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Health groups irked by Supreme Court order on vaccine PSUs; mull fresh petition

 

 Statement on behalf of the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) and co-petitioners

Several health groups expressed their strong disappointment with the order of the Supreme Court (SC) of February 12, 2018, which refused to review or recall an earlier order disposing off a case against the mala fide suspension of the vaccine Public Sector Units (PSUs) and government’s tendency to pamper private sector with public money.

The court relied only on the Government’s claims regarding the revival and modernization of the suspended PSUs and did not take into account the last rejoinder of the petitioners that highlighted the increasing diversion of purchase orders to private sector at ever increasing prices. The groups are considering filing a fresh petition, as the court also said “in case there is any deficiency or neglect on the part of the Government…, the petitioner shall be free to seek appropriate redress in appropriate proceedings at the appropriate stage.”

The decade-old public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by former Union Health Secretary, S. P. Shukla and representatives of the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), Low Cost Standard Therapeutics (LOCOST), Medico Friend Circle (MFC), and Society for Scientific Values (SSV).

The chief petitioner S. P. Shukla said, “We won half the battle with the revival of the suspended PSUs and their modernization for compliance with good manufacturing practices (GMP), under the pressure of our court case and the report of the governmental Javid Chowdhury committee. But their production is yet to be restored to pre-suspension levels, the responsibility for mala fide suspension was not fixed, and even the recommendations of the Javid Chowdhury Committee have not been fully implemented.”

According to S. Srinivasan of LOCOST, one of the petitioners, “The union government has not been buying vaccines from the public sector even after their revival. Government data show that the purchase orders to PSUs are declining and those to private companies are growing despite increasing prices. We highlighted all these issues in our last affidavit of 2016 to show that the Government of India is misleading the Supreme Court, but it was not taken into account before disposing off the petition.”

“We neither have a rational vaccine policy nor rational use of vaccines – for example, selective immunization has disappeared from government policy. New vaccines and their combinations of doubtful efficacy and safety are being introduced in the universal immunization programme. By shifting its procurement towards irrational cocktail vaccines made only by the private sector, the government is systematically reducing PSUs into component suppliers to the private sector”, said Dr. Mira Shiva of AIDAN, another petitioner.

 

  1. Sarojini from MFC remarked, “Due to lack of government orders, the revived PSUs are forced to find private buyers for survival. Prior to suspension, the public sector supplied 85% of all universal vaccines procured by the government. Today, over 90% of the government purchases are from private sector.”

On behalf of the SSV, Prof. N. Raghuram stated, “Vaccines are prescription drugs but are being promoted like consumer goods through private immunization camps. It is unethical that all these dubious practices are being done in the name of children as they cannot decide the vaccines they need. Someone must give a credible answer to helpless parents’ question as to how many vaccines are adequate for a child.

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India – 2.6 million dry toilets and 13,384 manual scavengers. Do the math

#GenderAnd: The law against manual scavenging can be successfully implemented if the State accepts that the practise of manual scavenging exists.

The media has finally started to report on manual scavengers suffocating to death in sewage holes, but a story that continues to slip is the state’s blatant neglect of home and community-based manual scavenging, 95 per cent of which is done by Dalit women. Manual scavenging is a caste-based division of labour handed down over generations of women, who are bound by this oppressive system to clean dry toilets of people living in their own villages or urban neighbourhoods.

Women married into families of this caste suffer the torture, mental and physical pain of this inhuman practice. They lift and carry heavy loads of excrement in cane baskets to designated sites of disposal. In the heat of summer and during the rains, the excrement leaks on to their faces and bodies. The stench and working conditions are unbearable.  Their menfolk are expected to carry out other “polluting” tasks, including disposing of dead animals, cleaning placentas after delivery, and various funeral-related activities. Despite hundreds of testimonies of subjugation, oppression, sexual harassment and marginalisation that these women have narrated to the State, many governments continue to prolong their state of denial.

 

After the long struggle of manual scavengers and people’s movement, “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013” was passed by the central government. The Act prohibits employment of manual scavengers, construction of insanitary latrines, and rehabilitation of manual scavengers with one-time cash assistance, scholarship for their children, and a residential plot with financial assistance for constructing a house. One of the important components of the law is identification of manual scavengers across the country through surveys. Up until October 2017, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has identified only 13,384 manual scavengers (4375 in urban and 9014 in rural) in 11 states of India. Of these, 12,640 received the one-time cash assistance (Rs 40,000) from the government and 4,643 received vocational training.

95 per cent of home and community-based manual scavenging is done by Dalit womenNow compare these dismal numbers with what the State reports on itself. According to the Census of India (2011), there are 7,94,390 dry latrines where humans clean excreta — 73 per cent of these are in rural areas whereas 27 per centare in urban areas. Apart from these, there are 13,14,652 toilets where human excreta is flushed into open drains. A total of 26 lakhs [2.6 million] dry latrines exist in the country where the practice of manual scavenging still continues.

According to Socio-Economic and Caste Census (2011) of rural India, 1,80,657 rural households surveyed were engaged in manual scavenging. Highest numbers of manual scavengers were identified in the state of Maharashtra. Madhya Pradesh was second followed by Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Karnataka, Punjab, Daman and Diu and Bihar. The same caste census reported that the states of Goa, Assam and Chandigarh had no manual scavengers. Manipur, Lakshwadeep and Himachal Pradesh had one. Delhi reported just six manual scavengers. Surveys and evidence collected by civil society organisations expose the rampant practise of manual scavenging in many of these states.

What can be said with conviction and evidence is that the Government of India, both at the state and Centre, continues to violate their constitutional responsibility of implementing the law, and only pay lip service to empowering Dalit women. The sole basis of the successful implementation of this law exists on the condition that the state accepts that the practise of manual scavenging exists and commits to the holistic rehabilitation of the community. The law depends on district collectors, municipal commissioners and taluk and panchayat chiefs to responsibly enumerate the number of manual scavengers still engaged in this inhuman practise.

This will mean, that these offices of authority will have to admit to their role in perpetuating the practise and invest in sanitation systems that are free from human interface, which by itself is a very tall order. In most cases, the mandated district vigilance committees whose job it is to oversee the economic and social rehabilitation of manual scavengers, as well as monitor registration of offences (under the Act), their investigation and prosecution, have either not been formed or are dysfunctional. When formed, they exclude experienced civil society organisations and women.

