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Archives for : December2017

Kobad Ghandy on undemocratic methods of Andhra Pradesh State Intelligence Bureau (APSIB)

By- Kobad Ghandy



After being acquitted in all cases and spending eight years and three months in jail, when I, Kobad Ghandy was finally released from jail, I was re-arrested by the Jharkhand Police just three days after release. On Dec 16, 2017, I was attending the Achempet Court (near Hyderabad), the Jharkhand, accompanied by the APSIB (Andhra Pradesh State Intelligence Bureau) arrested me and took me by flight to Ranchi.

This FIR has been pending since 2010 and even though I and the Cherlapalli jail authorities wrote to the JMFC Bokaro/Tenughat twice for production there was no response. The first letter was written more than one year back on November 2, 2016. And when there was no response to this a reminder was sent by me and the jail authorities on March 9, 2017. Still there was no response.

Though I am 71 years and in serious health conditions. Immediately after release I had a check-up at the Apollo Hospital, Hyderabad, which recommended at least one month’s complete rest. It is clear the police methods are being used to kill legally, given I am 71 years old and in very poor health. Since seven years they did not bother about this case, but in order to keep me in jail as an undertrial indefinitely, they arrested me immediately on release.

In the case they have taken me, most have been acquitted and the rest are on bail. Yet the harassment.

If anything serious happens to my health in jail with this arrest, I will hold the government responsible. Given that I have been acquitted in all cases, that most have been acquitted in this case, and my age and health condition, demand my immediate release.

Kobad Ghandy
Dec 16, 2017

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India – How The Adivasi Goes To Vote ?

The battle for Gujarat’s 27 ST seats is just a blip in the daily struggle for survival of 15 per cent of the state’s electorate
How The Adivasi Goes To Vote
Adivasis from Dang at a temporary ­settlement for migrant ­workers in a village near Bardoli

An interesting facet of the Gujarat assembly election has gone largely under the radar of the media—the adivasi electorate that comprises 15 per cent of the state’s population. Of the ­total 182 seats, 27 are reserved for the scheduled tribes, of which the ruling BJP won 11 in the last election. Fourteen of the reserved seats are in south and central Gujarat, which go to polls in the first phase, on Dec­ember 9. In these parts, most adivasis belong to the Bhil, Kunbi, Warli and Gamit communities. The battle for votes between the BJP and the opp­osition led by main rival Congress has brought some rare salience to the long-standing issues and ign­ored asp­irations of these communities, some of which they share with adivasis elsewhere in the country.

Prominent issues in the region range from general themes like implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, aimed at empowering adivasi-dominated areas to protect their socio-cultural distinctiveness, affording a degree of autonomy, including over forest rights, to local, topical issues such as a chit-fund scam in which the adivasi labourers invested their hard-earned money. The ­candidates and other leaders are making all attempts to bring it all together.

“Some of our concerns are related to displacement of villagers when the Ukai dam was built across the Tapti river in the 1970s, but we are also seeking better access to healthcare and education. The chit-fund scam is also a serious and ign­ored issue,” says Romel Sutariya, an act­ivist of the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha, who claims more than three lakh people are affected by the scam. For example, take adivasi villager Sunita Gamit’s example. “I started by depositing Rs 20 in each instalment and got some returns initially. Then I raised the amount to Rs 100 and ended up losing almost Rs 2.5 lakh,” she says.

“We don’t know how to go about this. It has been so long,” says another villager, Ashish Gamit, who got into a bigger mess when he agreed to collect money from fellow villagers on behalf of the default company. Sunita and Ashish’s cases are representative of what the scam has done to a large number of adivasis in the region, who wish it could become an election issue. To tackle this and other concerns, such as better land allocation and facilities for those ­displaced by the Ukai dam, they are planning agitations and memo­randums.

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India – UIDAI suspends Airtel Aaadhar based Payments Bank’s eKYC licence #Goodnews

UIDAI’s action follows allegations of Airtel using the Aadhaar-eKYC based SIM verification process to open payments bank accounts of its subscribers without their informed consent

The move essentially means Airtel would not be able to, in the interim, carry out ‘electronic-verification’ or link mobile SIMs of its customers with their Aadhaar though the efficient and paperless eKYC process of UIDAI. Photo: Reuters

The move essentially means Airtel would not be able to, in the interim, carry out ‘electronic-verification’ or link mobile SIMs of its customers with their Aadhaar though the efficient and paperless eKYC process of UIDAI. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: In its strongest action yet, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has temporarily barred Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payment Bank Ltd from conducting Aadhaar-based SIM verification of mobile customers using eKYC (electronic Know Your Customer) process as well as e-KYC of payments bank clients.

The action follows allegations of Bharti Airtel using the Aadhaar-eKYC based SIM verification process to open payments bank accounts of its subscribers without their ‘informed consent’. UIDAI also took strong objection to allegations that such payments bank accounts are being linked to receive LPG subsidy.

