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# Govt. denies move to seek Rs. 3.6 lakh cr. from RBI
Dismissing reports of the government seeking Rs. 3.6 lakh crore from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as speculation, Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg on Friday said that the only proposal under discussion is to fix an appropriate economic capital framework for the central bank.
“Lot of misinformed speculation is going around in [the] media. Government’s fiscal math is completely on track. There is no proposal to ask RBI to transfer 3.6 or 1 lakh crore, as speculated,” Mr. Garg tweeted.
“[The] only proposal under discussion is to fix appropriate economic capital framework of the RBI,” he added.
The government and the RBI have been at loggerheads on several issues, including a proposal for the central bank to transfer a portion of its surplus reserves to the government.
# India appreciates sanctions waiver
MEA commends U.S.’ understanding
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday expressed appreciation for the United States’ waiver on India-Iran energy trade and the Chabahar Port project.
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the port would be of importance in helping the situation in Afghanistan, but reiterated that India would continue to import Iranian energy.
“India is a major importer of crude oil from Iran. This is very important for our own energy security needs. We appreciate the fact that the U.S. has shown understanding of our position and has said that its intention is not to hurt India,” said Mr. Kumar, adding that India was studying the details of the exemption.
The formal response from India came days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared a waiver for India and seven other countries on energy trade. Iraq has also received a waiver for the import of electricity from Tehran.
Mr. Pompeo has urged the exempted countries to reduce their energy import from Iran, but the Indian spokesperson did not provide any indication on this subject. “I am not at the liberty to give you details about the quantum of crude oil that we will continue to import [from Iran],” said the spokesperson.
He also expressed India’s appreciation of the waiver for the India-Iran Chabahar Port project, and underlined the importance of the port in regional affairs. “We appreciate that the U.S. recognised the role which this port will play to bring strategic and long-term benefits to Afghanistan, as well as enhance Afghanistan’s connectivity with the outside world,” Mr. Kumar said.
Sources said the waiver was discussed at the recent ‘2+2’ dialogue between India and the U.S.
# Modi to attend Solih’s swearing-in
PM accepts Maldives invitation
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will pay a day-long visit to the Maldives on November 17 to witness the swearing-in of Ibrahim Solih as President of the country.
The visit had been pending since the beginning of Mr. Modi’s tenure but was confirmed recently following an invitation from Male.
“The Prime Minister has accepted the invitation with pleasure. In keeping with our ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, India looks forward to closely work with Maldives in further deepening our partnership,” said Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Mr. Solih emerged as the winner in the presidential election of September 23 that was fought under difficult circumstances as the administration of previous President Abdullah Yameen cracked down on the Opposition in the pre-poll days.
Sources indicated that the visit will be focused on the ceremonies.
India reached out to Mr. Solih and Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra was one of the first to meet the winning candidate in Male. Though planned on multiple occasions, Mr. Modi’s visit to Male could not take place.
A visit plan in 2015 was postponed in the backdrop of the arrest of former President Mohammed Nasheed.
# India to export sugar to China
Initial contract is to despatch 50,000 tonnes to COFCO
In a boost to sugar mills sitting on surplus stocks, India will start raw sugar exports to China in early 2019, and is in talks to finalise exports to Indonesia and Malaysia as well.
In a statement on Thursday, the Commerce Ministry said the first contract to export 50,000 tonnes of sugar had been entered into by the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) and Chinese public sector company COFCO.
A senior official told The Hindu that the decision to export sugar to China had been taken “at the highest level.” When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, they had committed to a volume of sugar exports of about two million tonnes, said the official.
“Raw sugar is the second product after non-basmati rice that China will import from India,” said the Ministry. “It is a move to reduce the $60 billion trade deficit that China has with India. India’s exports to China in 2017-18 amounted to $33 billion while imports from China stood at $76.2 billion.”
The Ministry official said government delegations were also travelling to Malaysia and Indonesia next week, for talks to finalise sugar exports to those countries as well.
