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Archives for : October2017

India Needs a Central Authority to Deal with Arnab Goswamis and Republic TVs

Image result for arnab goswami republic tv

It is really very disturbing and disconcerting that an irresponsible, hate-mongering and anti-people TV channel can do whatever they want and go scot free without having to answer any statutory body in the country. India does need a central authority to turn to when the citizens’ and journalists’ rights are trampled upon by any of the news channels, non-news channels, radio stations and other media outfits in the country.

The abhorrent, abrasive and abusive Arnab Goswami, his now estranged cohort, Shwetha Kothari, and their Chennai reporter Sanjeev telecasted a so-called “sting operation” on me at 2 pm on June 20, 2017 in their Republic TV and alleged that our struggle against the Koodankulm nuclear power project was funded by the Catholic Church with foreign donations. I took part in the very same panel discussion on Republic TV and pooh-poohed the accusation.

As I was taking part in their discussion from Kumbakonam town (in Tamil Nadu) where I was attending an agitation, Republic TV reporter Sanjeev and three other men were harassing my parents aged 85 and 82 respectively, my wife and school-going son at my home in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu. Even after my family told him that I was out of town, they were loitering about my house for hours together, talking to people and shopkeepers around my home and defaming me and my family.

Arnab Goswami and another anchor of Republic TV, were talking non-stop about me and defaming me on their TV channel for three days. All this caused me and my family so much mental agony and suffering. This kind of vindictive and vituperative attitude and behaviour of Arnab Goswami and his team is unacceptable in a decent democratic society. As a result of Arnab Goswami’s slanderous campaign against me, my family and I still fear for our safety and security.

When I complained to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Mr. Ashish Sinha, the Secretary General, wrote to me on June 23, 2017 that the BCCC had been constituted to address only complaints relating to the content of programmes aired on IBF member Non-News Channels. And therefore, he regretted that the BCCC was not able to consider my complaint.

I complained to the Press Council of India but Mr. S. K. Maggon, Under Secretary, forwarded my letter to the News Broadcasters Association on July 13, 2017. I also complained to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) as it was the body that looked into the content of news channels.

Incidentally, Ms. Annie Joseph of NBSA wrote to me on June 28, 2017 that the Republic TV was not a member of NBA and hence they could not take action on my complaint. She asked me to write to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and also forwarded my complaint to the Joint Secretary (BC II) of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on July 21, 2017.

I too sent my complaint to the Joint Secretary (Broadcasting) along with a copy to the Director of the Ministry of I&B on June 30, 2017. However, I have not received even an acknowledgement from the Ministry of I&B officials until today.

It is indeed a strange fact that there is no appropriate central agency in India that oversees all the various broadcasters, telecasters and other online and offline media outfits that violate the ordinary Indian citizens’ and journalists’ rights, privileges, dignity and safety.

[email protected]

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AIIMS doctor writes Open Letter to Health Minister- ‘Sorry I will treat patients from Bihar’


“Dear Minister Choube, Don’t Ask Doctors to Deny Treatment to Sections of Patients Please, It is Illegal, Immoral”

“”I have asked the director of AIIMs that patients who can be treated in Patna AIIMS should be referred there immediately,” the minister said at a function recently. “There is no need to increase the crowds here… you know how patients flock here…” So said junior Minister for Health Ashwini Choube recently,triggering a controversy with his suggestion that patients from Bihar should stay in Bihar. Choube is a legislator from Bihar’s Buxar and his remark have raised a storm of protest in his home state.But also from a conscientious doctor in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences who has questioned this stipulation in an open letter to Choube published below:

Dear Sir,

I am a doctor, working at AIIMS, New Delhi, for the last 14 years and have been treating all kinds of patients. By all kinds, I literally mean all patients, irrespective of region, caste, religion, gender, social status and even nationality. My specialisation has meant treating patients from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Iran, Dubai, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan… the list is endless.

I was so bewildered to read and see your recent comments on patients from Bihar that I thought of writing to you. There are certain facts that need to be clarified. Since you took charge as the minister of state for health recently, it is important that someone apprise you of the some facts. The following are also important from a legal point of view:

As doctors, we cannot (and should not) refuse treatment to any patient based on their region, caste, creed, religion, gender, social status and nationality. It is not only morally incorrect but actually illegal to do this. So please do not advice doctors from AIIMS, or for that matter any doctor in the country serving under your government, to withdraw treatment to a section of patients. The doctors are morally and legally correct in ignoring your ‘advice’.

AIIMS is the apex referral institute that was formed as part of a visionary thought process by the then policymakers of the country. Being a tertiary institute, it is reasonable if patients from distant states flock to the institute. I agree that at times, there is a loss of gate-keeping in referral practices but then that is not a fault of the patient and they should not be punished for this.