One of the important components of the law is identification of manual scavengers across the country through surveys. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)The central government recently announced its plan to conduct a fresh survey in 164 districts of India. While this is a welcome move, before embarking on this humongous exercise, it will be good to reflect and learn from the mistakes made in the last five years. First and foremost, there is a need to understand that eradication of this inhuman practise requires a change in the mindset of state officials who are responsible for its implementation. It requires a commitment to ensure that every woman and man engaged in this division of labour, not just receives a cheque of Rs 40,000, but are provided with rehabilitation that gives these families a real chance and the power to lead their lives with dignity. This includes free decent housing, relevant vocational training, financial assistance for self-employment opportunities and free education and scholarship for the children of these families. If the government is able to identify all the women and men who till this date are victims of the caste-based oppression and provide them with alternate options, it will not only be empowering them, but also making amends for its own sinful history

2.6 million dry toilets and 13,384 manual scavengers. Do the math

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The silent sufferers: on Maharashtra farmer suicides

Jyoti Shelar

“The children of farmers who killed themselves cope with acute mental trauma, but they say very little. Even worse, no one asks.” Kartik Kachre, whose father Prakash Kachre committed suicide, is seen with other children in Shantivan in Beed district of Maharashtra. Shantivan is home to 120 children who have lost either one or both of their parents to farm loan-related suicide.
“The children of farmers who killed themselves cope with acute mental trauma, but they say very little. Even worse, no one asks.” Kartik Kachre, whose father Prakash Kachre committed suicide, is seen with other children in Shantivan in Beed district of Maharashtra. Shantivan is home to 120 children who have lost either one or both of their parents to farm loan-related suicide. | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

Ground Zero
The children of the farmers who committed suicide do not receive the support or counselling they need to recover from the resulting mental trauma. Jyoti Shelar visits the villages in Maharashtra worst affected by farmer suicide and reports on these minors’ struggle to get their lives back on track
“Every time I open the door, I see my father’s body,” says 14-year-old Nikita Surwase, pointing at the iron shaft on the ceiling.

In May 2014, Nikita’s father, Ashok, hanged himself to escape the mounting pressure of repaying a loan of nearly ₹2 lakh that he had taken to grow cotton on his 1.5-acre land in Talegaon village, Beed district, Maharashtra. That day, Nikita says, she and her father were home while her mother Sunita (30), grandmother Jaibai (65), and three younger siblings — Ashwini (12), Rohan (9) and Suraj (6) — had gone to visit a relative.

Around four in the afternoon, her father asked her to go out and clean the porch. The unsuspecting child, who was 10 at the time, followed his order.

Her mother returned around five and found the door locked from the inside. There was no response to their repeated knocking. A neighbour who was passing by noticed the commotion. He peeped in from the window and saw Ashok’s body hanging lifeless. Everyone rushed to break open the door. Nikita’s father had cut a hammock that used to hang from the ceiling and used the same rope to end his life.

‘I feel very tense’
“Pappa gelya paasun mala khup tension yeta, radu yeta” (I feel very tense since my father passed away, I feel like crying all the time), says Nikita. She uses the word ‘tension’ multiple times during the conversation, unable to articulate more exactly what she feels.

For the first few months, her weeping was seen as the natural reaction of a grief-stricken child. “All of us were crying,” says her grandmother, Jaibai. But Nikita failed to return to a semblance of her normal self. She stopped communicating and almost gave up eating. She spoke only a few words throughout the day and slept all the time.

“When we would call her for meals, she would eat very little and go back to sleep,” says Jaibai. “She didn’t want to go to school any more. She kept saying she had a headache.” In the following months, Nikita lost weight rapidly. She had fever often. Her crying wouldn’t abate, and she kept having graphic flashbacks of her father’s lifeless body.

Nikita, who saw her father’s body hanging from an iron shaft on the ceiling when she was 10, has lived in trauma since. | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

Nikita’s father could not repay the loan as Maharashtra had one of its worst spells of drought that year, and it ruined his crop yield. To continue repaying the loan, Nikita’s mother took charge of the farm and also started working in other farms, plucking cotton.

Two of Nikita’s siblings, Ashwini and Rohan, were sent away to Aurangabad to stay at a residential school that adopted the children of farmers who had killed themselves. Nikita, who is now in class nine, continued to battle against her anxieties, her trauma getting little attention from her family.

Last year, an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) who lived nearby took Nikita to the Beed Civil Hospital, where she was diagnosed with extremely low levels of haemoglobin. She was given three units of blood and prescribed several food supplements. Nikita still weighs only 30 kg, way below what’s healthy for a 14-year-old. Though she looks slightly better now, the ASHA worker says that the girl is lost in her own world.

An alien concept
The children of farmers who killed themselves cope with acute mental trauma, but they say very little. Even worse, no one asks. In a place where ‘mental health’ is still an alien concept, the fact that a parent’s suicide can damage the child remains unrecognised.

Senior psychiatrist and World Health Organisation (WHO) consultant Lakshmi Vijayakumar says that Nikita has been experiencing classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “In children, these mental disorders don’t show up like they do in adults. Children mostly present themselves with continuous complaints of some kind of body pain (headache, stomach ache) or behavioural problems such as refusing to go to school, refusing to eat, and temper tantrums. Children who don’t have any of these problems may start bed-wetting,” explains Vijayakumar, adding that when a child loses a parent, there is a growing sense of abandonment and separation anxiety.

In Beed’s Arvi village, a dirt track through large cotton fields leads to a residential school called Shantivan. The word translates to ‘forest of peace’. Run by a couple passionate about social work, Shantivan is home to 300 children who have lost either one or both of their parents. Of these, 120 are children of farmers (from the Marathwada region) who have committed suicide. One of the eight districts of drought-prone Marathwada, Beed has witnessed the highest number of suicides in the region.

The silent sufferers: on Maharashtra farmer suicides

One resident, 14-year-old Mayur Rasal, lost his father in 2009, a year that saw a great number of farmers end their lives to escape debt. Mayur, his two older brothers and their mother, Vaishali, inherited three acres of land and an unpaid debt liability of over ₹5 lakh. Unable to bear the burden, Vaishali left with another man a year later. Mayur and his two brothers became their grandmother’s responsibility.

“My grandmother got labourers to plough the field and grow cotton, jowar and bajra. But she always complained that we did not have enough money, just like my father,” says Mayur. He says his relatives told him that his father had hanged himself from the ceiling fan. “It was June 1. I remember the date because I was going to join class 1 from June 15,” says the teenager, eyes turning moist as he remembers his father.

Saved by stories
Volunteers from Shantivan visit suicide-affected families and urge them to send their children to the residential school for a proper education and a better life. Last June, when they visited Mayur’s house in Manjar Sumba village, his grandmother immediately agreed to send him away. “He would cry all the time. He would wake up in the middle of the night, calling for his father,” says Kaveri Nagargoje, who runs Shantivan with her husband, Deepak. “He felt that no one cared for him, and both his father and mother had abandoned him. As he gradually opened up to me, I learnt that shortly after his father’s suicide, his mother, unable to manage the three children on her own, had ended up pouring boiling water on him,” Nagargoje says.

Nagargoje is not a trained counsellor but she says she does whatever she can to motivate the children. Storytelling brightens up the kids, she says. “I have made up a fictional character named Dheru who has faced similar hardships after losing his father to suicide,” she says. “In my story, he goes on to become a Collector and fulfills his mother’s dreams, pays off all debt, and has a peaceful life. Most of these children now aspire to become like Dheru.” Mayur, who is now in class 8, wants to appear for the civil services examination.