India is the world’s largest sugar producer with a production of 32 million tonnes in 2018. However, domestic consumption is only around 25 million tonnes.
# Hashimpura’s long wait for justice
The conviction by the Delhi High Court of 16 personnel of the U.P. Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) for a massacre of Muslims committed 31 years ago was seen as bringing closure to one of India’s biggest custodial killings. Omar Rashid reports from Meerut and pieces together an account of the survivors
“I don’t know why Allah saved me! Perhaps, I was spared to seek justice for my brothers and myself,” reflects Mohammad Usman, as he gently limps towards a small shop owned by his friend, on the road leading to Hashimpura. Nestled in the bustling city of Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh, residents in Hashimpura now recall the ‘massacre’ of 1987 when close to 45 Muslim men were picked up by the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 38 of them were shot dead at close range under the cover of the night, on May 22. Five survived. The PAC is an armed unit of the State Police deployed to tackle the law-and-order situation.
Hashimpura has no distinct markers or landmarks apart from a defunct cinema hall named ‘Gulmarg’ located a few blocks away. You might drive past Hashimpura locality without giving it even a second glance. The slightly built Usman, in his late fifties, with silver-grey hair, and wearing a faded cream kurta, baggy white pyjamas and dark sleeveless coat, blends perfectly into the nondescript landscape. But the scars on his body chronicle a sordid story. So does his aching limp, to which he makes several references in our conversation.
On that fateful night, on Friday, Usman cheated death not once but twice. He was shot at twice, the first bullet piercing his abdomen and exiting from the lower back. The second punctured his right thigh, leaving him with a permanent limp. “The PAC men should have been hanged!” he says, his voice shaking in anger and regret. “They left me a wreck in my 20s and made me forever dependent on others. I was bedridden for over a year.”
After a long wait of 31 years, the Delhi High Court, on October 31 this year, sentenced 16 personnel of the PAC — some of whom are still serving men — to life imprisonment for abducting and later shooting dead the 38 men. In doing so, the court overturned the trial court’s decision to acquit the same, in 2015. But the order brings little succour to Usman.
For Usman, the conviction has come a little too late; a mere consolation, not justice. The trauma has not only crushed him morally but also wrecked him financially, forcing him to take up menial jobs. But he had to quit work eventually, as the condition of his leg did not permit him to work long hours. The Rs. 5 lakh compensation which he received when the Samajwadi Party was in power in the State was spent on paying debts from medical treatment and pooling into the donations and contributions for the legal fight of the survivors. He even had to sell his two-storey house in Hashimpura and move to Ahmed Nagar, another locality 3 km away. He trembles as he recalls the day when he along with the four others survived the massacre, termed by many as one the biggest custodial killings in the country.
Massacre on a holy day
It was a hot May afternoon and the last Friday of Ramzan in 1987 when, after attending prayers at the local mosque, the men of Hashimpura retired to their homes. The atmosphere outside was tense, following weeks of communal clashes in Meerut in the aftermath of the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid. A curfew had been imposed when a search operation was launched by the Army and the PAC in Hashimpura on May 22. This was after two rifles belonging to the Constabulary were allegedly looted by “anti-social elements”, and the brother of an army Major posted there had been shot dead in a locality adjacent to Hashimpura. There are different narratives of the days leading up to the massacre and its likely trigger, and things are still inconclusive to this day.
One theory is that the killings were retribution for the murder of Prabhat Kaushik, a young Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker who had died of a bullet injury. The shots were allegedly fired from Hashimpura. This was on May 21. It was alleged that the Prabhat’s brother, Satish Kaushik, who was posted as a major in Meerut then, had orchestrated the custodial killings to avenge his personal loss. However, none of this was ever brought on record or his role investigated.
