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Archives for : February2018

India – 7 BTech graduates had dragged Mehul Choksi to court for fraud in 2017

Rohan Dua

HIGHLIGHTS

  • These graduates had collected Rs 3 crore through crowdfunding, mortgage and aid from their parents to open Gitanjali Jewelery Retail’s franchise in Delhi’s Rajouri Garden in October 2013.
  • Their dreams of big earnings turned sour when they realised that ‘third-grade’ damaged and old diamonds and gems were sent to them against a security deposit of Rs 1.5 crore.

Mehul Choksi (TOI file photo)Mehul Choksi (TOI file photo)

LUCKNOW/DELHI: While executives at nationalised and commercial banks such as PNB were allegedly colluding with firms led by billionaire diamond merchant Mehul Choksi+ , a group of seven young engineering graduates from Rajasthan Institute of Engineering and Technology (RIET) in Jaipur had dragged him into a court battle in last two years.

These BTech graduates had collected Rs 3 crore through crowdfunding, mortgage and aid from their parents to open Gitanjali Jewelery Retail’s franchise in Delhi’s Rajouri Garden in October 2013. Led by electronic engineer Vaibhav Khurania (24) and IT engineer Deepak Bansal (23), the group had set up a firm RM Green Solutions. Their dreams of big earnings turned sour when they realised that ‘third-grade’ damaged and old diamonds and gems were sent to them against a security deposit of Rs 1.5 crore.

The engineers moved the Saket court which ordered Choksi’s arrest if allegations were found true. They alleged that Choksi’s company refused to replenish the stock against the money deposited despite several messages, phone calls and emails while they came to know of other FIRs being registered.

Rattled by the complaint, Choksi moved the Delhi high court in August 2017 seeking quashing of the FIR.

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Oxfam’s Sexual Abuse Episode Must Inspire a Culture Shift #Vaw

Siddharth Chatterjee 

A UN peacekeeper holds a child as her mother is helped down from a relocation truck in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi. The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken. Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

A UN peacekeeper holds a child as her mother is helped down from a relocation truck in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 16 2018 (IPS) – Sexual abuse allegations against Oxfam staff, and failings in the charity’s response to them, delivered a body blow to an organisation renowned for years of humanitarian and development work. At the very least the accusations will leave a stain on the reputation of a charity that works in some of the toughest environments in the world, and has made a positive difference in the lives of the most vulnerable.

The Oxfam reports come in the wake of a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct that spans churches to faith based organizations to children being abused in orphanages and schools in some of the most developed countries in the world.

What started as a Weinstein story in Hollywood, has spread to become an almost-daily parade of politicians, CEOs and celebrities facing allegations, sexual and gender-based exploitation, harassment and violence is a global issue. It is a crisis on an epic scale.

Under the hashtag #MeToo, thousands of women who had long bottled-up their pain have come forward with their stories, lifting the lid on decades of simmering frustration and repression.

But there is nothing new about the sexual abuse and exploitation of women.

The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken. Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

Sadly, throughout history women have been raped or sexually exploited by armed combatants. But even where force is not used, women in conflict or post-conflict environments often live in poverty, and the power imbalance between them and humanitarian workers or peacekeepers has often led to ugly sexual transactions in return for basic necessities.

When the United Nations (UN) faced similar scandals, the organization quickly resorted to policies and procedures around sexual harassment. The UN Secretary-General is obliged to regularly report to the UN Security Council on the issue of women and peace and security. Another resolution reinforced the Secretary-General’s authority to repatriate and replace peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation. Last year, 600 peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo were repatriated from CAR as a consequence.

While calling for solidarity in condemnation of sexual exploitation and abuse, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has said that the UN will not “let anyone cover up these crimes with the UN flag. … Let us make zero tolerance a reality”.

But it is time to look beyond policies and procedures. It is time for a candid look in the mirror and for society to make an overdue cultural shift on what has often been considered normal. The fact is that perpetrators are aware of the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, but in most cases they just do not think it is as ‘a big deal’. After all, while much of gender inequality is institutionalised in social, economic and political structures, it is individual men and boys who exploit, intimidate, harass and assault women and girls.

Deeply embedded cultures have continued to revere men in power and to protect them from facing consequences of their actions, even when they know that those actions cross the boundaries of decent behaviour. We have let authority, money and influence bestow on men the right to treat women as lesser beings.

Evidence abounds that misogyny and society’s structure continue to give men carte blanche to diminish women. Power and masculinity are tightly knit and sexualized, and find expression in sexual impunity or entitlement.

A comprehensive cultural shift must go beyond sexual abuse, and upend other expressions of patriarchy such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, and denial of sexual and reproductive healthcare. It is time to create gender parity in management positions to halt the patriarchal notion that power is generally a masculine characteristic.

The Oxfam scandal is an unfortunate blight. Organisations in similar circumstances must be transparent about how they punish culprits and what remedial and preventive actions they have taken.

Justice must be unrelenting and exemplary, in pursuit of individuals who commit such acts, regardless of their rank or station. The guilty must go to jail in the country they commit such an offence.

This must be seen as an opportunity to enforce zero tolerance to sexual harassment and to create a culture in which women are no longer seen as the sexually available yet socially invisible half of humanity.