Nagargoje observes that most children at Shantivan need constant support: “Bed-wetting is a common problem in children as old as 12 years. Some are reclusive, and it takes time for them to mingle with others. But we closely observe each one of them and monitor their emotional as well as educational progress, as it tells us whether the child is getting over her trauma or continues to remain in its grip.”

Subhangi Rakh from Theria in Beed district lost her grandfather to suicide when he could not repay his farm loan. Later, a bull gored her father to death in the farm, and her mother left with another man. Subhangi has a twin sister and an older brother. She is seen here with other children in Shantivan, where her siblings are too.


Subhangi Rakh from Theria in Beed district lost her grandfather to suicide when he could not repay his farm loan. Later, a bull gored her father to death in the farm, and her mother left with another man. Subhangi has a twin sister and an older brother. She is seen here with other children in Shantivan, where her siblings are too. | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

In Wardha district, which falls in the drought-prone Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, a village named Kurzhadi has reported eight farmer suicides over the past decade. In 2016, Ganesh Thackrey gulped down a bottle of pesticide that he had kept for use on his three-acre cotton farm. When his wife Archana got home from a village gram panchayat meeting, she saw her husband on the floor, barely breathing. A neighbour helped her put Ganesh on a motorcycle and rush him to a government-run health centre 12 km from the village, in Phulgaon.

But Ganesh’s condition was critical. So he was transferred to a rural hospital in Sawangi, 35 km from Phulgaon. For nine days, Ganesh battled for life in the Intensive Care Unit of the Sawangi hospital. But his organs began to collapse one after another, and he eventually succumbed.

Archana then started to work on the farm. But with both father and mother away, the two children, Aniket (11) and Sanchita (9), suddenly found themselves on their own. “While the girl was still too young to understand what had hit the family, something changed in the boy after he lost his father,” says Avinash Ghode, a teacher at the Zilla Parishad Primary School in Kurzhadi where the siblings study.

Ghode says Aniket always ranked first in his class. “After his father’s death, he remained absent for a while. About three weeks later, when he rejoined school, he was no longer his chirpy self,” he recalls, adding that he also developed a severe problem in paying attention. Aniket, the teacher says, would stare blankly in class. He would have no clue what was being taught.

“We spoke to him several times and told him that whatever had happened was not in his control and that he needs to focus on his education,” Ghode says. Gradually, Aniket managed to get his focus back on studies and once again ranked first in class 5. He is now in Class 6. “But he is not his old self, when he used to be playful and laugh out loud,” says the teacher.

Any question about their father brings tears to the siblings’ eyes. When asked what they would like to do when they grew up, Aniket says he wants to be a police officer, while Sanchita wants to be a ‘madam’, as the teacher is addressed in the school. “These children need more than education. Such an upheaval in life is tough even for an adult to cope with,” says Ghode. He feels that the government has to bring in professional counsellors to reach out to such children.

A 2010 study led by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre found that losing a parent to suicide increases children’s risk of developing a range of major psychiatric disorders. “Those who have lost a parent to suicide are at a higher risk of committing suicide too,” says Vijayakumar, who has worked extensively in the farmer suicide-affected Kattumannarkoil district in Tamil Nadu and with the tsunami affected-children from the State. “There is a grave need to evaluate and counsel these children. They should get avenues to vent their emotions in a non-threatening manner,” she says, suggesting group painting and art therapy as possible methods. “The pictures they draw at times reflect the emotions they are going through,” she says.

Survivor’s guilt
Ann Masten, a professor of child development in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, says that, in itself, losing a parent is a very stressful event in a child’s life. “Many children experience it as a parent leaving them for something they may have done. They react with anger at times. Some who internalise their feelings may become sad and silent, and can thus be easily ignored. Some children recover with good parenting and good teacher support, while others may require mental health support,” says Masten. “Intervention is needed because it is obvious that these children are silent sufferers,” she adds. But hundreds of children from Marathwada and Vidarbha’s suicide-affected families are exactly that — silent sufferers.

Experts say that survivor’s guilt is most commonly observed in those who have lost someone to suicide. They are tormented with either visual memories of the event or auditory memories. “We use the technique of memory distortion. For example, if it’s a visual memory, we get them to reconstruct it and then ask them to farther the body from them and gradually destroy the image. To reduce the guilt, we use the Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy techniques to assure them that it was not their fault,” says Mumbai-based counselling psychologist, Binaifer Sahukar. “With continuous counselling, they are able to become resilient. While the counsellor is not going to be around forever, these strategies are developed for them to use whenever needed,” she says.

Sahukar, who has counselled many school and college students, observes that some children may bounce back quickly while others may take time, and a few may never be able to deal with the trauma. “It all depends on the core personality and the stress tolerance threshold. We may have twins going through the same trauma and one of them may recover quickly while the other does not. The time taken to heal varies from person to person,” she says, adding that complete lack of counselling or a support system to deal with the trauma may lead to long-term consequences such as alcoholism and wrecked relationships.

In 2015, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recorded 8,007 farmer suicides across India. Of these, 3,030 were in Maharashtra, the highest number for any State. While the NCRB is still compiling the data for 2016, media reports peg it at around 3,063.

In February 2015, the government launched Prerna Prakalp, a mental health programme for farmers from suicide-prone Marathwada and Vidarbha. The programme currently covers eight districts of Marathwada and six of the 11 districts in Vidarbha.

A Prerna Prakalp cell theoretically consists of six people — a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, a psychiatric social worker, a psychiatric nurse, a community nurse, and an accountant/case registry assistant. But of the 14 cells that exist in the two regions, only eight have psychiatrists. The programme is largely dependent on ASHA workers, who have been trained to visit houses with a Patient Health Questionnaire 12 Somatic Symptom scale (a screening and diagnostic tool for mental health disorders) to assess the family members. But it only covers adults.

The number of positive replies to the 12 questions classifies the person as normal, mildly depressed, moderately depressed, or severely depressed. For the later three, the ASHA worker urges the family members to have a chat with a counsellor on the State’s toll-free mental health helpline, 104. The counsellor then gauges whether the person needs to be directed to the primary health centre or a rural or sub-district hospital. Since 2015, more than 30 lakh households have been surveyed, and 15,528 people were found to be suffering from various levels of depression — 12,850 mild, 2,089 moderate, and 567 severe. “Prerna Prakalp is not age-specific. But when we mean farmers, we mean adults. We try to reach out to children through our District Mental Health Programme (DMHP),” says Sadhana Tayade, joint director of Directorate of Health Services, who is in charge of mental health.

The man of the house
The DMHP was started in the 1990s under the National Mental Health Programme with the aim of upgrading State mental health facilities and reaching out to as many people in need as possible. Its outreach component involves targeted interventions, life skills education, counselling in schools and colleges, and workplace stress management. In Maharahstra, however, the DMHP’s school intervention programme was rolled out only in November 2016. The State authorities are yet to collate data on the number of children they have reached through the programme but the rough estimate is 12,000. So there’s still a long way to go for a targeted intervention to help children affected by farmer suicide.