Shadab Rizvi, a senior journalist from Meerut, who reported the incident, says there was “no direct link” between Prabhat’s murder and the massacre. His account of the events leading up to the massacre are as follows. The PAC men harboured a grudge against local Muslims after they were allegedly attacked with stones and acid bottles while trying to enter the area for a search operation following a communal incident a day earlier. “The PAC men were angry with the Muslims of Hashimpura over their aggressive stance. They took them to a canal in Ghaziabad and killed them there for the reason that the battalion was based there and they felt it was a lot safer,” says Rizvi.
The most popular narrative is that on the fateful day, the Army went on a door-to-door and roof-to-roof search-and-arrest operation and rounded up over 600 Muslim men. They were then paraded out of the narrow lanes to the main street, near a peepal tree. The Army then handed over the men to the PAC who sorted them into three groups: the aged, the boys and the young men. Between 42 and 45 of the healthiest men were then packed inside a yellow-coloured truck of the C-Company of the PAC’s 41st battalion and driven away. The detainees, forced to keep their heads low, were clueless about where they were headed. They assumed that like the rest, they would be taken to Abdullahpur jail, 4 km away, or the nearest police station. “But it was an act of deceit. They told us that some of the senior officers wanted to speak to us, so we agreed to go. It was a search operation only in name,” says Zulfiqar Nasir, another survivor.
The events of the day were captured by a photographer, Praveen Jain, whose graphic black and white images show petrified Muslim men and boys with their hands raised being forcefully paraded through the lanes of Hashimpura by Army soldiers. The images proved to be crucial testimony in the conviction of the accused. Jain says he had no idea the photographs he clicked that day would become “historical”. “I had no hint of what was in store for these men. No weapons were recovered from the locality and I believed they were being arrested as a formality, to be released later,” he recalls.
Zulfiqar Nasir was a high school student then, barely 17. Today, seated on a sofa in his house in Hashimpura, which over the past three decades has become a rallying place for the victims and families for a prolonged legal battle. Zulfiqar was the first to survive the brutality that day and narrate the experience before the media. That evening, after the truck was driven near the Gang Nahar in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of Delhi, the PAC dragged the men out of the vehicle and then shot them using their .303 rifles. First it was Yasim and then Ashraf. Zulfiqar was third. Like the first two, he too was thrown into the canal. But he feigned death and miraculously survived by concealing himself under the bushes. Later, he escaped on foot. “It was dark and the PAC men wore helmets to avoid identification. The night turned out to be my ally as the constables could not see where I got hit,” Zulfiqar recalls.
He was too terrified to understand what the PAC men were saying to each other. Even while shooting him, they did not speak to him or make any communal taunts. “All they did was prod each other to hurry up and finish the job,” he says. While in the truck, they communicated very little with each other and whispered whenever they had to say anything.
A ghost of a place
In Hashimpura, the throbbing sounds of the cottage looms resonate in the backdrop. Hashimpura was once a weaving hub for traders who came here from different States to purchase cloth. Most men here today work as daily wage labourers, small artisans or run stalls for a living. Zulfiqar is relatively better off and trades in tube-well spare parts.
Some of the survivors of the night were rescued by locals and the remainder by the State police. Clearly, their ordeal was not over. The policemen who found Usman threatened to poison him to death if he named the PAC in his statement. Usman initially gave in and for almost a month his family did not know his whereabouts as he was taken to Delhi for treatment. His five brothers had also been lodged in jail. The massacre took place in two phases. As the Delhi High Court judgment notes, the policemen stopped firing in the Gang Nahar after they noticed the headlights of an approaching vehicle and then moved the truck towards Hindon canal, stopping at its culvert. A PAC jawan, Leela Dhar, even sustained injuries after a ricocheting bullet hit him. After the first three persons were shot, the others in the truck screamed for help. As they tried to jump off, the PAC fired at them indiscriminately.
The PAC men then got down, opened the rear portion of the truck and finished the task. They dumped the bodies into the Hindon river. The incident left behind grieving families, including widows and mothers who lost their breadwinners. Hazra, in her seventies, lost three members of her family: son Naeem, who was only 14, her brother-in-law Zaheer, who worked the embroidery on clothes, and his son Javed, 13.
