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Archives for : Health Care

Jean Dreze-Hollowing out a promise- NREGA

NREGA is a demand-driven programme and if the demand vanishes because wages are low and uncertain, nothing will be able to save it.

Written by  | Updated: July 13, 2018 8:47:45 am

MGNREGA, MGNREGA wages, Rural employment wages, MNREGA wages, MNREGA wages hikes, MNREGA wage revision, nrega wages, farm wages, Modi govt, Indian Express

When workers lose interest, corrupt middlemen step in and take advantage of the lack of vigilance to syphon off NREGA funds by fudging the records. (Illustration: CR Sasikumar)The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is going through a deep crisis of delayed and failed wage payments. The problem is not new, but it is more serious than ever and threatens to undermine the entire programme.

The crisis has at least four manifestations: Delayed payments, rejected payments, diverted payments and locked payments. Let me try to spell them out, one by one.

Delays in wage payments have plagued NREGA ever since bank payments were introduced about 10 years ago. In recent years, there has been some improvement in what might be called first-step delays — the delays that occur before the final signature of a Fund Transfer Order (FTO). First-step delays are reasonably transparent and the system is designed to calculate the compensation due to workers (by the state government) when they occur. But the system hides the second-step delays — the delays that occur when bank transfers themselves are held up. In a recent analysis of NREGA wage payments in 10 states, Rajendran Narayanan, Sakina Dhorajiwala and Rajesh Golani found that second-step delays were as long as two months on average in 2016-17. Repeated demands for second-step delays to be disclosed and compensated for by the central government have fallen on deaf ears so far.

One reason why delays have persisted for so long is that the payment system is constantly being re-designed. First it was cash payments, then post-office payments, then bank payments, then specific banks, then various avatars of what is now called the National electronic Fund Management System (NeFMS), and now the Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS). None of these innovations, so far, has been able to ensure payment within 15 days of the work being done, as prescribed under NREGA.

Even as the delays continue, the latest payment systems are largely responsible for rejected payments, diverted payments and locked payments. Rejected payments were not unknown earlier but they have become endemic ever since the linking of NREGA wage payments with Aadhaar. Linking the bank accounts of NREGA workers with Aadhaar may seem like a trivial matter but in practice it creates endless problems, associated for instance with inconsistencies between different databases — job cards, bank accounts and Aadhaar. Today, “e-KYC” (biometric authentication of Aadhaar-linked accounts) is compulsory for NREGA workers, if not in theory then certainly in practice. That, too, is a fountain of technical glitches. A senior official at the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) recently told me that the MoRD had identified more than 200 different possible reasons for a payment to be rejected. Some of the error codes, like “inactive Aadhaar”, are beyond the comprehension of the MoRD itself and even of UIDAI — both pleaded ignorance in response to an RTI on this matter. According to the NREGA’s management and information system (MIS), nearly Rs 500 crore of wage payments were rejected in 2017-18 alone.

Diverted payments is a pathology of the Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS), the latest — but probably not the last — reconfiguration of the NREGA wage payment system. Under APBS, Aadhaar effectively becomes a financial address and wages are automatically paid into the worker’s last Aadhaar-linked account. Most workers, of course, are unaware of this rule, so they often look for their money in the wrong account. Worse, wages are sometimes paid into accounts that workers know nothing about, for example, accounts opened without consent in the initial Jan Dhan Yojana frenzy, or Airtel wallets. Even worse, wages are sometimes sent to the wrong person, because that person’s account has been linked to the concerned worker’s Aadhaar by mistake (for instance, due to data entry errors). These diverted payments are very difficult to retrieve — most NREGA workers are powerless to do anything about them.

Last but not least, many NREGA workers today are unable to withdraw their wages from their bank accounts even after their wages have been paid — this is the problem of “locked payments”. Workers are locked out of their bank account when the bank treats it as “dormant” or “frozen” because it does not meet the current norms. One of these norms is e-KYC, a major hurdle on its own for NREGA workers, but there are others. For instance, if a worker does not use his or her accounts for a specified number of months, the account is often frozen. Similarly, when Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana money is sent to a worker’s bank account (often without intimation or consent), he or she is at risk of the account being frozen because the balance exceeds the current maximum. Sometimes accounts are not just frozen but closed altogether, without even informing the concerned person.

Three further remarks are due. First, many of these pathologies are associated with brazen flouting of consent principles and norms. For instance, moving an account to the APBS system is not supposed to happen without informed consent. In practice, NREGA workers are being herded en masse into APBS without their knowledge let alone consent.

Second, the lack of grievance redressal facilities aggravates all these problems. Even as NREGA workers run from pillar to post to find out whether they have been paid, where their money is, or why their account has been frozen, there is no one around to inform or assist them. Their ordeal is a pathetic sight. What is a worker supposed to do when he or she is told, after hours of queuing in an overcrowded bank, “your account has been closed from the back-end, now move on please”?