UIDAI, in an interim order, “suspended e-KYC licence key of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payment Bank Ltd with immediate effect,” sources with direct knowledge of the development said. This essentially means Airtel would not be able to, in the interim, carry out ‘electronic-verification’ or link mobile SIMs of its customers with their 12-digit biometric national ID Aadhaar though the efficient and paperless eKYC process of UIDAI.

Also, Airtel Payments Bank will not be able to open a new account with Aadhaar e-KYC. However, accounts can be opened through alternate methods, if available. When contacted, an Airtel spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have received interim order from the UIDAI regarding temporary suspension of Aadhaar linked e-KYC services till their satisfaction on certain processes relating to Airtel payment banks onboarding of customers.”

“We are engaging with the authority and are hopeful of an early resolution. We are also undertaking to complete the said actions on priority and have commenced thorough checks of our process flows. “Being compliant to all guidelines is paramount to us. In the interim, any inconvenience to our customers is regretted,” the spokesperson said.

More than 23 lakh customers have reportedly received as many as Rs47 crore in their Airtel bank accounts, which they did not know had been opened. Sources said it was brought to the notice of the UIDAI that at the time of mobile verification using Aadhaar e-KYC, the Airtel retailers were also opening Airtel Payments Bank accounts, without informed consent of the user. Government LPG subsidy was also getting transferred to these accounts, without their consent.

UIDAI observed that as per agreement with the authority, Airtel and Airtel Bank are duty bound and under obligation to ensure security and privacy of residents’ identity information. Security and privacy of Aadhaar data is a highly sensitive matter and the Supreme Court is looking into its various aspects. Suspending the ‘e-KYC licence key’, UIDAI ordered PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank to ascertain if their systems and processes are in compliance with the Aadhaar Act.

UIDAI may consider revocation of suspension or decide further necessary action upon receipt of the report. The alleged actions of Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank were found to be in violation of different sections of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, which mandates obtaining explicit consent of the individual. Violations are liable to be punished with Rs1 lakh per day fine and termination of authentication user agreements.

Both Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank were appointed as Authentication User Agencies (AUA) by UIDAI and had entered into an agreement with UIDAI in February 2015 and September 2016 respectively for the purposes of availing authentication services provided by the authority. Sources said in response to the first notice of September 18, Airtel and Airtel Bank stated that they have amended their process and the opening of a bank account is completely de-linked from the process of re-verification of mobile connection. These replies were found to be unsatisfactory by UIDAI, which issued another notice on 24 November.

The company responded by saying no bank account was opened without the consent of the customers and additional safeguards have been introduced. The replies too were found to be unsatisfactory as UIDAI continued to receive numerous complaints of unauthorised opening of Airtel Payments Bank accounts. Sources said the interim order listed out some of the complaints and went on to state that Airtel and Airtel Bank had made “false statements” to “deceive and mislead” UIDAI.

When UIDAI reviewed the Airtel mobile app, it found that when the app is opened, along with the welcome message a pre- ticked consent box is momentarily flashed on the screen which states “Upgrade or create my Airtel Payment Bank wallet using existing Airtel mobile KYC.” This was found to reflect blatant disregard of Aadhaar Act and Regulations.

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MP Shocker -Identification stickers on women’s forehead undergoing sterilisation #WTFnews


MP hospital in sterilisation tag row

Nursing staff placed paper stickers on the foreheads of two women patients

BHOPAL: In a shocking incident, women waiting to undergo surgery for sterilization at a government hospital in Madhya Pradesh had identification stickers pasted on their foreheads, instead of being tagged or marked on their hands.

As many as 30 women were surgically sterilized at the district hospital in Burhanpur district, 350 km from Bhopal, on Monday. The nursing staff callously placed paper stickers on the foreheads of two women patients.

“Tagging women who have recently undergone a caesarean section before sterilization is an important part of the entire surgical sterilization process to prevent the possibility of any complication with such women during or after surgery. Generally, the tagging is done on the hands by marking with a pen or putting a tag or sticker on the hands of women who have undergone a caesarean section,” Dr Shakil Khan, the civil surgeon at the Burhanpur district hospital, said on Wednesday.

However, some trainee nurses put tags on the foreheads of two of the 30 women who were to be sterilized, said Dr Khan.

“We’ve taken note of the error and cautioned the trainee nurses not to repeat it, failing which strict action will be initiated against them,” he added.

This is not the first instance of patients being treated callously in government hospitals in the state.
Last month, women who were surgically sterilized were made to lie down on carpets on the floor at district hospitals in Satna and Morena districts. While confirming the incident, officials in both hospitals had maintained that the women had to lie down on a carpeted floor instead of beds due to a want of sufficient beds and ongoing repairs at the surgical wards.

Also last month, women who went for surgical sterilization at the district hospital in Chhatarpur district had to lie on the hospital floor after the procedure. Moreover, due to a shortage of stretchers, these women were carried by ward boys and their kin after the surgery and laid down on the hospital floor.