Let me tell you that coming to the AIIMS out patient department on a working day, getting yourself registered by standing in long queues and then waiting to be seen by a specialist is no easy task. Your premise that Biharis come to AIIMS for even trivial diseases raises some doubts. I would not waste a day, surrounded by the dying and the diseased, just to be seen for something that could have been treated back home in my hometown. And even if we believe that the diseases for which Biharis come to AIIMS are trivial, the patient’s perception is all that matters.

It is the patient’s right to determine how unwell they feel, unless told otherwise. Perception is a matter of behaviour and I do hope that you do not intend to change patient behaviour? If you do, then please don’t, sir. It can be counterproductive in more ways than one.

The problem of overcrowding at AIIMS is not a problem caused by Biharis or even by UPites, Rajasthanis or Chattisgarhis. It is a problem created by the poor infrastructure of healthcare in the country. And who will know this better than you, sir? The serial publications of data on various conditions by your own ministry is a grim reminder of this.

The recent data revealed by the Global Burden of Disease Study in The Lancet (which is an important medical journal, sir), should be heartbreaking for all nationalist Indians. I am sure you are aware of that?

So in a country with poor health infrastructure, and a shortage of doctors, hospitals and other medical modalities, if there are medical setups that are delivering, patients should not be denied entry due to overcrowding. The poor are reasonably intelligent, they flock to places they trust. Please let them continue to do so.

Finally, sir, a 14-year-old patient of mine who has widespread bone cancer and probably will not be alive to see this winter, visited me yesterday. He is from Bihar. Despite such a serious illness, he hasn’t lost his liveliness. Yesterday, in light of your statement, he wanted to know if I’ll continue to see patients from Bihar. I asked him to come and see me next week. He kissed my hands with his parched, paper thin lips.

Sorry, sir, I couldn’t obey your orders. He had immense hope in his eyes.

I hope you will understand my dilemma and excuse me.

(Shah Alam Khan is a professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at AIIMS, New Delhi. Views are personal.)

Image result for DR SHAH ALAM AIIMS'

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UP Medical College: 69 children dead in 4 days; 19 in last 24 hours #WTFnews

Nineteen children have died in the hospital in the last 24 hours — 13 neonatal (newborn) deaths, and six suffering from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), according to BRD Medical College principal P K Singh

Gorakhpur tragedy, Gorakhpur children death, Gorakhpur hospital deaths, Yogi Adityanath, BRD Medical College, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh, Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, pneumonia, Indian expressAccording to hospital records, the number of deaths varied from 12 to 20 each day. According to records, 12 children died on October 7, 20 on October 8, 18 died on October 9, and 19 deaths were reported on October 10. (Representational photo)

About two months after deaths of children at BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur created a national uproar, leading to the arrest of the institution’s principal, a doctor and other staff, the number of deaths at the hospital continue to remain high. Nineteen children have died at the hospital in the last 24 hours — 13 neonatal (newborn) deaths, and six others suffering from Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), according to BRD Medical College principal P K Singh. Sixty-nine deaths have been reported at the hospital in the four days since October 7.

In the second week of August, 60 deaths were reported over five days. “Most of these deaths are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) due to various reasons — such as pneumonia, septicemia, asphyxia, etc,” college principal Singh said. He said a large number of newborns in critical condition are coming to the hospital from far-off places.

“There are 118 children admitted at NICU at present, of which 13 died due to different medical reasons,” Singh said. “There are 333 patients admitted in the pediatric ward.” Of these 333 patients, 109 children are suffering from AES, he said.

According to hospital records, the number of patients admitted varied between 333 and 360 over the last four days, and the number of deaths varied from 12 to 20 each day. According to records, 12 children died on October 7, 20 on October 8, 18 died on October 9, and 19 deaths were reported on October 10. Asked about these deaths, Singh maintained, “Most of these deaths are in NICU due to various medical reasons, and the rest are due to AES.”

he deaths in August had grabbed national attention after reports that the hospital faced shortage of oxygen supply at the time. Although the state government had denied that the deaths were due to oxygen shortage, action was taken against the then college principal, in-charge of the particular ward as well as clerks and the pharmacist for negligence.

An FIR was lodged against them, as well as the supplier of liquid oxygen to the hospital, and all the accused have been arrested.

BRD Medical College: 69 children dead in 4 days; 19 in last 24 hours

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Right to Die with Dignity: Is India Going to Make ‘Living Wills’ a Legal Reality?

As early as in 1981, in the case of Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi, the Apex Court held in very clear terms that right to life does not mean a mere animal existence of the human being.

Picture this – A 62-year-old surgeon who has accomplished a lot in his professional career and helped many patients over the years, suffers a stroke one morning.

After many tests and several opinions from leading doctors, the future looks bleak for him. On the same day he suffered the stroke, he slipped into a coma, which doctors believed was not something that he could come out of.

During many conversations he has had with his family, he has always expressed his desire of dying with dignity, and on his terms.

He always supported the idea of a ‘living will’ or the right to die with dignity.