Author is is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

http://www.ipsnews.net/

 

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The Nirav Modi Saga Simplified

It has been several years since I used the phrase “shameless audacity”, but somehow I feel compelled to use it again and again to describe the saga of this newer Modi: and here everything is personal. The reason is: in a country of 1.2 billion people the majority struggles to have access to basic amenities to survive the day-to-chaos and challenges, and then we meet and see these characters, rather filthy ones, who were born on the back seat of Audi and could simply rip us off (in this case one of the biggest nationalised banks in India with over 80 million customers, 6,937 branches, and 10681 ATMs across 764 cities). It is personal because at present (and most likely in future as well) we don’t know who will pay the price. Mallya lives abroad, Lalit is out there, and now Nirav and Mehul. Who says earning money is bad, work hard or be smart and earn; don’t just rob us. Then it becomes personal. It is personal because people like me have to roam around bank branches just to understand the technicalities, and you guys suddenly find a way out (of the country with the money of all of us).

During my college days back in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai we had several discussions about “Banker to the poor” and how banks should reach out to people: Banking and Microfinance being one of the subjects; it is around that time when investment banking took a fall and Lehman Brothers could not sustain any longer. Slowly we got into jobs and higher studies and those discussions became limited to our occasional conversations, and now they take space on social media. For this article, I am using various message and posts written by different Indians and non-Indians (including media houses). I don’t wish to have any copyright for any material presented in this article.

Who is Nirav Modi:

Forbes profiled him:

  • Indian-born diamond jewelry designer Nirav Modi is the founder of the $2.3 billion (revenues) Firestar Diamond.
  • Modi grew up in Belgium, dropped out of Wharton and moved to India where he got trained in the diamond trade under his uncle.
  • He went on to launch his own Nirav Modi brand with 16 stores in locations such as Delhi, Mumbai, New York, Hong Kong, London and Macau.

As per NDTV:

  • In 1999, Nirav Modi set up a diamond sourcing and trading company called Firestar Diamond. The company is worth $2.3 billion today.
  • Brand Nirav Modi debuted with a pair of earrings that the billionaire designed for his friend in 2008.
  • Nirav Modi has a long list of star clients – Kate Winslet, Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone and Aishwarya Rai to name a few.
  • Donald Trump, now US President, inaugurated his first store in New York’s Madison Avenue in 2015.
  • Last year, Priyanka Chopra, who scored Hollywood success with her hit series Quantico, was roped in as the brand’s global ambassador.
  • Nirav Modi has jewelry boutiques across three continents – in London, New York, Las Vegas, Hawai, Singapore, Beijing and Macau. In India, Nirav Modi has his stores in Mumbai and Delhi.

And he is now one of the primary accused of an ongoing investigation where the CBI is acting on a complaint from the Punjab National Bank, a state banking institution, that alleges Modi and his partners defrauded the bank for ₹280 Crore (approximately USD 40 million) by conspired with bank officials to fraudulently obtain Letters of Undertaking for making payments to overseas suppliers.

Should we talk about the poor quality of roads, problems related to access to quality healthcare, literacy rate, unemployment, caste-class issues among other things to explain the gravity of the situation? Well, probably we don’t need to. Dude, “did us” and is likely that he will never call back.

First, The Concept

Let’s understand how things work.

Some importer, let’s call him Nirav Modi or NM, wants to import pearls or diamonds and then sell them. The purchase requires money, so NM approaches a bank, say Punjab National Bank (PNB).

PNB says look, I’ll give you a loan but it will be like at 10%.

NM thinks hard and says, no, that’s too much. Wait, why don’t I take a foreign currency loan instead, after all I’m buying in dollars? Much lower interest rates no? I can get at LIBOR+2% and LIBOR is like 1.5% so I’ll have the money at 3.5%!

But who will give NM a foreign currency loan? A bank abroad? They don’t know NM. They don’t have any history of NM, so why will they give him money?

SO NM goes to PNB and says, boss, you’re my banker, so please help some foreign bank give me some money to buy diamonds. Say that you will guarantee my loan by giving me a “Letter of Undertaking” (LOU).

PNB now should be saying look, if you want me to give Rs. 100 cr. guarantee, you give me stuff worth 110 cr. at least. As collateral.

But PNB, for some strange reason, doesn’t ask for collateral. More on that later.

So now the foreign bank is ready to lend NM the money. Because PNB will guarantee it. And the foreign bank trusts PNB. Why does it trust PNB?

Because PNB sends a message on SWIFT – the banking message service – that PNB guarantees Rs. 100 cr. of money for 180 days for Mr. NM at an interest rate of, say, LIBOR + 2%. It’s like a message – written in stone, effectively – that says PNB will pay if NM doesn’t pay.

In fact the foreign bank trusts only PNB. So it gives the money to PNBs account with it, called by PNB as a “Nostro” – the account that PNB maintains with banks abroad, where the other bank will send money meant for PNB customers.

PNB’s nostro account gets the money.

PNB then gives NM the money from the Nostro account, usually paid off to whoever NM is buying his diamonds from. This payment is to someone outside India usually, to fund a purchase of diamonds or whatever.

Note this carefully: The other bank gives money to PNB’s Nostro account. Not to NM. They don’t care about NM. They only know that PNB has given a guarantee on the SWIFT channel.

Note: the other bank is nowadays mostly the foreign branches of Indian banks. Because the phoren banks have realized something sinister – that PNB’s guarantee is a strange beast that isn’t backed with much, but we’ll come to that

The foreign bank couldn’t care less about whether NM was buying diamonds or bitcoin – to them, PNB would pay back even if NM’s bitcoin wallet got stolen.

Why does PNB give a guarantee? Fees. Each year, a bank may charge upto 2% to give the LoU.