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Tanzania pardons two child rapists and calls for arrest of pregnant schoolgirls #WTFnews

Tanzanian President John Magufuli (centre) in Dodoma

Activists accuse government of encouraging human rights violations, as President Magufuli releases convicted abusers of 10 primary school children

Activists accused Tanzania’s leaders of “promoting a culture of human rights violations”, as the release of two high-profile child rapists this week coincided with calls for pregnant schoolgirls to be arrested.

John Magufuli, the Tanzanian president, pardoned the two men, who were convicted of the rape of 10 primary school children aged between six and eight, along with thousands of other prisoners, in his independence day speech on Saturday.

News of their release emerged as a government official in the east African country called for pregnant pupils to be taken into custody. On Monday, John Mongella, the regional commissioner of Mwanza, said the move would force girls to testifyagainst those who impregnated them. This followed calls from the president earlier this year to ban pregnant girls from school.

The released rapists are singer Nguzu Viking, known as Babu Seya, and his son, Johnson Ngazu, known as Papii Kocha, who were pardoned by the president after serving 13 years of their sentence. They had been convicted in 2003 of raping the children, pupils at Mashujaa primary school in the Kinondoni district of Dar es Salaam.

Fazia Mohamed, the director of Equality Now’s Africa office, said: “While President Mungafuli is pardoning convicted child rapists, regional commissioner John Mongella is calling on pregnant school girls to be arrested and taken to court. Tanzania’s leaders are promoting a culture of human rights violations in which young victims of sexual violence are being punished while perpetrators are going free.”

She said the policy of banning pregnant schoolgirls, often victims of rape or sexual coercion, failed to address the issue of who impregnated them.

“It is unacceptable that convicted child molesters walk free by order of a president who simultaneously denies victims of assault access to education if they become pregnant.

“After seeing their attackers sentenced to life for rape, now these survivors and their families are dealing with the pain of witnessing the president freeing the men who violated them. Where is the justice in that?” she said.

Petrider Paul, of Youth for Change, in Tanzania, said the pardons sent a “terrible” message to perpetrators of sexual violence and devalued their victims.

“It is unfair to the victims of these crimes and it sends a bad message to perpetrators that they can get away with it,” said Paul.

The release of the men caused outrage on social media, with many posting the statements of the young girls who were violated, she said.

Children’s rights groups say this is just the latest example of the president’s lack of understanding of violence against children.

Kate McAlpine, the director of Community for Children’s Rights in Tanzania, told the BBC she was “horrified but unsurprised” by Magufuli’s decision or the call to arrest pregnant schoolgirls.

“This story is indicative of a failure at the top level of political will to end violence against children,” she said. “Pregnant schoolgirls are pregnant because they are victims of violence. He has a blind spot when it comes to recognising children as victims. There seems to be a punitive attitude towards young children.”

She said the fact the two men were jailed in the first place was unusual in a country where most rape cases are resolved within families.


Magufuli, who came to power in November 2015, is a popular figure, nicknamed the “the bulldozer” for his energetic road-building programme as former works minister and for his solutions-based approach. His war on corruption and wasteful spending has earned him admiration from many quarters. However, he has come under fire recently for using repressive legislation to silence the media, civil society and opposition groups.

In October, the Mwanahalisi newspaper became the second to be banned in Tanzania in a year, after publishing articles criticising the president.

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Gujarat Elections -EC Orders Repolling In 6 Booths Of Second Phase

Elections were held in these six polling stations in the second phase of Gujarat Assembly polls on December 14.

The Election Commission on Saturday said repolling will be conducted at six polling stations in Vadgam, Viramgam, Daskroi and Savli areas of Gujarat tomorrow.

Elections were held in these six polling stations in the second phase of Gujarat Assembly polls on December 14.

Apart from this, counting of votes will be done through counting of slips in VVPAT in 10 polling stations in Visnagar, Becharaji, Modasa, Vejalpur, Vatva, Jamalpur-Khadia, Savli and Sankheda as the presiding officers did not clear from the control unit the votes that were cast during mock poll, the poll commission added.

The results of the Gujarat Assembly election will be announced on December 18. (ANI)

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Maharashtra farm loan waiver for the poor? Shiv Sena MLA a beneficiary too #WTFnews

Maharashtra loan waiver: Day after Fadnavis’ reassurance about fixing mistakes, MLA Prakash Abitkar erroneously gets Rs 25,000

Sanjay Sawant

Nagpur: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state legislative Assembly on Thursday that his government had made some “mistakes” while implementing the Rs 34,022 crore farm loan waiver scheme, but has rectified all these issues.

It hasn’t been 24 hours since Fadnavis’ statement, and already cracks are beginning to appear in his claim. Prakash Abitkar, Shiv Sena MLA from Radhanagari in Kolhapur district, claimed on Friday that he has received Rs 25,000 even though he hadn’t applied for the loan waiver. Abitkar said he has become the latest beneficiary of the state government’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanmaj Yojana (CSMSSY) though MLAs are supposed to be exempt.