Representational Image
Photo Source: Pixaby


Unfortunately, since in India the concept of ‘legal wills’ still remains a concept on paper, this doctor continues to occupy a room in the hospital in which he saved so many lives, on a ventilator for life support – in a vegetative state.

Well now, there may be another solution.

On 10 October 2017, a five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, reserved its judgment on ‘living will’.

The top court was of the opinion that there should be guidelines for drafting ‘living wills’ and authenticating them. The bench said that advance directive by a person in the form of ‘living will’ may be approved by a magistrate.

A ‘living will’ is a document in which a person specifies that if they slip into a vegetative state, the incapacitated existence should not be prolonged with the help of life support.

Will Living Wills be a reality in India?
Photo Source: Pixaby

To understand the concept of ‘living wills’, we must go back to where India was introduced to the concept from a legal perspective. Currently, the concept of a living will is not legally recognised in India. However, this is a subject which has been under judicial review for a long time.

As early as in 1981, in the case of Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi, the Apex Court held in very clear terms that right to life does not mean a mere animal existence of the human being.

In 2005, Common Cause-a Society, an NGO based in Delhi filed a petition praying for declaring ‘right to die with dignity’ as a fundamental right within the fold of ‘right to live with dignity’ which is a guaranteed fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

This NGO has been championing this cause since 2002. They have been emphasising on the need for a law to be passed which would authorise the execution of the ‘Living Will & Attorney Authorisation’.

Right to die with dignity
Photo Source: Flickr

While many countries across the globe have legalized euthanasia or mercy killing, some remain sceptical. Countries like Netherlands, Belgium, Columbia, and Switzerland have enacted laws legalising Euthanasia.

The concept of ‘living wills’ is also one that is recognised by many countries. The United States of America recognizes this concept, and it finds mention in ‘The Patient Self-determination Act 1990’.

In Australia – The Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care Act, 1995, covers the concept of ‘living wills’.

Arguing in favour of ‘living wills’, Prasanth Bhushan contended, “Euthanasia would be a part of my Article 21 right. Whether I have a right to reject treatment flows from my right under Article 21. Forcing a person to take medical treatment against their will is also a social issue.”

“On the one hand, you are short of medical facilities etc., and on the other hand, you force those who are in a hopeless situation to take treatment.”

While the bench did see differing views on the issue, it is important to note here that The Law Commission, under the chairmanship of Justice (retired) P V Reddy, had in its 241st report, come out in favour of allowing withdrawal of life support for certain categories of people — like those in persistent vegetative state (PVS), in irreversible coma, or of unsound mind, who lack the mental faculties to make decisions.

Therefore while this is not the first time this issue has come up for consideration, we will have to wait and see what the Apex Court decides.

Your Right to Die with Dignity: Is India Going to Make ‘Living Wills’ a Legal Reality?

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Jharkhand – Kitchen gardens tended by women in Gumla district boost rural diets #Goodnews

Jharkhand kitchen gardens add nutrition to food basket

Kitchen gardens tended by women in Gumla district boost rural diets by providing a rich variety of local cereals, pulses and vegetables, cut expenditure on purchases while improving their nutritional status

Women of self-help group in Ghagra village of Gumla district in Jharkhand distributing kitchen garden seeds among themselves. (Photo by Soumi Kundu)

Women of self-help group in Ghagra village of Gumla district in Jharkhand distributing kitchen garden seeds among themselves. (Photo by Soumi Kundu)

A health screening of adolescent girls and young women in Gumla district of Jharkhand showed that 90% of them were anemic and had less than normal blood components. The study was conducted by Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) on a random sample of 100 young adults aged between 16 and 22 years from villages in Gumla.

Gumla district has 71 % tribal households across its rural expanse, as per the Gumla District Census Handbook, 2011. Over 65% of the tribal population are cultivators while 20% are agricultural laborers. Farming carried out in villages such as those in Gumla provides us with a reservoir of food. As we choose what we eat, from the bounty of diverse food crops grown by farming families, what do the farmers eat? What do families in Gumla district, where the screening was done, usually eat?

While a study revealed that the villagers’ diet consisted mostly of rice and leafy vegetables, the National Family Health Survey (2015-16) revealed that the percentage of rural women with anemia and lower body-mass index in Jharkhand was higher than the national average. To enrich villagers’ diet and make it more nutritious in a cost-effective manner, reviving traditional kitchen gardens appear to be the best option.

Dietary patterns

Everyday diet in tribal households of Raidih block of Gumla includes rice gruel and a vegetable-based curry or chutney. Pulses or animal foods are consumed once a week at the most. Even this minimal diet pattern is not followed throughout the year; it is a common practice to reduce the number of meals in a day when there is scarcity of food or income.

