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The Great Inventor

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The Great Inventor

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm

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UP is a critical state in the Lok Sabha, because of the number of seats it has. So, issues which move the UP electorate will be critical to who forms the next central government. It seems that large-scale corruption, economic development, and safety of women may not be the main issues in next year’s general elections. In the last state election in UP there was a 6% swing in favour of the SP, 4% against the BSP, 2% against the BJP, 2% in favour of the Congress, and 2% against other parties. As a result, most parties need to change the electoral mood. The two decade old zombie issue of Ayodhya shambled slowly into the newspapers and quickly disappeared at the end of August. Now it seems that a decade-old method may polarize voters.

September 7, 2013

TOI reported:

A day after the Centre issued an alert to seven states including Uttar Pradesh against communal polarization leading to violence ahead of 2014 general elections, fresh violence broke out in Muzaffarnagar. On Saturday nine people, including a reporter of a TV news channel, were killed and 34 were injured.

Curfew has been imposed in the areas under three police stations and additional security forces were rushed to the district, which has been simmering for past 10 days following violence in Kawal village in which three people were killed. Late on Saturday night, Army was called in to help the district administration for maintenance of law and order. All districts in the state have also been put on the high alert after the incident.

Stray incidents of violence were also reported during the strike. Later, police booked 229 people, including a local BJP MLA, Sangit Some, for allegedly sharing on the internet sensitive photos related to the recent Kawal incident.

A fake video of a mob beating two youths to death also surfaced in YouTube

September 9, 2013

The Hindu writes:

Uttar Pradesh was on Monday struggling to contain communal violence as the death toll in Muzaffarnagar and other areas rose to 31, with authorities arresting 200 rioters and stopping Union Minister Ajit Singh and BJP MPs including Ravi Shankar Prasad from visiting the troubled district.

“The death toll in the violence in Muzaffarnagar and other areas has climbed to 31,” the Principal Secretary Home R.M. Srivastava told PTI in Lucknow even as curfew remained in force in riot-hit areas and army staged flag march for the second consecutive day.

Violence spread to neighbouring district of Shamli where a 40-year-old Imam of a mosque, Maulana Umar Din, was shot dead, Shamli District Magistrate P.K. Singh said.

Daily Bhaskar wrote:

According to police officials, one of the inception points for the violence is a “fake video” posted on YouTube and other social networks that wrongly claims to show two men being lynched by a mob in the state.

Home Secretary Kamal Saxena told a press conference on Sunday that the “fake video” posted online was “at least two years old and appears not to have been filmed in Uttar Pradesh”.

The video entitled ‘killing of Hindu youths by Muslim mob while they were protecting the honor of their sister’ went viral on internet and also started circulating through mobile phones.

A media report said on Sunday, “The video is originally from Pakistan of infamous 2010 killing of two brothers in Sialkot Punjab province by lynching mob who misidentified them as dacoits.”

ET implies a political hand in this report:

The communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar and surrounding areas in western Uttar Pradesh have unsettled the social alliance between Jats and Muslims, a development that can impact the political calculations of the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The Jat community had earlier voted in tandem with the numerically-preponderant Muslims. But communal fault lines have sharpened after the Saturday riots that followed an attack on a 1.5 lakh strong ‘Bahu Beti Sammaan Bachao Mahapanchayat’ organised by the Jats.

The state administration has admitted that two districts – Muzaffarnagar and Shamli – have been experiencing communal conflicts for over a month. “The violence began with the rape of a Scheduled Caste woman in Shamli last month.

The social tensions in the region are evident from the fact that Jats, who do not usually empathise with the concerns of the Scheduled Castes, spoke out against this outrage,” said RK Ohri, author and a former police official.

Although Jats comprise just 6% voters in western UP, they can swing the outcome in the districts of Bijnor, JP Nagar, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, GB Nagar, Mathura, Agra and Aligarh. The SP, which did not have much presence in the region, has strengthened its position by wooing the minority community.