Abitkar’s revelations raise doubts over Fadnavis’ assurance that the CSMSSY would be in place till the “last eligible farmer is included”. Under the provisions of the scheme, loans of up to Rs 1.50 lakh will be waived by the government, while farmers who repay their loans regularly will get rebates of up to Rs 25,000 as incentive. The scheme was announced on 24 June and was initially meant to be rolled out before Diwali. But a series of technical errors, fudging of data by banks, duplication of Aadhaar card data and account number duplications meant the scheme is still stuck in limbo, nearly six months since inception.

“Under the scheme’s provisions, corporators, MLAs, MPs and members of zilla parishads are not eligible the loan waiver scheme. This is what a GR issued on 28 June said,” claimed Abitkar, who demanded to know how did he become a beneficiary. “I never applied for the loan waiver or any of its incentives. There needs to be a detailed inquiry into this. In fact, it’s not only me alone, but also teachers, retired school principals and Class II officers of the MSEB who have been named in the list. Farmers’ names have come up without anybody bothering to check the list. I will unearth this scam and expose it,” he said.

In the last one month, the Kolhapur District Central Cooperative Bank received 78,000 applications for the loan waiver scheme. But after Fadnavis’ reply in the Assembly, 80,000 new applicants have sent their names to Kolhapur district authority. “How did the IT department and banks cross-check 80,000 accounts in one day? Something is clearly wrong, and most of the farmers are ghost beneficiaries,” Abitkar alleged.

The others mentioned by Abitkar include Deepak Mahadev More and Bhimrao Tukaram Shinde, who are local teachers, Prakash Pandurang Bhat, an MESB Class II officer, and retired principal Pandurang Dandev Parit.

Abitkar confirmed that his account number in Kolhapur’s KDCC bank is 954972, and he is a beneficiary of the government’s scheme.

A sheet with Abitkar's name with the rest of the beneficiaries. Image procured by Sanjay Sawant

A sheet with Abitkar’s name with the rest of the beneficiaries. Image procured by Sanjay Sawant











Criteria for CSMSSY

The government notification published on 28 June said one of the key criteria will be the definition of a family: It will be defined as a unit comprising a husband, a wife and their minor children. But this was later amended to extend loan waiver to one member per family. Only one outstanding loan would be repaid per family, it said. However, if the husband and wife have separate accounts and both have outstanding loans against their names, the wife’s loan would be considered priority for a waiver, the GR said. It also mentioned that land holdings wouldn’t be considered while benefits are given out.

People paying tax for income from non-agriculture sources also wouldn’t be included. Furthermore, government, semi-government and government-aided employees (except Class IV workers) wouldn’t be considered for the loan waiver. People with gross income of over Rs 3 lakh and are registered to pay service tax are also not eligible. Similarly, people registered to pay VAT and service tax, or those with a turnover of more than Rs 10 lakh from businesses other than agriculture can’t apply for the waiver scheme. The upper limit for CSMSSY was capped at Rs 1.5 lakh, which has now been increased.

On the other hand, the clause which debarred people who own four-wheelers from applying had been done away with. Pensioners who earn over Rs 15,000 per month — except army jawans — will not be considered. Chairman and deputy chairman of cooperative societies like milk societies, district banks, or chairman of the APMC markets across the state would also not be included. However, members and directors of these cooperatives will be allowed to avail of the scheme’s benefits, the GR said.

What is CSMSSY?

The state government’s ambitious loan waiver scheme had initially targeted nearly 89 lakhs farmers, a majority of whom would be covered entirely, their outstanding loans of up to Rs 1.5 lakh be waived off completely. The government had also announced concessions to be given to farmers who have been regularly repaying their loans. However, in order to be eligible, these farmers need to pay loans for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17 before a 30 June deadline, to be eligible for the maximum available concession of Rs 25,000.

An online platform, Aaple Sarkar, was developed to decide details of disbursement methods, and a Cabinet sub-committee was formed to deal with glitches during the execution period. The state government also passed a Rs 20,000 crore supplementary demand provisions for the scheme in the Monsoon Session of legislative Assembly in August, and a Rs 15,000 crore supplementary demand provision in the Winter Session in December.

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Journalist Javed Mir – Life after 100 pellets pierced through him

Journalist Javed Mir’s struggle to recover from 100 pellets in his body, with no help, mirrors the experience of hundreds of other victims in Kashmir
IRFAN QURAISHI tells his story

Zuhail Hamza after the attack on him.


SRINAGAR: In Kashmir, telling a story doesn’t demand only professional skills but quite often an exceptional commitment at great personal cost. Journalist Javid Ahmad Mir, 30, from the Langate area of Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district has, in the line of duty, lost his eyes, health, and job.

On August 5, 2016 when the valley was in the grip of protests after the death of popular militant commander Burhan Wani, Mir’s commitment to his job made him come out of his home to gather information about those who were injured during clashes in his area.