For many children, the experience of Pawan Parve from Aurangabad’s Bodhwal village may be typical of the aftermath of a farmer’s suicide. After his father drank pesticide and died in 2011, Parve, who was only 14, suddenly realised that he had become the man of the house. Instead of receiving help through counselling, he found himself responsible for an unmarried sister and two younger brothers. “No one cared for me. I became just another farmer who had to pay off the debt,” says Pawan.

Somehow, he managed to repay his father’s ₹1 lakh debt by putting all his efforts into cotton and maize farming. Pawan is now in the second year of junior college, but he only appears for exams. He spends the day working on the three-acre farm or selling the yield, and studies for an hour or two at night. “From the day my father left us, I have never felt like a young boy. Everyone treats me like a grown-up,” he says. He has managed to save up ₹40,000 for his 18-year-old sister’s marriage as well. “My relatives have already started inquiring about her,” says the youngster, who once aspired to join the police force. But now he views the future with little hope. “Nothing has changed,” he says. “Just that I have replaced my father.

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-silent-sufferers-on-farmer-suicides-in-maharashtra/article22777408.ece

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India – ‘We Don’t Just Have An Environmental Crisis, But A Govt In Denial As Well’

Prerna Singh Bindra,

minihydel_620

A mini hydel plant in the Western ghats, a biodiversity hotspot. Between 2014-17, 36,500 hectares of forest land–the equivalent of 63 football fields every single day–were diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining, highways and industry.

 

India ranked among the bottom five nations in the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) list released in January 2018, slipping 36 places in two years. Multiple studies conducted recently have shown that India is dealing with an environmental crisis.

 

Consider the following findings:

 

The government does not appear to be worried about India’s poor showing in environment protection. The minister for environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) Harsh Vardhan has dismissed them as “just rankings”.

 

Citizens seeking redressal of environmental grievances have therefore turned to the judiciary, notably the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which was established as an act in Parliament on October 18, 2010.

 

“The green tribunal is now the epicentre of the environmental movement in India,” environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta told IndiaSpend. “It has become the first and the last recourse for people because their local governments are not doing the job of protecting the environment. But political apathy, indeed deliberate action, are rendering the NGT ineffective.”

 

A law graduate from Delhi University, Dutta, 43, started pursuing environment law in 2001. His first case was against Vedanta, the mining company, where he represented the Dongria Kondh tribals seeking a ban on bauxite mining in the Niyamagiri hills in south-west Odisha, considered sacred by local communities.

 

dutta_400

“The NGT Act requires the tribunal to have 40 expert members,” environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta told us. “It had about 20 members when it started in 2011 in its one Delhi bench. Now, it has only five members.”

 

Dutta has, since, taken on cases against other mega mining projects too–the Rs 9,000-crore Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh and the Lafarge lime mining project in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. Dutta also fought for the Ratnagiri farmers whose mango orchards would have been affected by JSW’s thermal power plants.

 

In 2005, Dutta co-founded the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) with another environment lawyer Rahul Choudhary. Two years later, they set up the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Resources and Response Centre, which provides an accessible database on EIA reports–known for being subjective and fraudulent–along with a critical analysis.

 

In an interview with IndiaSpend, Ritwick explained the collapse of green governance in India, how the current government is diluting environmental safeguards and how the NGT is being weakened.

 

Recent studies have shown that India ranks among the bottom nations in environment performance while it tops the world in environment conflict. What explains this crisis?

 

One way of looking at this is that the level of reporting of conflicts is high–unlike say in China–and also because the system allows you to raise your voice.

 

Having said that, India is witnessing a high level of environment conflict across the landscape. One reason is that, in absolute numbers, more people–250 to 300 million–in India are dependent on natural resources than any other country in the world. Our people depend on forests, wetlands, seas, rivers, grasslands, mountains for their livelihood and sustenance. And all these ecosystems are under severe pressure.

 

The Himalayas are set to have the highest concentrations of dams in the world, so states like Himachal, Arunachal and Sikkim are fraught with conflict over water, and dams (with consequent displacement and loss of forests). In central India–Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand–the takeover of land for mining has communities up in arms; Goa is taking to the streets against the plans to transform it into a coal corridor. Tamil Nadu–and indeed across the country–there is a war over sand–with officials, reporters, environmentalists being killed and harassed for taking up the (issues of) sand mafia/illegal mining.

 

Add to this the fact that India’s forests are under very severe pressure. Between 2014 to 2017, 36,500 hectares of forest land were diverted for non-forest purposes like mining, highways, industry, and so on. This works out to an annual average of 12,166 hectares, or the equivalent of 63 football fields every single day. This does not include the encroachments.

 

Thirteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. The Yamuna–flowing through India’s capital–has 16 million faecal coliform parts per million (PPM); the standard is 500 PPM for potable water. Even the flush in your toilet might have cleaner water.

 

The Lancet report which said that 2.5 million people are dying prematurely due to diseases linked to pollution was dismissed as a western conspiracy. Environment minister Harsh Vardhan, also a doctor, has denied reports that suggest air pollution leads to millions of death every year saying that: “To attribute any death to a cause like pollution may be too much.”

 

So we don’t just have an environmental crisis, but the government is in denial as well.

 

Isn’t the government exaggerating the crisis by diluting regulations that safeguard the environment and according clearances in forests? How does the current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime compared to the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government?

 

As far as the number of environment clearances accorded (is concerned), the rate has been consistently high, over 90%, pre- or post-2014, UPA–II or NDA-II. But in the UPA era, the MoEFCC at least took some proactive measures for conservation. For example, there was a moratorium on industries in critically polluted clusters, and an initiative to identify and protect some eco-sensitive areas of the Western Ghats. It did not reach its logical conclusion, but at least there was an effort. A few detrimental projects like the Neutrino Observatory on the buffer of Mudumalai Tiger reserve were halted. And, of course, the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, was passed in the Parliament.

 

From 2014 onward, you won’t find any activity or project stopped on environmental grounds, or even one initiative taken for environment protection. There isn’t even a dedicated minister–Prakash Javadekar, who held the portfolio earlier, and current incumbent Harsh Vardhan, are part-time ministers.

 

Governments say that they balance “environment and development”. Where is the balance? Balance is when both sides are equal, not when there is almost 100% approval.

 

Instead, you have a ministry which considers clearing damaging projects in national parks and sanctuaries as its achievements–a document uploaded on the MoEFCC’s website lists as its initiatives and achievements that the NBWL approved 400+ projects between 2014-2017.

 

Can you elaborate on specific moves by the current regime that dilute environmental regulations?

 

The National Waterways Act, 2016, intended to convert rivers into highways–with heavy traffic of cargo ships of coal, oil, chemicals–was passed by the Parliament, overruling other statutory processes. The government is not seeking environment approvals for bulk of the waterways.

 

The Wetlands (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2017, are more of a framework to legalise wetland destruction. It fails to cover 65% of the total area identified as wetlands, disbands the National Wetland Regulatory Authority, waters down the definition of a wetland, and has done away with the requirement of an environment impact assessment.

