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Archives for : November2017

Six former civil servants write to PM Narendra Modi- ‘Critical concerns on Aadhaar’

‘We are deeply concerned that the authorities seem insensitive to the legitimate concerns of large sections of the target universe, especially the poor.’

Six senior retired civil servants have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing alarm at the rapid spread of Aadhaar, the government’s Unique Identity project, to virtually all walks of life.

“We are concerned that the UID has, step by little step, encroached upon, and disrupted, the lives of many and denied their entitlements to many more, particularly amongst the poor,” the former Indian Administrative Services officers wrote in their letter dated October 6, 2017.

Accusing the government of having been less than transparent in regard to several important aspects of Aadhaar, the letter said that many of the government’s decisions are difficult to justify or even comprehend. “Meanwhile, the ecosystem promoting Aadhaar has been conducting campaigns of obfuscation and misinformation,” the letter said.

Calling for an objective review of the project, the letter asked for a course correction without any loss of time. “If it is found that there has been an administrative overreach, the decisions in question should promptly be reversed.”

Following is the full text of the note enclosed by them to the prime minister detailing their critical concerns and specific suggestions.


As we await the Supreme Court’s consideration of Aadhaar, the debate on the Unique Identity rages, and the government, despite specific court orders, continues to push it vigorously.

There has never been anything like Aadhaar in India. It now affects everyone and every activity from birth to death. And yet this is not how Aadhaar was conceived. The objective of the UID was to eliminate multiple and fake identities to ensure better targeting of subsidies. How did this transformation take place?

The journey of Aadhaar has indeed been remarkable. Accorded the highest priority by successive governments at the two ends of the political spectrum, the project has covered almost the entire population of India, digitising crores of records and issuing cards to each individual. The Aadhaar UID has also been empowered for a multitude of operations from opening bank accounts to securing passports and driving licences, even mobile connections by private players. These are no mean achievements.

Meanwhile, media reports and field surveys have poured in from across the country regarding leakages, malpractices and fraud; biometric mismatch and the rejection of genuine cases; errors in the demographic data, disentitlement and exclusion. The UIDAI has registered criminal cases for preparing fake Aadhaar cards, for hacking databases and so on. Assertions made by high public authorities have been contested for not being backed by verifiable data.

We have, therefore, tried to go behind the debate to ascertain the reality by critically examining the basic premise of Aadhaar, the experience on the ground, the text of the Aadhaar Act and its subordinate legislations, and the gap between the stated objectives and their realisation.

We are disturbed by the state of affairs because we find that Aadhaar is not what it has been presented to be. There has clearly been an uncommon haste in its implementation and a determined effort to extend it well beyond what is envisaged in the Act. The enthusiasm with which the UIDAI and the government have extolled the virtues of Aadhaar, and the disdain with which all criticism has been dismissed, point to the need for an unbiased review.

The forces that are pushing Aadhaar are indeed powerful. This per se is not objectionable, since Aadhaar does open up enormous business opportunities. Unfortunately, this lobby has stooped to misinformation campaigns and to intimidation and denigration of the project’s critics. We are loath to cite an individual instance, but feel compelled to do so because of its ominous significance. We allude here to the campaign of the team led by Shri Sharad Sharma of iSpirit and IndiaStack, entities that are deeply involved with the Aadhaar enterprise. When these individuals were exposed on social media, instead of being chastised for spreading falsehoods, they were actually congratulated by Shri Nandan Nilekani and other luminaries of the industry for being ‘brave’ enough to apologise! With vested interests of such stature in support, Aadhaar seems to have descended into the realm of post-truth and alternative facts.

It is incredible that no one really knows how Aadhaar has been performing. This is because the UIDAI, which is the sole repository of all information on Aadhaar, has resolved not to disclose any data; it has even refused information under the RTI, on grounds of national security.

The UIDAI now processes more than two crore Aadhaar authentications every day; 331 crore cases were dealt with between September 2012 and December 2016. About 40,000 cases have been registered for malpractices by the UIDAI. And yet no analysis of the experience has been made available to the public. This secrecy not only undermines the credibility of the UIDAI, but also raises questions about its intentions. Could it be that the data is so damaging as to vitiate the entire Aadhaar exercise? The UIDAI has chosen to keep its decision making opaque and its data beyond the pale of public scrutiny.

The fears of surveillance, security and profiling are possibly more real than we might believe them to be. We shall, however, confine ourselves to issues closer to the field and focus here on five aspects of Aadhaar where the decisions clearly need to be revisited.

1. The biometric fiasco

The first is the total dependence on fingerprint biometrics, an intrinsically unreliable technology, given that devices for iris recognition will not be widely available for use in the near future.

The UIDAI’s own proof of concept (POC) trials for fingerprint recognition showed an error of up to 15 percent with the best finger and 5 percent when two fingers were tried. There is little public awareness of these limitations.

The implications are serious and worrisome, for the numbers involved are very large. Thus, with a population of 80 crore under PDS, rejections can be as high as 12 crore, and will not be less than 4 crore; the technology ensures that this be so. Evidence from reports and surveys in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand support this assumption.

According to the State of Aadhaar Report 2016 -17 by IDinsight, in the case of pensions in Andhra Pradesh, the rate of fingerprint authentication failure after three attempts was as high as 17.4 percent. In Telangana, the failure rate under MGNREGA averaged 7.8 percent.

A five percent error rate in fingerprint recognition has been confirmed both by the CEO of UIDAI and its former Chairman. Granted that there may be variations from state to state and, over time, improvements may be made and the initial glitches overcome, yet the exclusions would continue to be unacceptably high.

The problem is further compounded in rural areas disadvantaged by the poor quality of basic facilities and services. Critical to the success of Aadhaar are uninterrupted power supply, Internet connectivity, efficient fingerprint recognition devices, secure and reliable encryption and transmission of data, and well-trained staff. If one or more of these requirements are not met, the rates of rejection increase sharply. Field experience across states corroborates this assertion.

On these considerations alone, the proposal for the complete and exclusive dependence on fingerprint biometrics should have been eschewed.

Further, a clear provision for alternative modes of establishing one’s identity in the event of a failure of the Aadhaar identification ought to have been made. Instead, every case of mismatch is being celebrated as the elimination of a duplicate; and, in consequence, claims of huge savings are being made. In contrast, in Chhattisgarh, where this problem was duly acknowledged, the state government decided to accept alternative modes of identification.

The following steps are essential to remedy the situation:

  •   The complete reliance on biometric identification must be discarded and alternatives specific to each scheme adopted. This is the only way the ensuing disentitlement and exclusion can be avoided. Suitable modifications will be required in the Aadhaar Act, in the Aadhaar (Enrolment and Update) Regulations and in the Aadhaar (Authentication) Regulations.
  •   In particular, Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, which enables the government to make Aadhaar mandatory, must be amended to recognise first, the possibility of the failure of Aadhaar authentication and second, in the event of such failure, specifically to provide for alternate means to establish one’s identity.
  •   In the same vein, any notification or guideline issued to make Aadhaar mandatory for a scheme, process or activity, should clearly provide for alternate methods of recognition when the Aadhaar fails.
  •   Until such time as the availability of basic infrastructure – electricity, Internet connectivity, secure and efficient recognition devices – is ensured in a given area, alternative modes of identification should be accepted there.

2. The defective demographic database

The second is that the demographic database for Aadhaar is not authenticated.

