station in Kolkata, May 1, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

What happened around the world?

After seeing the success of the “contact-tracing” approach deployed effectively by countries like China, South Korea, and Singapore, countries around the world rushed to adopt their own version. At the same time, institutions came up with standards and guidance that such technologies must use.

In the United States, MIT with collaborators from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University and Weizmann Institute of Science came up with PACT – Private Automated Contact Tracing.

PACT is an automated approach that permits effective contact tracing while preserving privacy absolutely, which means it would not be necessary to trade privacy for public health.

In the European Union, two competing protocols emerged: PEPP-PT and DP-3T. The protocols differ in their reporting mechanism. PEPP-PT requires clients to upload contact logs to a central reporting server, whereas with DP-3T, the central reporting server never has access to contact logs. DP-3T requires more computing power but it has major privacy benefits. Most European countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland have chosen DP-3T to ensure that their citizens don’t have to choose between security and privacy.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court, warning of a slippery slope, closed the door on phone location technology for contact tracing and ordered for alternatives to be found that don’t result in monitoring citizens without their consent.

Also Read: Aarogya Setu: Six Questions for the Centre on the COVID-19 Contact Tracing App

Under pressure from various governments, Google and Apple have also banded together to create a decentralised contact tracing tool that will help individuals determine whether they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. They are only releasing APIs that will let others build their own apps. These are also based on the privacy-respecting protocol, DP-3T.

It is important to mention that the efficacy of these apps is still under question as they are bound to generate numerous false positives and negatives leading to life changes that will only erode trust in these tools over time. Here, I will not examine those issues in detail.

Back home

Now that you are all caught up, I will finally address our homegrown Brahama-astra: Aarogya Setu. On April 2, 2020, the government of India launched Aarogya Setu, a location based app that uses Bluetooth and GPS data to alert whenever one comes within six feet of a COVID-19 infected person.

SFLC did a detailed analysis of the app, its privacy policy and raised several concerns with its security and data collection practices. Soon a crescendo of expert voices pointed out the issues with the app before it became a political issue like everything else, testing our patriotism.

India does not have a Data Protection Law after several years of deliberation but its citizens do have a fundamental Right to Privacy. However, this right, or any call to take it seriously, is usually dismissed as a Luddite concern by all and sundry.

In any working democracy, one would expect the highest court of the country to be keen on weighing in on this issue but considering the recent reluctance of the Supreme Court to fulfil its role as the protector of our fundamental rights, an analysis of the constitutionality of the recent government order making the downloading of this app mandatory seems like an indulgent intellectual exercise.

Representative image. Photo: Pixabay/The Wire

Here are just a few issues with Aarogya Setu:

* It is a closed source app, which means its source code is unavailable for examination by experts or community audit. The Central government’s  prevailing policy on adoption of open source software aside, this would be a basic for improving security. When did quality stop being important for the sake of speed?

* The liability limitation clause of the Terms of Service limits the government’s liability even if inaccurate information is given by the app or in case of failure to generate true positives. This acquits the government’s liability in case of any harm caused due to incorrect information. The liability clause also exempts the government from liability in the event of “any unauthorised access to the [user’s] information or modification thereof” (emphasis supplied). This means that there is no liability for the government even if the personal information of users is leaked. Thus, the government can require you to use something but if that something is unsafe, there is  nobody to hold responsible for or complain about.

* Instead of allowing people to choose whatever app they may want to get any exposure notification, Aarogya Setu is mandatory for everyone in India. Without delving into unnecessary questions like how many people have smartphones, the app collects personal information and uploads it to a  central server maintained and used by the GoI. With the WhatsApp snooping scandal and the government’s claims in the Supreme Court about protecting the Aadhaar database with high security walls still fresh in our memory, asking us to just the trust in official security practices is a flaky demand.

* Unlike other apps based on privacy-respecting standards, Aarogya Setu collects a user’s location data every 15 minutes and uploads it to a centralised government server in some conditions.