 

The task of granting mining approvals has also been relegated to the district level, to a committee which will have the district chief engineer of the irrigation department as the chairperson and the mining officer as a member. The District Environment Regulation Authority is to be headed by the district magistrate whose job is to increase revenues. It’s like asking the fox to guard the chicken. It has granted general approval–which means each project won’t be assessed individually–under the Forest (Conservation) Act for clearances in forest areas that are within 100 km of the Line of Actual Control.

 

Isn’t the Waterways Act, and the big dams, a contradiction of one of the government’s flagship priority schemes–Namami Gange?

 

Yes, it is a serious contradiction. But before we get into that, I would like to bring up another point. When the new government came to power, one of the first things it did was to give the water resources ministry a new nomenclature–ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation. The message here is that Ganga is to be rejuvenated, but other rivers may be tapped, dammed, developed. That they will be viewed only as resources, not rivers. What it is essentially doing is making a class and caste discrimination between rivers, where Ganga is an upper-caste river in comparison to others which are lower-caste rivers. Brahmaputra, Teesta, Narmada, Cauvery–all suffering from pollution, reduced flows etc–other rivers don’t figure in its rejuvenation projects.

 

So we have a Ganga-obsessed ministry; yet, there is no concrete action to protect the Ganga. The main emphasis within this programme is on effluent treatment plants, likely as they are easy to set up. There is little talk of ensuring the flow of the river, which is essential for the flushing action to clean the water, and maintain the ecosystem of the river, support fish and other aquatic life like dolphins, gharials etc.

 

But for a river to have a flow, you need to rationalise and stop dams, and no one wants to do that.

 

But don’t we need dams for power? About 300 million Indians don’t have access to electricity.

 

It’s not about power. There is a nexus around the construction of dams–the contractor, construction, procurement of steel, cement etc–and that is the driver.

 

According to the NITI Aayog report, we have already reached surplus as far as power is concerned. Every single day, India has 3,000-4,000 MW with no takers. The Central Electricity Authority has itself said that there is no need for a power plant in the next 10 years, till 2017.

 

Yet, we continue to commission power plants. In September 2017, a 1,600 MW power plant–incidentally Adani’s–was approved in Jharkhand’s Godda district. It will destroy forests and multi-crop fertile land, only to sell its entire electricity produce to Bangladesh. There is immense unrest among the local farmers who do not want to give up their land, and because of the resultant pollution and falling water tables.

 

Yes, about 300 million people in India don’t have access to power, but it’s because there is no last-mile connectivity. We are in a situation where we may have 1,000 MW surplus power but no distribution for that last village which has 30 people.

 

What you need here is a wind or solar that will take six months to set up, rather than a hydro- or thermal power plant which will be established only in eight to 10 years. But we will still invest in that mega power project with the long gestation period at the cost of one whole generation going without electricity.

 

Who are these power plants serving? Not the people who are still deprived of electricity. When we talk of protecting an elephant corridor which is being blocked due to, say, a power transmission line or a power plant, people say ‘but India needs power’. But we don’t, we have excess of it, but don’t have access to it. The real issues are bad management, distribution failure, transmission losses, inefficient plants–but (we) are not addressing these, or investing here.

 

There is also an effort to undercut the NGT?

 

The NGT is being hollowed out. The NGT Act requires the tribunal to have 40 expert members. It had about 20 members when it started in 2011 in its one Delhi bench. Now, it has only five members.

 

The NGT benches at Bhopal, Chennai, Pune and Kolkata are non-functional because of lack of quorum. The Chennai bench has closed down because it doesn’t have even one member, while Kolkata and Pune have only one judicial member. No judgement has been passed in Kolkata since December 2017.

 

It is not just about numbers. The tribunal hears matters on a range of subjects–pollution, toxic waste, pesticides, forest destruction etc, and to function effectively, it needs members with specialised expertise. For instance, one major issue the Delhi bench is hearing currently is to do with PM 2.5/PM 10, where forest officers–the only expert members it has–are out of their depth.

 

The result is that cases are being delayed, from hearing 80-90 cases a day, it can now hear only about 10. This defeats the very purpose of the NGT which was to provide expeditious and speedy justice. The law requires that every matter should be decided within six months.

 

Not filling the vacancies is a very deliberate action on the part of the government to ensure that this institute is made non-functional and dysfunctional. In its response to a petition, the Delhi High Court in August 2017 asked the government whether it wanted to wind up the NGT.

 

Another very damaging move was The Finance Act, 2017. It changed the process of appointment of its members by an independent committee to one that is decided by the secretary, MoEFCC. It also provided the MoEFCC power of dismissal and other service conditions, thus making NGT subservient to it. Remember, the NGT questions decisions given by the environment ministry and holds them to task for non-compliance of laws.

 

Fortunately, it has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

 

Another concern is the systematic process to dilute and dismantle the environmental law structure, which was first attempted by the high-level TSR Subramanian committee in July 2014. The report was stuck down by a parliamentary committee, but the process to weaken and subvert the law is ongoing.

 

Can you give an example to illustrate this?

 

A December 2016 MoEFCC notification called for integrating environmental concerns in building bye-laws, as the building and construction sector is a major pollutant and contributor to greenhouse gases.

 

Yet, the same notification removed all environment laws–the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, Environment (Protection) Act–and also dismissed the need for an environment impact assessment for the construction industry. So, no project can then be challenged on environmental grounds before the NGT.

 

The government explained that the new amendments were in order to improve the environment and to ensure ease of doing business. Another purported objective was to provide for affordable housing, and help the poor. But the notification applied to multiplexes, commercial complex and hotels. This amendment is absurd since it comes at a time when urban infrastructure is set to increase more in next 10 years than it did in the last 50 years.

 

The notification was challenged in the NGT. In its judgment, which quashed the notification, the NGT said that this is actually a ploy to help real estate sector under the guise of providing affordable housing to the poor. It also pointed out that the ease of doing business cannot come at the right of life and right to environment.

 

So do you believe the NGT is being obstructionist, stopping big projects and development?

 

Not true. Contrary to the myth that the NGT strangulates growth, there are very few instances where the NGT has quashed a decision taken by the MoEFCC. In NGT’s entire history, the total number of projects it has stopped do not exceed 10, six of which have managed to get relief from the Supreme Court. In the same period, the government would have approved some 100,000 projects. As per our analysis, in 2017, the government gave about 10,000 forest approvals, and stopped only three, of which two have a forest area of less than three hectares.

 

The reason the government is intent on expunging the NGT is not because it is obstructionist, but because it enables the public to question the inaction of the government, and holds it accountable.

 

(Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife and the author of The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis.)

http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/we-dont-just-have-an-environmental-crisis-but-a-govt-in-denial-as-well-61292

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India -90-day limit no basis to deny insurance claim #mustshare

Dipak K Dash| TNN | 

NEW DELHI: An insurance company can’t deny paying the assured amount even if the policy holder dies within 90 days from taking a policy. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has ordered an insurance company to pay Rs 2.5 lakh with 9% interest to the kin of a deceased who had died on the 90th day of the purchase of a policy.
The case refers to one Kulwinder Singh of Fazilka in Punjab, who had paid Rs 45,999 to HDFC Standard Life Insurance on May 26, 2010. He passed away due to a heart attack on August 25 in that year. When the family sought the full assured amount, the insurance firm paid them only the premium that Singh had paid.