In as many as 13 Lok Sabha seats, Muslims account for more than 15% of the electorate. In constituencies such as Rampur, Amroha and Sambhal, Muslims add up to over 60% of the electorate. The collapse of the Jat-Muslim social combo is certain to provide an opening for the BJP in the western UP.

Jats, who have been the flag-bearers of anti-Congressism since the days of Charan Singh, are likely to look for alternatives to the RLD if communal polarisation deepens in the days to come.

This thesis is then articulated very clearly in an unsigned editorial in ET:

According to one count, there have been more than 100 incidents of communal violence in UP since the SP took over. Such frequent bloodshed can be neither happenstance nor coincidence. It has to be by design. The chief suspects are those who stand to gain from such violence and resultant polarisation, namely, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 10, 2013 at 10:31 am

The land acquisition bill of 2013

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The new piece of legislation passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday is not new; it was discussed in the cabinet and press in 2011, when the draft was finalized. It was presented in parliament in 2012, and is passed in the Lok Sabha in 2013 only because it suits all parties to seem to be pro-agriculture as the general elections approach. The bill responds to the strong, sometimes violent, opposition to land acquisitions by landholding farmers in the preceding years. Agitation in Bengal and UP grabbed headlines: especially since irrigated land, suitable for crops was preferentially being given to industry. These battles threw out established governments and brought to power new groupings. Governments, over the years, used tax money to create massive irrigation projects, whose benefits would now go to the industry either directly or as a result of land transfer.

After the bill was passed yesterday, BS reported:

The Lok Sabha on Thursday adopted with an overwhelming majority a more consultative process of acquiring land — but also more rigorous and time-consuming — to replace an antediluvian law dating back to 1894. The Bill was passed with 216 votes in favour and 19 against it.

The ‘Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill, 2012’ seeks to give a fair deal to farmers losing their land, especially multi-crop land, to industrial needs. But industry complained the law would push cost and timeframe for setting up new enterprises.

The policy to be adopted in the case of arable land had been left to state governments, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said, as three states — Kerala, Haryana and Punjab — represented to the Centre that all land in their state was multi-crop and if there was a bar on selling such land to industry, there would be no industrialisation in their states.

The Bill also offers industry the option of leasing land from farmers. It provides land losers compensation of up to four times the market value in rural areas and two times in urban areas.

The Bill says that the much maligned ‘urgency’ clause, under which land could forcibly be acquired on the ground of ‘urgency’, will cease to exist, except in the cases of defence, national security or natural disasters.

  • Condition: Land can be acquired by govt for private and PPP projects, provided there is 80% consent of land owners (70% for PPP)
  • Social impact: Land acquisition will be preceded by social-impact assessment to identify affected families to be compensated and whose consent has to be sought
  • Compensation: Affected families will get four times the market value of land acquired in rural areas and two times in urban areas; land losers and livelihood losers to get compensation
  • R&R: Includes a house, Rs 5 lakh or a job (if available), an allowance of Rs 3,000 a month for a year, and miscellaneous allowances of up to Rs 1.25 lakh
  • Retrospective: The new rules will apply retrospectively to cases where no land acquisition award has been made, besides those where land was acquired 5 years ago but no compensation was paid or no possession took place

It is interesting that Business Standard considers it to be a balanced law whereas ostensibly non-business newspapers like TOI and HT are stridently against the bill, calling it populist.

The most contentious aspect of past land acquisition has been the various governments’ roles in acquiring land for particular industries under the guise of being a public good. IT reports that this will continue:

The bill also defines “public purpose” to include: Mining, infrastructure, defence, manufacturing zones, roads, railways, highways, and ports built by government and public sector enterprises, land for project-affected people, planned development and improvement of village or urban sites and residential purposes for the poor and landless and government-administered schemes or institutions, among others.

WSJ has an interesting quote:

“The price of land in India is already the highest in the world, so this bill will just make land acquisition impossible,” said Sanjoy Chakravorty, a professor at Temple University who specializes in development and land issues in India.