So What Happens When It’s Time To Pay Back?

NM has to get the pearls in India, sell them, receive the money and pay PNB. On the due date written on the LoU.

Then PNB will pay back the foreign bank saying okay, we got the customer’s money so we’re giving it back to you. With interest etc.

That’s what is supposed to happen. But in reality, things went a little berserk, it seems.

The Reality: A Bit of a Ponzi

NM might not pay back at all. NM might use the money to speculate in the markets. Or do something else.

What if NM in the above example simply didn’t have the money to pay back? Instead, he asks a PNB official to open ANOTHER LoU. For the amount owed plus interest. So if we had the first LoU at $10 million the second one is $11 million to cover the interest on the first.

The money from the second LoU is used to repay the first. It’s just rolling over of credit. Over and over. Standard definition of a ponzi scheme.

This can easily balloon into a larger amount, so large that it’s too much. In effect many such arrangements have turned into semi-ponzi schemes, with one LoU being opened to repay another and so on.

Which is what is likely to have happened.

We don’t know the details, but it looks like:

Nirav Modi took loans from foreign branches of Indian banks through an LoU issued by PNB

This was done through a SWIFT based LoU issued through a rogue employee (or many of them) at PNB

The orders never showed up in the core banking system for monitoring

LoUs were rolled over all the way since 2011, and possibly increased over time too.

The rogue official retired in 2017, and the replacement refused to roll over the LoU which came due in Jan 2018 because he couldn’t find the past transactions in the system

No rollover means a default, since there was no money to pay. So PNB quickly files an FIR saying oh goodness we have lost 280 cr. on the Jan LoUs

Then someone said, “Abeyaar, is there more of these not-in-system LoUs? Someone check no?”

Then someone checked.

Oh gawd. 11,400 crores. or is it 60,000 crores?

That’s a lot of crores.

Everyone in the bank panicked.

Why couldn’t Nirav Modi just pay it back? He must have the original money no?

Because if it was ever intended to be paid back, the rollovers wouldn’t have been required. At some point, things got so out of hand that rollovers were required in order to stay current.

Typically this would not be a problem. If PNB had done things right, they would have had collateral worth the amount of guarantee, and they would have sold that collateral and paid the foreign bank.

But, and here’s the real issue: PNB didn’t have any collateral.

Why did PNB give a guarantee without collateral?

If you and I go for a loan to a bank, they’ll ask us for income proof, and collateral. Only small tiny personal loans and credit card loans come backed without collateral. For something of the order of 11,000 cr. you would think they would ask for collateral.

Especially after the scene with Mallya where loans to Kingfisher were given on nearly no collateral (though even there they had a house and some promoter shares pledged)

Why did PNB give this guarantee then? It’s typical – banks give guarantees for more the amount you give as collateral. Because business relationships etc. And then:

Because nearly every bank is doing it.

The loan was not a “fund based limit”. In a fund based limit like a term loan, the bank pays out money. In non-fund-based limits, the bank will only pay if someone else defaults or an event happens – like a Bank Guarantee or an LC or an LoU.

Meaning, PNB assumed that the foreign bank was giving a loan directly to Nirav Modi and that PNB needed to pay only in case Nirav Modi defaulted. So in the eyes of PNB it was always an “non-fund-based” loan.

But this is how a significant part of import financing works. They all rollover credit, and they all use LoUs for much higher than they can offer as collateral.

From my sources, the scale is huge. For every Rs. 100 that a bank has collateral, they will easily provide LOUs for upto 6x the amount. This is a real problem – that most public sector banks do not keep much collateral against non-fund-based limits given to importing customers.

So even if a bank has collateral, it’s nowhere near enough. And then, such unfunded liabilities are not even reported to RBI!

Basel Reporting: No Disclosure

PNB has “unfunded” exposure of 11,000 cr. they say. But they don’t even reveal it in their latest Basel III disclosure:

The funded exposure to “Gems and Jewellery” is shown at 1860 cr.

Unfunded to the same sector: 842 cr.

This doesn’t even add up. So, in effect, PNB didn’t reveal that it was funding massive quantities of “unfunded, contingent exposure”. They will of course pretend that they didn’t know, because the transactions weren’t in the core banking system.

Did Employees Hide it? Was PNB Responsible or was it a fraud?

Can employees be responsible? Could they have hidden the credit and the rolling over of LoUs? But honestly, how does a 11,000 cr. credit pass muster without top management realizing it?

Think of it – your nostro account with these other banks keeps getting big credits that add up to 11,000 cr. Will you not reconcile it in the accounting? The “why is this money even here?” question should have been asked by someone who audits accounts, one thinks?

And the SWIFT messages. It’s a specific kind of message. Why wouldn’t PNB audit the SWIFT trail? Reconcile it with the core banking system? How many more such skeletons will tumble if they do?

Their excuses are

Data wasn’t entered into the core banking system. (Of course, otherwise you would have had to report it)

LOUs weren’t authorized. (Hard to believe, because the amounts are very large. Surely someone on the top would know?)

The SWIFT system was illegally used. (Again, hard to believe that a bank like PNB would not audit its SWIFT messages regularly. Or its auditors. Or RBI.)

On the face of it, it looks like the ex-employee is being used as a scapegoat. It’s likely that a lot of people were in on this thing. And that it generated massive, fat fees for PNB all these years.

Fees wise: Imagine 11,000 cr. worth LoUs being renewed each year – that’s upto Rs. 200 cr. in fees that was all hitting PNB’s top line. You could bribe an employee to maybe give you a small increase – say 10-20 cr. but when you hit numbers like 11,000 cr. this is surely something the top management would know.