The credibility of this database is of vital importance. Any error of recording or transcription may lead to a mismatch and in consequence, to the rejection of the Aadhaar identification. In view of this, it is intriguing that at the time of enrolment, no verification of the information provided was considered necessary; the instructions were that information should be recorded in whatever form and manner it was given. On this basis, 100 crore Aadhaar cards were issued before the Act was passed by Parliament.

Moreover, the desired data could be provided even without any supporting documents: by an “introducer” or by the head of family, if he himself was an Aadhaar number holder. Documents like the ration card and PAN card, though considered unreliable, were also accepted for Aadhaar enrolment.

The actual enrolment was often conducted by relatively small agencies with a local presence, at times several stages removed from the original contracting parties; there was virtually no supervision or check on the correctness of the data recorded. There was a wide variation in the quality of equipment, training of personnel and fidelity of recording and transmission of biometrics and demographic data. Government agencies were not associated.

There are reports of large-scale inaccuracies, with instances of entire populations of villages recording the same date of birth, of errors in the names or addresses and so on. This has occasioned great hardship in authentication, but the authorities seem to be in denial.

  • It is imperative that the demographic data be correct. This can only be ensured through a comprehensive exercise similar to the revision of electoral rolls to enable individuals to rectify errors in their Aadhaar cards. This drive must be conducted in a systematic manner to cover every village and every ward in the country.
  •   In parallel, the provisions for enrolment in the Aadhaar Act and its Regulations should be made more stringent and rigorous.

3. The Extension of Aadhaar without reason, as a policy imperative

The third is the persistent, and accelerated, extension of Aadhaar to every activity.

Aadhaar is now required by a new-born for her birth certificate, by a couple for registering its marriage, and by every soul before leaving for its heavenly abode.

An Act of Parliament sets out both the scope and the limitations of Aadhaar. Section 7 of the Act governs the adoption of Aadhaar for any scheme. Having been passed as a money bill, the Act has a direct nexus with the Consolidated Fund of India, and cannot, therefore, apply to activities falling outside this domain. The legality of each case of extension must be examined with reference to this context.

And yet, there seem to be no norms or procedures for prescribing Aadhaar for a particular activity. Evidently, the extension of Aadhaar is being pursued under a policy directive. It is being mandated mechanically, with inadequate deliberation. There is little attempt to analyse, evaluate the pros and cons, and assess the implications.

Consequently, we have several applications of Aadhaar which are an unnecessary impediment to accessing public goods and services. They only serve to cause gratuitous distress to common people. To illustrate,

  •   Midday meals for schoolchildren, when their identity is known to all and attendance is recorded for the day.
  •   Treatment for TB patients under the national TB eradication programme, when their hospital record is available.
  •   School admissions for children, when their admission papers and particulars of their parents, residence, etc. have already been submitted.
  •    Lately, prospective organ donors, who had completed all the requisite formalities, have been denied this final generosity for want of Aadhaar!

Such a situation is clearly untenable. The following correctives are needed.

  •   All further extensions of Aadhaar should be done only after intense scrutiny.
  •   Adoption of Aadhaar for new programmes must be examined on a case-by-case basis. The objective should be efficiency, better delivery of benefits and services and convenience of the target groups. If the incorporation of Aadhaar does not lead to a significant value addition, and if the presumed inefficiencies can effectively be avoided by improving the programme design and streamlining the supervision, the proposal of extension should be dropped.
  •   All the schemes where Aadhaar has been made mandatory (117 at last count) must be reviewed. These include all those notified under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, and also the activities outside the purview of the Act. Where the requirement of Aadhaar is found to be unjustified, or illegal under the Act, the orders should be withdrawn.
  •   It is imperative to issue explicit guidelines laying down the norms and processes to be followed before extending Aadhaar to any scheme. The decision-making process should be transparent and include consultation with all the stakeholders.

4. Corruption and the limitations of Aadhaar

The fourth is the premise that the UID is essential to bring about efficiency, to ensure that benefits reach the target groups, and to eliminate corrupt practices.

While this logic has a certain appeal in an environment of all pervasive scam fatigue, it will not be prudent to apply it across the board. The responsibility to ensure efficiency and minimise the scope for corruption lies primarily within the scheme design. Aadhaar is relevant only to the limited extent of “identity duplication”, and it is useful only where that is a major problem. It is essential, in fact, to look beyond Aadhaar and to examine the scheme in its entirety.

It is well documented that the avenues for corruption and misappropriation are multi-layered and convoluted. The loopholes in each scheme need to be plugged with reference to its framework. There are no shortcuts.

The following examples substantiate this postulate; these relate to programmes that are crucial for the most vulnerable – the landless, children and the elderly, the SC and ST communities – programmes which must not be discontinued.

  • Under PDS, the malpractices include poor quality of food grains, adulterated rations, and short weighments. In fact, under the revamped PDS post the National Food Security Act, fake ration cards do not seem to be an issue. The experience of Chhattisgarh and other states confirm this.
  • For midday meals, the large-scale pilfering of stocks, poor quality of meals, fabrication of records are the important concerns.
  • In pensions, there is misappropriation through the connivance of government officials and bank staff, short payments, and fudging of accounts.
  • In MGNREGA, the issues go well beyond fake job cards: collusion between the bank and the panchayat, ‘theft’ of a part of the wages, substandard construction material, inflated measurement books, and substitution of labour by earthmoving equipment.

Evidently, Aadhaar will not rid us of such corruption. In fact the focus on Aadhaar shifts attention away from the root causes of corruption, and Aadhaar comes to serve as a smokescreen.

  • Field verifications, inspections, door to door surveys, regular updates, supervision at disbursement time, transparent systems of payments, social audits and public hearings, measures which have fallen into disuse, need to be revived. Technology can also help with computerisation, digitalisation of databases, linkages between activities, and effective MIS.
  • What is needed is the will to take on the vested interests, break the nexus with criminal elements, and not depend merely on technological solutions or administrative interventions. There has to be a seriousness of intent. The enthusiasm that is being shown for Aadhaar could in fact be displayed in the implementation of the Lokpal Act, protection of whistle-blowers, grievance redressal and further strengthening of the RTI.

5. Regulating Commercialisation & Data Protection

The fifth area of concern is the opening up of the Aadhaar database for commercialisation.

The government seems to have adopted a laissez-faire approach in this regard. In the absence of effective regulation and control, misuse and unauthorised trading of personal data, rent seeking by intermediaries and touts, issuance of fake cards, targeting of Aadhaar number holders, and such like abuses have become all too common. The CEO of UIDAI has registered about 40,000 cases for various malpractices; there would be far more which have not come to light.

The penal provisions in the Act have not proved to be a serious deterrent. Far greater thought must be given to preserving the sanctity of the UID database and its operations. The recent hacking of Aadhaar data by an IIT alumnus has demonstrated how fragile the system is. The unabated seeding of Aadhaar in different databases has introduced new vulnerabilities into the system by providing access to hitherto isolated silos through a common platform. There is a real and patent risk of misuse of this wealth of personal information by unscrupulous elements. The possibility of unauthorised use by overreaching state agencies also cannot be ruled out.

The issue of profiteering by commercial entities offering Aadhaar based services does not seem to have been examined at all. On the contrary, there is a specific provision (14 m) in the Aadhaar (Authentication) Regulations to the effect that the government or the UIDAI shall have no say in the charges levied by service providers to their clients.