Third, aside from causing enormous hardship to NREGA workers, delayed and failed payments are a major source of corruption. When workers lose interest, corrupt middlemen step in and take advantage of the lack of vigilance to siphon off NREGA funds by fudging the records. I am not sure about other states, but in Jharkhand at least, the crooks have found ways to game the bank payments. Linking bank accounts with Aadhaar makes little difference. In fact, to the extent that Aadhaar contributes to the payments crisis, it means more corruption not less.

Having said this, the worst part of the payments crisis is the damage it does to NREGA itself. NREGA is a demand-driven programme and if the demand vanishes because wages are low and uncertain, nothing will be able to save it. Averting this requires a reliable payment system, higher wages, compensation for delays, effective grievance redressal and — last but not least — stopping the constant redesign of payment systems. If that means staying one step behind in the financial technology race, so be it.

Indian Express

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Mumbai – Residents of Mahul rejects BMC’s Rs.29 cr package for them

Demands rehabilitation in true sense

Mumbai | 11th July: Maharashtra government assured Bombay High Court that Mahul is safe and habitable, ignoring the health issues frequently faced by people living in the region. This assurance is in fact actually fraudulent and even contradicts the government’s own previous statements and studies.

The Pollution Control Board’s report on the high level of pollution in area and the NGT’s observations are proof that the place is uninhabitable. The housing minister has stated categorically that the place is uninhabitable. Police personnel and BMC staff have refused accommodation in Mahul because of the grave health hazards. In spite of this the Maharashtra government has been relocating people from various localities to Mahul.

More than hundred people have already died in Mahul in a period of three years. Most of them became ill after being forcibly relocated here and contracted illness from the extreme pollution and became incurably sick and many eventually died. More and more are complaining that they have contracted severe illnesses after moving to Mahul due to unacceptably high levels of various pollutions.

Mahul is amongst the most industrial dense locations. 3 of the nation’s oldest and largest refineries, one of the largest fertilizer producing complex of RCF and Tata’s many thermal power turbine units are all located there. Additionally Mahul has amongst the largest storing facility for process chemicals, many of which are listed as carcinogenic. The housing complex the Gov has set up is in violation of the regulations of the MoEFguidelines and the Courts’ orders. The safe zone distance from the hazardous facility – recommended minimum is 25 kilometers away- has not been adhered to. The MMRDA housing complex is literally at the boundary of the BPCL refinery at a mere 35 meters- a far cry from the mandated distance as prescribed by even the government agencies.

Given the concentration of the facilities and the scale of operations any evacuation plan will be inadequate in case of an emergency leading to leakage of gases or fire. There is a constant threat to health and life of Mahul residents. In 2003 Mahul was identified as a toxic hotspot similar to what Bhopal was after Union Carbide/Dow disaster.

A study conducted by NEERI found that the level of VOC-Benzene was 158 ug/cum during day time and 248 ug/cum during on 05-01-2018 in Mahul against the permissible limit of 5ug/cum by NAAQS, 2009. This means that the level of Benzene is 3,160% to 5,160% higher than the permissible limit. Exposure to this level of Benzene is life threatening. The ground around the complex is seeping with VOC and this gets into the water pipelines leading to serious diseases.

The Bombay High Court’s order to make Tansa pipeline encroachment free led to those residents being evicted. The Court ordered the government to properly rehabilitate the eligible Tansa residents. However, the government, instead of rehabilitating in the true sense, dumped them in Mahul where even the basic amenities are absent. Additionally there is the extreme pollution causing hazard to life and health there too. The absence of basic amenities like schooling, hospitals, employment opportunities have further made life there in Mahul hell for the residents. The residents say that absence of amenities notwithstanding, it is the extreme health hazard that makes them want to move out of Mahul.

The government move to spend Rs.29cr on bettering the amenities there will be a complete waste as the health hazard due extreme pollution continues to plague Mahul. Pollution is the major reason for the residents wanting to vacate Mahul.

Bilal Khan     Rekha Ghadge    Anita Dhole   B.R. Ver

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India -Misreading the pharma market

The DPCO 2013 covers only 376 essential medicines in specific presentations and strengths. India’s domestic pharma market sales is about Rs 1.3 lakh crore per year. Perfect competition does not favour the patients

Misreading the pharma marketIndian pharma’s boom period, which began in the early 1970s, has seen the annual turnover of the pharma industry shoot up from Rs 300 crore to Rs 1.3 trillion — even in real rupee value terms that is progress. (Source: File Photo)The editorial ‘No easy cures’ (IE, July 2) appears to argue that the scarcity of Furoped syrup is an indicator of the failure of price regulation and, therefore, price control ought to be abandoned. Presumably, once we junk the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) 2013 and its implementing arm, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), the market will work and all will be well. This is a regrettably incorrect argument as is the editorial’s chastising of the NPPA for having a “ham-fisted approach to price regulation” in stents and knee implants.