In several ways, the Hashimpura massacre is also testimony to the mental strength of the survivors and their families, who despite the odds, did not abandon hope for justice. The legal battle was supported by the victims themselves through donations and contributions.
“No political party helped us,” says Zulfiqar. The Samajwadi Party only gave us some economic relief in the form of Rs. 5 lakh compensation (in 2015). We did not get help in the same magnitude that we suffered. But we didn’t allow any politician to interfere.”
Their faith in the courts remained unshaken. Babuddin, another survivor, filed the first First Information Report at Link Road police station in Ghaziabad. Originally from Dharbanga in Bihar, he was visiting his uncle in the hope of finding a job in Hashimpura when he was also picked up. Today, he works as a weaver.
Recalling her numerous trips to the Tis Hazari court in Delhi for the trial, Hazra asks, “How could we answer our conscience if we had given up the battle?”
Zaibunnisa’s struggle was even harder. Her husband, Iqbal, who was 29, was also killed leaving her with three young daughters to look after. The youngest girl, Uzma, was born only two days before the incident.
Holding a photograph of Iqbal, a handsome young man with a neat moustache and neatly packed black hair, Zaibunnisa becomes emotional. “We had been married for five years. Our dreams were also not complete. My daughters did not experience the love of a father,” she says.
Iqbal was shot in the head. The family never got to see his body but identified his clothes. For Zaibunnisa, it meant starting life afresh by sewing and doing labour work. Today she lives alone in a house gifted to her by a son-in-law. All her girls are now married. Her eyes well up as she recalls life with Iqbal. “He didn’t do anything. He was scared of the police and never stepped out of Meerut,” she says, recalling that tragic separation.
The Delhi High Court pronounced the case as “targeted killings” of Muslims and a custodial killing. The judgment assumes significance in the context of impunity in custodial death cases and police brutality. Despite being accused of such a grave crime, the PAC men continued to be in service. The Hindu spoke to four of the convicted PAC men, who had claimed in court that they were not present when the killings happened. One of them, Niranjan Lal, 64, who was a section commander then and now retired, claims his innocence. He says that he and his team did get into the truck but were asked to drop off at the Meerut Police lines, deposit their weapons and go back to their tents.
Lal says that as a consequence of the case, he retired as head constable, a post he had been promoted to early in his career. “Had this case not come about, I would have retired as inspector. I would have never allowed it to happen. I thank God that I was not a part of such an incident,” he says. Lal and his three associates claim that they were made to drop off so as to avoid the lone Muslim among them, Samiullah Khan, from being a part of the operation as he could not be trusted, and to also avoid suspicion. Samiullah, from Deoria, corroborated this explanation.
The CB-CID, which was handed the probe, filed a chargesheet in the criminal court in Ghaziabad in 1996. The Delhi High Court noted in its order that over 20 warrants issued by the criminal court between 2000 and 2003 had failed to produce an outcome. The trial was later transferred to Delhi on the orders of the Supreme Court after the survivors and their families were not satisfied with the progress of the investigation, alleging bias. Charges were framed against the accused by the trial court in May 2006: there were 19 originally, but three, including platoon commander, Surendra Pal Singh, died during the trial. The charges filed were for murder, criminal conspiracy, kidnapping and disappearance of evidence, among others.
Retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Vibhuti Narain Rai, who was then the superintendent of police of Ghaziabad, says that despite political parties which claim to be sympathetic towards Muslims coming to power, neither was a prosecutor appointed in the case for long nor was an investigation properly supervised. It was only in May 2014 that the statements of the accused were recorded. But a year later, all 16 PAC men were acquitted by the trial court, which noted that the evidence required to connect them to the killings was missing.
“When they got a clean chit, I thought there is nothing called law in India,” recollects Zulfiqar. The acquittal was challenged by the survivors and their families and the National Human Rights Commission was allowed by the court to seek a further probe. The High Court then allowed additional evidence to be recorded in the case. Rebecca Mammen John, counsel for the victims in the High Court, says the ‘General Diary’ entries kept by the PAC that marked the battalion in question moving towards Hashimpura, and the return entry were the evidence that really clinched the case.