What’s the Scale of this scam?

While PNB reported it as a 11,000 cr. scam, they filed an FIR with the CBI for only Rs. 280 cr. This has probably expanded since then but even if the total outstanding is as much as that, there’s a good chance that the actual loss amount will be lesser.

All of it will be borne by PNB right now. Whether someone abused their SWIFT usage is not relevant, if PNB’s SWIFT message said they will pay, they have to pay if there is a default.

But think about the fallout. The problem was that some liabilities were not in the system. There could be more such LoUs. From the same branch or others. Other banks could have such LoUs too. It’s trivial to start looking – and we know that Nirav Modi will not be an isolated case.

Also, the issue was that the limits had no collateral behind them. If all banks are told to verify their non-fund-based limits and demand collateral against them (say at least 25%) then the scale would be absolutely massive. It’s not like this is happening only with Nirav Modi or Choksi. A very large number of importers of commodities have been doing this, and rotating credit. A change in regulation here can change the game dramatically for every other bank (and import account) in the system.

The simple point: this particular transaction will result in a lower loss than 11,000 cr. for PNB. Because of recoveries and such. But if RBI asks all banks to pull up collateral on such lending and stop such practices, the scale is many times larger.

What about the PNB stock?

It’s fallen 17%. But note that it already has 60,000 cr. of gross NPAs. Another 11,000 cr. will hurt it but not kill it. It won’t die – the government will take it over. Shareholders might suffer, but come on as a shareholder of a public sector bank you’re used to suffering.

The problem really is: There is never just one cockroach. When you go deeper, you are likely to find more dirty, dark secrets, and none of them will be any good.

PNB is gonna hurt for a while, but so are others who will find their books similarly tarnished once they investigate.

Will This Bring The Market Down?

Have you been living under a rock? Nothing will ever bring the market down, nowadays.

But the one thing that does bring markets down is the outflow of liquidity. What if so much of the “ponzi” credit – essentially money that was rolled over very month – is being invested directly, or indirectly, into stocks? If RBI tightens up, liquidity will pull money out of stocks, and that will hurt.

Of course, this hurts the fiscal deficit since PNB has to be rescued. So bond yields are up to 7.6% and therefore we’d avoid any long term funds or bonds. Short term it will have to be.

But overall, we wouldn’t worry too much. Just react, don’t predict. What would you do if stocks fell? Better to answer that than to say they will, or they will not.

(And no, not buying PNB)

Our View: Fix it.

This is the Indian public sector banking system. Fix it.

How can you have transactions on SWIFT outside CBS? Fix it.

Why would you not reconcile the nostro accounts? Suspend the auditors. Fire top management. Fix it.

Telgi, Harshad Mehta, Saharashree could not run away, but these guys did. Are they simply smarter or we have just become ignorant? Oh, by saying “we” I don’t refer to the public (who apparently should know everything, yeas a little touch of bollywood is extremely important here, you know Priyanka is worried!)

Do I know the solution? Yes, just fix it. Put them in prison. Take the money back, and don’t harass or depress us anymore with some additional burdens which we can’t afford.

“Banker to the Poor” is a story which ended with a Nobel Prize for Mohd. Yunus, we are yet to witness what “Making Banks Poor” will do to Nirav and his alike.

I guess I should just share another whatsapp message now:

“Ravi Subramanian ‘s fictional book (In The Name of God – Penguin) that released last year was about a banking fraud story.

The main fraudster was a powerful jewelry trader by the name Nirav Choksi.

Nirav Choksi was India’s most exclusive jeweler whose high flying clientele included half of Hollywood and India’s socialites.

The 2 main jewelers in the current PNB fraud story are Nirav Modi and his mama Mehul Choksi. Nirav Modi is/ was India’s most exclusive jeweller. Is this a coincidence??”

Ashish Kumar Singh is a Doctoral Candidate at Political Science Department of Higher School of Economics- The National Research University, Moscow. He can be reached at- [email protected]

The Nirav Modi Saga Simplified

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India – It’s not the question of EVMs alone but Democracy at Stake, Unanimous call for #Back2Ballot

 

 

New Delhi, February 19: “Today it is no more the question of going back to ballot paper in elections, but it’s a must that 2019 elections be conducted through the ballot papers. EVM machines are destroying the trust between the voter and the democratic system. Democracy is too precious to be left to machines. To ensure the democratic nature of the country, the 2019 election should be done through the ballot system”, said Manish Tiwari, Spokesperson, Indian National Congress. He was speaking at a meeting along with Ali Anwar – MP, Rajya Sabha, Amarjeet Kaur- CPI, DP Tripathi- NCP, Dr Sunilam, Ex MLA, National Convener, NAPM, Gauhar Raza- scientist, Kavita Krishnan- CPI(ML), Kunwar Danish Ali- JDS, Manish Tiwari- Congress, Naval Kishore Yadav- RJD, Nikhil Dey- MKSS, Nilotpal Basu- CPM, Ravi Verma- SP, S. Srinath- expert, Saurabh Bhardwaj-AAP, Uvesh Mallik- Advocate andSeema Mustafa, senior journalist. The meeting was organised by Anhad, CPA, Delhi Solidarity Group, National Aliiance of People’s Movements, Peace, Sabka Bharat at the Constitution Club of India.