* While the apps’ privacy policy allows a registered user to “add, remove or modify any registration information supplied”, the application does not have an option of account deletion. Please remember uninstalling an app does not mean your account is deleted from that app.

To sum up India’s current situation, the government can order its citizens to use any piece of software without taking any responsibility for its accuracy, security or privacy architecture; it can eliminate the entire system of standards and architecture of the internet by moving fast, breaking things and as its an emergency, citizens can never ask for any review or rights but must feel very proud about this feat.

Aarogya Setu is a small, insecure moving part in a system of fighting this pandemic. In the absence of a robust system, it will only cause harm laying down a blueprint for surveillance without the desired results. It’s not that digital contact tracing shouldn’t be done, but it cannot be seen as a substitute for human contact-tracing teams or replacement for necessary COVID-19 testing, monitoring and treatment.

No technology by itself will pull us out of this mess. If we aren’t careful, we will be left with yet another useless app on our phones – without the desired results that actually are a matter of life and death these days.

Mishi Choudhary is a technology lawyer with practice in New York and New Delhi, and the founder of, a legal services organisation working on law, technology and policy.

from The Wire

Will the COVID-19 Crisis Compel Us to Reject Faith in the Notion of 'Strongmen'?

Towards the end of his recent conversation with the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, economist Abhijit Banerjee made a pertinent observation that may be relevant for politicians at home, as well as those in other countries.

In the course of the interaction, Gandhi said: “What is being sold is that it requires one man to be in charge against the virus.” The Nobel laureate was unequivocal in his rejection of this often eagerly propagated – and equally swiftly accepted – solution based on the figure of a strongman. The idea is “disastrous,” Banerjee replied, stressing that this is the time to dispel any mistaken faith in the notion of a “strongman.”

“The US and Brazil are two countries that are messing up right and left. These are two ‘strongmen’ behaving like … pretending like they understand anything … But even what they say every day is kind of laughable. If anyone wanted to believe in the strongman theory, this is the time to disabuse themselves,” said Banerjee.

This was Gandhi’s second conversation with a leading economist. The Congress’s series of conversations around India’s economic crisis began when Gandhi interacted with Raghuram Rajan, professor of finance at Chicago University, and a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

The connection between strongmen

Banerjee was on the mark in drawing within the “strongman” paradigm a connection between the US and Brazilian presidents. Consider what the New York Times writers Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman wrote about the two leaders when Bolosonaro visited Trump at the White House last March: “it was something like looking in the mirror.” At a subsequent press conference, Trump observed that “Brazil’s relationship with the United States, because of our friendship, is probably better than it’s ever been by far.”

Also Read: Across the World, the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Become an Invitation to Autocracy

The US president has also repeatedly described Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “his friend.” Trump made the comment two years ago while celebrating Diwali with high profile Indian Americans at the White House. More recently, this past February, while addressing a gathering at Ahmedabad’s Motera stadium, the US president remarked: “My gratitude to an exceptional leader, a great champion of India, a man who works night and day for his country, and a man I am proud to call my true friend, Prime Minister Modi.” Within 24 hours of this statement, northeast Delhi was rocked by communal violence that accelerated over three days.

Rahul Gandhi and Abhijit Banerjee. Photo: Screengrab

Abhijit Banerjee’s outright rejection of the strongman theory puts a question mark over the manner in which some prominent leaders choose to craft themselves and their images in popular perception. We have seen this happen repeatedly during the current pandemic crisis. These leaders act and speak as if they are the primary, if not sole, deliverers of the masses from the current situation. Banerjee’s cautions against such projections should, therefore, be taken seriously at several levels.