While directing the insurance firm to pay the full assured amount, the single-member bench of M Shreesha also referred to an order from the insurance regulator IRDAon June 27, 2012 involving the same insurance company. Based on the order, NCDRC upheld that the insurance companies cannot apply the 90-day waiting period and reject claims. The IRDA had ordered Rs 1 crore penalty on the same insurance company for rejecting 21 claims citing the same 90 days waiting period.

The NCDRC also observed, “Even in the instant case, the deferred period was 90 days and it’s not as if the time of death was planned only to take advantage under the policy expecting that the insured may not live beyond the period of 90 days.”

Singh’s family submitted how the deceased had made the premium payment in cash on May 26, 2010 but the policy became effective from May 29. Singh’s family had pleaded that since the premium was paid in cash, so the risk cover began from that date.

The NCDRC also took into consideration of other policies held by the deceased from other companies. In those cases, the risk of coverage invariably begins from the date of proposal.

Singh’s family had moved the NCDRC in 2014 after the state consumer commission had turned down the order of district forum to pay Rs 2.5 lakh to Singh’s kin.https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/90-day-limit-no-basis-to-deny-insurance-claim/articleshow/62857602.cms

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Tamil Nadu – Thoothukudi residents resist Sterlite expansion

Thoothukudi Sterlite protest

Children’s placards read: ‘Sterlite: mercy killers’

15th February.  On Monday up to 500 people declared a hunger strike and indefinite protest against the planned expansion of Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. Two days into the protest police rounded up and arrested 270 people including many women and children, eventually releasing all except eight so-called ringleaders including social worker and Anti Sterlite Struggle Federation Coordinator Professor Fatima Babu, who are still being held by police. Large groups of school children and their mothers made up the majority of the protest. Their placards and statements to the media demand an end to years of toxic pollution from the plant, which is causing respiratory diseases and fainting, especially affecting the children, with long term consequences to their health. Water is also being polluted, and huge amounts used by the plant, in an already water-stressed area.

Pollution from Sterlite plant pictured this week

Pollution from Sterlite plant pictured this week raining down on communities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sterlite, which was the first company set up by Anil Agarwal, before he launched Vedanta Resources in London, has already started construction of a new 4 million tonne/year smelter in the town, nearly doubling its existing capacity. Following its usual pattern and demonstrating its sense of legal impunity, the company does not yet have full Environmental Clearance for the new construction. Sterlite’s existing smelter is a second hand plant from Chile, built in the SIPCOT industrial park, just outside of Thoothukudi town in 1996, after being turned down by Ratnagiri in Maharastra due to pollution fears. In 2013 a major leak of sulphur gas from the plant affected thousands in the town, leading to mass protests by local taxi and fishermens trade unions among others, and the temporary closure of the plant. Journalists and local people have reported on illegal waste dumps around the town, and in the sea, and investigations of port data revealed that Vedanta were using highly contaminated imported copper concentrates, producing 2.2 tonnes of uranium and 441 tonnes of arsenic between 2009 and 2010 alone. The plant emits sulphur dioxide, arsenic and heavy metals into the surrounding area.

Thoothukudi Sterlite protestOn 15th Feb Tuticorin social activists handed over a petition to the District Collector, Venkadesh, demanding the release of the imprisoned protesters. The letter stated:

‘In Tuticorin District water, land and air and everything is being polluted by the Sterlite establishment. The people protesting peacefully against the expansion of the plant were charged and imprisoned by the police. Take action to release them immediately and withdraw the charges. Action must be taken to stop the police pressure and atrocities unleashed on innocent people fighting for their rights.’

In September 2017 the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued a judgment, following the show cause notice they had issued to Sterlite in March 2017 for several instances of toxic waste dumping and pollution as well as operating the smelter above its consented capacity. Many tonnes of copper slag were found dumped in the Upper Odai river, which Sterlite claimed they had sold to a developer for levelling of a construction site. The Upper stream was also blocked with toxic copper slag causing a ‘manmade disaster’.

Thoothukudi Sterlite protestThe judgment reveals that Sterlite had expanded the smelting capacity of the plant without permission, and had operated without authorisation under the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 between 9.7.2013 and 24.8.2017. SO2 pollution was being experienced by local residents, who were experiencing stinging in the nose and difficulty breathing as a result. Despite these issues the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) had renewed Sterlite’s consent to operate under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, on 7.9.2017, leading the local residents, represented by advocate V. Ramasubbu to complain to the NGT, asking for compensation for pollution and environmental damage.

The applicants in the case also claimed that the TNPCB and Central Pollution Control Board (CPBC) had conspired to seal the Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Station (CAAQMS), which is supposed to monitor the Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and other noxious gases emitted from the smelter, rendering its data useless. Though this was denied by the CPCB the NGT reserved judgment on the issue, noting that ‘it is as if the grievances of the applicant has no redressal and he is left in lurch’, and suggested the NGT or TNPCB could investigate the claims.       Download the full judgment here.

The judgment again highlights the ongoing sense of impunity held by Sterlite, which has continuously operated without various consents, and flagrantly violated environmental laws over the years, with the clear collusion of the TNPCB. In April 2013, following closure of the plant after the town-wide pollution incident which led to mass protests, the Supreme Court of India had imposed a Rs. 100 Crore fine on Sterlite for operating the plant without environmental consent between 1997 – 2012.

Freddy Muntete East 1st StreetMeanwhile in Chingola, Zambia, Vedanta’s sister copper smelter was set up only 50m from a residential street. Residents of East 1st Street and the surrounding area have repeatedly had their homes filled with toxic fumes, and their walls cracking from explosions inside the smelter. Foil Vedanta activists found their eyes stinging and itching, and developed headaches and nosebleeds when visiting both Tuticorin and the East 1st Street area of Chingola. The long term impacts are unimaginable.

The article from The News Minute, and videos from Tamil Nadu news below detail the protest.

Sterlite protest TuticorinWomen’s statement from protest against Sterlite

 

 

Sterlite protest TuticorinMass arrests at Tuticorin

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Rape As Genocide: ‘Born Together’ On Children Born of Rape in 1971 War

“Who am I? I do not exist because I was never born.”


 During the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and supporting Islamist militias from Jamaat e Islami raped between two and four hundred thousand Bangladeshi women in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape. Children were born of these deliberate rapes used as part of the war strategy.

What happened to these children? Were they killed soon after they were born? Were they given up to orphanages or did they lead the lives of social outcasts as their birth was never legitimised and never would? Since the Pakistani military force were all Muslim and the raped young women came from both Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, what religion could they be said to belong to? What nationality?

All these questions are raised very pertinently in a film called Born Together which was screened in the International Competition section of the Mumbai International Film Festival of Documentary, Short and Animation Films and has been produced by Ekattor Media Ltd and Liberation War Museum.

Much-awarded Bangladeshi filmmaker Shabnam Ferdousi has made a very unique documentary on three children born in the same nursing home where she was, on January 14, 1972. She walked on different paths of life before settling down in audio-visual media.