The idea of free market and perfect competition does not work in pharmaceuticals, and in health services in general — or in favour of the patient. The “choice”, such as it is, for the poorly-informed consumer is made by the prescriber and the pharma company. The state thus needs to intervene when the market fails.

Several distortions have crept in because of the failure of pharma markets. The same medicine is sold at prices ranging from Re 1 to Rs 10 — in some cases Rs 100. Arguments about the cost of R&D to explain the high prices hold no water because at least 95 per cent of the medicines sold by Indian companies are out of patent.

The DPCO 2013 covers only 376 essential medicines in specific presentations and strengths. India’s domestic pharma market sales is about Rs 1.3 lakh crore per year. Less than 11 per cent is under price control. How can the tail wag the dog?

It is also wrong to say that the shift in a chunk of API (active pharmaceutical ingredient/bulk drug) manufacture to China occurred because of the DPCO 1995. The DPCO 1995 covered only about 74 medicines and half of which were medicines that the medical profession was not using before 1995. To address the loss of self-reliance in API manufacture, a relatively recent occurrence, policy recommendations of the government committees need to be implemented with some sense of urgency.

Indian pharma’s boom period, which began in the early 1970s, has seen the annual turnover of the pharma industry shoot up from Rs 300 crore to Rs 1.3 trillion — even in real rupee value terms that is progress. Price control should have hampered this growth to a hobble. But it has not.

In the current case, the API of frusemide (the generic name of the drug mentioned in the editorial) is being manufactured in India by at least a handful of companies and so are its tablets. The price of the API has increased recently by about Rs 500 to Rs 3,800 per kg. This does not warrant it going out of the market unless the ceiling price fixed earlier under DPCO 1995 by the NPPA was just barely viable. At the same time, the revised ceiling price fixed by the NPPA for frusemide syrup 30 ml at Rs 78 does not appear to have any relationship with the cost of inputs. It appears to be a monopoly price.

The basic problem, therefore, is that the ceiling price of price-controlled drugs is not directly related to the cost of the inputs, of which the cost of API is a big part. Currently, the ceiling price per DPCO 2013 is fixed by a rabbit that has been pulled out of nowhere — the simple average mechanism. It results in such absurdities as a ceiling price of about Rs 60 for 10 tablets of the cardiovascular atorvastatin of 10 mg, whereas its ex-factory cost price is Rs 3 per strip of 10 — a 2000 per cent margin. There is an urgent need to go back to the cost plus mechanism of the DPCO 1995 to prevent such runaway prices.

If the cost plus price control mechanism of the DPCO 1995 were in force, with real time access to API costs, the reported scarcity of frusemide syrup would not have happened. A fair price for the consumer and the manufacturer could have been ensured.

The havoc of unregulated pricing in pharmaceuticals is best exemplified by the US, which accounts for most sales of medicines in the world but with poor access to affordable medicines. In September 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals, registered in Switzerland, and with offices in New York, raised the price of Daraprim (pyrimethamine, used in malaria and other parasitic diseases) from $13.50 to $750 a tablet. There was tremendous brouhaha in the US media that went up to the US Senate. The company thereafter offered discounts to hospitals that reduced the price by half — small mercy, but the Senate of the world’s most powerful country could not do anything because price control is anathema in its worldview. Incidentally, brands of pyrimethamine 25 mg with sulphadoxine 500 mg, sell at around Rs 2 per tablet in India — at a profit.

To conclude, here is a report from CNN on the excesses of a single drug, Acthar: “Medicare spent nearly $2 billion on Acthar from 2011-2016… even though some doctors say an equally effective treatment would have cost a tiny fraction of that amount. Medicare spending on Acthar from 2013-2016 accounted for nearly $1.8 billion.”

Do we want this kind of unregulated pharma market in India? No easy cures for sure but throwing the baby of price regulation with the bathwater is no cure.

Misreading the pharma market

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SC: Why should religion bestow power to touch girl’s genitals? #EndFGM

Slams Female Circumcision, Centre Supports Ban On Mutilation

New Delhi:

With the Centre supporting a complete ban on religious practices in certain communities sanctioning female genital mutilation (FGM) or circumcision, the Supreme Court on Monday came down heavily on such customs and asked, “Why should bodily integrity of a woman be subject to a religious practice?”

Agreeing with petitioner Sunita Tiwari’s arguments through senior advocate Indira Jaising, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said, “Such a religious practice is covered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act,” which makes touching the genital of a girl less than 18 years an offence.

Appearing for Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom , lawyer Abhishek Singhvi said the religious practice of ‘khafd’ or ‘khatna’ prevalent in the community for more than a thousand years involved nipping off a minute part of the genital which was as harmless as male circumcision. This was protected by the Constitution under the fundamental right to religion and religious practices, he said. Singhvi ploughed a lone furrow as attorney general K K Venugopal said male circumcision had certain health benefits, including reduction of infection from HIV.