A call to reflect

To begin with, the political class – particularly top ruling party leaders leaning towards a cultic culture – may do well to reflect on the qualities that separate a leader’s ‘inner strength’ from building a strongman image. A leader with inner strength conjures visions of a non-masculine, non-gesticulating leader. A leader who treats people and talks to them like they are legitimate stakeholders in a system of governance. Such a vision is vastly different from the vision of a strongman, who, at every opportunity, admonishes people or instills in them some fear of punishment.

The two personalities that come to mind in referencing leadership and inner strength (there are, of course, others) are Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Neither of these iconic men – their arcs of influence in the fields they influenced spanning national and international spheres – fashioned themselves in the mould of strongmen. They were invested with enormous inner strength and courage to reckon with formidable odds.

If any one historic action explicitly marked the difference, as well as contradiction, between inner strength and strongmen, it was perhaps Gandhi’s decision to walk through the riot-torn district of Noakhali in undivided Bengal in 1946. “Gandhi was already considering the possibility of dying there,” wrote Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, referencing that event. He quotes a letter where Gandhi said: “There is an art of dying … As it is, all die, but one has to learn by practice how to die a beautiful death. The matter will not be settled even if everybody went to Noakhali and got killed.”

Also Read: Gandhi and the Trial of Noakhali

Gandhi’s conviction in nonviolence moved him with rare durability. Rather than pitch him in a perpetual confrontational mode, it made Gandhi what strongmen would disparagingly describe as a pacifist. Or worse, feminine, as political psychologist Ashis Nandy has pointed out. A person who was willing to expose himself rather than others to danger. In his reflections, Bhattacharjee argues Gandhi believed that his “technique of nonviolence was on trial” in Noakhali. He felt that if nonviolence failed on that occasion, it would be “better that he himself should declare his insolvency.”

Tagore, for his part, manifested his inner strength by running against the popular sentiment of the day, the headwind of the Swadeshi movement. Even as they held each other in deep respect, both men – Gandhi and Tagore – shared serious differences of opinion around the Swadeshi and non-cooperation movements. Captured in a series of letters both men exchanged at the peak of the non-cooperation agitation, their divergent views were later condensed in the book The Mahatma and the Poet (compiled and edited by historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya).

Tagore raised “unpopular” questions around nationalism, asking whether the popular currency of nationalism was spawning an inward-looking and closed political culture. Instead, would nationalism not enrich itself by opening doors and windows to the wider world of ideas? What were the limits of nationalism? Was there any value higher than the freedom to exercise one’s intellect and mind without fear and coercion, the poet asked?

Rabindranath Tagore hosts M.K. Gandhi and Kasturba Ganhi at Santiniketan in 1940. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unwavering conviction

It may be argued that the intrinsic strength displayed by Gandhi and Tagore in their distinct spheres of influence came from their unwavering conviction in humanity – in their desire to be humane and compassionate. The times that we are currently passing through seem to mark a decisive move away from such beliefs. Allied to the conventional idea of a “strong state”, the desire for a strongman draws strength from an image of power that seeks unflinching obedience from people reduced to subjects who unthinkingly execute wishes and orders from above.

From Brazil to closer home, this contract between strongmen and the people they preside over runs the risk of being welded into unmovable iron during emergencies like the one we are in the midst of. But compassion, often mistaken as a marker of softness and indecision instead of humanity, is difficult to find these days no matter where one looks.

from The Wire

Where Have the Children on the Streets Gone?

Chennai: Children are not the face of this pandemic but they risk being among its biggest victims, a report released by the United Nations in April had said.

In India, the crisis is snowballing for marginalised children. Migrant child labourers, street children, child beggars and farmers’ children trapped midway, are fighting more than they can at their age.

There are 10 million child labourers in India, according to the 2011 Census. 

On April 18, Jamlo Madkam, a 12-year-old plantation labourer died after walking for three days towards her home in Chhattisgarh from Telangana

 “Child workers from Sitamarhi district in Bihar have not returned home from major cities. We are clueless about their whereabouts and safety. Instead of hoping for the best, we need to ensure all of them are safe in government shelters. It is impossible for the civil society to achieve this without the help of government machinery,” said Parineeta Kumari, director of the NGO ‘Adithi’. Kumari is a member of the District Child Protection Committee.