Some other aspects of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, also need to be reviewed. The concentration of authority in the UIDAI is overwhelming. Interestingly, there is no judicial redress for an aggrieved individual. Her existence is contingent on an authentication by the UIDAI: if it fails, she is left in the lurch; she has no avenues of appeal outside the UIDAI. Further, an exasperated Aadhaar number holder does not have the liberty to surrender the Aadhaar card. Aadhaar’s voluntary label is therefore less than convincing.

The Parliamentary Committee, which had examined the National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill, 2010, had made extensive recommendations for its amelioration. These suggestions have largely been ignored while formulating the present law which was rushed through Parliament as a money bill. This short-circuited the established legislative process. Clearly, the Aadhaar Act requires a rigorous, de novo scrutiny, and a broad-based discussion in public forums.

We have not gone into the larger issues of privacy, surveillance, security, and profiling, which have been addressed by the Apex Court’s Constitution bench. We must, however, observe that civil society greatly prizes the right to be left alone. It includes the right not to be put out there and exposed involuntarily. The mandatory seeding of Aadhaar numbers for accessing public utilities such as water and electricity, and banking and other state services is tantamount to forced disclosure of personal information. This gives enormous powers to the state which could misuse them to curtail the individual’s right to privacy. Such curtailment may amount to the denial of the freedoms guaranteed under the provisions of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. This aspect needs deeper examination.

(MK Bezboruah)
Formerly Chairman,
3rd Delhi Finance Commission

(Surjit Kishore Das)
Formerly Chief Secretary,
Govt. of Uttarakhand

(Kamal Kant Jaswal)
Formerly Secretary to Govt. of India,
Dept. of Information Technology

(CK Koshy)
Formerly Additional Chief Secretary,
Govt. Of Gujarat

(Lalit Mathur)
Formerly Director General, NIRD,
Ministry of Rural Development

(Dr VV Rama Subba Rao)
Formerly Additional Chief Secretary,
Govt. of Gujarat

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Twinkle Khanna apologises for her stance on Akshay Kumar-Mallika Dua controversy

The actress had come out, defending the comments of Akshay on the TV showThe Great Indian Laughter Challenge

What happened after the ouster of Mallika Dua from the comedy Television show, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge is not a hidden secret now. Mallika’s father, Vinod Dua took offence to Akshay Kumar‘s comment on the show, “Mallika ji aap bell ko bajao, main apko bajata hoon” and called out the actor for the same.

When Akshay’s wife, Twinkle Khanna started getting tagged in numerous tweets and posts on the controversy, Twinkle came out and defended Akshay’s comment saying that humour should be seen in the right context. She had even cracked some jokes on Mallika and her father.

Now, looks like the actress regrets her former stance as she has apologised to all those who felt she had demeaned the cause of feminism, despite being so vocal about it in the past. The actress took to her Facebook account and posted an apology letter, saying that her comments came after her innocent daughter Nitara was also dragged into the controversy for no apparent reason and hence what followed was an emotional outburst.

akshay

Here’s what her statement read:

“Unwise Wisecracks

As I reflect on my actions this past week, I realize that I got pulled into this debate not as a social commentator but as a wife and unlike my normal, slightly rational self, my reaction was purely emotional and without perspective, and I have been rather miserable about it ever since.

I would like to apologize to everyone who felt that I was trivializing the cause of feminism especially because I strongly believe in equality and have been a feminist from the time I was a young woman, much before I even knew the term.

I think this came at a point where I was already reeling from an onslaught of abuse against various members of my family, which started with vicious and personal comments about my mother and went on to a widely shared open letter where the writer as a comeback for my comments about Karva Chauth tried to fling muck at every single member of my family. So when in this latest episode regarding my husband, my five-year-old was also dragged in for something that she had absolutely nothing to do with, I reached breaking point. And with my protective instincts in overdrive, I reacted irrationally with the only tools I have that help me retain my sanity in this fishbowl existence -words and lame jokes -though they have got me into trouble often enough in the past as well.

Once while embroiled in an earlier controversy (the story of my life it seems), I had written that a wise woman keeps her hands firmly in her pockets and does not accidentally unzip anything including her mouth. I am not this woman clearly, but I am going to try to be a little wiser from now on.”

Check out her Facebook post here:

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India – Rs 1.0 Lakh Crores For a Bullet Without Gunpowder, Train Without Passengers!

Rs 1.0 Lakh Crores For a Bullet Without Gunpowder, Train Without Passengers!

THE CITIZEN BUREAU
Wednesday, November 01,2017

NEW DELHI: As the Indian government moves ahead with the massive bullet train project, an RTI query has revealed that over 40 percent of seats on all the trains on this sector go vacant, resulting in huge losses to the Western Railways.

Activist Anil Galgali filed the RTI. Galgali says that the RTI reply shows that in just the past one quarter, Western Railways has suffered a loss of a whopping Rs. 30 crore.

“The Indian government is over-enthusiastic and plans to spend more than Rs 1 lakh crore on the Bullet Train project, but it has not done its homework properly,” Galgali said. The activist added that the RTI reply raises huge questions about the viability of the bullet train.

Western Railways replied to the RTI with the admission that in the past three months, 40 percent seats were vacant on all trains plying the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route, and 44 percent were empty on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector.

According to the RTI, Western Railways’ chief commercial manager Manjeet Singh said that between July 1-September 30, there are 32 mail/express serving this sector with a total seating capacity of 735,630 seats on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector.

Of these, only 441,795 seats were booked during the same period generating a revenue of Rs 30,16,24,623 against the total estimated expected income of Rs 44,29,08,220. This amounts to a loss of Rs 14,12,83,597 in the past quarter.

On the Ahmedabad-Mumbai route served by a total of 31 mail/express trains with a seating capacity of 706,446, only 398,002 seats were booked, resulting in revenue of Rs 26,74,56,982 against the estimated expected income of Rs 42,53,11,471. This again amounts to a loss of Rs 15,78,54,489.

Railway officials confirm that new trains are being planned for the route given the seat vacancy. Further, even the most popular train — the Shatabdi Express — managed to sell only 50 percent of all seats on the route over the last three months.

The RTI has received widespread attention because it lends credence to arguments levelled against the bullet train. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the bullet train project last month, describing it as a “giant step in fulfilling a long cherished dream.”

The proposed project will cut the 500 km journey between Ahmedabad and Mumbai from eight hours to just over three hours.

The project has received widespread criticism, with many calling it an example of “misplaced priorities.” The Rs. 1.10 lakh crore investment would be better spent in improving the existing railway infrastructure — with stations and trains in bad condition — say several critics.

Jawed Usmani wrote a critical post highlighting the problems with the project. He said: “Japan has been pursuing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project for a long time as it gives them an opportunity to market their over-priced technology and utilize their idle high speed train manufacturing capacity. They had pushed very hard for this project prior to the visit of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to India in April 2005, and they had found surprisingly willing partners in the Railway Board and the MEA. RK Singh the then Chairman of the Railway Board and Rajiv Sikri, Secretary (East), MEA were enthusiastic supporters of the project. However, the matter required formal clearance of PMO before inclusion in the agenda of the foreign dignitary’s visit.

I was Joint Secretary to PM at that time, looking after economic sector issues, and was a key participant in meetings held in the PMO to discuss this issue. RK Singh and Sikri argued strongly in favor of the bullet train, essentially on the ground that India would benefit from transfer of technology. I opposed the concept, arguing that there are many other railway projects of higher priority and that investment of Rs. 50000 crores (the estimated cost in 2005) on the bullet train would be a complete misallocation of scarce resources.