Amid strict restrictions, he managed to visit a local government hospital at Karlgund where protesters were being treated for their injuries. He headed off home to file his report. On the way, an armoured vehicle passed him. From the top of it, a policeman fired a volley of pellets at his face, making him blind.

“The moment pellets hit me, I fell on the ground with a burning sensation all over my body. I couldn’t see anything. It was already dark. After some time, a few people came and rushed me back to the same hospital I had visited,’ he said.

On reaching the hospital, he said the security forces were on the rampage, beating paramedics and the injured. “Fearing the same fate, the people accompanying took me to my friend’s home. I was kept there for the whole night without any medical help”, he said.

“On the way, an armoured vehicle passed him. From the top of it, a policeman fired a volley of pellets at his face, making him blind”


Mir had 100 pellets in his hands, head, eyes, face, legs, and chest. He spent the night in agony. The next day, he was taken to Government District Hospital Baramulla and later to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Government Hospital in Srinagar for specialized treatment.

It took Mir 27 days to stand up, unsupported. An operation on his eyes helped him regain only partial vision in his right eye. But his left eye lost vision completely as it had severe damages.

Two liters of fluid were extracted from his lungs due to infection as the pellets had pierced deep into his chest, head, eyes and other parts of the body.

When he was finally discharged, after spending his savings of Rs 3 lakh, Mir was partially blind and broken. It’s been a year now and he has no money for further treatment. No one from the fraternity has offered to help, either in terms of money or work.


Javid Mir, bottom left, before the pellet attack, and after the attack.


Mir tried to raise money by teaching in a private school but the meager honorarium of Rs 3000 was too little. His monthly bill for medicines alone is Rs 15,000. He is on continuing treatment to prevent the spread of infection due to the dozens of pellets still insides his body. As the government hospitals in the state do not provide free medicines but only concessional rates on some medicines and tests, Mir has to buy everything from the market.

Besides being a journalist Mir was also working as layout designer for some local newspapers to make ends meet. He was also owner of Kashmir News Network (KNN), a local news gathering agency from Langate area of north Kashmir that he sold recently to fund his treatment.

Ironically, the government hospitals in the state are not equipped to deal with the severe complications of pellet victims. Most of the victims prefer treatment in Chandigarh and Amritsar hospitals because there are no specialised treatment options in Kashmir. They prefer to receive only first-aid in the government hospitals of the valley.

However, in some cases, those who suffer pellet injuries prefer to go outside for treatment for non-medical reasons – mainly because they fear being booked or chased by the security agencies. Fearing arrest, they take admissions in state hospitals on fake identities.

As in Mir’s case, pellet victims mostly have vitreous haemorrhage, retinal detachment or damage to the cornea. They have only a perception of light and have to undergo multiple surgeries.

“Ironically, the government hospitals in the state are not equipped to deal with the severe complications of pellet victims”


“There are two pellets still in my left eye. There are dozens of pellets in other parts of my body as well. I am often in severe pain. Doctors advised me to visit a hospital outside J&K for specialized treatment, but I can’t afford the treatment”, he said.

There is no government scheme of compensation and rehabilitation for the pellet victims as the security forces call it ‘action in retaliation’. However, the ruling coalition of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has tried to offer a ‘healing touch’ for the victims of the 2016 unrest.

In January, Mufti announced that a Special Investigation Team will probe the killings in which the government had admitted the use of “excessive force”. She also said that the government will provide Rs 5 lakh compensation to those killed and injured in the unrest, including to those blinded or injured by pellets and that, in extreme cases, the government will also consider giving jobs to the victims’ families.

Mir approached the State Human Rights Commission and government institutions for help but apart from reassurances, he came away empty handed, despite the government having announced that it would give financial relief to pellet victims.

Data from Kashmir’s hospitals show that over 6,000 people suffered pellet injuries, with over 1,100 specifically hit in the eyes.  However, data based on the official records of the government show that 2,524 people were injured by pellets, many in the eyes, in eight of the valley’s 10 districts (data from two districts is yet to be compiled). Of these, officials have submitted a list of 1,725 victims, including 59 women, whose identities have been confirmed by the district administration.

Now, as the government attempts to compile a list of victims eligible for compensation, the wrong or incomplete names and addresses in hospital records are proving a hurdle. It’s true that some victims have received compensation but many are still waiting.

According to the State Human Rights Commission’s records, the J&K government has given Rs 2 lakh each as financial assistance to 12 victims who have been blinded completely by pellets and Rs 1 lakh each to 10 who have been partially blinded.

Like Mir, most of pellet victims say the compensation can’t return their normal life. They said only timely help for the treatment could have been of some worth. Mir said that he did not know that if he will get compensation, but he needs a financial help to save his remaining eyesight.

“I was not part of any protest. But I was targeted for no sin of mine. I am a victim of highhandedness. If I am not being helped out, who else can expect compensation from the government, that too in time?” he asks.

Another photo-journalist, Zuhaib Maqbool Hamza from Srinagar, went through a similar ordeal on 4 September 2016. He was left with a bruised eye in a pellet attack by security forces while covering clashes in Srinagar.