However, she rues that there was no urgency displayed by even the judiciary to take the case forward despite it having been transferred to Delhi. While there were serious indications of a cover-up and destruction of evidence, a lot of evidence was also not brought forward and was at the PAC level, says John. But the larger questions, of conspiracy and culpability, still remain unanswered. Was this a standalone case of a few PAC men going berserk betraying their communal mindset? The senior-level officer prosecuted in the case was a sub-inspector.
“My 36 years of experience in the IPS tells me that he cannot take such a big decision. And even if he takes such a decision, his under-command will not obey,” says Rai. He believes the PAC wanted to “teach the Muslims a lesson” which is why they selected the healthiest of the lot.
John says there was “absolutely no evidence” on record to support the theory that it was a case of revenge killing: “There was no attempt on the part of the prosecution to find out if these men acted on the instructions of their superiors or political masters.”.
Back in Hashimpura, Hazra says the conviction has provided “ dil ko sukoon (solace)”, but insists that the PAC men deserve death: “Those policemen kept their jobs, lived a normal life and groomed their children and their future and are going to jail when they are almost ready to die. And look at us!”
While the conviction has brought a sense of consolation, the survivors are still grappling with questions. Naeem, another survivor, has only one question: Were we targeted because we were Muslims?
Zulfiqar chips in and wonders, “There were many Muslim localities in Meerut they could have chosen. Why did they pick on Hashimpura?”
The question hangs in the air.
“We did not get help in the same magnitude that we suffered.
# The algebra of Opposition unity
The Opposition should see in the Karnataka byelection results a goad for united action
Karnataka has done it a second time in a year, this year. The coming together of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), post-poll in May 2018, and the inauguration of the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition government was its first contribution to opposition consolidation. The Congress-JD(S) alliance winning four of the five by-elections in Karnataka earlier this week is its second.
Karnataka can be said to have imparted urgency, impetus and a sense of highly ‘doable’ purpose to the Opposition’s search for coordination. No one is accusing the Opposition any more of political opportunism. On the contrary, popular dismay over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s politically-motivated demonetisation, its rushing through of the Goods and Services Tax, its failure to check the rise in the prices of essential commodities and fuel, growing unemployment and now the Rafale issue have made Opposition convergence seem natural — in fact, apposite.
The campaigns for the coming elections to the Assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana have, as a result, acquired a new seriousness as a precursor to the 2019 national elections. The huge margins of the Congress-JD(S) victories in the Karnataka by-elections are making the coming elections seem well within victory-touch for the Opposition.
The Congress + JD(S) = Victory arithmetic was there for all to see, to do quick counts on. And the sums have clicked right in four of the five seats that have just held by-elections in the State. But the margins of victory show more than simple arithmetic. They show Congress + JD(S) = V+, victory with a huge margin. They suggest a move from the BJP’s previous vote-share to the ruling alliance in Karnataka. They suggest that fence-sitters jumped to the Congress-JD(S) side of it. And that the same pattern can be expected in the elections ahead.
But here lies risk. One may call it danger. What can a political giant faced with the prospect of an electoral reverse be expected to do?
If that giant is a philosopher, albeit a political philosopher, it would say, “My time seems to be drawing to a close, I should fight to win again but also be prepared to accept possible defeat with fortitude.” But this one is not philosophically inclined. It is doing what its bio-chemistry tells it to do. Bring out of its arsenal a trusty, if rusty, old weapon: polarisation. Whence, the Ram Mandir idea’s revival, complete with a Korean side-entertainment, name-changes from Allahabad to Prayagraj, Faizabad to Ayodhya, huge patronage given to Sabarimala sanatanists. Terror outfits will, needless to say, sharpen the sword’s edge.
Will these weapons ‘deliver’? The Opposition cannot afford to assume they will not. In fact, it must work on the assumption that polarisation is a deadly weapon and can hit its mark. So, how is it to be countered?