“Food is rice and leafy vegetables, usually marua saag, commonly found here after the monsoons. Everyone has a little quantity of pulses at home. Good food would mean eating rice with lentils, potatoes, vegetables and curry. We cannot eat good food every day,” 40-year-old Rita Devi from Patratoli village in Nawagarh panchayat told Hailing from the Oraon tribal community, Rita has no land and works as a sharecropper half the year. The rest of the year she works as a daily wage laborer in Gumla town, which is 20 km away.

“We grow urad dal (black gram) every year, yet we consume it only occasionally. To eat it more often, a family would need 20 to 30 kg. But on an average a household will have only 5 kg, as the rest is sold,” Seema Devi, a self-help group member from Panantoli village in Silam panchayat, told

Arhar plant, that would add much needed pulses to the diet, grown by a household as part of a kitchen garden at Navatoli village, Gumla district. (Photo by Soumi Kundu)

Arhar plant, that would add much needed pulses to the diet, grown by a household as part of a kitchen garden at Navatoli village, Gumla district. (Photo by Soumi Kundu)

Local diets have undergone stark changes since the past generation. With the adoption of rice and wheat-based food, consumption of once-popular millets has drastically reduced. Only a handful of households grow millets now. Major crops cultivated in the district include cereals like paddy, maize and finger millet, pulses such as arhar and urad and oilseeds such as groundnut, mustard and linseed.

While a wide variety of food is available in the markets, the food consumed by rural households is less nutritious. Use of locally abundant high-nutrient greens such as lebri saagcharota saagbhatua saag and karonda saag has come down. Villagers are more interested in growing and consuming hybrid varieties of vegetables such as radish, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and spinach.

It is also found that miscellaneous foods, and oils and fats account for more than half (52 %) the calorie intake of villagers. Vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, milk, pulses, etc., account for a slim share of the calorie intake.

Kitchen gardens

In Gumla, there is an existing trend of growing select food crops in homestead lands and between rows of crops in farmlands, during monsoons. The families grow maize, vegetables, cowpea and dolichos beans for home consumption, buying seeds at the market or preserving from earlier harvests.

Those without homestead lands use available spaces near the house, or with mutual consent, homestead lands of others. Based on this practice, PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), an NGO, piloted an initiative named Poshan Vari in July 2016. Designed as a nutrition-based cultivation in homestead lands, Poshan Vari gardens were grown in 47 villages across nine panchayats.

The intervention covering over 600 households was intended to enrich the diet and improve the nutrition status of the family. All the households did not have homestead lands; where available, the size varied between 2 and 10 sq., the most common being 5 sq. ft to 7 sq. ft. Families of small and marginal farmers with farmlands measuring less than two hectares grew kitchen gardens.

Nutritional intervention

The number and nature of plants grown in kitchen gardens depend on many factors. These include availability and extent of homestead land, family size, manpower in the house and source of water if grown after monsoons, besides the family’s knowledge and purchasing power of seeds.

A group discussion in Shahitola village centered round growing vegetables. “For how many days can we buy vegetables from the market? Where will we find money to buy them?” the women told The women’s words echo one of the primary goals of kitchen gardens – enriching their diets by growing food for home consumption.

A winter kitchen garden with vegetable plants that would add variety and nutrition to the villagers’ diet. (Photo by Soumi Kundu)

A winter kitchen garden with vegetable plants that would add variety and nutrition to the villagers’ diet. (Photo by Soumi Kundu)

In a study done by Centre for Development Research, Pune, on the status of kitchen gardens, it was observed that in Gumla, with about 60 to 90 hours of labor invested across four months, the households could save Rs 1,600 to Rs 3,200. This is the money saved on expenditure for food from local markets because of the produce available in home gardens.

“When men in our village waste so much money on liquor, can’t we spend 100 rupees to buy seeds to grow vegetables for ourselves?” a Shahitola woman growing kidney beans and French beans in her kitchen garden told

In addition to saving on income, kitchen gardens substantiated the existing diet. From their kitchen gardens, participant households availed seven types of vegetables, three types of legumes, three types of green leafy vegetables, and a fruit, cereal and tuber each for at least one agricultural cycle. Vegetables can be used in rotation and there is a wide availability of food for at least 3 to 4 months in one cycle.

In the first year of implementation of the Poshan Vari initiative in Gumla, villagers showed an enthusiastic interest in continuing the practice. Women are the key participants in growing kitchen gardens. Given that today nearly 70% of the total agricultural work (Source: Reuters) in India is done by women, Poshan Vari is designed in a way that it does not add to the women’s work burden. They spent less than two hours a day to nurture the gardens.

Way ahead

As an intervention, Poshan Vari provides a rich blend of seeds of local varieties of cereals, pulses, vegetables and green leafy vegetables that are organically grown, to increase both the availability and diversity of food in rural households.

In the present design of the intervention, it is a challenge to include families with neither farmland nor homestead land and to use spaces near such households optimally, to grow food.