The question that constantly worried her was that around a dozen or so kids born of rape on the same day in the same nursing home. “I was born at Holy Family Hospital, and 12 more babies were born in that hospital on that very day. Later, I came to know five of them were war babies. Then an idea stuck me that I could have been one of the war babies. I got obsessed with the idea and began a new journey … a journey in search of my birth-mates.” The journey was far from simple and straightforward. It was riddled with blocks along the way as more than four decades had passed and records, specially of illegitimate births of babies born of rape were hardly taken care of.

She visited some offices and people who were involved in recording the data of births during that time and even visited the nursing home she was born in. She got to know that among the 13 babies delivered that day, around five werechildren of war.

The film maps her journey and her discovery of three of them scattered across different parts of the world, now grown up and bitter. If the present of Shabnam throughout the film seem narcissistic, you begin to understand why she made her presence so strongly felt. Juxtaposed against the three young men and women she encounters along the journey and interacts with on an intimate level, her very sophisticated, elite and modern presence offers a tragic and dramatic contrast to those three which make the film more telling than it would have been if she would have remained away from the screen.

“In my journey, I found two, a man and a woman within Bangladesh. One is Monwara Clarke, reared in the furthest corner of the globe by Canadian parents. She came to Dhaka looking for a birth certificate. The other is Shudhir, ashamed of being a “bastard” child in the community, grew up in a remote corner in the country avoiding public eyes. His mother is a “Birangana”, a woman who was raped by men of the Pakistani army in 1971.” The word “Birangana” translates into “brave female soldier” in English.

Why call a forced victim of rape a ‘soldier” at all”? Did she choose to become one or want to become one? She was forced into this life of ignominy and ostraciszation which also affected her child born of the rape? What is the use of a title that does not take care of the social and financial problems the woman has to face all her life? The title does not mean anything except a living irony of the tragic life she is forced to lead.

Shabnam also managed to trace another “Birangana” mother and her daughter. This brave daughter gave testimony in the War Crimes Tribunal. All three children have born the brunt of the Bangladesh Liberation War though they were not even born then. Shudhir could never go to school because of the family lived as social outcasts in a remote area. He is married and lives with his mother and wife. He manages to eke out a bare existence by driving a van rickshaw while his wife manages the home. “I consider myself a Hindu because my mother is Hindu and I have no clue who my father is or was.” He had a love marriage and that is why he has a family life. His mother, the so-called “Birangana” looks expressionlessly at the world outside not exactly what she is looking out or looking for.

She tells Shabnam, “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times. So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist. Now, all that seems to have happened in the distant past. The so-called ‘compensation’ is something I am not aware of and life goes on….” Son Sudhir is a handsome young man, in both body and looks. But he is very shy and an introvert who refused to open up easily. When probed a bit, he admits that his life has been a cursed one. He had to leave school for two reasons, his mother could not afford the fees and the children in school ragged him with his illegitimate status.

The other young woman she met could meet her only in the farms and fields because she had no permanent shelter to live in. She was married once but her husband left her when he came to know the truth of her birth. Her other legally produced brothers do not wish to have anything to do with her and her mother is in no position to offer her even hope. But she is used to this wandering existence, the poverty, the social ignominy and the anonymity of her life. She smiles shyly and confesses that all this humiliation does not shake her anymore because she is quite used to it. “I used to feel very pained in the beginning but then, I knew this was a part of my life,” she says. Shabnam offers to take her into her family but she refuses, knowing that it might at best, be only a temporary solution because the baggage of illegitimacy added to lack of a proper family will travel with her wherever she goes.

Monwara Clarke offers another tragic story. She is a child born of rape who fell within the then-Independent Bangladesh’s programme of giving some hundreds of children up for adoption to other countries and she happens to one among them taken in for adoption by a Canadian couple. She does not know a word of Bengali and converses only in English. Shabnam happened to meet her in Dhaka when she had come down to get her birth certificate.

“Who am I? I do not exist because I was never born,” she says her anger so palpable that you can almost reach out and touch it. She laments that her own country denied her not only legitimacy but also her birth, her nationhood and her language and culture. “My husband left me when he knew who I really was. Am I responsible for being born? Is my country not liable to look after me when everything happened there? I do not even have a birth certificate and have to come down here to fetch it,” she says.

It is a touching film and you get so sucked into the narrative and these tragic stories that you hardly notice the aesthetics of the film. The cinematographic space moves along with the director from one place to another, from Shudhir’s ramshackle hut to the fields to meet the other woman again and again and again and then dash into Monwara when she comes to Dhaka. The film did not win any prize but the film will surely win the hearts of those who watched it from beginning to end.

It would be in the fitness of things to sum up with what Lisa Sharlach writes about rape in “Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda”. New Political Science. 1 (22): 89. “It is also rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape to kill and to make the victims wish they were dead. It is rape as an instrument of forced exile, rape to make you leave your home and never want to go back. It is rape to be seen and heard and watched and told to others: rape as spectacle. It is rape to drive a wedge through a community, to shatter a society, to destroy a people. It is rape as genocide

http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/9/13054/Rape-As-Genocide-Born-Together-On-Children-Born-of-Rape-in–1971-War

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Bhopal Gas Tragedy Survivors To Campaign Against BJP In Madhya Pradesh Bypolls

They alleged that the ruling party has failed to resolve the issue of compensation to those who suffered in the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy Survivors To Campaign Against BJP In Madhya Pradesh Bypolls

Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a public meeting in support of BJP candidates for Kolaras by-election. (PTI)

BHOPAL:  The organisations working for the cause of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims today said they will campaign against the BJP in the upcoming bypolls to two Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh.

They alleged that the ruling party has failed to resolve the issue of compensation to those who suffered in the world’s worst industrial disaster.

The five organisations fighting for the rights of the gas victims told reporters that they will raise their issues during the campaign for the Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly seats bypolls slated this month, and also during the state elections due later this year.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh president Rashida Bee said they would highlight the alleged false promises made by BJP leaders regarding compensation to the industrial disaster victims in their voter education programme ahead of the bypolls.

“We plan to share copies of official documents with the electorate in the two areas to substantiate our allegations of betrayal by the BJP leaders,” she said.

“The by-elections will be our first step in making the long pending issues of the gas disaster a part of the state polls later this year and the general elections next year,” she further said.

“We hope to provide a critical edge to ensure the defeat of BJP in Mungaoli and Kolaras,” Rashida Bee added.

Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogee Sangharsh Morcha’s Balkrishna Namdeo said the BJP’s campaign in the by-election mostly rests on the promises made by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

“Our strategy is to present facts on the government’s betrayal of the promises on compensation to the six lakh victims of the disaster,” he said.

Bhopal Group for Information and Action’s Satinath Sarangi said they will not align with any political party and seek public support for their campaign resources.

The bypolls in Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly seats will be held on February 24, and the counting of votes would take place on February 28.
The byelections were necessitated following the death of the sitting Congress MLAs Mahendra Singh Kalukheda (from Mungaoli) and Ram Singh Yadav (Kolaras).