The issue was clinched when I asked RK Singh whether he would have chosen to invest Rs. 50000 crores on the bullet train if the JICA loan funds were not available and the money was to be provided from the Railway budget. Surprisingly, he stated that under those circumstances, he would not choose to make the investment. It became clear immediately that the arguments in favor of the bullet train project were not based on genuine infrastructural needs of the Indian Railways but were driven by the fact that easy money was being provided by Japan for taking up this project.

At this stage in the meeting, Rakesh Mohan, who was the then Finance Secretary, made a very helpful observation. He stated that he would not go for the bullet train project even if the Japanese provide grant assistance instead of a loan, because based on international experience, in all likelihood the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train will not meet operational costs and would need to be subsidized forever.

The Japanese push for the bullet train project did not succeed in the year 2005. The PMO did not agree to the proposal. The Railways identified a much more important infrastructure project – the Dedicated Freight Corridor Project (DFCP) between Delhi and Mumbai and between Delhi and Howrah, which was posed to the Japanese as a deliverable of PM Koizumi’s visit. MEA worked hard to achieve this outcome. Consequently, Prime Minister Koizumi made a statement during his visit to India in 2005 that the Japanese government will look into the possibility of supporting the DFCP by Japanese ODA loan. The Project took shape with Japan’s support, and when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a visit to Japan in October 2008, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged that Japanese ODA Loan would be provided for the realization of the Western corridor of the Dedicated Freight Corridor Project.

The Western corridor of DFCP subsequently advanced to the “Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) initiative”, which is a Japanese-Indian collaborative project for comprehensive infrastructure development to create India’s largest industrial belt zone by linking the industrial parks and harbors of the six states between Delhi and Mumbai in order to promote foreign export and direct investments. Under the DMIC initiative, plans are also being implemented to create industrial parks and logistics bases with well-developed infrastructures in the area 150 kilometers to either side of the Western Corridor.

The Eastern Corridor of the DFCP was later taken up with World Bank funding. A proposal forwarded by the UP government in 2013, to set up an industrial corridor along the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor on the lines of the DMIC, was also approved in principle by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both the Western and Eastern Corridors of the DFCP are now nearing completion. The DMIC is under implementation and the Eastern Industrial Corridor is under planning and design

Thus, due to an appropriate decision taken by the PMO in the year 2005, India avoided being tricked into buying an over-priced bullet train toy. Instead, Japan signed on the dotted line to provide assistance for development of railway and industrial infrastructure in accordance with India’s needs and priorities.

Unfortunately, this time we have fallen into the age old development assistance trap. Howsoever soft its terms may be, the JICA loan has to be returned. It is a tied loan, forcing us to buy over-priced technology, for a project that services travelers between two cities only, over a track length of only 500 kilometers out of the total railway network of more than 63000 kilometers. The Indian railway has many more infrastructural needs of much higher priority, and Rs. 98000 crores should not be spent in trying to shift some passengers from Mumbai-Ahmedabad flights to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train.http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/2/12131/Rs-10-Lakh-Crores-For-a-Bullet-Without-Gunpowder-Train-Without-Passengers

 

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The 73-year-old lawyer Amanda Hawes taking on the tech giants

 

by

Amanda Hawes, left, speaks to Maria, a Cuban coffee worker who resembles the Spanish professor, Justina Ruiz de Conde, who Hawes says inspired her to become a lawyer [Photo courtesy of Amanda Hawes]
Amanda Hawes, left, speaks to Maria, a Cuban coffee worker who resembles the Spanish professor, Justina Ruiz de Conde, who Hawes says inspired her to become a lawyer [Photo courtesy of Amanda Hawes]

On January 21, the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, women around the world marched “for human rights, civil liberties, and social justice for all” – concepts some feared might be endangered under the Trump administration.

Among those marching in San Jose on that blustery January day was veteran occupational health lawyer Amanda Hawes. Hawes carried a sign that read “Super Callow Fragile Ego Trump You Are Atrocious” in a play on words from the classic Mary Poppins tune. An image of her and her sign went viral.

The 73-year-old Harvard Law School graduate has walked the hi-tech corridors of Silicon Valley for the past 43 years. During that time, she has taken on tech giants, representing electronics workers – many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, the Philippines, China, Iran, the Azores, Vietnam and Cambodia – who, during the course of their work, were exposed to toxic chemicals linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders and other diseases.

Occupational health lawyer Amanda Hawes at the San Jose’s Women’s March on January 21 [Photo courtesy of Mercury News]

“Over the past 40 years, I have represented hundreds of electronics workers in workers’ compensation claims, scores of children of electronics workers in civil litigation seeking compensation for developmental harm, and over a hundred families impacted by water contamination from the so-called ‘clean industry’,” said Hawes, referring to the term sometimes used for the electronics industry.

In 1977, she cofounded the Santa Clara Center for Occupational Safety and Health (SCCOSH).

“From 1978 to 1980, with a grant from the US Labor Department, SCCOSH staff did research on chemical and radiation hazards in electronics manufacturing, made the information available in English, Spanish and Tagalog, including fact sheets and booklets, and ran a hotline for electronics workers to call with questions or information they wanted to share,” she explained.

“SCCOSH provided the scientific data to support a California-wide worker campaign for a ban on the degreasing solvent TCE (trichloroethylene) in the workplace and to press for better controls on 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA) the so-called ‘safe substitute’ for TCE.”

The price of innovation

In the midst of a technology revolution that shows no sign of slowing down, the cases pursued by Hawes suggest humanity may be paying a heavy price for its innovation.

“There’s very little manufacturing occurring in Silicon Valley, at this time,” Hawes explained. “Some of the claims that I’ve been pursuing more recently come from work experiences they’ve (the workers) had many, many years ago …

“A lot of the work I’ve been doing has been on behalf of electronics workers whose children were exposed in utero, so they (the children) are often chronologically adults but mentally that’s never going to be. They’re never going to have an independent life, have no capacity to support themselves basically, or have the things everybody hopes for their children.”

Ted Smith, the founder of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), is Hawes’s partner and co-author of, Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics IndustryHe described the greatest health, environmental and labour concerns associated with the tech industry as the disregard shown for the places where e-waste is dumped and burned, the migration of hi-tech facilities to impoverished countries where worker protection is weak, and the ongoing health repercussions for manufacturing workers dealing with toxic chemicals.

E-waste refers to any electronic items, or parts of those items, that need to be disposed of, including mobile devices, tablets, computers, televisions and others.

Silicon Valley and other tech hubs continue to send the majority of their e-waste to developing countries, in attempts to keep their factories “clean”. But when e-waste is incorrectly disposed of, poisonous hydrocarbons are released into the air and heavy metals leak into the soil. These pollutants can travel long distances, affecting people thousands of miles away. The chemicals not only seep into the soil where they were disposed, but become intrinsically linked to the global food chain, as animals consume food, inhale air and drink water that has come into contact with toxic materials.

Power, profit and ‘planned obsolescence’

Hawes, Smith, the SVTC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and numerous other organisations, both nonprofit and governmental, have fought for workers’ occupational health rights for decades. Why, then, does change still seem so evasive? Planned obsolescence and industry ignorance are high on the list, said Hawes and Smith.