First, by a dead-serious further consolidation of Opposition unity. This is Karnataka’s clear mandate, in fact, goad to the Opposition. It is vital and, I believe, not too late for the Congress to reach out to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati for a concordat in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. She is more than a Dalit leader. She has shown, not without mistakes and wrong moves, that she is a tenacious leader. And she is today fighting a political force that has it in its power to cripple her impact. She deserves the Congress’s respectful accommodation. Likewise, to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. He too is more than the chief of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). His determined survival right under the Central government’s shadow is nothing short of a miracle — a miracle of democratic tenacity.
Similarly, with the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, the Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, the Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, and the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir. Those leaders are not pawns but high-voltage knights, bishops and castles on the chessboard today. Every non-BJP vote split is a BJP vote glued.
What of Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United)? He is a fact of our nation’s nucleating politics that cannot be wished away. When he and the astute Sharad Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad came together previously, a natural convergence between Jayaprakash Narayan’s ‘proteges’ took place. The Congress has been too severely and rudely shocked by the Bihar leader’s about-turn to easily forget it but if the Congress can stay with Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar without straining its fortitude, it must remember that Nitish-babu also is essentially a social democrat of the Congress’s old ‘Young Turk’ DNA. No understanding is feasible between the Congress and him as of now. But I see a distinct possibility, in the not-too-distant future of Nitish-babu’s alliance with the BJP coming apart on the question of secularism. The Congress must reserve a rain-check for that future date. If an understanding can be reached between Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu, then surely one can be reached between the Congress and leaders who are ideologically and programmatically on the same page.
Mr. Naidu’s pragmatic steps towards democratic consolidation are salutary. The overture made by him to the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, M.K. Stalin, gives meaning to the old English expression, “taking time by the forelock”. This is something the Congress must look at with diligence.
I need to come specifically to Kerala, 2019. The Left Democratic Front/United Democratic Front (LDF/UDF) binary is sharp when it comes to Kerala’s Assembly elections. But in the Lok Sabha, it made little difference as far as countervailing the BJP-NDA was concerned. For, there the Congress MP from Kerala and the Left MP from Kerala were together. But now, post-Sabarimala, things have changed.
What was implausible pre-Sabarimala is not only not implausible now but distinctly likely — the BJP contesting all seats and giving a very tough fight in a good number of them. With the non-BJP vote divided — who knows — it could well fluke wins.
So, what is great news for BJP supporters but an ill portent for others must lead to a re-appraisal of their poll-strategies. The LDF and the UDF just cannot afford to split the non-BJP vote in Kerala now. They must go for a seat adjustment. The Congress must see the writing on the larger wall and, taking the initiative, extend a hand to the Left in Kerala, and the Left on its part must not hesitate to take it.
The Congress and the Left must, as a historical imperative now, be seen as integral to each other as the Indian National Congress and the Congress Socialist Party were. Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat, as the P. Sundarayya and E.M.S. Namboodiripad of our times, can reverse engineer the process.
‘Reunion of broken parts’
But electoral tactics apart, what is needed by the democratic Opposition now beyond alliance arithmetic is an ideational algebra, or ‘al jabr’ in Arabic, meaning “re-union of broken parts”. This algebra should give urgent attention to the ground-level needs of the people, especially farmers and agricultural labour. Immiserated by monopolist Mafiosi and techno-commercial market greed, they need to be redeemed by a political leadership that is truly a servant of the people.
If the NDA is using mythologies, the Opposition should point to real pathologies. It should tell voters how their socio-economic infirmities work. It should rescue them from the diversions, embellished with an international cast, that they are being offered. From all accounts, this is what it now seems to be working at.
The people of Karnataka have shown that if the Congress and other democratic parties knit together a pre-poll alliance and work for realistic pro-farmer and pro-labour poverty-alleviation, they can call the bluff of sectarian rhetoric and hollow hubris and can hit a Congress + allies = V+ result.