However, the AG said female genital mutilation must be banned as it had serious consequences for women. “It is a crime in the US, the UK, Australia, France and 27 African countries,” he said. Jaising said a girl child who went genital mutilation suffered from a trauma which lingered into adulthood. Singhvi said the issue, like triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy, should be referred to a five-judge constitution bench to determine the constitutional validity of the religious practice, which was an intrinsic part of Islam.

Venugopal differed and said, “Unlike male circumcision, female genital mutilation leads to serious vaginal and uterine complications. Moreover, the fundamental right to religion and religious practice is always subject to public health and morality.”

The bench asked, “Why should anyone have the power based on religious practices to touch the genital of a girl?” As the bench was insistent on carrying on with arguments, Singhvi cited his preoccupation and sought adjournment. The bench posted the case for detailed hearing on July 16.

On April 20, the Centre had told the SC that female genital mutilation, prevalent among Dawoodi Bohra community in India, was already an offence under the Indian Penal Code and Pocso Act.

In response to Tiwari’s PIL last year, the SC had issued notices to four central ministries and the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi.

The petitioner had said the practice of ‘khatna’ amounted to “serious violation of the rights of children as even minors have a right of security of person, right to privacy, bodily integrity and the freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”.

Tiwari had said that though Dawoodi Bohras were among the most educated sections of society in India, yet “it is the only Muslim community in India to practice FGM or khatna. The practice has nothing to do with religion and is more of a cultural practice”.

Tiwari had said the UN Convention on Rights of Child categorised four types of female genital mutilation, though the Bohras generally practised Type-I FGM, which involved snipping the tip of the clitoral hood or clitoris.

“A UN resolution passed in December 2012 denouncing FGM and calling for its ban has been signed by 194 nations worldwide. But there is no law in India yet against FGM, hence the clergy in India is unabashedly promoting FGM,” the PIL said. India is a signatory to the UNGA resolution.

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Uttarakhand – Scam of Rs. 2.32 Crore in Sterilization in Garhwal District

Sterilization scam in Garhwa district highlights pathetic condition of family planning services. For providing sterilization services, health department has signed MoU with 11 private hospitals
CMHO came to know about the scam after going through the files of 2016-17 and 2017-18.
All payments were made for sterilization without entering the details of the beneficiaries. He found 1200 sterilization in a day and doubted on it.
He issued show cause notice to DPM as he is accountable for this issue and cancelled MoU with Private hospitals in the district.

महिला बंध्याकरण और पुरुष नसबंदी में जिले में Rs.2.32 करोड़ का घोटाला

महिला बंध्याकरण और पुरुष नसबंदी में जिले में Rs.2.32 करोड़ का घोटाला

सीएस ने किया खुलासा | डीपीएम आशुतोष मिश्रा के वेतन निकासी पर रोक, मांगा गया स्पष्टीकरण, 11 निजी चिकित्सालयों का एमओयू रद्द

सियाराम | गढ़वा

गढ़वा जिले में दो करोड़ 32 लाख का एनआरएचएम के तहत घोटाला किए जाने का मामला प्रकाश में आया है। इसके बाद सभी संबंधित चिकित्सालयों के भुगतान रोक पर रोक लगा दी गई है। घोटाला प्रकाश में आने के बाद वर्तमान मुख्य चिकित्सा पदाधिकारी ने जिले के 11 निजी चिकित्सालयों से अपना अनुबंध(एमओयू) रद्द कर दिया है। 

मामले की गंभीरता को देखते हुए मुख्य चिकित्सा पदाधिकारी डॉ कन्हैया प्रसाद ने डीपीएम आशुतोष मिश्रा के वेतन निकासी पर रोक लगाते हुए उनसे स्पष्टीकरण मांगा है। मामला के प्रकाश में आने के बाद डीपीएम आशुतोष मिश्रा अचानक छुट्टी पर चले गए हैं। इस संबंध में बताया गया कि एनआरएचएम के तहत जिले के विभिन्न चिकित्सालयों द्वारा बंध्याकरण ऑपरेशन के भुगतान की फाइल मुख्य चिकित्सा पदाधिकारी के पास भेजी गई थी। यह फाइल 2016-17 व 2017-18 की है। जो फाइल मुख्य चिकित्सा पदाधिकार के पास भेजी गई थी, वह भी अपूर्ण थी। उसमें लाभुक का किसी भी तरह कोई विवरण नहीं दिया गया था। इस फाइल पर सीएस को शक तो उस समय हुआ।