Kyle Wiens, cofounder of wiki-based tech repair and salvage site iFixit, gave an example of this intentional obsolescence: “Every cellphone I’ve ever had, you just pop the back off … every year or two, you have to replace the battery. Apple has decided with the iPod and the iPhone that they don’t like that model. So what they are doing is building the batteries into the phone and using proprietary screws on there in [an] attempt to limit the lifespan of the phone to about 18 months – which is around the time when they have a new phone and they want you to buy a new one anyway.”

Al Jazeera put the claim of “planned obsolescence” to Apple but has received no response from their representatives.

This rapid change doesn’t only mean more e-waste but also creates a rushed innovation environment in which many chemicals are not trialled and tested adequately for health and safety requirements, said the SVTC.

“Some of the chemicals that are used to clean computer electronic products, to degrease them, they’ve got a prior history as anaesthetic gasses,” explained Hawes. “That doesn’t mean they’re safe. It means pay attention to what happened to the workers around the anaesthetic gasses [as an example]. They suffered reproductive harm that was very well documented in the 1960s and the 1970s and then this industry went ahead and used vast quantities of the same chemicals and never did a thing.”

The first sign of adverse reproductive effects from electronics industry chemicals emerged in Silicon Valley in 1982. The State Health Department had identified a cluster of cardiac birth defects in a neighbourhood served by a well that had been contaminated by waste solvents, including the aforementioned TCA, that had been unsafely stored on site at Fairchild and IBM. The solvents had seeped through porous soil and into the well. A high rate of spontaneous abortion among women working in the industry was also discovered.

Hawes said much has been done since then to try and combat these issues. “I was one of a team of lawyers who represented the many families whose water was contaminated by these solvents in a large case that was resolved in 1986,” she said.

“The aftermath of this water contamination problem has involved massive clean-up efforts, not just at this site but at other sites across the valley – a very costly way of proving the obvious benefits of preventing harm in the first place.

In the mid-1980s, SCCOSH and the SVTC mounted a campaign to get glycol ethers – a family of solvents identified as reproductive and developmental hazards – phased out of manufacturing.

Hawes says the industry resisted, but the campaigns persisted.

“Over the years, and despite efforts to keep regulators at bay, there has been progress in identifying chemicals that pose a reproductive or developmental threat and requiring effective disclosures of this aspect of their toxicity, eg California’s Proposition 65 adopted in the mid-1980s, the California Right-to-Know laws of 1981 and the Federal Hazard Communication Right-to-Know law of 1986.

Hawes is currently involved in a movement to encourage the industry to commit to only using materials that are demonstrably free of risks to the health of workers and their prospective offspring.

“This is called the Life Cycle Approach to chemicals management, and in my opinion, should be a guiding principle in all chemical-using industries,” she explained.

The cost of failing to prevent harm

Hawes believes a complex regulation system and varying standards for different chemicals, and combinations of chemicals, makes dealing with cases after the damage has been done more difficult.

“… Most people, if they’re exposed to hazards at work, it’s not a single chemical, it’s usually an entire group, maybe multiple solvents and heavy metals. That’s a terrible mixture. We do have some standards, but they are chemical by chemical. If you’re working with a group of materials, those standards really aren’t going to protect you, even if they might be adequate for one situation … there’s a huge discrepancy,” she said.

The SVTC believes a lack of interest in education and prevention is at the heart of the tech industry’s problems with toxic e-waste and occupational health and safety.

But the cost of prevention, says Hawes, is significantly lower than the cost to the environment and to the tech firms themselves of not preventing the use of dangerous chemicals.

“Where’s the motivation to become fully informed and to provide a safe work environment?” asked Hawes.

“There was [in the 1970s and 1980s] plenty of information, and serious efforts to make it available to employers, so that they could [use their] influence [to enforce standards regarding] what their responsibility is to provide safe workplaces.”

“How that stopped short of providing workplaces that were free of risk, or reproductive harm, long-term illness … In some situations, it was a pretty strong resistance [from the tech firms] to the government regulating the industry, because here we are, we’re technologically cutting edge. What could be better than that?

“We have a very incomplete health and safety enforcement structure. As much as we want it to be effective, it’s stretched very thin,” Hawes said.

‘It breaks my heart’

Yvette Flores and her son, Mark, are evidence of this. Speaking to the makers of, Death by Design, a documentary that investigates the deadly health and environmental costs of the tech industry, Flores described her experience working with laser giant Spectra-Physics, in Mountain View, California, in the 1970s. She recalled working daily with an unknown substance she nicknamed “green gunk”.

Hawes, who represented Flores, said the substance was, in fact, a poisonous chemical called “frit”.

“Yvette didn’t know the material she was using was probably in the vicinity of 50 percent lead oxide. She didn’t know she was exposed to lead. They didn’t tell her that,” Hawes explained.

“In the late 1970s, there were no ‘right to know’ laws that she could have invoked to learn about the reproductive and developmental hazards of her job before it was too late.”

The Flores case was resolved just before going to trial. Flores’s son Mark, who is now 37, was born with severe developmental disabilities. Flores said he is unable to cross the street or use the toilet independently.

“If I knew what I know now, I would’ve ran out of Spectra-Physics at the time. It was unnecessary. It breaks my heart that I could’ve avoided this,” she reflected.

We don’t have fair standards for workers in the first place. Dismantling environmental standards is a predictor of what they would do. They’re also, simply put, not enforcing fundamental health and safety standards….I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

AMANDA HAWES, OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH LAWYER

‘Time’s up’ for the tech industry

On March 13, the White House released its first preliminary budget under Trump. The most notable changes were deep cuts to US science and environmental agency budgets, including that of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The 31 percent cut followed closely on the heels of former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt’s assignment to the role of EPA’s new leader.

Pruitt’s track record as attorney general included attempts to repeatedly sue the EPA for items of environmental protection put forward by the Obama administration.

Hawes said she fears “dismantling environmental standards is a predictor of what” the Trump administration may do, but that the issue did not start and will not end with the Trump administration.

“We don’t have fair standards for workers in the first place,” she said.

Hawes explained what motivates her: “I would imagine that I am viewed [by tech and electronics companies] as a ‘thorn in their side’ or something like that. Around 1980, the lawyer for one semiconductor firm against whom I brought workers’ compensation claims told me the company president ‘couldn’t understand how one Harvard graduate could be doing this to another’.”

“If we can help each other than you’re accomplishing what everybody should be entitled to … Safe jobs, healthy families, that should be universal.”

And she had a message for the tech industry: “You don’t want to hear it, but the answer is you grew it, you ignored it and now time’s up.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/73-year-tech-giants-171019065859899.html

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How The Delhi Police Abetted The Pogrom Against Sikhs In 1984

Thirty-three years ago today, Delhi was the site of one of the bloodiest and most brutal massacres since Partition—the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. The violence began after the death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October that year. She was assassinated by two of her guards, both Sikh. Over the next three days, 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. Sikhs were also attacked in several other Indian cities, including Kanpur, Bokaro, Jabalpur and Rourkela. For the past three decades, many have repeatedly claimed that these killings were a consequence of the spontaneous outpouring of grief, and not an organised act of violence. This claim has been bolstered by the reports of the various commissions that were instituted through these years to investigate the tragedy, in particular, the Nanavati Commission and the Ranganath Misra Commission.

In “Sins of Commission,” the cover story of the October 2014 issue of The Caravan, Hartosh Singh Bal outlined how these commissions obscured the truth of the violence. Bal wrote that not only was there a “complete mismatch” between the testimonies recorded and the conclusions reached, the commissions’ observations contradicted their own findings. He added: “The records of these commissions clearly establish one thing … the condemnable but largely spontaneous violence of 31 October transformed into an orchestrated massacre that continued from the 1st to the 3rd of November.”