Mr. Chakravorty said the price of land in India has jumped over the last decade as demand for housing has grown, and large sums of money have been invested in land, he said.

One concludes from this that the price of land is responding to market forces. The parliament seems to feel that four times the current price of agricultural land is adequate compensation for a farmer’s loss of livelihood. In fact, in terms of net social cost, it may be much higher, so the error may actually favour industry. The critical problem has not been removed: the government still remains a party to every land deal. A cleaner market-based solution would have been for the law to set a market regulatory condition and leave the rest to a negotiation between buyer and seller.

September 4, 2013

IBN-Live reports:

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012, which got the nod of Lok Sabha last week, was passed by the Upper House by 131-10 votes with four new official amendments, proposed by opposition parties, including BJP.

The guardians of public morality

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Livemint reported on the Supreme Court’s decision against the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars:

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared that the state government’s decision almost eight years ago had been unconstitutional. The apex court was upholding a decision by the Bombay high court, which, in 2006, found the ban was against the spirit of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with the principle of equality before law.

Sonia Faleiro, author of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars spoke to Firstpost about the SC verdict lifting the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars:

Do you think agree with the Supreme Court’s decision?

The Court upheld a woman’s right to work, stating that “even a bar dancer has to satisfy her hunger”. How can anyone argue with that? (Of course, the state of Maharashtra did try). And it made clear than the ban — aimed at a certain type of woman performing at a certain type of drinking establishment for a certain kind of man — made assumptions about her work and character that were not just incorrect, but an assault on her dignity. There’s no argument one can make against the core of this judgment.

Is it realistically possible to bring about these improvements, considering societal conventions, biases and power dynamic that’s entirely against women who work in dance bars?

The bars are run on the backs of these women. They are the reason men even come to the bars. We know this because once dancing was banned, many bar owners shut down their bars. Despite this, bar dancers remain bottom feeders, among the last to reap any benefit from the business they attract.

I wouldn’t count on bar owners to take the women’s rights or needs into consideration any more than they did before. They won’t because they don’t have to.

This is the crux of the argument. The constitution gives everyone an equal right to livelihood. In a democracy, one would expect governments to protect these rights. Instead, our politicians demonize groups without justification. In answer to a follow-up question, Faleiro points out that India’s unquestioning and sensationalist media is equally to blame:

Why do you think political parties, whose cadre frequented dance bars, supported the ban?

There appears to have been a carefully orchestrated campaign to portray dance bars as brothels and bar dancers as prostitutes. The media fed the stereotypes of the bar dancer as courtesan, portraying her as the natural enemy of the moral, middle class woman. Once her portrayal as a subhuman vixen was complete, it was only natural that politicians across the board would lack the spine or the common sense to defend her rights. In the war between women ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘bad’ woman was doomed to fail, not just in the court of public opinion but also in the legislature. I’m proud that the highest court in the land has stood up for her.

BS reported on the Maharashtra police’s knee-jerk reaction:

“This (restarting of dance bars) might result in revival of activities of the underworld and anti-social elements. There have been several instances in the past which suggest that the accused have held meetings in the bars to decide their targets,” said a crime branch official.

Another official said that dance bars encourage night life beyond permissible time, which may prompt drunken driving incidents, late night fights on the streets or even robberies etc.

“Criminals and gang leaders routinely visit dance bars. They shower their ill-gotten money on the bar girls. They use dance bars as a recruiting ground for robbers. These are dens of anti-social elements,” the officer said.

“Due to rampant corruption in the police department, it is very difficult to ensure proper operations of the dance bars and this would result in increase in the crime,” [former IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh] said.

That makes a strange kind of sense: blame the dance girls and shut down the bars since the police is corrupt. The obvious next step is to shut down traffic to prevent the traffic police from being corrupted by the idea of taking bribes.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

The health market wobbles again

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BT writes about the latest shake up in pharma patents in India:

The concluding line of the order was terse: “The grant of Patent No.198952 is set aside. M.P.No.85 of 2012 is dismissed and M.P.No.111 of 2012 is ordered. No costs.”