जब इसी वर्ष मई माह में विभिन्न निजी चिकित्सालयों में व्यापक पैमाने पर एक दिन में बंध्याकरण ऑपरेशन दिखाया गया। जबकि जिन चिकित्सकों का बंध्याकरण ऑपरेशन के लिए जिक्र किया गया था। उन सभी के द्वारा एक दिन में एक साथ इतनी संख्या में बंध्याकरण ऑपरेशन किया जाना संभव ही नहीं था। शक होने पर सीएस ने इस फाइल को पूर्ण कर प्रस्तुत करने की बात कहते हुए लौटा दिया। इसमें एक-दो ऐसे निजी चिकित्सालय हैं, जिनका इस योजना के तहत बंध्याकरण का दो वर्ष का 85 लाख रुपए तक बकाया है।

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Monsanto’s Loss of Patent Over Bt Cotton is a Victory for Farmers and Indian Seed Companies

Varnika Chawla

The Delhi High Court in its decision on 11 April 2018 ruled that Monsanto, the American seed giant building its monopoly on agriculture across the world, cannot assert patent rights over Bt cotton in India. The case presents an interesting and complex situation, and a dilemma between utilitarianism and capitalism.

Bt cotton is a genetically modified plant cotton variety which expresses pest resistant traits—the plant containing Bt trait produces an enzyme which is resistant to attacks from the pink bollworm.

The controversy began in 2008 when Monsanto was granted Indian patent number 214436 titled “Method for Transforming Plants to Express Bacillus Thuringiensis Delta-Endotoxins.” Multiple objections had been raised by the Indian Patent Office from the date of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application submitted by Monsanto in 2001.

Various Indian seed companies, including Nuziveedu, entered into sub-license agreements with Monsanto in 2015, wherein they were granted the right to produce seeds using “Monsanto technology” for a commercial purpose. Monsanto terminated these agreements within a year in light of issues regarding value of trait fee to be paid. Subsequently, it filed a suit for infringement against Nuziveedu and other Indian seed companies claiming unauthorised use of its technology in the production of Bt cotton seeds by the Indian companies. Nuziveedu filed a counter claim for revocation of Monsanto’s patent, contending that the patent was against section 3(j) of the Indian Patents Act, which provides that “plants and animals in whole or any part thereof other than microorganisms but including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals” are excluded subject matter and cannot be patented.

The Judgement

A division bench of the Delhi High Court dismissed Monsanto’s suit to the extent that it sought enforcement of the subject patent. It held that “Monsanto’s patent falls within the exclusion spelt out by section 3(j) of the Patents Act; the subject patent and the claims covered by it are consequently held to be unpatentable. Nuziveedu’s counter claim is, therefore, entitled to succeed and is consequently allowed.” The court further held that Monsanto can apply for registration under the Plant Varieties Act and claim a benefit-share under the same.

The court relied extensively on European jurisprudence to hold that the exclusion of transgenic plants and seeds propagated after hybridisation from patentability under section 3(j) is in line with India’s obligations under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and congruent to article 53(b) of the European Patents Convention, which provides for exceptions to patentability. It drew the conclusion that transgenic plants which express Bt trait produced as a result of hybridisation (which is an “essentially biological process”), are excluded from patentability by virtue of section 3(j). Consequently, Monsanto cannot assert patent rights over the gene that has thus been integrated into the generations of transgenic plants through such essentially biological processes.

This decision has been a welcome relief for farmers and Indian seed companies. Firstly, Monsanto can no longer assert monopoly rights over seeds and claim high trait value on the same. Secondly, as farmers will no longer have to pay increased costs as demanded by Monsanto, they can reduce their debt which is a major socioeconomic concern, especially with increased farmer suicides in India’s agrarian society. Lastly, the high court ruling, by directing Monsanto to register under the Plant Varieties Act, also ensures that protection guaranteed to farmers and researchers under the act is maintained. This signals the adoption of a socialist approach of ensuring the greatest good of the greatest numbers, given that over 50% of India’s economy is still agrarian in nature (Madhusudan 2015).

Impact on Indebtedness and Farmer Suicides

Monsanto’s patent over Bt cotton had led to high pricing of the genetically modified (GM) crop, which consequently resulted in an increased burden on farmers. Further, one of the promises of GM technology (as being promoted by the government) was that the technology would help in the conservation and protection of the environment by way of minimising dependence on chemical herbicides and pesticides. However, as was observed by the Rajya Sabha in its 301st Committee Report, the use of insecticides for sucking pests, on the contrary, increased steeply both in value and quantity, as sucking pests replaced the pink bollworm, when Bt cotton grew from 12% of the total cotton area in 2012 to 95% of total cotton area in 2015. With such a phenomenal increase in area under Bt cotton cultivation, farmers were forced to pay almost triple the price of regular seeds for Bt cotton seeds, increasing indebtedness and reliance on high yield, especially as Monsanto refused to collect trait value as fixed by various state government (and subsequently even central government) cotton price control orders.