 

“JD(S) will not contest the Karnataka Assembly elections later this year, if VVPAT are not counted 100% and that’s a decision we have made”, Danish Ali, its Spokesperson. He further added that there is an atmosphere being created through television studios that one nation and one election should be brought in because multiple elections hamper development work. It’s a lobby and completely unfounded and is to pave way for one party and one leader rule, a dangerous trend for the nation.

 

The process of elections should be something the citizens of a country have complete faith in, EVM machines have been found to be faulty innumerable times, the democratic nature of the country is challenged every time an EVM machine fails. Given the fact that powerful democracies across the country have chosen to stay with the ballot system, India should rid itself of the many complications of the EVM system and simplify its procedures. “The electoral process should be so simple that anyone and everyone is able to vote and is also aware of the entire process of elections. The process of voting should be simplified to the bare minimum. In a democracy, every vote should be accounted for and there should be no talks of average numbers and/or rounding off of votes.” said Kavita Krishnan (CPI-ML). Mr Nilotpal Basu (CPM) reiterated the need to use the VVPAT system and make the entire process as transparent as possible, keeping in mind the satisfaction of the voter.

 

It is important to continue the debate in India because if EVMs are not tamperproof, Indian democracy is in danger as a vote becomes valueless in the process. However, from the stage of a debate, it is the responsibility of all political parties, civil bodies and the public to carry it forward and turn it into a movement to demand the return of the ballot system. Mr Gauhar Raza (Scientist) also made an impassioned argument for the ballot system, “The constitution gave us the right to vote and it gave that right to every single citizen. That is commendable because other countries had to fight to achieve it, our country adopted the universal suffrage right at the start. The tampering of EVM machines is an attack on our right to choose and our right to vote. The EC has stated 6 technical ways which prevent it from being tampered with, but there is no machine in this world that is impenetrable. That is the driving factor in the universal rejection of EVM machines.”

 

What is even more important is to demand that the Election Commission dive head first into electoral reforms. The Commission is losing its credibility as it continues to deny that EVM machines can be tampered with. The wards where the EVM machines had been tampered with, the EC made no outright moves to penalise those who manipulated the system. Ankit Lal of Aam Aadmi Party, added that EVM machines are produced by companies like the ECIL and the BEL, these companies are incapable of maintaining the machines on their own, therein lies the problem because they have to hire external technicians, train them and outsource the task of maintaining the machines to them. In the countless number of technicians, they hire locally, what is the guarantee that they are free form being politically manipulated?

 

The need for the ballot system stems from the fact that a voter can physically witness their vote being submitted, the chance of the votes being tampered with are minimum as the entire process becomes simple and there can be no glitches. The only concern here, that Mr Sunilam (Ex MLA, National Convener-NAPM) pointed out, will be that the election process will have to be extended by a few more days. For clean and transparent elections, surely this minor delay can be undertaken and managed.

 

  1. Srinath from Karnataka and Yogesh Malik from Gujarat both presented detailed accounts of the tampering and also of voting fraud and also their efforts to complain to the Election Commission and judiciary and seek justice but unfortunately in the name of the sanctity of the election process, they couldn’t make any headway. ECI is not sacrosanct and influence proof from those in power.

Amarjeet Kaur of Communist Party of India and Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, said that unless every single voter is confident about their vote and its destination in the counting process, democracy will have failed. To ensure the same, we have to go back to the ballot system. Political parties should have raised commotion about electoral reforms in 2014 itself, no one did and in that moment, they failed their duty to change the system for the better. To make sure that the country doesn’t veer towards fascism, people have to be convinced that the electoral process is full proof and that their voices matter. That faith has to be rebuilt and enabled, the ballot system is the most appropriate.

 

In the light of the presentation and different opinions expressed by the leaders of political parties and civil society, it was expressed that it’s high time ECI took actions to repose faith in the elections. This can’t be left to the machines and the only way it can be done so by ensuring that the 2019 elections and for that matter every election in this country from the local self-governments to the national election be held on ballots. A need for citizens’ movement is what is needed today and can only be achieved if everyone joins in.

 

 

Anhad, CPA, Delhi Solidarity Group, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Peace, Sabka Bharat

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Gujarat Municipal Elections- BJP wins, but with a loss of 12 municipalities

BJP Wins 47 Municipalities In Gujarat, Down From 59; Congress Gets 16

The BJP’s loss of 12 municipalities in the Gujarat civic elections comes just two months after the party posted its weakest performance in years in assembly elections held in December last

BJP Wins 47 Municipalities In Gujarat, Down From 59; Congress Gets 16

Gujarat civic polls result: The BJP saw its weakest performance in years in the 2017 state polls

GANDHINAGAR: 

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. Congress had won 11 seats in the 2013 municipal elections
  2. Elections were held for 75 municipalities on Saturday
  3. BJP won 99 of Gujarat’s 182 seats in the state elections last year

Gujarat’s ruling BJP won the most seats in municipal elections today, but has lost ground compared to the last elections five years ago. The party has won 47 of 75 municipalities for which elections were held; it had won 59 in 2013.

Chief rival Congress has won 16 municipalities, five more than the 11 it had won last time. It had lost five of them two years later, when its leaders defected to the BJP, and is claiming today’s result as a major gain. The party claimed that it also supported four Independents who have won and so its tally today is 20.

Six municipalities did not give a clear mandate to either party and the Congress has asserted that it will gather the support needed to form the municipal board in each of them.