In the following extract from the story, Bal describes how, looking at some records submitted to the commissions, it becomes clear that the Delhi Police abetted the targeted massacre of Sikhs.

That the Delhi Police abetted the attacks is strongly supported by the record of the massacre in Trilokpuri, Delhi’s worst-affected neighbourhood. Here, over the course of three days, more than three hundred people were slaughtered in Block 32, an area roughly 250 by 250 metres. Scores of women were gang-raped, in incidents that remain the least reported part of the tragedy; none of the commissions recorded this aspect of the violence in any but the most cursory fashion.

Of the three hundred witness affidavits placed on record before the Misra commission, over thirty were from Trilokpuri. The vast majority of these substantiate the assessment that the violence was largely systematic. The most comprehensive came from Tejinder Singh, a 37-year-old resident of Block 29 who was attacked during the massacre:

On 1-11-84 at about 10–11 AM, I came to know that the mob has attacked the Gurdwara in Block No.36 and has set that on fire. At that time, lot of smoke was seen coming from the Gurdwara and lot of noise was heard. …

At about 11:30 AM, when the mob came in our direction, it was shouting slogans, “Indira your name will live forever. Kill the Sikhs. Sikhs are traitors. Avenge Blood with Blood. Burn the houses of the Sardars.” When the mob advanced towards the Gurdwara in 32 Block, then some Sikhs tried to stop the mob. The mob started throwing bottles and some bomb-like objects after being lighted, which burst with a big bang. The mob was throwing bottles and bombs and also stones on the Sardars. From the other side only stones were being returned. Even then the mob could not pick up courage to advance further towards the Gurdwara in Sector-32.

According to Tejinder, the confrontation continued until after 3 pm, when a local havildar, Rajbir, arrived on the scene with some fellow policeman:

I know Rajbir and I can identify him. Rajbir signalled to Sardars that they should go back to their homes. He also fired a few rounds and this created a sense of fear in the minds of Sardars. The policemen insisted that the Sardars hand over their ‘Kirpans’ to them as they would protect them once they go to their houses …

As soon as the Sardars went back to their houses the mob advanced and taking the Kirpans from the police, which police had snatched from the Sikhs, attacked the Sardars and about 4:00 PM the slaughter of the Sardars started.

If the police party had not helped the mob at that juncture, Sardars would have successfully resisted the mob and would have saved themselves from the mob.

In its conclusions, the Misra commission partially acknowledged the implications of such testimony. “There is enough material on record to show that at many places, the police had taken away their arms or other articles with which they could have defended themselves against the attacks by mobs,” it noted. “After they were persuaded to go inside their houses on assurances that they would be well-protected, attacks on them had started. All this could not have happened if it was merely a spontaneous reaction of the angry public.”

What the commission failed to comment on, or adequately investigate, was testimony that the police actively collaborated in the violence, directing the mobs towards their victims. Around midnight on 2 November, Tejinder’s affidavit says, a drunken mob arrived in Block 29:

Most of the persons had daggers in their hands. One of the miscreants was about to attack me with his dagger but I was saved by the intervention of one Muslim by the name of Nissar. The majority of the persons in the mob were locals. …

This mob continued with their nefarious activities throughout the night. They broke the shutters of the shops in Block 29. They would also go to other Blocks and if they could lay their hands on any scooter they will bring that to the chowk and set that on fire. During this period, I saw the police jeep pass through this area a number of times inciting the mob who would intensify their work of looting, arson and killing.

The police would also inform these miscreants of some Sardars who had concealed themselves in some houses in Block 32 and getting the tip from police the mob would go to 32 Block and come back after killing those Sardars.

Between midnight and 4 am on the morning of 2 November, Tejinder said, “police removed truckloads of the dead bodies of Sikhs of Blocks 30 and 32. I had seen eight such truckloads being taken by the police.” His testimony continued:

Throughout 2-11-84 the mob continued to roam about carrying sticks and bars. At about 11 PM, one Muslim acquaintance of mine came to my house and warned me that it was no longer possible for them to protect me and I should look after myself. In a short while, the mob attacked my house once again and caught me. They were cutting my long hair when the police jeep suddenly appeared and the policemen shouted to the mob that they should run away from there as men of the CRP are entering the area. Hearing this, the miscreants took to their heels and thus my life was saved. A part of my house was being used for running a small shop. Some goods I had saved earlier and some were looted by the mob.

About half an hour after midnight on the morning of 3 November, Central Reserve Police forces finally arrived in the area. “They arrested some men of the mob who were carrying daggers and swords,” Tejinder said. “They also sent some trucks to carry the dead bodies and also to rescue some Sardars who were still alive and had concealed themselves in some places and sent them to relief camps.”

Halvidar Rajbir and his fellow constables were only the most junior of the officials involved in the organised violence. During the monsoon of 1985, HS Phoolka came into contact with Soor Veer Singh Tyagi, the officer in charge of the Kalyanpuri police station, which then had jurisdiction over Trilokpuri. In When a Tree Shook Delhi, a 2007 book co-authored with the journalist Manoj Mitta, Phoolka writes, “I got to meet Tyagi because while I was collecting affidavits from the riot victims, he too was doing the same, except that he was doing it for an entirely different purpose—to save his skin.” With the help of victims from the area, who told Tyagi that they were prepared to submit favourable testimony, Phoolka carried out a sting operation:

My pretence of being the lawyer of those victims from Kalyanpuri was evidently convincing. Tyagi really opened up in a bid to convince me that he had been made a scapegoat. In a sensational disclosure, he said that the massacre was the result of a conspiracy hatched on the evening of 31 October in Bhagat’s house. According to Tyagi, it was a secret meeting attended by police officers from east Delhi, including Jatav. The decision conveyed to officials down the line was to let killings take place and then erase all traces of the crime.

Bhagat was HKL Bhagat, the Congress member of parliament for East Delhi. Later that year, he was made the minister of information and broadcasting under Rajiv Gandhi. Jatav was Hukum Chand Jatav, the Additional Commissioner of Police for Delhi’s north, central and east districts.

Phoolka’s account continues:

Tyagi lamented that though several police stations saw extensive killings, he was the only one to have got into trouble, and that was because of one vital mistake on his part. He failed to dispose off the dead bodies. In other places, most of the corpses were either reduced to ashes or dumped elsewhere. Tyagi’s explanations for allowing bodies to pile up in Block 32 of Trilokpuri was that there were simply too many of them in the locality. When Jatav told him to dispose of the bodies, Tyagi said that some of the killings would have to be shown because of the sheer scale of the massacre in that locality. His reply, according to Tyagi, annoyed Jatav, who later suspended the SHO.

Phoolka told me he had made an attempt to record this conversation, but the tape machine caught only his words, and he no longer had the cassette. He added, “How were we to know when all this started that thirty years later we would still be appearing in court to fight the cases?” But what Tyagi allegedly told Phoolka echoes Gill’s claims. Instructions for the violence seem to have filtered down from the top, both administratively and politically.

This is an extract from “Sins of Commission,” an October 2014 story by Hartosh Singh Bal. The full story is available here.

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Bombay HC orders status-quo for Garib Nagar slum dwellers

Image result for garib nagar demolition

courtesy DNA

Remaining part of Garib Nagar being demolished by Railway

In a major setback to BMC which ruthlessly demolished Garib Nagar-a slum without following due procedure of law, the Bombay High Court, today ordered the civic body to maintain status quo.