Bihar has the second largest number of child labourers in the country, according to the 2011 Census. 

“The emotional, physical or sexual exploitation of child labourers by employers is a reality. Either the employers should be made responsible for the children under their care, or else the government should ensure they get home safe. The very few child workers who have returned home, have not been paid their dues,” she said. 

While a child worker in Mumbai can still manage to reach his village in Maharashtra, to expect the same of someone from Bihar working in Delhi would be entirely unfair, feel field workers. “Deprived of food, they don’t have money even for a phone call to inform their family about their well-being,” said Anindit Roy Chowdhury, director of programmes and policy at Save the Children, an NGO that reaches out to marginalised children.

Fawad (5) is a rag picker and lives at a shelter with his siblings, mother and blind father, who beg for a living. Photo: Save the Children/C.J. Clarke

“The need of the hour is extensive raids by the government to rescue the children. The employers are never going to release them on their own. Cheap labour is going to be in demand once the lockdown is lifted and child labourers are the easiest to exploit. The government should use this opportunity to free them from this bondage,” said Joshita Nag, programme coordinator at SOCH (Society for Children), an NGO in Odisha which rescues children from being trafficked.

Street children

Mehboob (15) a tool technician, and Abdul Nasir (12), a postcard seller, who reside at the Motor Market in Jama Masjid came to Delhi from Madhubani district in Bihar, six years ago. One cannot wait to return home and the other cannot wait to return to work.

Mehboob had to quit his studies and become the sole breadwinner of his family after his father became bedridden with illness. Every month, he sends home Rs 4,000 out of the Rs 5,000 he earns. “I am unable to support them anymore,” he said.

Abdul just wants to reach Madhubani.

“A little planning would have helped the children be with their families now. There should have been a task force created by the government along with the help of civil society to assist in the safe return of destitute children to their hometowns in buses along with a Childline staff.  If we could do this for college students, why not for children living independently on the streets,” said Rita Panicker, director, Butterflies India, an NGO in New Delhi, working to protect street children.

Street children or ‘street connected children’ are those who depend on the streets to live or work and are either on their own or live with other children or family members. While there is no national data on street children, a study in 2016 by Save the Children in the cities of Lucknow-Mughal Sarai, Howrah, Hyderabad and Patna indicated that there are over two million children on the streets of India who have been deprived of their basic rights.

Around 80% of them had no form of legal identity and therefore, could not access social benefits by the government, like free and compulsory education and health insurance, among others. 

In Mumbai, street children below the age of 14 with no families had been placed in institutions due to the lockdown but the older boys between 16 to 18 years of age who are without families continue to be unprotected, as per Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children, a Mumbai based NGO. 

Some of them continue to live underneath bridges and inside large godowns, they eat when cooked food is distributed. Some collect discarded vegetables from markets to cook and eat, according to Urja Trust in Mumbai. 

Preeti (11) lives in the slums of Agra with her parents and four siblings. Photo: Save the Children/Vicky Roy



Child beggars

 “In Odisha, many child beggars are from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan, so we don’t have an exact count. It is challenging to accommodate them all in shelters, but we are doing our best,” said Banishree Pattnaik, Khordha district Child Protection Officer.

India has over three lakh child beggars, many of whom are forced into the profession with violent threats and beatings, according to the Census 2011.

“Just because we don’t see child beggars on the streets does not mean that we have eradicated beggary. The simple reason is that there are no prospective donors on the streets. In fact, we need to be more worried about the kids caught with the beggar mafia, now that they don’t contribute anything. We are ready to help the police as well,” said SOCH founder Manoj Kumar.

Farmers’ children

Children of many farmers from Vidarbha had been forced out of school and pushed to farming after their parents’ death by suicide, say volunteers.