Thirty-three years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, the survivors are still fighting for adequate compensation and proper medical treatment for ailments caused by the toxic leak.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bhopal-gas-tragedy-survivors-to-campaign-against-bjp-in-madhya-pradesh-bypolls-1813356

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In Kerala, Sewer Cleaning Robots To End Manual Scavenging

In Kerala, Sewer Cleaning Robots To End Manual Scavenging

The robot has four limbs and a bucket system attached to a spider web looking extension.

‘Bandicoot’, the robot developed by the startup firm Genrobotics, will be used for cleaning sewer holes.

The robot has four limbs and a bucket system attached to a spider web looking extension.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  Robots will soon replace men in cleaning up sewer holes in Kerala, ending the age-old practice of manual scavenging in the southern state.

‘Bandicoot’, the robot developed by the startup firm Genrobotics, will be used for cleaning sewer holes.

The Kerala Water Authority (KWA) and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) today signed an MoU for transfer of technology and products, including use of the robots for the purpose.

The MoU was signed between Kerala Water Innovation Zone under KWA and KSUM at the Chief Minister’s office here, a statement said here.

‘Bandicoot’ will start its work, so far mostly done manually, by cleaning sewer holes in the city during the coming famed Attukal Pongala festival in Thiruvananthapuram in March, it said.

The robot has four limbs and a bucket system attached to a spider web looking extension, which can go inside the manhole.

After shoveling the heap of garbage at the bottom of the manhole, it will be collected by using the bucket system before lifting it upward.

It also has Wi-Fi and bluetooth modules, it said.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Minister for Water Resources Mathew T Thomas, IT Secretary M Sivasankar, KSUM CEO Saji Gopinath, Additional Chief Secretary, Water Resources,Tom Jose, KWA officials and eight representatives from Genrobotics were present on the occasion.

KSUM had funded for the project by Genrobotics, which conducted a field study to find a solution for manual scavenging.

Meanwhile, KWA is also also conducting research on the issue following the Chief Minister’s instruction to find a remedy for it.

Genrobotics is planning to market the product within six months.

It has already got enquiries from states like Tamil Nadu to take it to the national-level.

Founded in 2015, GenRobotics specialises in powered exoskeletons and human controlled robotic systems.
The robot is powered by pneumatics (using gas or pressurised air) since using heavy electronic equipment inside is risky as they can react with the explosive gases present in the manhole.

The KSUM is a nodal agency of the Kerala Government for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities in the state. https://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/in-kerala-sewer-cleaning-robots-to-end-manual-scavenging-1798994

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Karnataka Govt cannot hand over tax payer’s money and public property to a private hospital that refuses to be regulated.


Dr. Sylvia Karpagam

The government of Karnataka has been flip-flopping around the issue of healthcare. The initial posturing by the health minister about bringing the private sector under strict regulatory guidelines was welcomed by citizen groups.

It also unleashed a unified, large scale protest by the private hospital doctors, led by a strident Indian Medical Association (IMA) and Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA), protesting against regulations that weren’t even there either in the original Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Act, or in the Amendments. This throwing of rationale and reasonable engagement to the wind was spearheaded by Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, an entrepreneur who had initially taken his Yeshaswini health insurance model to the policy making table and then gradually moved onto the board of the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha trust, the Karnataka Knowledge Committee to the Steering committee on health for the 12th 5 year plan.

A comparative study of health insurance schemes in Karnataka by the Institute of Socio-economic Change (ISEC) found that hospitals located at Bangalore such as Narayana Hrudayalaya & Multispecialty Hospital, BGS Global Hospital, Sagar hospital, Vydehi hospital and Bangalore Institute of Oncology have accounted for over 53 per cent of patients from Gulbarga and over 60 per cent of amount spent. Patients from Gulbarga have obtained treatment mostly from super specialty hospitals located at Bangalore. There is mounting evidence that health insurance schemes disproportionately benefit large corporates that resist any form of regulatory mechanism, on the one hand, and complete breakdown of public health systems with their larger social mandate of preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative care. Health insurance leads to fragmentation of health care and pushes more and more people towards the private sector, often centrally located. The out of pocket expenditure for screening, diagnostics, food, accommodation for attenders, travel, post-operative complications add up to huge amounts.

The NH chain also has no qualms about pulling out of projects it finds are not lucrative enough and there is no system to hold the group accountable, including show cause notices!!

The Narayana chain’s ambitious project in the Cayman Islands has also encountered serious criticism, with the Public Accounts Committee stating that ‘the facility has not only failed to attract all but a fraction of the number of patients predicted, but also competing unfairly with existing health care providers with no ‘monitoring of the extensive package that the facility has received’.  The criticism also extended to the ‘lack of any framework surrounding the governance of medical tourism, including issues such as quality control and doctors standards.’ Delroy Jeffersson, the medical director and the Health Services Authority said that without a governance structure and framework and a regulatory body to ensure adequate oversight to monitor quality, there was a situation where goalposts were being moved as things went along. Because of moving goal posts as they went along, the NH hospitals were also accused of  competing with local hospitals unfairly as they have benefits that other hospitals and healthcare providers are not getting.

It is astonishing that the Karnataka government is now considering handing over a brand new super-speciality hospital of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike on Broadway road in Shivajinagar, to Narayana health, without any process of public consultation. The investment in this public hospital, built on 20 thousand square feet, has been in the range of 40 crores of tax payer’s money for a lease period of 30 years. In addition the NH has demanded an additional 11.7 crore to cater to National Accreditation Board of Hospitals (NABH) Standards. The intent of these standards is to eliminate the ‘competition’ offered to the corporate health sector, from the government and charitable institutions. The Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS) are a more egalitarian system of ensuring accountability and quality of care within the public facilities. These are never referred to by the private sector. This move to privatise the government super-speciality hospital, initially intended to cater to the economically marginalised, is being opposed by the health department of the BBMP and citizen’s groups, but the state government feels well within its right to hand over the government structure to a private entity that has been on the forefront opposing regulations. 10% beds will be given free while the rest of the beds are available to NH to generate resources – and this after they have vociferously resisted any form of price control. How will the state government keep the NH in check if there are violations of cost, procedure and patient rights? When the state government is being dictated terms on how private hospitals should and should not be regulated, can this decision to hand over a super-speciality hospital to the very same corporate hospital be considered as another extreme form of coercion of the state government by the corporate sector?

The government does not seem to feel accountable to the people who are contributing to these public hospitals. It is clear that the state governments are being held to ransom at secret close door meetings where corporate agenda seems to be the only priority. With medical tourism, surrogacy, clinical trials, vaccines without clear testing are being pushed onto communities, the situation of health care will only become more dire. As a form of slow genocide, those who are poor will be pushed out of all social safety nets to exist only to provide informal labour from the fringes as a kind of half hungry, half healthy, half demanding population while the corporates rake in tax-payers hard earned money, in collusion with a government that couldn’t care less about the health of its citizens.

The writer is a public health doctor and researcher

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