With those words, delivered on Friday, November 2, India’s Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) revoked the patent granted in India to F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG (Roche) for pegylated interferon alfa-2a, a medicine used to treat hepatitis C.

Roche, the third biggest pharmaceuticals company in the world, sells the drug under the brand name Pegasys.

IPAB revoked the Indian patent citing lack of evidence that the drug was better than existing treatments available in the market.

In absolute numbers, the market for Hepatitis C is large. Studies, industry experts point out, put the figure at around one per cent of India’s population, or around 120 million people. The figure could be bigger as most of the studies are based on urban population figures.

Treatment is very expensive. The current cost, depending on the type of hepatitis C virus, varies from Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 6.5 lakh for a six-month to one-year treatment regimen with drugs such as Pegasys.

Today, generic versions of another drug, interferon (alpha 2b), are also available in India. The cost of this treatment regimen varies from Rs 1.5 to 2.5 lakh, for the same period.

The IPAB order implies that the generic version of Pegasys may become available in India in the near future. However, that would depend on whether Roche decides to appeal the ruling.

It can also opt to tie up with an Indian company and launch the drug at a much lower price or just follow a differentiated pricing policy. In other words, it could have one price for foreign markets and another for India.

Some doctors believe that Roche may also be looking at an Indian version of the drug. The company is said to have soft launched a product called Exxura, made with a local partner in India, to reduce the treatment cost by almost half. BT is yet to get this confirmed by Roche.

The article also draws attention to an earlier case:

In March, the Indian Patent Office granted Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma a “compulsory licence” to sell a generic version of German company Bayer AG’s kidney and liver cancer drug, Nexavar. It was the first instance of an Indian company getting a compulsory licence. The move was an attempt by the government to ensure that a “life-extending drug” is available to the poor at affordable prices. Natco charges Rs 8,800 for a month’s dosage of 120 tablets as against Bayer’s price of Rs 2.8 lakh for the same dosage.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

November 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm

By-election in Myanmar

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Ahead of the by-election, the weekly newspaper Myanmar Times wrote:

On April 1, some might expect a repeat of the 1990 election, when the NLD [Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy] won more than 80 percent of all seats. That might happen but the dynamics of the by-elections are markedly different from both 1990 and 2010. Obviously, it’s not a nationwide poll, and in 1990 the vote was for a constitutional assembly (to draft a new constitution) rather than a legislative assembly, or parliament. This time the NLD also faces very different opponents, in the form of the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] and NDF [National Democratic Force]. The latter was formed by ex-NLD members who disagreed with the party’s decision to boycott the 2010 election and, led by U Khin Maung Swe and Dr Than Nyein, both of whom were once NLD executive members, it won 16 seats.

In his party’s policy speech on MRTV recently, U Khin Maung Swe said his party stood up for voters who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to vote for an opposition party candidate in the 2010 general election. “We’re a party that kept loyal to the people by giving them the chance to vote for these progressive changes” in the 2010 election, he said.

But the bitterness of the split between the NDF and NLD has left a bad taste in the mouths of many voters, and served as a reminder of the personal and ideological conflicts that have afflicted political parties in Myanmar for much of the past century.

The NLD’s decision to contest the April 1 by-elections has had a dramatic impact on Myanmar politics and many of the party’s 47 candidates are expected to win if the vote is free and fair, as the Union Election Commission has promised.

One question many are contemplating is what will result from its participation, once some of its candidates are elected to the hluttaws. A common thread running between the campaign speeches of most political parties was the pledge to carry out national reconciliation.

“It’s sometimes strange to see how their speeches and their actions are different,” said Ko Kyaw Nyi, a graduate student at Yangon Institute of Economics. “They just say national reconciliation because we all want it but then they bitterly fight with each other instead of looking for common ground. However, I support Daw Aung Suu Kyi’s decision to take part in this election [because it shows pragmatism].”