India’s south may well be turning a plain iron key on a door that seemed locked by golden screws and diamond hinges for at least 10 more years.
But, ultimately, what is as important as, if not more than, a change of the party in power or a change of leader is the inauguration of a new political spirit. India is tired of its politics. It needs not new politicians but a new politics. The Opposition must offer not a BJP-free but a fear-free and corruption-free alternative to their voters. Not a Bha-Ja-Pa mukt Bharat but a bhaya-mukt and Bhrasht-mukt Bharat.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
# Cause to remain alert
Zika-associated birth defects could be a serious public health crisis in India
Despite the recent announcement suggesting that the Jaipur Zika virus strains cannot cause foetal microcephaly, all possible measures to control transmission and monitor pregnancies should be taken. To the best of our knowledge, there is not a specific Zika virus strain — or mutation — linked to microcephaly. All Zika virus strains could possibly cause birth defects.
Over the last few years, the international community has banded together to quickly address a growing international public health crisis — the Zika virus epidemic. After its detection in Brazil during 2015, observant clinicians began to notice a striking increase in the rates of babies born with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition characterised by underdeveloped brains and undersized heads. Epidemiological, clinical, and experimental data has indicated that microcephaly, and a range of other birth defects (such as miscarriages and ocular disease) could be caused by the Zika virus passing from a pregnant women to her foetus.
While the science on the Zika virus has rapidly progressed, there is still much that we do not know about how it causes birth defects. We do not know the long-term effects of children who were infected with the Zika virus in the womb. We do not know why some lead to stillbirths and miscarriages, some lead to neurological complications, and others seem perfectly healthy. We do not understand why we only noticed microcephaly and other severe forms of disease during the epidemic in the Americas, and not before. There could be biological answers to these: certain Zika virus strains are more likely to cause birth defects than others. But at this point, we do not know.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently announced that the Zika virus strains causing the outbreak in Jaipur, Rajasthan, cannot cause microcephaly. This conclusion was based on a genetic sequencing of viruses isolated from the outbreak. In these sequences, the ICMR did not find a Zika virus mutation linked to microcephaly that was suggested in a Science magazine study, in 2017. The problem with this conclusion is that the research was based on infection in mouse brains — not humans — and contains no epidemiological or clinical support. Numerous other studies suggest that all Zika virus strains may have the capacity to infect foetuses and cause neurological disease. Much more research is needed to determine if some strains are associated with a higher risk.
It is also difficult to determine how extensive Zika virus outbreaks will be in India. If the Zika virus has been silently spreading in the country, as it did throughout most of Asia for the last 50 years, then enough people may be immune to the virus to prevent large outbreaks. According to the most recent updates, 159 people in Jaipur had confirmed Zika virus infections. Considering that most infections do not cause noticeable disease, and thus most infected individuals do not seek medical attention, the true number of cases may be more than 10,000. At least 50 of the infected individuals are pregnant women, but again, the true number is likely to be much higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., only 5-10% of Zika virus infections during pregnancies lead to Zika-associated birth defects, and the rates of microcephaly are much lower. So, while the chances for the Zika virus to cause harm to an individual baby are low, there is still a chance, regardless of the Zika virus strain in circulation.
Pregnant women and their families, including those planning to get pregnant, should take great caution to avoid mosquitoes — wear long sleeves and trousers, stay indoors when possible, use DEET/insect repellent, and remove standing water that mosquitoes use for breeding. Zika virus infection is not guaranteed upon mosquito bite, but the chances for infection rise with each new bite. Zika-associated birth defects could be a serious public health crisis in India, and, without a vaccine, all possible measures to control transmission and monitor pregnancies should be taken. Please, stay alert.