Such interventions are still relegated to development literature, despite the need to promote them to overcome the present agriculture-nutrition disconnect in India. It is time that such initiatives are replicated and agricultural processes are reconfigured so as to increase availability of food among rural households.

Existing users in Gumla acknowledge the value of kitchen gardens. Kitchen gardens can fix the skewed gender patterns in food consumption prevalent today in Gumla district and across India, besides improving the nutritional status of women.

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India – Cashless village logs out of Modi’s digital dream

P Pavan

Ibrahimpur, the second village in the country to become cashless, now carries out transactions in notes only after shopkeepers, burdened with extra charges, surrendered the card swipe machines

It was only 10 months ago that illiterate sexagenarian B Bhumaiah learnt overnight how to use the debit card when he was told that cash transactions were no longer valid in his tiny village Ibrahimpur, which is located 125 km from Hyderabad.The social security pensioner was one among the 1,200-plus adults in the village to have entered the digital era. Ibrahimpur had in fact made Telangana proud by becoming the first village in the south and second in the country to have embraced100 per cent cashless transactions. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao was so impressed that he directed the officials to encourage other villages to follow in Ibrahimpur’s steps.

Cut to October 2017.

Ibrahimpur, which falls under Siddipet Assembly constituency, is back to the cash system. All the seven shopkeepers and the only auto driver in the village have surrendered their Point of Sale (POS) machines for swiping debitcredit cards to Andhra Bank. Reason: they are unable to pay the hefty charg es levied on the machines.

“Now, I draw cash from the mini bank in my neighbourhood and buy anything with notes. It (digital transaction) won’t work,“ Bhumaiah told Mirror.

Shopkeeper Praveen, who took the lead in encouraging fellow vendors to go in for digital transactions, said, “I am the biggest loser. Not only my customers, I had also encouraged the members of my small chit fund groups to pay using their cards. The bank charged me Rs 1,400 as rent for the machine. Besides, for deposits by about 20 members of my chit fund group to the tune of Rs 50,000, I ended up getting only Rs 45,000. The bank people told me that charges get deducted if there are more than five deposits in an account in a month.“

Though Praveen stopped using the machine after four months, he still had to cough up Rs 1,400 a month till he surrendered the PoS terminal to the bank.

“Our digital village dreams shattered too soon. Bank charged Rs 1,400 for the PoS terminal every month.Even if my total transactions were Rs 18,000, I ended up making profit of less than Rs 2,000,“ fumed Devaiah, another shopkeeper.

“Amounts swiped got credited into our accounts on the third day. That was another headache. I am so relieved that I got rid of the card swipe machine,“ he added.

Now, only the ration dealer and the purified water seller have PoS machines provided by IDFC. “I do not entertain cash transactions. Payments are accepted only through cards,“ said ration dealer Venkata Rajam.

Yellamma, another small shopkeeper, used to refuse to take cash payments till April. Now, she says a blunt `sorry’ if someone offers to pay with his or her card.

“Yes, the vendors have surrendered the machines to us. We actually explained to them while issuing the machines that Rs 1,400 would be collected every month. The PoS machines are taken from a third party on a monthly rent of Rs 1,400. The bank does not pocket the money,“ explained Andhra Bank manager M Shankar.

Bank officials see little scope for the revival of digital transactions in the village with cash becoming available a few months after demonetisation.And they point out that the people had no role in the failure of the digital experiment. They had all learned to transact digitally, but the system let them down.

The digital economy committee, headed by Chandrababu Naidu, had recommended waiver of charges on digital transactions to encourage traders. But no such step was taken.

Devilatha, a young woman who runs a mini-bank as a sub-branch of Andhra Bank, also confirmed that the digitisation process took a reverse turn in the village. “I am doing cash transactions between Rs 8 lakh and Rs 10 lakh every month. Women thrift groups and self-help groups account for transactions (deposits or withdrawals) of Rs 2 lakh each, just like the social security pensioners (Rs 2 lakh),“ said Devilatha, who earns between Rs 3,500 and Rs 4,000 from the bank every month based on the total amount of transactions.

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Today’s Meerabai quenches thirst in Rajasthan villages

Stepping into an all-male preserve, mechanic Meerabai Meena of Padoona village in Udaipur district traverses hilly terrain every day, repairing hand pumps to ensure safe drinking water for residents in five villages

Meerabai Meena, the hand pump mechanic who ensures clean drinking water across five villages. (Photo by Manish Kumar Shukla)

Meerabai Meena, the hand pump mechanic who ensures clean drinking water across five villages. (Photo by Manish Kumar Shukla)

Padoona village in Udaipur district of Rajasthan is nestled in the Aravalli mountain range. Though quite close to Udaipur city, the district headquarters, at a distance of 42 km, Padoona is one of the remote and underdeveloped villages. Some 90% of the population practices subsistence farming. Most of the villagers live on less than Rs 20 a day.