Garib Nagar apart from being a residential site for poor working class of Mumbai was also source of livelihood for a number of garment workers. The demolition of this areas shattered the lives of many. No doubt being a Muslim majority settlement, Garib Nagar also have a shadow of stigmas. The demolition was being undertaken in keeping with a Bombay High Court order to remove all shanties along the Tansa water pipeline.

The evicted residents of Garib Nagar complaint that the BMC did not give them enough time to save their belongings and move to a safer place. The civic body issued a mandatory 48 hours’ notice asking residents to vacate the area, however it came down to demolish the slum next day-merely after 15 hours—before the expiry of the notice. A major fire occurred during the demolition. Residents, who are also facing charges of causing fire to stop eviction, claim that it is quite possible that a gas cylinder might have busted in any of the houses that were not vacated at all. Though there was no causality but a heavy loss of property. As this was not enough, the BMC, without letting the evicted residents recover from the tragedy or providing meager relief, continued demolition of the remaining part of the slum after three days.

Thousands of evicted residents are not even allowed to stay on the demolition site and is being thrashed by the police to vacate the area. Now homeless, these evicted slum residents do not even have single night shelter in the city to get a minimum shelter. As per norms set by Supreme Court of India, Mumbai should have over hundred night shelter in the city. BMC have not spent single penny from the fund meant for constructing night shelter for years.

The agitated evicted dwellers, therefore, filed a petition against BMC in the High Court. The case was mentioned in the High Court on 1st November and was initially given the hearing date of a week later. But the High Court changed the hearing date to the very next day, 2nd November, when the advocate convinced the judges about the urgency of the demolished slum-dwellers to get a safe and secure habitat.

The land on which Garib Nagar was built is owned partly by BMC and partly by Railways. So soon after the status quo was declared by the HC, the Railways started demolishing the remaining shanties in their part of the land as BMC had already demolished the structures built in their part. Even the Railways carrying out demolition without issuing the mandatory eviction notice.

Garib Nagar got attention given a major fire however, a large number of slums are under threat of eviction or getting demolished a daily basis in Mumbai. These incidences go unreported.  Spaces for poor getting shrunk in Mumbai and other major cities amidst claims of ‘Housing For All’.

 

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Pune’s 200th RTI Katta: It’s all about micro empowerment through campaigns

Creating awareness about the Right to Information (RTI) Act is one of the mandates of the government as per the law that was enacted 12 years ago. However, it is thanks to dedicated RTI activists that people know more about the Act; the government, on the other hand, would prefer to bury or neutralise it if possible.
Against this backdrop, Pune based Vijay Kumbhar needs to be lauded for spreading awareness and taking the RTI movement forward though his unique RTI Katta. The katta (which is the Marathi equivalent of an adda or informal meeting) marked its 200th meeting on 29 October 2017, having assembled every consecutive Sunday morning at the picturesque Chittaranjan Vatika at Model Colony. About 70 enthusiastic citizens gathered at the Vatika to celebrate and to felicitate Mr Kumbhar. On most other days, he quietly listens to peoples queries and guides them on how to fight for their rights and resolve issues through the effective use of RTI.
Apart from the general chorus of appreciation for Mr Kumbhar, all the citizens who spoke that day talked about “feeling empowered to fight their issues without fear”. One RTI practitioner said, “We can now take on government officers without inhibition; often the officers are wary of us and tend to provide information more easily. We were unaware that that RTI is such a good tool to sort out your own issues that involved dealing with the government.”
Such views are not surprising. A recent triumph of the Katta and its participants is to unearth the shenanigans DS Kulkarni, once a highly reputed builder of Pune, who has duped thousands of depositors and homebuyers. The complaint that was finally registered with the Pune economic offences wring had its seed in this RTI Katta discussions. Buyers of DSK flats, who attended these sessions, were encouraged by Kumbhar to muster the courage to fight. Another important campaign was the Temple Rose Real Estate scam that duped many plot owners, which was also triggered off here. Students who were not getting their rightful scholarship obtained guidance at the RTI Katta and were able to get their rightful dues. Police constable, Jayshree Mane, who was assaulted by a male colleague because she used RTI to procure copies of the duty chart of constables, also fought for justice through guidance at this informal Sunday meets.
How a Woman Sarpanch was empowered through the RTI Katta
Another heart-warming story is that of the courageous Smita Padekar, Sarpanch of Santwadi, a small village near Ale Phata on the Nashik Road. The village is barely accessible via Internet or mobile. Although it is just 200kms from Pune, the village has long hours of power cuts, sometimes stretching to 12 hours. There is rampant corruption in utilisation of the Rs35-Rs40 lakh of funding that it receives annually from the state and central government for developmental work. For several decades money has gone to bogus contractors for non-existent development work.
Padekar, who joined the Gram Panchayat in 2011 as a data entry operator soon learnt the nuances of the local panchayat is administered. Villagers, who interacted with her during the course of her work, found her sincere and honest. So, when she decided to stand for the Sarpanch elections in 2015, she received over helming support and was elected the Sarpanch. Her elevation however challenged the existing set up and she faced enormous hostility from dubious elements in the village as well as Gram Panchayat members.
Padekar was pregnant when she fought the elections  and delivered a baby soon after she was elected Sarapanch. After working from home for three months, she began attending office. She says “On scrutiny of the panchayat register, I found that contractors, without the required license, had been given contracts and money was paid even without their completion of the contracted jobs. Gram Panchayat insisted that she sign the bills sanctioning payments. When she demanded proof they told her that this practice had been going on for years and she should not contest or oppose it.
When Ms Pedekar refused to sign on the bills, the Gram Sabha dismissed her as the Sarpanch. “They held the Gram Sabha meeting one afternoon, when the villagers go to their farms. Only select members of the Gram Panchayat and their corrupt accomplices were present and the dismissal  motion against me was passed and I was dismissed from the post of the Sarpanch”, she tells me.
Padekar filed a complaint at the Tehsildar office against her dismissal; she said that members of the Gram Panchayat and local officers had stalled her efforts to do any development work. The tehsildar also told Padekar, that this was the state of affairs for a long time. She decided to fight on. She he dug up some cases against the gram sabha members and filed an appeal before the Pune District Collector. Here is when she decided to attend the RTI Katta for guidance. She travelled 200kms one Sunday morning to attend the RTI Katta in Pune.
Kumbhar advised her to file RTI regarding three members of the Gram Panchayat who had not submitted their election expenses. She received information from the tehsildar after 45 days and could prove that they have indeed not submitted their election expenses and hence should be expelled. She filed an appeal with Saurabh Rao, Pune’s District Collector, but things would not move. In fact, the hearing was postponed five times.
Armed with the RTI information she had gathered, Vijay Kumbhar asked her to meet the State Election Commissioner with her complaint, seeking to disqualify the four members. The Election Commissioner directed the Collector to hold a hearing immediately and gave him an ultimate to close the case in 15 days or face action.
Interestingly, the post of the Sarpanch was once again vacant, with the seat being reserved for women in the OBC category. It was at 9pm on 11 May 2017 that the Collector’s office gave its verdict and the three members were disqualified.
The next day, Padekar stood for elections and was re-elected as Sarpanch.
She says, “Kumbharji was instrumental in giving me the courage to stay put at the Collector’s office and not leave it before the hearing. Since the diktat had come from the State Election Commission, they had to hear the case, he said. I thought nothing will happen after 6pm but Kumbharji assured me that they would have to close the case that day itself and it did happen at 9pm.”
Kumbhar says, “What is distressing is that Padekar is being opposed because she is fighting corruption. If this is happening in a small hamlet, can you imagine the depth of goondaism and corruption in lakhs of villages throughout the country?”
Padekar needs more help. She called this writer yesterday and said, “Now once again, I am fighting with my back against the wall. Block level officers too are not sanctioning funds for developmental works. How am I to deliver as a Sarpanch?”
http://www.moneylife.in/article/punersquos-200th-rti-katta-itrsquos-all-about-micro-empowerment-through-campaigns/52060.html

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Gender vulnerability index points at high regional imbalances; Goa ranks top in security, Bihar worst overall

Even as India slipped India slipped 21 places on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index to a lowly 108, behind neighbours China and Bangladesh, primarily due to less participation of women in the economy and low wages, a report on gender vulnerability, conducted for the first time by Plan India and and released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, seems to offer a clearer picture as to just why that may have happened.