In her recent campaign tour, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she would work with the army to institute real democratic changes, perhaps referring to the appointed military representatives in parliament, as required by the 2008 constitution.

While the “national reconciliation” line – or some variant – is trotted out by political parties ahead of every election, many are hopeful that this time will be different and that the April 1 by-elections can provide a boost to the peace process. “I hope this election will result in a real national reconciliation process that could go some way to solving ethnic conflicts,” said Daw Khin Thandar, a primary school teacher from North Dagon township. “I also hope to see real democracy and I think both are more likely now that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is involved.”

Today various newspapers around the world report the expectation that Aung San Suu Kyi will be elected to the Myanmar parliament from the Kawhmu constituency south of Yangon. HT writes:

If confirmed, the win would mark a dramatic reversal in the political fortunes of the veteran activist, who was locked up by the former junta for most of the past 22 years. Official results were expected within a week.

Observers says Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government needs Suu Kyi to take a place in parliament to bolster the legitimacy of its political system and spur an easing of Western sanctions against the regime.

But even if her party were to win all 44 seats it contested in Sunday’s by-elections, it would not tip the balance of power in a parliament dominated by the military and its political allies.

The military dictatorship gave way to a stage-managed democracy in 2010. The Washington Post writes about how Myanmar has changed since then:

The topdown revolution has left Myanmar befuddled and wondering how it happened — or at least, why now? One theory says the military-backed regime had long been desperate for legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions, and its leadership had quietly recognized that their impoverished country, formerly known as Burma, had fallen far behind the rest of skyscraper-rich Asia.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

April 2, 2012 at 3:53 am

No education imparted

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IE reports a farcical situation in education, long brewing, which has finally been expressed:

Students applying for Category E, SRCC’s B Com (Hons) course, need to present nothing less than 100 per cent to gain admission.

Category E for B Com (Hons) includes students whose best-of-four does not include any paper related to the Commerce stream. Their cut-off is fixed at four percentage points above the cut-off for Category A students, who have studied a paper each of Accountancy, Business Studies, Economics and Maths, at the Plus-Two level. The cut-off for Category A students is 96 per cent.

This means that a student who counts subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology and English in best four score will have to have scored 100 per cent in all papers.

Seeking admission to colleges

In the last thirty years 527 million people have been added to the country’s population. This is approximately 17.5 million people a year. 28% of these are illiterate: so about 148 million have not even been to school. Of the remaining 379 million, only about 10% have been through a recognized college.

Why? Because the number of seats in colleges has increased only marginally during the thrirty years when the population doubled. Even in the 1980s, the number of college seats was far lower than ideal. However, the terrible state of the economy in the ’70s and the high unemployment rate was used as an excuse by governments not to spend on education.

During the ’80s the number of seats in colleges should have been increased dramatically and at the same time a much larger number of college teachers should have been hired. The increase should have kept pace with the growth of the population. None of this happened.

Instead, state governments created grade inflation at the school level. Today with teachers handling twice the class strength that their predecessors did thirty years ago, the number of students scoring over 90% in aggregate in school-leaving exams has increased 20-fold!

Unfortunately, this does not translate to an easier access to higher education, because that number of seats does not exist.

Instead of action from governments we have crocodile tears. Here is a report from TOI on the educations minister’s response:

Sibal called this unfortunate and said he was saddened as it came at a time when the government was trying to simplify and make the process of admissions easy.

Sibal said such restrictive cutoffs demoralise students and their parents and should be avoided by the university.

The minister assured the parents and students that the anomaly would be rectified and requested the college and the Delhi University vice chancellor to look into the issue.

Mr. Sibal, it would be much better if we had an action plan from the government for increasing the number of seats in colleges in proportion to the number of babies born in India while keeping the student/teacher ratio fixed.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 15, 2011 at 8:59 am

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