“Initially during the lockdown, they were fighting starvation as the anganwadi centres and the mid-day meal schemes were shut. Due to systemic failures, their families had missed out on government ration. This included people from the Korku Adivasi and Pardhi community too. It has been seen that, COVID-19 doesn’t affect the young much, but social constraints and loss of livelihood will kill them faster,” said Dr Madhukar Gumble, director, Apeksha Homoeo Society, an NGO in Amravati division, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, that works towards children and women welfare.

An RTI reply that was sought in 2019 revealed that 7,700 farmers committed suicide in the last six years in Vidarbha, of which 6,000 were from Amravati. “We have always been fighting loan sharks. I have my cotton produce waiting to be sold off but there are neither transport facilities nor takers. This is a vicious cycle that causes children in our region to forsake studies for the sake of their parents,” said Maroti Chawre, a farmer and founder of the Ekal Mahila Sangathan, an NGO working towards the welfare of single women in the region. 


The 1098 national emergency helpline operated by Childline exists to provide counselling, food, transport, vaccinations and help children with long or short-term rehabilitation, as required. 

A child collects food from a volunteer, during ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in Kolkata, Monday, May 4, 2020. Photo: PTI

Childline received 4.6 lakh calls in the last 21 days, of which over 90% were for food. The helpline officials also made 9,385 interventions to prevent child marriages, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, trafficking, abandonment and child labour in this time. 

 “However, a large number of children may lack opportunities to report their distress as they may not have access to any mode of communication, or friends, teachers or other caring adults. Shelter for a rescued child is an issue in some districts as childcare institutions are hesitant to receive new children. The rehabilitation efforts also get delayed due to lack of transport,” according to the helpline official.

A child sits between a queue of plates ahead of food distribution in Vashi in Navi Mumbai. Photo: PTI

When contacted, Priyank Kanoongo, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights said that children are being accommodated in government shelters and advisory has been issued to all the state authorities to arrange child-care institutions and if required convert any place with adequate facilities into a shelter, under The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

“Anyone who sees a child living on the street with or without family, or in any trouble should report to 1098 or to the child welfare police officer (CWO) in the nearest police station. It is the mandatory duty of every such CWO to produce the child to the Child Welfare Committee, who will then assist the child further. There could be lacunas in the system, but we are striving to rescue every child in trouble. We can only intervene on the information we receive,” he said.

Even after the health emergency is over, there is a good chance that children will be pushed back into the workforce, again, said S.Naveen Sellaraju, Chief Executive Officer, Railway Children, an NGO that rescues and rehabilitates children from ten railway stations across cities.  

Social activist Dr R.Mathivanan, founder of the Arumbugal Trust at Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu feels that there can be no alternative to identification and integration of vulnerable children at this point..

Nalini Ravichandran is an independent journalist who has worked with The New Indian Express and Mail Today and reported extensively on health, education, child rights, environment and socio-economic issues of the marginalised. She is an alumna of the Asian College of Journalism. 

from The Wire

Anger at Light Charges Against Punjab Cops, Sidhu Moosewala in AK-47 Firing Case 

New Delhi: While the entire country remains under a lockdown to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, a group of Punjab policemen were found accompanying controversial pop singer Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, aka Sidhu Moosewala, while he practised how to fire a deadly AK-47 assault rifle and moved freely between districts. Ironically, Punjab was the first state to announce a curfew to fight COVID-19.

After a 40-second TikTok video of the singer practising with the rifle in the company of police personnel at Badbar village near Dhanaula in Barnala district went viral, three social activists – advocate Hakam Singh, Parvinder Singh Kitna and Kuldeep Singh Khehra – sent a complaint to Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and state Director General of Police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta on May 4.

In response to the complaint, the Punjab police quickly lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against Moosewala and eight police personnel at Dhanaula police station on May 4 itself, in what was seen as a face-saving exercise. The police personnel include a sub-inspector, two head constables, two constables and two others seen with Moosewala in the video. The charges applied in the FIR were Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act. These charges effectively pertain to violating the lockdown order and related punishments, and are bailable offences.