The BJP’s loss of 12 municipalities comes just two months after the party posted its weakest performance in years in assembly elections held in December last. The party won a fifth straight term in power in Gujarat, but not before a scare as the Congress seemed to catch up several times when votes were being counted, eventually reducing the BJP’s margin of victory considerably.

The BJP won 99 of Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats, down from 115 in the last elections and only seven more than the majority mark of 92. At least 15 BJP candidates won by a margin of less than 500 votes. The Congress won 77 along with allies, up from 60 seats.

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Though it has lost several civic bodies today in urban areas, its stronghold even in the December assembly elections, the BJP will draw consolation from still being way ahead of the Congress in municipalities, which it has dominated since the early 1990s.

In some cheer for the party, it has won 27 of 28 seats in the municipality in Vadnagar, the hometown of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the Congress being able to win only one seat. The BJP had lost the Vadnagar seat in the assembly elections.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/gujarat-civic-body-elections-bjp-ahead-in-early-leads-in-gujarat-civic-body-elections-

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Chhattisgarh’s Health Budget deals a further blow to the government health system

Chhattisgarh’s budget for the financial year 2018-19 was presented by the Chief Minister, who is also the Finance Minister, on 10th February 2018. This budget is the last one by this government before the upcoming state elections.

Chhattisgarh has allocated 5.5% of its total expenditure on public health and family. This proportion is higher than many other states, however, analysis of Chhattisgarh’s health budget allocations in the previous years reveal that there is a declining trend in budget allocation. In 2016-17 there was a 19% increase in the health budget compared to the previous year, but in 2017-18 there was only a 12 % increase in allocation. In 2018-19, there has only been a 7 % increase in the allocation to the Public Health and Family Welfare Department from the previous year’s budget. If we compare with last year’s revised estimates, then the increase comes to a mere 4%.  This measly increase is inadequate and does not account even for inflation. 

It is clear from the health budget that rather than focusing on strengthening the government health services, the government is promoting initiatives,  like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) and Mukhyamantri Swasthya Bima Yojana (MSBY) and outsourcing of government facilities and services, that will instead damage the public health system.

The government is planning to hand over health facilities to the private sector. The government has planned to outsource Supela (Durg district) and Mana (Raipur district) civil hospitals, for which an initial budget of two crore has been kept. These two civil hospitals are located in the two biggest cities of Chhattisgarh, and therefore there is no reason that the government cannot get adequate human and other resource to run these hospitals themselves. The government is planning this Public Private Partnership (PPP) despite the fact that all over the country, PPPs for providing healthcare have failed. In Chhattisgarh too all previous efforts, like the Escorts Hospital, Vedanta Cancer Hospital, and Rural Mobile Medical Units have failed and caused loss to public exchequer.

Another threat for outsourcing is the newly announced free diagnostics scheme whereby pathology and radiology tests would be available free of cost at all district hospitals and community health centres (CHCs). A provision of Rs. 30 crore has been made for it in the budget. If the government outsources the government laboratories to private agencies, it will irreparably damage the existing government laboratories. Experiences from other states like Bihar show that outsourcing has resulted in poor quality services, people are forced to pay extra charges, and they do not get the required tests. It has been found that while on one hand public funds are pumped into the private labs through outsourcing, on the other hand the government labs, technicians and radiographers become redundant and non-functional.

Chhattisgarh government itself had attempted to outsource diagnostic services in government facilities in 2013 which was hugely opposed by people of the state. In answer to the advertisement, private agencies refused to go to Sarguja and Bastar divisions and wanted to stay only in Bilaspur and Raipur. The government had to finally cancel the outsourcing plan. Currently there are enough trained lab technicians and other health workers in Chhattisgarh to be posted at all PHCs, CHCs and district hospitals to run labs effectively.

It is shameful that the government is continuing to prioritise RSBY/MSBY despite the fact that the insurance schemes are damaging the government health system, while benefiting the private hospitals. Private hospitals get more than 83% of the insurance claims money. There is enough evidence to show that these schemes are not reaching the poor, tribal and most vulnerable populations. Patients are forced to pay money to the hospital even after they have used the insurance smart card. Private hospitals are engaging in irrational care, unnecessary procedures and choosing to do only those procedures that are profitable. Majority of the state’s population that live in rural areas and in the tribal districts are not getting any benefit from the insurance scheme.

The share of RSBY/MSBY in the health budget has doubled in the last three years, from 6.6% of the total health budget in 2015-16 to 13% in the current budget. An amount of Rs. 447 crore has been budgeted for these two schemes. The state had already increased the annual entitlement under RSBY/MSBY to Rs. 50,000. Senior citizens and journalists would get an additional Rs. 30,000, taking it to Rs. 80,000.

While the RSBY/MSBY budget has seen a steady increase in allocations in the last few years, allocations for the government health system have either decreased or have remained stagnant. This year while RSBY/MSBY saw an increased allocation of 18% from last year, there has been a decrease in allocation to the core institutions providing government health services. Primary Health Centres (PHC) saw 4% decrease and Sub health centres (SHCs) saw 13% decrease in infrastructure and 4 % decrease in basic services budget. Theincrease in allocation for many other critical government healthcare institutions was paltry, like 1% increase in Mukhyamantri Urban Health Programme, 2% increase in Urban Health Centres and 4% increase for Community Health Centres. Only the allocation for District Hospital saw an increase of 31%. In the budget speech the CM mentioned about new facilities to be built and upgraded. This includes construction of buildings for two CHCs, ten PHCs, 25 SHCs and approval for one 100 bed hospital in Sarangarh and one 50 bedded civil hospital in Devbhog. It was also mentioned that 283 PHCs would be upgraded to provide health services 24*7, however, as is evident from above, thebudget provided is not commensurate with this plan. The CM also mentioned about upgrading the District Hospitals of the newly formed districts of Baloda Bazar, Gariaband, Balrampur & Surajpur to IPHS standards by creating 268 new posts, that would most probably be done from the district hospital budget and about additional human resource, provision of modern equipment and building construction in six medical college hospitals.