This increase in indebtedness led to an increase in farmer suicides, in light of failure of crop yield (Gruère et al 2008). As discussed by Gruère et al, the causes of indebtedness include changes in cropping patterns caused due to the development of plant resistance to pesticides and hence increased spending on pesticides, a shift in the agrarian economy from low-cost food crops to high-cost cash crops, a lack of access to institutional credit facilities, and a general shift of focus of government policy away from agriculture. Since the introduction of Bt cotton into the Indian agricultural economy, Monsanto has already collected over Rs 5000 crores from farmers in the form of trait fee under license agreements. While farmer indebtedness has been a phenomenon plaguing Indian society since before the introduction of Bt cotton, the potential role of Bt cotton varieties in the increase in farmer suicides in particular years in certain states, especially during the peak of its introduction in 2004, is observed by Gruère et al (2008).

The evidence collected by various academicians shows that Bt cotton was not always effective in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, India’s leading cotton producers. This could be due to several reasons including the high price of seeds, and the use of inadequate seeds or varieties. While institutional factors could have possibly played a role, the extent to which they affected farmers cannot be predicted especially in an economy where debt reliance has been largely on non-institutional channels.


Justices Ravindra Bhat and Yogesh Khanna, by recognising Monsanto’s contribution to Indian agriculture, tried to strike a balance between public interest and individual proprietary interest. If Monsanto registers its varieties under India’s sui generis system of protection of plant varieties (the Plant Varieties Act), it can claim benefit share for use of its varieties, as is currently claimed by all other Indian seed companies. Allowing Monsanto’s patent would have led to harmful consequences of imposing additional burden on the already-strained Indian farmer who is the ultimate payer of royalty charged under license agreements. Further, the protection of Monsanto’s variety under the Plant Varieties Act also ensures that the burden of payment of trait fees does not fall upon the farmer, who is protected from infringement under the Act. This is a right unique to and especially required in developing economies such as India. The judgment therefore ensures that India remains true to its fundamental constitutional identity, while still maintaining a market which welcomes foreign technology, pursuant to its economic policies. Monsanto’s appeal before the Supreme Court is currently pending and is to be heard in July 2018.


([email protected]) is an Associate at the Law Chambers of Kapur and Trehan, practicing at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India.

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Venezuela recent single case of childhood paralysis not due to polio

Laboratory tests rule out the presence of wild and vaccine-derived poliovirus in the case of acute flaccid paralysis in Venezuela

Washington, DC, June 15, 2018 (PAHO/WHO) -Tests carried out by the specialized global laboratory for genetic sequencing have ruled out the presence of both wild poliovirus and vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV). The latter- VDPV- is a Sabin virus with genetic mutations that give it the ability to produce the disease. There is no risk of spread to the community or outbreaks of polio from this case.

An epidemiological update from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) published today reported that a 34-month-old boy had an onset of symptoms of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) on April 29,2018. This child lives in a community with low vaccination coverage in the Orinoco Delta of Delta Amacuro State. A Sabin type 3 polio virus had been initially isolated from the child’s stool samples.

The global reference laboratory confirmed the presence of a Sabin type 3 virus. Isolation of Sabin type 3 poliovirus is possible in children and communities immunized with oral bivalent polio vaccine, which contains attenuated (weakened) type 1 and type 3 Sabin strains.

A number of different causes and diseases can lead to AFP, poliovirus being just one of them. In rare cases, the vaccine virus could be associated with paralysis. As part of global polio surveillance efforts, more than 100,000 cases of AFP are detected and investigated worldwide each year.

The child is being further evaluated clinically to determine alternative causes of paralysis. The final classification of the case of acute flaccid paralysis [to define whether or not it is associated with the vaccine] will be based on clinical and virological criteria assessed at 60 days after the onset of paralysis.

PAHO calls on countries to maintain strong surveillance together with high polio vaccination coverage in all communities, in order to minimize the risk and consequences of any eventual reintroduction or reappearance of poliovirus. PAHO and the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) will continue to support local and national public health authorities in these efforts.


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Urban ‘forests’ can store almost as much carbon as tropical rainforests

Most people would never think of London as a forest. Yet there are actually more trees in London than people. And now, new work by researchers at University College London shows that pockets of this urban jungle store as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and urban trees are critical to human health and well-being. Trees provide shade, mitigate floods, absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂), filter air pollution and provide habitats for birds, mammals and other plants. The ecosystem services provided by London’s trees – that is, the benefits residents gain from the environment’s natural processes – were recently valued at £130m a year.

This may equate to less than £20 a year per tree, but the real value may be much higher, given how hard it is to quantify the wider benefits of trees and how long they live. The cost of replacing a large, mature tree is many tens of thousands of pounds, and replacing it with one or more small saplings means you won’t see the equivalent net benefit for many decades after.

The trouble with measuring trees

Trees absorb CO₂ during photosynthesis, which is then metabolised and turned into organic matter that makes up nearly half of their overall mass. Urban trees are particularly effective at absorbing CO₂, because they are located so close to sources such as fossil fuel-burning transport and industrial activity.