A second FIR was lodged on May 5, after a second, 57-second video emerged of Moosewala firing a pistol at the Punjab police’s makeshift shooting range at Ladda Kothi, near Dhuri in Sangrur district. The same charges were applied against Moosewala and the same policemen in the second FIR. Allegedly, the policemen had been with Moosewala at Ladda Kothi and also accompanied him to open fields at Badbar village to try out the AK-47 rifle.

The policemen charged are all from lower ranks. A departmental inquiry has been ordered by the Punjab police top brass to find out whether they acted alone in aiding the singer, or with the knowledge of their senior officer, in this instance DSP Daljit Singh Virk, posted at Sangrur district police headquarters. DSP Virk has not been named in the FIR.

The Punjab police issued a press statement on behalf of DGP Gupta on May 5, confirming that the cops visible in the video and later booked in the case reported to DSP Virk. “The DGP took a stern view of the DSP’s act of deputing police personnel attached with him at the shooting range unauthorisedly and acting in a manner unbecoming of an officer,” the statement said. “The Punjab police headquarters has moved a reference to the state home department for initiating departmental inquiry against DSP Daljit Singh Virk,” the police spokesman further stated.

Watch | Punjab FM: ‘Staring at Loss of Rs 20,000 Cr, Don’t Expect Sizeable Package From Centre’

The complaint filed by Singh, Kitna and Khehra that led to the FIRs raised many questions. “Who are these police personnel and where are they deployed and what is the place where the weapon is being used?” the activists had asked.

Raising a question about whether the AK-47 assault rifle was issued to any of the serving cops visible in the video, the complainants asked, “Under what rules can a police officer/employee hand over his weapon to a civilian (against whom a case of promoting gun culture is pending before the court)?”

“All the relevant documents pertaining to the weapon should be brought on record,” the complaint further stated.

The complainants are also concerned about the bailable charges filed in the FIR. “It is inappropriate on the part of the police not to include the Arms Act in the FIR, despite the fact that the accused persons were clearly firing rounds from the AK-47 assault rifle,” whistleblower advocate Hakam Singh told The Wire. “We will move the (Punjab and Haryana) high court if the relevant sections of the Arms Act are not added in the FIR,” he said.

“Such an offence is very serious and non-bailable and, if we recollect, (Bollywood star) Sanjay Dutt was arrested and was not given a bail for merely possessing an AK-47 assault rifle,” Singh pointed out.

When asked why the Arms Act has not been applied in the FIR, Barnala Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Sandeep Goel told The Wire, “The matter is under investigation, all these things will be looked into”

Also read: Punjab Police Allegedly Assault Villagers, Then Arrest Them For ‘Attempt to Murder’

Moosewala, whose songs have made him widely popular among the youth, is already on bail in a case pertaining to accusations of promoting violence and gun culture in his songs. That FIR was registered three months ago on February 1, against Moosewala and co-accused Mankirat Aulakh, at a police station in Moosewala’s home district, Mansa. The charges include IPC sections 294 (punishment for committing obscene act in public), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 149 (unlawful assembly). The three activists have also sought cancellation of Moosewala’s bail in this earlier case.

DGP Gupta had recently attracted controversy by tweeting a song video by Moosewala, in which the latter allegedly vilified deceased preacher Baldev Singh, the first COVID-19 casualty in Punjab, who had returned from a two-week foreign trip, did not follow self-quarantine and attended the Hola Mohalla festival from March 11-13, which was also attended by tens of thousands of people. The video, which carried a Punjab police logo, was later removed from the DGP’s Twitter account.