After a media outcry, Hamza recently received Rs 2 lakh from Mufti as a part of the government’s ‘healing touch policy’. “Tough, it is a tough fight against every suffering I go through after that pellet attack. I still fight and I still try to recover what I have suffered. I can’t still see properly and am undergoing treatment after rounds of surgeries,” said Hamza.

The financial assistance to the Hamza was only possible when members of a photo-journalist association, after many failed attempts with government officials, took up the matter directly with Mufti.

Mir, though, is from the far-flung Langate area of north Kashmir with no affiliation with the media associations based Srinagar.  He says that neither the Kashmir Editors’ Guild nor any other journalistic body has helped him to get treatment.

Journalists working with local media organizations have no insurance cover; barring a few, they have no provident fund, no guaranteed salaries or help if they are injured or killed.

Senior photo-journalist, Shafat Siddiqui, died in the 2014 floods while at work as a stringer for Pacific Press, Sipa USA and Dainik Jagran. He was washed away by the flood water near the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar.

Survived by aged parents, his wife, a young son, and two sisters, Siddiqui was disowned by the organizations he worked for so that they could avoid paying any ex-gratia relief to his family. It was only after the efforts of the Kashmir Press Photographers’ Association that his family was paid ex-gratia relief by Dainik Jagran.

If Siddiqui received the support of the media fraternity in his quest for financial relief, it was only because he worked in Srinagar. Had he been based in a remote area (like Mir), his story would have turned out very differently.

For Mir, life has become a burden. “I can’t sleep. I am scared. I have nightmares”, he said.


Irfan Quraishi is a Srinagar-based broadcast & multimedia journalist. He works as multimedia editor with Kashmir Press Service.

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India – ‘If You Destroy Aravalli Forests, Delhi, Gurgaon Will Be Devastated’

Malini Nair,


The Mangar Bani is a sacred forest on the edge of Delhi, in Faridabad.  The Haryana government’s reluctance to classify tracts like these outside Gurgaon as Aravallis could endanger rare and rich habitats.


City forests sprawling across an area 189 times larger than Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens–or larger than south Mumbai–are at risk by a Haryana government’s continuing bid to lift protection to 17,000 acres of Aravalli tracts. These forests, spread across some of world’s oldest mountain ranges, serve as lung space for India’s National Capital Region (NCR), one of the world’s most polluted regions and home to 46.7 million people, more than the population of Spain.


The northern edge of the 3-billion-year old Aravallis lies within and on the fringes of the NCR. A large section of these hills that nurture rare forests and habitats is now threatened by the real-estate boom in the NCR, which prompted the Haryana government to try and “limit” the Aravallis to Gurgaon. This means that it would not grant the status of a protected forest to tracts elsewhere in the state, especially Faridabad and adjoining districts.


At the latest hearing of the NCR planning board on December 6, 2017, Haryana declared its intention to conduct ground verification in contested areas covered by the Aravallis in the state. Haryana’s argument has been that stretches of the range in Haryana outside Gurgaon are ‘gair mumkin pahar’ (uncultivable hills), undeserving of protection. That argument is rooted in a five-month-old dispute over a private housing project, which seeks to clear a 52-acre plot of mesquite trees.


Conservationists, activists and forest experts say the unique biodiversity and geology of the Aravallis, which extend 800 km from Champaner and Palanpur in eastern Gujarat to Haridwar in western Uttarakhand, deserves protection from real estate projects, mining, encroachment and neglect.


At the recently concluded Aravalli Utsav (festival) at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, forest defenders presented visual evidence of its ecological diversity. This includes the resilient dhau (Anogeissus pendula) tree that flourishes on steep, rocky slopes where little else survives, and wildlife that includes the leopard, the hyena, nilgai, jackals and avian raptors.


One of the richest surviving pockets of the northern Aravallis is Mangar Bani, a village at the edge of Faridabad district in Haryana, bordered by Gurgaon district to the west and Delhi in the north. A sacred grove, more than three-quarters of which is common land, it is now threatened by the Haryana government’s stand.


We speak to naturalist and author Pradip Krishen, who is a part of the campaign to save the Aravalli forests.



Pradip Krishen, naturalist and environmentalist, stumbled on the Mangar Bani and its ‘secret wilderness’ in 2002.


The Aravallis rarely figure in discussions on conservation at the national level. Why is it important to talk about its importance and the need to protect it from degradation?


Precisely because the Aravallis have attracted so little attention before. They are, in many senses, a ‘local’ issue to Delhi and Gurgaon, and that’s why we’ve said the exhibition is about the ‘northern Aravallis’. But the fundamental issue of urban metropolitan areas being insensitive to neighbouring countryside is universal in India. And the Aravallis and our neglect of them in the north illustrates this well.