Critical programmes like the AIDS control programme have seen a drastic 100% decrease with an allocation of only one lakh, which will mainly affect the training and IEC component. This does not bode well for preventive and curative work on HIV-AIDS as the Government of India has also cut funds to the AIDS control programme. The CM also mentioned that the government will start work oncomputerising patient’s health records in government hospitals. The fear is that, as seen in other instances, this usually means that the Aadhaar card would be used to identify patients and their records. Making the Aadhaar mandatory for accessing health services is leading toexclusions and creating more barriers in access. Moreover, such a move would be disastrous for patient’s privacy, as currently there is no robust system for protecting privacy or patient’s choice.

There are nearly 70,000 Mitanins (ASHAs) in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh government pays 50% additional incentive to the Mitanins current above the incentive given by NHM. In this budget the CM announced that this contribution will be increased to 75% of what NHM provides as incentive to Mitanins. As per the current average incentive received by Mitanins, the average increase in incentive will be by a mere Rs. 370 per month. Though the government seems to have increased its budgetary allocation under the Mitanin Kalyan Nidhi (Rs. 101 crore), the budget requirement commensurate with this announcement falls nearly Rs. 46 crore short of what is required to pay for this increase. Moreover, the government has failed to agree to the longstanding demand for a similar state contribution for the Mitanin support structure that consists of the Mitanin Trainers and Block Coordinators.

The government’s announcements on improving nutrition services too does not seem to be backed by adequate budget provision.Though in the budget speech several announcements were made regarding increase in the entitlement per child in the anganwadi and increase in the honorarium of anganwadi workers and helpers, the budget for ICDS remains stagnant with only a 0.6% increase!

Jan Swasthya Abhiyan demands that health sector budget allocation should be increased from the current 1.3% to atleast 3% of state GDP. The Chhattisgarh government should use the health budgets to strengthen the public health system instead of transferring funds to the private health sector through insurance schemes and public private partnerships that are actually damaging the public health system. A strengthened government health system can cater to all the people of the state, especially the poor, tribal and vulnerable populations more effectively. The budgets for the core public health institutions like CHCs, PHC and SHC and for free medicines and other critical programmes have to be increased. The government should to cancel its plans to outsource the two civil hospitals and instead plan for improving their functioning themselves. The free diagnostics scheme should not be implemented through outsourcing and instead the government laboratories should be resourced, upgraded and improved and lab technicians recruited to provide diagnostic services free of cost. Private practice of government doctors has to be regulated in accordance with the Bilaspur High Court’s order of February 2017. The government needs to show higher commitment to people’s health and to its own public health system.

Jan Swasthya Abhiyan Chhattisgarh         

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Bengaluru manual scavenging deaths: Owner of restaurant arrested

Avinash Gupta, the owner of Yumlok, was on the run since February 13 – when the incident took place.

Three days after two men died while cleaning a septic tank of Yumlok, a restaurant in AECS Layout in Bengaluru, the police arrested its owner, Avinash Gupta, on Saturday.

He was on the run since February 13.

This comes after the arrests of restaurant manager Ayush Gupta, caretaker Venkatesh and two Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials. Ayush and Venkatesh were arrested on the day of the tragedy, February 13.

The BBMP officials – Devaraj, senior health inspector, and Kalpana, deputy health officer – were held for allegedly issuing an illegal license for the restaurant to operate from the basement of a building.

All of them will remain in judicial custody till February 28.

Manual scavenging is banned across India. Employing a manual scavenger has been made a cognisable offence with imprisonment and a fine since 1993, and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and a Supreme Court ruling state the same.

In this instance, the two deceased – Ramu and Ravi – both from Raichur were employed as contract pourakarmikas, but were forced to manually clean tanks to make a living as their ATM cards and passbooks were reportedly taken away by the contractor.

Mythreyi Ramesh, a lawyer advocating the cause of pourakarmikas, said, “This is a good step. Not only have they been arrested, but they have been remanded to judicial custody. This should be a message from all the officials.”

“Moreover, the accused have been booked under section 304 part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code, as well as sections of the SC/ST Act and also the Manual Scavenging Act,” she told TNM.

For a long time now, activists have been protesting the fact that most people responsible for manual scavenging deaths were booked under section 304 part II. Instead, they were booked under section 304 Section A (causing death by negligence), which is bailable and non-cognisable.

But, Mythreyi rued that the compensation announced by the government has not reached the families yet.

Of late, Bengaluru has seen a spike in the number of deaths caused due to manual scavenging.

 

The Karnataka State Commission for Safai Karmacharis has asked the BBMP to set up an sewage treatment plant (STP) monitoring cell of its own.

All STPs have been asked to register with the civic body. The Commission has also asked for a survey of STPs in the city within two weeks’ time.

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/bengaluru-manual-scavenging-deaths-owner-restaurant-arrested-76650

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Shambhu Lal Raigar makes videos from jail #WTFnews

Jodhpur, Feb 19 Two videos purportedly shot by Shambhu Lal Raigar, an accused in a murder case, from inside a jail here have gone viral, wherein he claims threat to his life from an inmate and justifies his killing of a labourer from West Bengal over “love jihad“.