Another instance of Moosewala enjoying the patronage of the Punjab police can be seen in a video posted on Facebook on April 24 by Mansa district police, showing Mansa SSP Narinder Bhargava taking the singer along with him on a police public relations exercise, which involved delivering a birthday cake to a serving doctor in Mansa. The  police press note mentioned Moosewala’s name along with the SSP in honouring the doctor for treating COVID-19 patients.

Prabhjit Singh is a freelance journalist with extensive experience covering Punjab and Haryana.

from The Wire

COVID-19: Doctors, Public Health Workers Urge Govt to Ensure Women Can Access Safe Abortions

New Delhi: A group of 78 medical doctors, public health workers, academics and feminists have signed a statement expressing concern over women’s ability to access facilities that can provide for safe abortions amidst the suspension of non-emergency procedures as the country’s hospitals deal with COVID-19.

The signatories, while appreciating the recent Delhi high court direction to ensure that no pregnant women and their families residing in coronavirus hotspots face difficulty in accessing treatment, have urged that the same access be extended to women seeking medical termination of pregnancies.

Also read: Kashmir: In Labour, Woman From ‘Red Zone’ Turned Away From 4 Hospitals

They have also said that abortions cannot be considered non-emergency medical procedures.

“It is completely understandable, and correct, that all non-emergency procedures be suspended at hospitals in these times of COVID-19.  Thus, not only elective plastic surgery procedures, but surgeries such as that for inguinal hernia, or thyroid adenomas, have to been postponed.

This is for two reasons: first, not to expose people to coronavirus in hospitals and second, to reduce the demand on health systems, breaking under the coronavirus pandemic.

The situation with Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) is however unique, and is not be classified as a “non-emergency” procedure worthy of postponement.”

A woman wanting an MTP is in an emergency situation, write the signatories. The time-frame for her to access a safe and legal abortion in the country is limited and thus, she cannot wait for the pandemic to abate.

Also read: The New Pregnancy Termination Bill Still Ignores Women’s Agency Completely

The statement also draws attention to the illegal abortions that account for 12% of maternal deaths in the country. In addition to hunger deaths, tuberculosis and malaria, which are at risk of increasing – according to the signatories – denying abortions to women will further add to the toll.

The statement cites the example of the United Kingdom, Ireland and France, which have made it possible for women to access safe abortion during what has otherwise been an escalating medical emergency.

“COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to deny women’s rights to safe abortion, as the state of Texas has done in the USA,” the statement notes. 

It has since been reported by Reuters that Texas will allow abortions to resume following a legal battle over whether the Republican-governed state could enact a near-total ban on the procedure to preserve supplies of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The full list of signatories to the letter is below:

Sl No. Name Affiliation 
1 Dr.Mohan Rao               Former professor, JNU
2 Laxmi Murthy                  Feminist journalist, Bangalore.
3 Dr. Imrana Qadeer         Former professor, JNU
4 Urvashi Butalia               Feminist publisher, Zubaan, New Delhi.
5 Prof. Nivedita Menon                 Professor, JNU
6 Prof. Ayesha Kidwai        Professor, JNU
7 Prof. Priyamvada Gopal                Professor, University of Cambridge
8 Dr.Vineeta Bal                     Former scientist, NII
9 AIDWA                                    National Women’s Organisation
10 Renu Khanna                      Commonhealth, Baroda
11 Dr.Vandana Prasad        Community paediatrician, New Delhi.
12 Dr.Rohini Kandhari                 Public health researcher, New Delhi
13 Dr.Priya Ranjan             I.P.College, Delhi University
14 Dr.Aprajita Sarcar          Assistant Professor , University of Ontario, Canada
15 Sunita VS Bandewar Health, Ethics and Law Institute, Pune
16 Prof.Ramila Bisht                  Professor, JNU
17 Dr.R.Srivats                Political scientist, Hyderabad
18 Prof.Pam Rajput                      Women’s studies scholar, Chandigarh.
19 Dr Subha Shri                            Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Thiruvananthapuram
20 Shalini Rudra Researcher, Warwick University, UK 
21 Dr. Raman Kutty Former Director,  Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram
22 Deepika Joshi Public Health Researcher, Chhattisgarh
23 Sarojini N. SAMA Resource Group for Women and Health, New Delhi.
24 Dr.Veena Shatrugna Former Deputy Director,
National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.
25 Dr Mira Shiva  Public Health Physician, New Delhi.
26 Dr. Charm Shakeel Public Health Physician, Bihar
27 Dr. Suhas Kolhekar National Alliance of People’s Movements, Pune
28 Dr. Narendra Gupta Public health physician, Prayas, Rajasthan 
29 Dr. Peehu Pardeshi Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences , Mumbai.
30 Prof. Jayati Ghosh Prof. JNU
31 Dr. Anant Phadke Public health researcher, CEHAT, Pune 
32 CommonHealth (Coalition for Reproductive Health and Safe Abortion)
33 Kalyani Menon Sen Feminist Learning Partnerships
34 Dr. Sunita Reddy Associate Professor, JNU 
35 SAHELI, New Delhi
36 Dr.Nachiket Udupa Public Health Researcher
37 Dr. Y.K.Sandhya Health Watch Forum, Uttar Pradesh 
38 National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR)