I can’t think of a single example of a metropolitan city in India valuing or protecting the natural areas that lie next to it. If you look at mega-cities like New York, it strictly protects and extends its remit over large parcels of wild areas adjacent to the city because these are its water catchments. The European Union mandates similar planning for cities within its remit. We do nothing of the kind, anywhere in India. Wild or semi-wild or agricultural areas that lie next to urban areas are regarded simply as vacant land to be incorporated into the city as it expands.


Because the vegetation here seems limited, most people–even nature lovers–think of the Aravallis as uninteresting. Could you elaborate on its ecological uniqueness?


We’ve all grown up thinking of the northern Aravallis being the same as Delhi’s several ridges, and it’s true that the ridges, everywhere you look in the city, are degraded and planted up with an invasive south American tree–vilaiti keekar–that shows up the ridges as low-diversity, unpretty places. This is the sad legacy of foresters from the 1920s onwards who knew no better.


It was only when we began to discover some of the ‘secret wildernesses’–tiny pockets of relict natural forest–that had miraculously survived in Faridabad and Gurgaon that many of us began to completely revise our ideas about what the natural ecology of these hills was like. It was a revelation. I first ‘met’ Mangar Bani in 2002 and I don’t exaggerate when I say that when I took people to see this little forest, they’d gasp with disbelief and joy. It’s beautiful. We had professional foresters accuse us of ‘faking’ photographs when they saw pictures of this forest.



Dhau is a resilient tree that grows on steep, rocky slopes where nothing else will grow. If it is destroyed nothing else will grow here for years


I first heard of Mangar Bani from an archaeologist, Nayanjot Lahiri, who said she’d found Mangar Bani on one of her forays searching for pre-historic settlements in the Aravallis south of Delhi. It made her gasp too. She sent me a map and I followed the route and was delighted to find a valley of natural wilderness that was part of the stormwater drainage of Faridabad. Three villages had come together to protect this forest in the memory of a baba they held sacred. The result was a natural forest that had survived intact in the midst of all the destruction that had been wrought by the invasive Prosopis juliflora all around.


What are the biggest threats to the Aravallis?


The spread of urbanisation. And bad spatial planning. And, of course, ignorance about how the Aravallis can ‘help’ Delhi and Gurgaon become better cities to live in.


We still use outmoded ways of planning our cities in India. We learned a particular methodology in the 1950s from British town and country planning and long after the rest of the world had abandoned these ways of planning, we continue to use trend-based planning. Land-use continues to be the fundamental issue that urban planning deals with, instead of looking at resources like water conservation, air quality, quality of life, and a whole range of other outcomes that cannot be achieved through mere land-use planning.


When we learn to plan in a modern way, we will need to place a premium on the countryside, on keeping it unsullied and pollution-free if we want to protect our cities. This consideration hasn’t even percolated into our planning process.



A map showing the national conservation zone in green, with the Aravallis clearly marked on them in both Gurgaon and Faridabad.


Can you give us an idea of the damage so far to the Aravallis due to construction or neglect over the last couple of decades?


I don’t know how to quantify the damage. The stark fact is that Delhi and Haryana’s forest departments seem to have no regard at all for their semi-wild forested tracts. Haryana continues to hold that Mangar Bani is not ‘technically’ a forest, which is absurd and flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s definition of what a forest is. There are individual forest officers who have played a brave role but they face governments and civil servants who regard forests as vacant land waiting for development.


At the same time, the fact that the Central Ridge in Delhi is still intact–all 900 hectares of it–is an amazing thing. It means that so long as it stays protected, it persists as a protected area that maybe one day can be turned into one of the most amazing city forests of any capital city in the world.


Are the water bodies of the Aravallis under threat? Can you tell us something about their nature and origins?


Studies about the hydrology of this area show that the percolation of water into aquifers is a lot higher in the Aravallis. Something about the lineaments and cracks in the ancient hills make them an excellent catchment and studies have also shown that subsoil water close to the hills is less saline, and a lot less polluted. This fact alone should be reason enough to place a great value on the role of the hills. But think of this: In the last 30 years or so, archaeologists have been surprised by the fact that a number of Stone Age settlements have been found in these hills, close to Delhi. It’s not where they expected to find settlements. Obviously, these places were well watered then. The Aravallis were sites of streams and lakes. They would have been forested too. We sometimes lose sight of that connection.


Why is it important for the Haryana government to declare Aravallis forests worthless?


Simply because if the government of Haryana were to acknowledge the importance of the forests, they wouldn’t be able to open them up to so-called ‘development’. It’s silly, because the plain fact is that any kind of clearing of the natural forest in these hills will lead to devastation. Steep hills (like Mangar) are dominated by an amazing tree called dhau which is the only tree capable of growing on steep, rocky hills sides. Remove dhau, and the whole ecosystem will unravel. Nothing will be able to grow here.


Many parts of the Aravallis exist in close proximity with urban habitat. How do we deal with this?


By valuing and conserving them as catchments, by protecting them as fragile habitats, and making them part of the fabric of extra-urban land-use. But our governments and planners don’t know how to do this.


(Nair is a consulting editor with IndiaSpend.