Partially electrified, the villages in the region lack basic amenities including water. With a single unstaffed PHC (primary health center), besides ANMs (auxiliary nurse midwife) at sub-centers, health and education facilities are meager. Women are confined to doing household chores, farming, manual labor and grazing cattle. There is an enormous social and cultural disparity between men and women.

Under such disadvantaged conditions, braving personal odds, a lone woman mechanic soldiers on, making sure that the hand pumps that supply clean drinking water to villages remain in good working condition. 52-year-old Meerabai Meena is a hand pump mechanic, an occupation generally perceived as men’s.

Ensuring safe drinking water

In this region where people are dependent on water bodies like ponds and streams for their water needs, they find hand pumps the most safe and reliable option for water. The government has installed hand pumps in the common places of villages. Many villagers have hand pumps in their houses as well. Meerabai caters to two panchayats, namely Jhabla and Padoona, which encompass five revenue villages.

In Jhabla village, men help Meerabai when she repairs hand pumps. (Photo by Manish Kumar Shukla)

In Jhabla village, men help Meerabai when she repairs hand pumps. (Photo by Manish Kumar Shukla)

Villagers call Meerabai whenever hand pumps need to be repaired. Her services are more in demand during summer when the water level decreases. Sometimes she works on Sundays too. Whether it is day or night, she works tirelessly to ensure availability of safe drinking water. Meerabai repairs a minimum of one hand pump a day. Sometimes depending on the proximity of the sites, she repairs two.

Motivation to become mechanic

Belonging to a tribal community, Meerabai faced problems due to lack of safe drinking water. The source of drinking water is usually far from home and women face the drudgery of fetching water. Poor availability of water, coupled with improper sanitation practices due to lack of water leads to high incidence of diseases and under-nutrition.

Understanding the need for availability of water for better health and recognizing the difficulties women faced in fetching water, Meerabai decided to get trained as a hand pump mechanic. In spite of facing problems related to water, none of the women from her village showed interest in joining the training offered by the government. But Meerabai was firm in her wish to do all she could in making safe drinking water available to the villages.

Triumphing through trials

Meerabai faced personal difficulties at an early age. Four years after marriage, she lost her husband, whom she had wedded as the second wife. His first wife opted for natta, a common practice in southern Rajasthan, where married or widowed people can remarry. Meerabai did not have children. She was left with no choice but to live with her brother’s family in Padoona village.

Deciding to take charge of her life, Meerabai chose to become a hand pump mechanic when the government offered to train women. Since the three-month training in the 1990s, she has been repairing hand pumps.

There are many occupational hazards. The terrain is tough. Some of the houses are on hilltops. The houses are separated from each other by more than half-a-kilometer. With houses scattered on the hills and with lack of local transport except taxis, Meerabai has to walk miles every day, carrying her heavy tools. Often she is engaged thus the entire day, making her feel exhausted when she reaches home. Once home, she carries on with household chores.

Breaking taboos

In these interior parts, women do not step out of their houses to take up work. Those who do are subject to character assassination. In Meerabai’s case she has to travel and work with men often, which added to the insults. Unmindful of taunts, she worked with dedication. Her brother encouraged her not to be afraid and work to fulfill the needs of her people.

Women of Jhabla lend a helping hand to Meerabai by carrying heavy pipes. (Photo by Manish Kumar Shukla)

Women of Jhabla lend a helping hand to Meerabai by carrying heavy pipes. (Photo by Manish Kumar Shukla)

Now not only do men and women respect her and appreciate her work, they volunteer to help her by lifting heavy pipes and carrying her kit of tools and spares. “She handles such tough repair work all by herself,” the women helping her told They acknowledge that a woman needs to have more courage and conviction to carry out the works, like Meerabai does. Now people fondly call her hand pumpwali buabua in Hindi meaning paternal aunt.

Role model

Of the eight women promoted as hand pump mechanics, Meerabai is the only mistry in her panchayat. Five women are working in different panchayats. The leaders of Jhabla and Padoona panchayats where Meerabai works commend her for her dedication. “She’s the only woman mistry in our panchayat. She’s a strong woman,” the panchayat leaders told

Prabhulal Meena, field-in-charge at Seva Mandir concurs. Seva Mandir, a non-profit organization working across southern Rajasthan facilitates women use their expertise and helps them come together for collective representation of issues. “She is an independent and courageous woman. A perfect role model and an example for women’s empowerment,” Meena told

When no one was willing to, Meerabai started a battle alone, to ensure that the hand pumps were in working condition and women were spared the arduous task of fetching water. She has been successful in her work. While some hail her as an iron lady for her conviction, she takes pride in her work. As she tells, “Overcome difficulties and be the solution”.

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MSF approaches Delhi High Court to challenge unmerited patent grant for pneumonia vaccine


Image result for MSF  india

New Delhi, 13 October 2017 – Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders India has filed a petition before the High Court of Delhi to overturn the patent granted on the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) to the US pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer.