The report compiled by studying 170 indicators, data for which is available across all the states in India, has put Goa as the safest place for women, whereas Bihar emerged as the worst performer. The study, which studied all the statistics in dimensions of protection, education, health, and poverty, however, has highlighted that a very high regional imbalance exists in the country. Firtstpost took a deeper look at the report across the five dimensions, here’s what we found:

Healthwise performance of Indian states

Kerala tops the list when it comes to the healthy women in the gender vulnerability index, followed by Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Punjab and Manipur among the top 10. The report says that Kerala also has among the lowest rates of anaemia, including those among pregnant women.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Among the best performing states, Kerala, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu perform well on most indicators of maternal health, including critical indicators, the study says. Surprisingly, Tamil Nadu, which is ranked third best in the list, has one of the lowest rates of breastfed newborns among all the 30 states studied.

Sikkim, which performs exceptionally well on the critical indicators, its problem is conversely, that of overweight girls.

Bihar is placed at the bottom ranking 30. Of the ten states in bottom 10, six are BJP-ruled (or with BJP part of the ruling coalition) states including Jharkhand, which was recently in the news for malnutrition deaths of children and Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP came to power earlier this year. There are four northeastern states in the list namely Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, of which Arunachal Pradesh is under BJP rule while in Nagaland the party is part of the coalition.

A comparison of the health indices on geographically, shows South India performing better than rest of India, with four southern states featuring in the top 10; the only exception being the newly formed Telangana, which is ranked 20 in terms of health. Out of five states ruled by Congress, three — Punjab, Karnataka and Congress 1 feature among the top 10.

Girls and women in Haryana, Bihar and Jharkhand are among the most undernourished, the study points out. “As many as 40 percent girls are underweight and more than 60 percent of women are anaemic in these states,” it says.

Bihar performs poor across the board, but despite that mothers are breastfeeding their infants.

State Poverty Protection Education Health GVI
Goa 8 1 5 6 1
Kerala 12 10 8 1 2
Mizoram 2 7 13 9 3
Sikkim 18 6 2 3 4
Manipur 1 13 17 10 5
Himachal Pradesh 15 2 1 15 6
Karnataka 7 17 7 4 7
Punjab 22 4 3 8 8
Maharashtra 9 25 4 7 9
Tamil Nadu 3 12 22 2 10
Telangana 4 20 6 20 11
Andhra Pradesh 5 26 11 5 12
Uttarakhand 14 11 10 12 13
Nagaland 11 8 14 22 14
Chhattisgarh 13 19 16 11 15
Gujarat 10 24 15 16 16
Tripura 19 5 18 23 17
West Bengal 16 29 9 21 18
Haryana 17 21 12 26 19
Jammu and Kashmir 28 3 24 13 20
Meghalaya 6 9 27 29 21
Rajasthan 24 16 20 17 22
Odisha 23 23 21 19 23
Assam 27 15 23 18 24
Madhya Pradesh 25 22 26 14 25
Arunachal Pradesh 20 18 29 25 26
Jharkhand 26 14 28 28 27
Delhi 21 28 30 24 28
Uttar Pradesh 29 30 19 27 29
Bihar 30 27 25 30 30

“Although, 84 percent of married women in the country are participating in household decisions, collectively speaking, there are considerable state-wise disparities which imply that women in our country don’t have an equal voice across,” the study says. The study finds that land ownership is an important indicator of gender inequality, as it increases her participation in decision making.

Poverty

No surprise then that in Manipur, which is among the best-ranking states in terms of poverty, close to 70 percent women own land. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (also among the best ranking states) display more female land ownership than the national average. Mizoram, where land ownership among women is far below the national average, surprisingly, also has the lowest poverty headcount ratio.

Uttar Pradesh, which ranks 29, in the list, has low rates of female land ownership, and high poverty headcount. The proportion of women who are included in the financial systems is the lowest in Bihar, the worst performing state in the list. The state also showed women having the lowest household participation rates.

Protection

Safety of women has emerged as a real challenge across the country with cases of sexual assault often making the top headlines, and the states which perform the best in the dimension of protection are Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Tripura. However, violence against women (especially by their spouses) is still unacceptably high for both Punjab and Tripura and is a painful reality across all states.

Though the state governments took no time to revel over the ranking in terms of protection for women, the study says that in Goa and Himachal Pradesh, younger girls are at higher risk for sexual abuse and rape.

Delhi emerges as a clear outlier when it comes to crimes against women. The rate is also notably high in West Bengal.

What emerges out clear from the study is that huge regional imbalances exist when it comes to protection of women.

“The regional disparities for crimes against women are appallingly high, nationally the figure stands at 53.9 percent, in states like Assam and Delhi this rate crosses over 140 percent; child sex ratio is far below an acceptable standard; child marriages is over 40 percent in West Bengal, whereas it’s estimated to be less than 8 percent in Punjab. At the same time, the highest proportion of girls and women in the country who have ever experienced violence during a pregnancy are in Karnataka,” it says.

Education

Along the four dimensions, education has the third highest score on the Gender Vulnerability Index with Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Goa emerging as the best performing states in education.

Poor educational outcomes and inputs have been regarded as both a cause and consequence of poverty and inequality, it comes as no surprise then that India scores similarly in both poverty and education, the report says. Collectively, India is moving in the right direction, however, the study says, there are stark differences across regions and years of schooling.

“While Sikkim has five students per teacher at primary, and 15 at higher secondary; Uttar Pradesh has a ratio of 39 at primary and 97 at higher secondary level. Moreover, the percentage of girls with correct scores for mathematics and languages differ by state, by a maximum of 11.2 and 9.8 percentage points, respectively,” the report says.

Among the top five, although Himachal Pradesh, which is headed for Assembly election in a week’s time, carries a strong foundation in education from the previous decades, it has sustained the achievements, the report says. “School participation rates were almost as high for girls, as they were for boys in 1996, even before the Millennium Development Goals were introduced,” it added.

In all the five states, dropouts at primary level are well below the national average, however, they are still considerably higher for Punjab. The state also has a poor gender ratio.

The study points that the top-five states, however, fail miserably when it comes to providing toilets, a factor which also influences the health of the female students greatly.

The study says that states like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Meghalaya have some of the highest dropout rates for girls.

http://www.firstpost.com/india/gender-vulnerability-index-points-at-high-regional-imbalances-goa-ranks-top-in-security-bihar-worst-overall-4189303.html

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