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Gujarat Elections – How hate messages pushed a Muslim BJP functionary to campaign for Congress

(Arya Sharma)

While covering the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections in Kachchh and North Gujarat, this correspondent came across several Muslims who pointed at how it is wrong to assume that all members of their community vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Their tone suggested a certain sense of anger and betrayal with all those who vote for the saffron party that, according to them, has left Muslims out of the ambit of development.

Even politicians, from both Congress and the BJP, conceded that a certain section of Muslims do vote for the BJP for varied reasons but nobody clearly specified them.



Looking for an answer, this correspondent met Aslam Hussain (name changed to protect his identity), a Muslim functionary of the BJP who agreed to shed light on such voting patterns. Hussain, initially sceptical, agreed to meet after a lot of convincing and after doing a thorough background check.

Once convinced, he gave instructions over the phone on how to reach his residence, located in a dimly lit Muslim-dominated neighbourhood where cramped lanes and open gutters with garbage strewn all over reflected apathy — it seemed the area has been left untouched by Gujarat’s much-hyped development model.

After a little pep talk Hussain straightaway got down to business, narrating his story. A member of BJP’s Muslim wing, also known as Laghumati group, Hussain joined the party in 2004-05 much against the wishes of his family, friends and other members of the community. Ever since he has been canvassing for the party, trying to mobilise support among members of his own community.

However, according to him, the decision turned out to be a nightmare: “I faced so much hostility from fellow Muslims who would call me and my family BJP-wallahs. Some would even humiliate me for betraying my community and backing a party that is perceived as anti-Muslim. And yet I continued to work for the party,” he said. Hussain went on to add that his hard work paid off and within few years he was given a prominent position in BJP’s Laghumati group.

When asked about the reason for his support, Hussain offers logical explanation and says, “Supporting Congress is of no use since they have been out of power for the last 22 years. Chances of them returning to power also look bleak. What I understood is that if one has to get any development work done in my area, I need the support of the state government. Since none of the Muslims from our area approached BJP, no development work was being carried out in our neighbourhood.”

Hussain claims that his support for BJP initially brought some development initiatives in his area which for years was completely ignored by the state government. “If I go to a Congress leader, they just express helplessness. So, I was left with no choice but to join the BJP to ensure my people can taste the fruits of development,” he adds.
However, then came the turning point in his life where he decided to quietly mobilise support for the Congress while still being part of BJP. “Everything changed during the campaigning phase of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections,” he says. My own party members would tell me that they do not need support of Muslims which clearly reflected in how tickers were distributed. “It was a shame that they couldn’t find one deserving Muslim in entire Uttar Pradesh,” he says.

Thereafter, once the results were announced, the hate messages became more frequent and Hussain was repeatedly told that Hindutva is the only way forward for the BJP. “They would say how Adityanath is their next generation leader and often narrate tales of his hatred towards Muslims.
“So, here I was. Members of my community hated me and so did the party for whom I had dedicated over 10 years of my life. I had to make a decision and I decided to quietly work within the community to mobilise support for Congress. However, I did it very discreetly,” he adds.

Meanwhile, in the run up to the Gujarat assembly polls, Hussain started getting hate messages on social media platforms from his own party members, which further alienated him from BJP. Hussain says, “I stopped attending party meetings thinking someone will call me and ask for reasons for my absence. But no one called. Instead, they would say nasty things about Muslims. What was sickening that my own Hindu friends from BJP would intentionally send such messages to me.”

However, he did stay with the party hoping the hostility against Muslims would subside in the days to come. But that did not happen and soon the dates from Gujarat elections were announced. “Since then, it became worse with each passing day. I was getting derogatory messages about Muslims on WhatsApp groups on BJP groups. Such was the content of those messages that I can’t even repeat them. Whenever I met other BJP workers or leaders, they would keep reminding me of my religion and how BJP doesn’t even care about our votes,” he claims.

Since then he has had a change of heart and is hoping that Congress manages to overthrow the BJP so that BJP’s brand of communal politics can be forgotten. However, he is still associated with the BJP with the simple motive of getting work done in his area. “You never know who will win and if BJP does then someone has to represent members of my community so that we can atl east raise our concerns with them,” he adds.

When asked whether he agrees with Congress’ decision to give seats to Muslims in particular seats, which has divided the electorate on religious lines.
When asked whether such a gamble would pay, Hussain has an advice for the members of his community and adds, “In the prevailing situation across the country and Gujarat, Muslims should realise that they shouldn’t try to be kings. Instead, they should try and become kingmakers. Moreover, we should realise who the bigger enemy is.”

Our meeting is almost over and Hussain offers some tea and biscuits. He yet again requests me to not name him anywhere in the story as he would have to pay the price not only politically but also personally. In fact, he must have made this request at least 15 times throughout our conversation. Before bidding adieu, I ask him one last time which party will he vote for. “This time, I too will vote for Congress but if they don’t come to power, I have no option but to support BJP,” he concludes.

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