Earlier this year, on August 13, the Indian Patent Office dashed hopes for improved access to an affordable PCV13 when it granted a patent to Pfizer for its PCV 13 product, marketed as Prevnar13, which will expire only in 2026. MSF had challenged Pfizer’s unmerited patent claims on the vaccine in India last year to enable and accelerate the availability of more affordable versions of PCV.


Globally, pneumonia causes more than a quarter of deaths in children under the age of five – nearly one million young lives lost per year. India carries the world’s highest burden of pneumonia, accounting for nearly 20% of these global infant pneumonia deaths. The PCV13, which safeguards against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria, also lowers the likelihood of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by significantly reducing common childhood infections and decreasing the need for antibiotic use among infants and children.


“Millions of babies and young kids around the world are left unprotected against pneumonia as many governments cannot afford the high price of PCV set by pharmaceutical corporations,” said Dr. Greg Elder, Medical Coordinator, MSF Access Campaign. “As doctors who have watched far too many children die of pneumonia, we’re not going to back down until we know that all countries can afford this vaccine.”


In a petition filed at the Delhi High Court this week, MSF India has argued that in August 2017, the Delhi Patent Office erroneously granted a patent to Pfizer by disregarding the evidence MSF produced indicating that the pharmaceutical giant’s claim to a patent was spurious. MSF argued that the mere addition of serotypes to the already established 7-valent vaccine did not involve a technical advancement – it was merely a tactic to preserve Pfizer’s monopoly for many more years. The decision also has broader implications, as it indicates a weakening of India’s strict patentability standards, which results in granting monopolies for minor and trivial improvements of existing medical products and restrict access to affordable medicines.


“A public health perspective used for scrutinizing pharmaceutical patent applications is an essential bulwark to ensure wider access to essential medicines and vaccines. Examiners in the Indian Patent Office must be aware that the decision they take to grant a patent can directly affect access to life-saving medicines and vaccines in India and across the developing world,” said Leena Menghaney, the petitioner who is representing the medical aid organization in court. “MSF is appealing to the court to annul the decision to grant the patent and the patent office to hear the matter afresh.”


The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is currently available from only two pharmaceutical corporations: Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Unfortunately, this vaccine is priced out of reach of many parents, governments and treatment providers, due to a duopoly market and a lack of sufficient competition from developing country vaccine manufacturers (DCVM). Approximately one-third of the world’s countries have not been able to introduce PCV, largely because of high prices. Those who have introduced the vaccine are struggling with its costs. South Africa spends more than 50% of its vaccination budget on purchasing PCV13 alone and this is set to continue for another decade unless patent barriers are removed to bring in more competition.


“While MSF has initiated the legal process to challenge the patent, the actual revocation of an unmerited patent takes years. Looking at the urgent need for this vaccine, we really hope that the Indian Health Ministry in the meantime consider issuing a government use license, to encourage manufacturers who have been developing more affordable PCV13 vaccines to continue with phase 3 clinical trials and deliver the life-saving vaccine for the immunization program, not just in India but across the world,” said Yuanqiong Hu, Legal & Policy Advisor, MSF Access Campaign.




PCV and patents


Pfizer and GSK have both been building so-called patent thickets restricting development and competition in the area of PCV. One study identified 106 applications potentially relevant to the manufacturing of pneumococcal vaccines. GSK, which markets PCV10 (Synflorix), and Pfizer (previously Wyeth), have filed the most number of patents in India, China, and Brazil, in an attempt to create barriers to the development of less-expensive versions of PCV.


The patent granted to Pfizer involves the method of conjugating (assembling) together serotypes of streptococcus pneumonia into a single carrier and is essential for PCV developers. The patent is a mere addition of serotypes to the already established 7-valent vaccine and does not meet the inventive step requirement; it ought to have been rejected.


Outside of India, this application was granted and subsequently revoked by the European Patent Office (EPO) following opposition by other major pharmaceutical companies. In the US, a recent inter partes review (IPR) and post-grant opposition or ‘post-grant review (PGR)’ has been filed on this application.


The patent office decision, Pfizer’s patent application and patent oppositions filed by MSF can be found here:


Global situation on access to pneumonia vaccine


Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) presently control a duopoly market for PCV that has brought in a whopping $39 billion in sales in the last 8 years. At the lowest global prices, the pneumococcal vaccine accounts for ~45% of the total cost to vaccinate a child today. About one third of countries around the world (~60 countries), predominantly low-and-middle-income countries where millions of children risk getting pneumonia, have not yet been able to introduce the PCV in their national immunization systems largely due to the exorbitant prices the two corporations charge – despite a 2007 World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation. Over 50 governments – among them Angola, Botswana, Jordan, India, Iraq, Philippines, and others – have voiced their concerns regarding inflated vaccine prices at the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly in 2015.