Nathan Grubaugh is Assistant Professor, Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health, U.S. Twitter @NathanGrubaugh
# SEBI halves HNI bid quantum in IPO to curb leverage
The capital markets regulator’s revised guidelines effectively cap such bids to 50% of the issue size
A small but important amendment to the listing and disclosure regulations will soon see public issues reporting realistic subscription numbers especially in the segment reserved for high net worth individuals (HNIs) that is known for huge over subscription based on leveraged finance.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), which has been trying to curb this practice for long, has effectively reduced the maximum bid size of HNIs by half in the revised SEBI (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations 2018.
While the earlier regulations allowed each HNI to put in a bid equal to the issue size, the revised guidelines effectively cap such bids to 50% of the issue size.
“… the maximum application by non-institutional investors shall not exceed total number of specified securities offered in the issue less total number of specified securities offered in the issue to qualified institutional buyers,” state the new guidelines.
Simply put, in an IPO of Rs. 100 crore, while every HNI applicant was earlier allowed to put in a bid worth Rs. 100 crore, now it has been capped at Rs. 50 crore. In an IPO, while 50% of the issue is reserved for institutional investors, 35% and 15% allocation is reserved for retail investors and HNIs, respectively.
This assumes significance as many IPOs in the recent past reported oversubscription to the tune of 300 times to almost 1,000 times in the HNI segment even as other segments did not see a similar quantum of oversubscription.
Early this year, the IPOs of Apollo Micro Systems and Amber Enterprises India saw their respective HNI segment getting subscribed almost 964 times and 518 times, respectively. Incidentally, the institutional portion of Apollo Micro Systems IPO was subscribed 102 times.
“The practice of HNIs making huge applications using leveraged finance will be curbed to a large extent,” said Uday Patil, director, investment banking, Keynote Corporate Services.
“The new regulations would also ensure that the demand for an IPO, especially in the HNI segment is more realistic,” he added.
Interestingly, HNI financing is a huge industry with most non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) lending funds to such investors to bid for shares in an IPO. Typically, such funds are lent for a period of 7-10 days at a rate of 8% to 10% per annum depending on various factors.
More importantly, this leverage allowed HNIs to put in large bids on a very small margin thereby distorting the real demand for the issue and also putting at risk the investors if the shares do not list at a significant premium to the issue price.
“It’s been a long time before the regulator realised that being allowed to bid for shares which can never be allotted is fundamentally wrong. This is a victory for small investors,” said Arun Kejriwal of Kejriwal Research & Investment Services adding that the new regulation would significantly reduce distortion of demand and manipulation of grey market.
# Most child deaths due to pneumonia in India
Report highlights India’s burden
India continues to have the highest burden of pneumonia and diarrhoea child deaths in the world, with 1,58,176 pneumonia and 1, 02,813 diarrhoea deaths in 2016. This was stated in the ‘Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Progress Report’ released on Friday by the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The new report, which looked at progress in fighting pneumonia and diarrhoea in 15 countries with the greatest number of deaths from these illnesses — finds health systems are falling woefully short of ensuring the most vulnerable children have access to prevention and treatment services.
The 15 countries that the report looked at account for 70% of global pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths in children under five.
Globally, pneumonia and diarrhoea led to nearly one of every four deaths in children under five years of age in 2016. Authors at the IVAC have also called on the global community to collect better data and target communities of greatest need. The report has been released ahead of the 10th World Pneumonia Day on November 12.
The report analyses how effectively countries are delivering 10 key interventions — breastfeeding, vaccination, access to care, use of antibiotics, oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc supplementation — to help protect against, prevent, and treat, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
The measures are proven to help prevent death due to these illnesses and could help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing under-five mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births by 2030.
The Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Progress Report, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, issued annually, finds that although countries are making progress in immunisation coverage, they seriously lag in efforts to treat childhood illnesses — especially among populations that are remote, impoverished or otherwise left behind.
Progress in India — home to more under-five pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths than any other country in 2016 — has been mixed.
Increasing coverage of Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) vaccine, as well as continued scale-up of rotavirus vaccines, first introduced in mid-2016, led to a bump in scoring for these interventions since last year’s report. Introduced in 2017, the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine has been included in only six States to date. Further scale-up of the vaccine to all States should be considered.