This carbon storage potential is an extremely important aspect of their value, but is very hard to quantify. A 120-year-old London plane tree can be 30 metres tall and weigh 40 tonnes or more, and some of the carbon in its tissues will have originated from Victorian coal fires.

Measuring the height of a tall tree is difficult, because it’s rarely clear exactly where the topmost point is; estimating its mass is even harder. Typically, tree mass is estimated by comparing the diameter of the trunk or the height of the tree to the mass of similar trees (ideally the same species), which have been cut down and weighed in the past. This process relies on the assumption that trees of a certain species have a clear size-to-mass ratio.

But a fascinating property of trees is how variable they can be, depending on their environment. So inferring the mass of urban trees from their non-urban counterparts introduces large uncertainties.

Lidar over London

The UCL team use a combination of cutting-edge ground-based and airborne laser scanning techniques, to measure the biomass of urban trees much more accurately. Lidar (which stands for light detection and ranging) sends out hundreds of thousands of pulses of laser light every second and measures the time taken for reflected energy to return from objects up to hundreds of metres away.

When mounted on a tripod on a city street, lidar builds up a millimetre accurate 3D picture of everything it “sees”, including trees. The team are using lidar methods, which they pioneered to measure some of the world’s largest trees, and applying them to trees in the university’s local London Borough of Camden.


The UCL team used publicly available airborne lidar data collected by the UK Environment Agency, in conjunction with their ground measurements, to estimate biomass of all the 85,000 trees across Camden. These lidar measurements help to quantify the differences between urban and non-urban trees, allowing scientists to come up with a formula predicting the difference in size-to-mass ratio, and thus measuring the mass of urban trees more accurately.

The findings show that Camden has a median carbon density of around 50 tonnes of carbon per hectare (t/ha), rising to 380 t/ha in spots such as Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery – that’s equivalent to values seen in temperate and tropical rainforests. Camden also has a high carbon density, compared to other cities in Europe and elsewhere. For example, Barcelona and Berlin have mean carbon densities of 7.3 and 11.2 t/ha respectively; major cities in the US have values of 7.7 t/ha and in China the equivalent figure is 21.3 t/ha.

A story to tell

Trees matter, to all of us. Recent protests in SheffieldCardiffLondonand elsewhere, over policies of tree management and removal show how strongly people feel about the trees in their neighbourhood. Finding ways to value trees more effectively is critical to building more sustainable and liveable cities.

Measuring trees in new ways also helps us to see them from a new perspective. Some of these trees have incredible stories to tell. Just one example is an ash, tucked away in the grounds of St. Pancras Old Church, one of London’s (and indeed Britain’s) oldest Christian churches.

The tree has an extraordinary arrangement of gravestones around its roots, placed there when the railway was built from St Pancras in the mid-19th century. The job of rehousing the headstones was apparently given to a young Thomas Hardy, working as a railway clerk before going on to achieve literary fame. The UCL team’s 3D lidar data are helping monitor the state of this “Hardy Ash” tree in its dotage. This is just one of the ways new science is helping tell the stories of old trees.

Disclosure statement

Mathias Disney receives funding from NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) for travel and capital funding for lidar equipment; NERC Standard Grants NE/N00373X/1 and NE/ P011780/1, CNRS Nouragues Travel Grants Program, ESA BIOMASS calibration/validation funding.

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Jaggi Vasudev backs Sterlite, says ‘lynching large businesses is economic suicide’ #WTFnews

“Am not an expert on copper smelting but I know India has immense use for copper,” Jaggi Vasudev said.

Spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev, known as Sadhguru, has spoken up in defence of the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi. Jaggi Vasudev gave an interview to an English TV channel on Sunday, and after several people reacted to his comments during the interview, he took to Twitter on Wednesday to back the Vedanta-owned company.

Jaggi Vasudev, who runs the Isha Foundation, tweeted, “Am not an expert on copper smelting but I know India has immense use for copper. If we don’t produce our own, of course we will buy from China. Ecological violations can be addressed legally. Lynching large businesses is economic suicide.-Sg”



Am not an expert on copper smelting but I know India has immense use for copper. If we don’t produce our own, of course we will buy from China. Ecological violations can be addressed legally. Lynching large businesses is economic suicide.-Sg @Zakka_Jacob @CMOTamilNadu@PMOIndia

His tweet came after a recent interview with CNN News18’s Zakka Jacob. When they touched on the topic of the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi and the subsequent protests, Jaggi Vasudev said, “Now you close down an industry because of political pressure…This is not right. You compel the industry to find ways to ensure pollution doesn’t happen. I am sure there are ways to do it… You close down business after business like this, where will you take this country?”

Just days ago, yoga teacher Baba Ramdev, too, tweeted in support of Sterlite after meeting with Vedanta’s Executive Chairman in London. And much like Ramdev’s tweet, Jaggi Vasudev’s tweet, too, made no reference to the pollution caused by the company, because of which it was shut down by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. He also made no reference to the police shootout, that left 13 people dead and injured several others on the 100th day of the protests against the plant.