In India, Pfizer’s PCV had until recently been available solely in the private market with an out-of-pocket price tag of over INR 10,000, reducing the impact of the vaccine as it fails to reach the most vulnerable children.  The high price tag and absence of competition has allowed these corporations to quickly capture over 50% of the private vaccine market in India. To enable a broader dissemination, the vaccine is now being introduced into India’s Universal Immunization Program (UIP) with financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi). Despite Gavi funding, the roll-out remains limited to just three states: Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh, due to the high price and limited availability of the vaccine.


At the lowest price from Pfizer of about $10 a child, which isn’t accessible to most countries, it is now 68 times more expensive to vaccinate a child than in 2001 (for the full package of WHO-recommended vaccines).

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Tamil Nadu – The Tale of an Unscientific Campaign to Control Dengue

In a bizarre turn of events, Govt of Tamil Nadu has started to promote herbal measures as mainstream intervention in dealing with Dengue.
Newsclick Image by Nitesh Kumar

Vector borne diseases are one of the major killers worldwide, especially in the tropical region. Dengue is a diseases caused by Aedes Aegypti mosquito. In the last decade, cases of dengue and associated deaths have been on the rise, all over India.

This year, the cases have reached massive numbers in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, the number of cases this year has reached 11,500 by the first week of October. The mortality statistics, provided by Tamil Nadu Health Secretary attributable to Dengue and Unknown fever are 35 and 85 respectively. However, professionals and activists feel that the statistics provided are a gross under-estimation of the actual situation. In spite of being hailed as pioneer in public health services, Tamil Nadu real under a crisis of Dengue epidemic.

In a bizarre turn of events, Govt of Tamil Nadu has started to promote herbal measures namely ‘Nilavembu Kashayam’ (Concoction) and ‘Papaya leaves Juice’ as mainstream intervention in dealing with Dengue. It is a known through various studies and research that Dengue has no specific curative drug but only conservative management. This treatment has not been recommended by any reputed health bodies like ICMR or guidelines of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), as mainstay of the Dengue treatment

Among these two, ‘Nilavembu kudineer’ lacks scientific clinical evidence. The studies on ‘Papaya leaves Extract’ are also not complete and evaluation on its safety is still pending. However, they are being ushered in the name of natural medicine, by all the IEC materials, apps and awareness campaigns conducted by the Govt machinery.

Government hospitals stocking up and using the concoction in their wards, Schools distributing it to the students, State Ministers participating in awareness activities to take a sip of the concoction in public and a dengue app with front page content are few amusing shades of the campaign. All this is done without any scientific evidence to back the campaign.

What is worrisome is the attitude of state government in promoting irrational quick fixes to a larger problem of prevention and control of vector borne diseases. Science organisation, Tamil Nadu Science Forum and various organisations expressed that the government’s direction is based on incomplete evidence, which comes at the cost of public resources and safety point of citizens.

Source reduction of vector is still the single most effective method to control dengue and other vector borne diseases like malaria. Local body government and Health systems should be strengthened to take up vector control and provide necessary conservative treatment. We demand the government to undertake regular Health awareness campaigns, involve community participation, improve surveillance and implement the guidelines as mentioned by the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP).

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Chandigarh stalking case: Court charges Vikas Barala with abduction and stalking #Goodnews

Varnika, who attended the last two hearings, wasn’t present when the charges against Vikas and Ashish were framed.

(HT File Photo)

A local court in Chandigarh on Friday charged Vikas Barala, the son of Haryana Bharatiya Janata Party chief, and his friend Ashish with abduction, wrongfully restraining, and stalking city-based disc jockey Varnika Kundu, a case that caught national attention and stirred the larger debate over women safety.

The court of judicial magistrate first class (JMIC) Barjinder Pal Singh pronounced the order stating that all the charges in the FIR have been added in the chargesheet filed by the police.

The court adjourned the hearing in the case to October 27.

Varnika, the daughter of Haryana cadre Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer VS Kundu, filed a complaint of stalking and attempting to abduct her in August against the accused.

She told the Hindustan Times she was very happy that the accused had been framed under kidnapping sections as well.

“I’m glad the judge sees it the same way I do. This will also set a precedent for the rich and powerful that they can’t get away by doing something like this,” the 29-year-old said.

Varnika, who attended the last two hearings, wasn’t present when the charges against Vikas and Ashish were framed. Her father, who was out town, also said he was happy to know of the development.

The arguments for framing of charges lasted for over an hour on Wednesday when defence counsel pleaded that the kidnapping charges should be removed as it was only a case of stalking as per allegations. However, the prosecution said Varnika’s car was “repeatedly followed” by the accused, one of whom even banged on the door of her car.

Police arrested the two men over her complaint but released them on bail as they had been booked under bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Motor Vehicles Act. However, they were arrested again on August 9 after they joined the police investigation and charged with attempted abduction.

The two men were chargesheeted on September 21, 42 days after the incident took place.

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