39 S.Srinivasan  Locost,  Vadodara 
40 Dr. Saraswathy Ganapathy Community Paediatrician, Bangalore 
41 Dr.Manisha Gupte  MASUM, Pune
42 Ammu Joseph Feminist journalist, Bangalore
43 Dr. Sunil Kaul Community Health Physician, The Ant, Assam 
44 Prof. Mary E. John Senior Fellow,
Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi
45 Prof. Ania Loomba University of Philadelphia, USA.
46 Prof. Pratikasha Baxi Professor, JNU
47 Prof. G.Arunima Professor, JNU
48 Amar Jesani Independent Researcher and Teacher (Bioethics, Public Health)
49 Jennifer Liang Public Health Researcher, The Ant, Assam
50 Dr. Nidhin Joseph Public Health Physician
51 Dr. Rajalakshmi RamPrakash Health Researcher, Chennai.
52 Dr Shaweta Anand Public Health Activist, New Delhi
53 Prof. Angelie Multani  Professor, IIT  New Delhi
54 Deepa V Health Activist, New Delhi
55 Prof.Farida Abdulla Khan Former Professor, Jamia Milia Islamia
56 Prof. Rama Baru Professor, JNU
57 Prof. Ravinder Kaur Professor, IIT New Delhi
58 Prof.Rajni Palriwala Professor, Delhi University 
59 Pamela Philippose Journalist, New Delhi
60 Prof.Janaki Nair  Professor, JNU 
61 Indu Chandrasekhar  Publisher, Tulika Books, New Delhi
62 Prof. Chirashree Das Gupta Professor, JNU 
63 Rajashri Dasgupta  Feminist Journalist
64 Krishna Choudhary  Public Health Scholar , JNU
65 Ravi Duggal Independent Public Health Researcher and Activist,  Mumbai
66 Dr. Sulakshana Nandi  Public Health Researcher, Chhattisgarh
67 Radha Holla Bhar Public Health Nutritionist 
68 Dr. Mala Khullar  Co-editor, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies  
69 Prof. Patricia Uberoi Formerly of Delhi University 
70 Prof. Uma Chakravarti Formerly of Delhi University 
71 Prof. Sundari Ravindran  Former professor, Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram
72 Jashodhara Dasgupta Public Health Researcher, New Delhi 
73 Prof. Devaki Jain  Feminist Economist , New Delhi
74 All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA)


75 Kamayani Bali Mahabal Jan Swasthaya Abhiyan, Mumbai
76 Dr. P.M Arathi Assistant Professor, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala.
77 Dr. Smitha S Nair Assailant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
78 Amitabha Sarkar French Institute of Pondicherry 


from The Wire