Rather than looking at the social impact of the protests, his comment merely focussed on economic aspect of shutting down a single plant. Moreover, it is ironical that he chose to use the words ‘lynching’ and ‘economic suicide’ to describe the shutting down of a company, without mentioning the fact that 13 people were killed in the police firing.

Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation has been embroiled in a controversial legal battle over its facility in Coimbatore since 2012. It has reportedly received demolition notices from the state government in the past. The Vellingiri Hill Tribal Protection Society has sought demolition of the alleged unauthorised structures constructed by the foundation, so as to restore the wetlands at Ikkarai Boluvampatti Village.

Animal rights activists have also been engaged in a running battle with the Isha Foundation. They allege that the construction work by the Foundation has adversely impacted the ‘elephant corridor’ in the western region of the state. However, Jaggi Vasudev has repeatedly claimed there is no such thing as an ‘elephant corridor’.

Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi has been in the eye of a storm for several months now, as the people of Thoothukudi started protesting against the pollution by the copper smelter. Several documents show that Sterlite did not follow environmental norms, especially regarding the height of the chimney stacks, as well as the green belt required around the plant in order to reduce the effects of the effluents released by the factory.

On the 100th day of the protest on May 22, as thousands of people gathered, the police resorted to shooting at the protestors in a bid to quell the protests after some agitators reportedly resorted to stone pelting.

Visuals from Thoothukudi showed some of the police officers in plainclothes taking aim with snipers and shooting at the protestors. In the shootout, 13 civilians were killed, including a minor girl, Snowlin.

Sterlite’s smelter was shut down on May 28, after the TNPCB declared they were not following environmental norms

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India – Outlawed practice of manual scavenging sees a fourfold growth

Growth has remained the buzzword in Indian polity for decades now. It started after the unprecedented economic crisis that the country faced in early 1990s and never really went away after that. It, rather, almost consumed the other big word- development, which now returns to election rallies and then disappears again until the next elections.

Ironically, overuse of the concept of growth to delude the citizenry into believing that things are going fine has been so rampant that the mere mention of the term growth seems to evoke a positive response. Should one not be happy then, at this new, fourfold growth in the number of Manual Scavengers- engaged in the dehumanising practice of manually cleaning human excreta and other such filth?

An inter-ministerial task force of the government of India has found 53,236 people involved in manual scavenging in India, a four-fold rise from the 13,000-odd such workers accounted for in official records until 2017. Sadly, the numbers, though shocking, can only be a gross underestimation of the real number as the survey was conducted in only 121 districts out of more than 600 districts in India. Further, the survey excluded those involved in cleaning sewers and septic tanks flouting an order of the Supreme Court of India that counts them as manual scavengers. In addition to this sham, the survey does not include the data from the Railways, the largest employer of manual scavengers. Finally, the underreporting is also witnessed from the fact that while the national survey puts the number of scavengers at 53,000, the same for the state governments is only 6,650, a definite proof for underreporting.

The increase in the number of manual scavengers comes despite the fact that the practice has repeatedly been outlawed – first in 1993 by an act titled The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993 passed by the parliament of India. Two decades later, the parliament of India replaced the act with a far more stringent act titled The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.

The Supreme Court of India too has repeatedly outlawed manual scavenging and ordered the Union government as well as all state governments to enforce the provisions of the 2013 Act strictly. It did so most comprehensively in its order in Safai Karamchari Andolan and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. Case (citation: 2014(4) SCALE165). In this order, the Court did not merely outlaw the already outlawed inhuman practice but also ordered the states to put an immediate end to the same while categorically expanding the definition of manual scavenging as to deny the authorities the loopholes they often manipulated to keep sewer workers and septic tank cleaners out of the manual scavenging list.

It brought everyone who cleaned dry latrines (the toilets without flushing needing manual removal of excreta), brought sewer workers and the septic tank cleaners under the ambit of the act and fixed command responsibility for implementation of the law with the chief executive officer (or equivalent authority) of the local civic body. It also ordered immediate rehabilitation of those found engaged in the practice and fixed compensation for the manual scavengers who lost their lives doing the dirty work.

Yet, as is evident by the increase in the number of manual scavengers as per government’s own data, it is evident that the law has been flouted even by the government agencies. Further evidence for the same comes from the fact that perhaps not even one Chief Executive Officer of any civic body has ever been convicted despite cases of manual scavenging getting exposed from across India. In fact, the government of India itself acknowledged 323 cases of death due to manual scavenging from across the country in 2017 alone in a reply given by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to the Lok Sabha in December last year.

It is perhaps time for the judiciary to start following up on its own orders as the executives have made it clear that they will not. If it cannot, it will better scrap the law rather than turning them into cruel jokes for those whom they are supposed to save.

Samar is Programme Coordinator – Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

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