 

Raigar, who is lodged in the Central Jail here after he hacked and burnt to death Mohammad Afrazul from West Bengal in December last year, named the inmate as Vasudev, an accused in the NDPS Act.

 

Vasudev hails from West Bengal, claimed Raigar.

In one of the videos, Raigar claims that the issue of “love jihad” has become “serious” and accuses the West Bengal government of not doing enough about it.

Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said they were investigating how Raigar got access to a mobile phone inside the jail.

“It would be looked into how Raigar got access to a mobile phone and how he made the videos. We have lodged an FIR and are investigating the matter,” he said.

Raigar had killed Afrazul while, in a video, ranting against “love jihad”, a term used by sections of Hindu activists to describe marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men.

In the latest video, Raigar said he was “infuriated” over a “jihadist comment”, targeting Hindu women, and that was why he had killed Afrazul.

The Jodhpur Central Jail administration said it had launched an “intense search operation” to find out how Raigar was able to make the videos using a cell phone.According to a preliminary investigation, Raigar could have used the cell phone of another inmate, but the jail authorities have failed to recover a mobile from the said inmate.

Jail Superintendent Vikram Singh said they were investigating the matter and had also reviewed the security of Raigar.

Singh said the presence of mobile phones inside the jail was a “serious matter” and added that the prison authorities were trying to find out how the phones were making their way into the prison.

Raigar was arrested from Rajsamand district of Rajasthan.

His act of killing Afrazul and latter filming the act with the help of his teenage nephew had created a nationwide outrage.

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SC to hear plea for #Aadhaar-based voting system after 4 weeks

The Supreme Court said it will hear after four weeks a plea seeking implementation of an Aadhaar-based voting system in elections

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will hear after four weeks a plea seeking implementation of an Aadhaar-based voting system in elections in order to curtail bogus and duplicate voting in the spirit of the election law.

The petition was filed before a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud which kept the matter for hearing in March.

The plea, filed by advocate and BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, has sought direction to the Election Commission of India to take appropriate steps to implement an ‘Aadhaar based election voting system’ to ensure maximum participation in election and curtail fake, bogus and duplicate voting in the spirit of section 17-18 of the Representation of People Act, 1950.

It sought a direction to the Centre through Ministry of Law and Justice to take appropriate steps to link movable and immovable property documents of citizens with their Aadhaar number to curb corruption, black money generation and ‘benami’ transactions.

The current system is better but not the best. Aadhaar based election-voting system has more authentication of voters, better security of voting process, it can protect the voted data and most importantly, the voter can cast his vote from any corner of the country

Direct the Election Commission of India to take appropriate steps to link the election identity card of the citizens with their Aadhaar number to curtail fake, fabricated, and duplicate votes, it said.

The plea alleged that duplicate voting was prevalent in the country as the current system has not been able to control booth capturing and bogus voting.

“The current system is better but not the best. Aadhaar based election-voting system has more authentication of voters, better security of voting process, it can protect the voted data and most importantly, the voter can cast his vote from any corner of the country,” the plea said.

The proposed Aadhaar-based voting system involves fingerprint of the voter which is saved in the government’s database with an individual’s Aadhaar number, the petition said.

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Priya Varrier Moves Top Court Against Case Over ’40-Year-Old Folk Song’

Clips from “Manikya Malaraya Poovi” featuring Priya Prakash Varrier gesturing with her eyebrows have gone viral and inspired countless memes on social media

FIRs against Priya Prakash Varrier were filed in Telangana and Maharashtra

NEW DELHI:  Priya Prakash Varrier, the teen Malayalam actor who has charmed the country with her wink and smile in an upcoming movie, has gone to the Supreme Court against a First Information Report (FIR) filed against her and the director of the movie. She is likely to request an urgent hearing by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

FIRs against her were filed by the police in Telangana and Maharashtra, Ms Varrier says in her petition before the top court.

She says the controversy and FIRs are over the lyrics of the song Manikya Malaraya Poovi, which is a Mappila song, or a traditional Muslim song from the Malabar region of Kerala.

“The song describes and praises the love between the Prophet Mohammed and his first wife Khadeeja and this has been misunderstood by the complainants,” says the young actor in her petition.

“The song is a folk song and has been in existence for the last 40 years and cherished by the Muslim community of more than one crore in Kerala. The allegation that the song hurts sentiments of Muslims is baseless because there is no FIR in Kerala. People misunderstood the song in non-Malayalam-speaking states,” she says in the petition.

Clips from Manikya Malaraya Poovi featuring Ms Varrier gesturing with her eyebrows have gone viral and inspired countless memes on social media.

A group of young men in Hyderabad filed the case against the filmmakers claiming that the lyrics of the film’s teaser song Oru Adaar Love had hurt religious sentiment of Muslims.

Responding to her overnight popularity, Ms Varrier told NDTV that the director wanted to capture “something cute between me and my hero”. So she was told to gesture with her eyebrows and wink at him.

But on a complaint, a case was registered last week for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.

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The complaint was by Abdul Muqeet, an engineering student, who claimed that the song makes an “objectionable” reference to Prophet Muhammad’s wife.

Another complaint was filed by businessman Zaheer Ali Khan, who demanded that either the song be removed from the film or the lyrics be changed.

https://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/priya-varrier-moves-top-court-against-case-over-40-year-old-folk-song-1814556?browserpush=true

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