Monday, October 16, 2017

His father's son - The ruling regime's offensive in defence of Jay Shah is telling

Is that an apple or a mole in his eye? If you are from the BJP, it is an apple (Jay Shah) and if you are from the opposition it is a mole (again Jay Shah)

It is not unusual for fathers who happen to be politicians to defend the doings - or the alleged wrongdoings - of their sons who happen to dabble in business.

Just three months ago, in July this year, the irrepressible Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo, Lalu Prasad, stoutly backed his son, Tejashwi Yadav, the former deputy chief minister of Bihar, whose alleged corruption was the ostensible reason for Nitish Kumar to break his alliance with the RJD and jump into the waiting embrace of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Tejashwi Yadav, along with his parents and siblings, is accused of having acquired prime land in Patna via a confidant's shell company in lieu of leases given out to a private company for the maintenance of two hotels owned by the Indian Railways in Ranchi and Puri. The deal dates back to 2006 when Lalu was railways minister and Tejashwi was 15 years old.

Two months before Lalu's cry of a witch-hunt, another father made a similar charge. In May, it was the turn of the former finance minister, P. Chidambaram, to describe as "baseless" the charge that his son, Karti, had influenced the working of the erstwhile foreign investment promotion board.

Karti has been accused of receiving kickbacks for having obtained a FIPB clearance for the media house INX Media in 2007 when his father was finance minister. His name has also figured in connection with the Aircel-Maxis deal with allegations that a company he secretly owns got a share in Aircel as a result of facilitating FIPB clearance for the deal.

And last Friday, we had another father stepping out to bat for his son. Amit Shah, the BJP president and, arguably, the second most powerful man in India today, spoke out on the October 8 report in the news portal The Wire outlining the sudden and steep rise in the turnover of Shah junior's company a year after his father took over the reins of the ruling party and Narendra Modi became prime minister. Speaking at a function organized by the Hindi news channel, Aaj Tak, the BJP chief broke into English to assert: "The question of corruption does not arise."

On the face of it, Lalu Prasad, P. Chidambaram and Amit Shah might seem to belong to the same doting dad club except for one crucial difference. In the case of Lalu and Chidambaram, their protestations of innocence made not a whit of difference, and instead, spurred on the government's investigative agencies to probe further into the allegations and dish out more dirt - besmirching reputations well before concluding the probe, leave alone securing a conviction.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, for instance, has been carrying out raid after raid on premises owned by or in any way connected with Lalu Prasad and members of his family, and summoning father and son for sustained interrogation.

Similarly, the CBI has registered an FIR against Karti Chidambaram, interrogated him for days on end, prevented him from travelling abroad while the Enforcement Directorate has filed a money laundering case.

In the case of Jay Shah, the opposite has happened. Forget ordering a probe, the might of the State and the ruling party has been unleashed to stifle even the most preliminary and innocent questions relating to the inexplicable ebb and flow in his fortunes.

The report in The Wire stuck to facts gleaned from filings with the registrar of companies. It pointed out that Jay Shah's company, Temple Enterprise Private Limited, did not own any fixed assets and had no inventories or stock in 2013-14; it earned revenues worth Rs 50,000 in 2014-15; and then its revenues shot up 16,000 times to Rs 80.5 crore in 2015-16.

The BJP has made much of the fact that the Rs 80.5 crore was not profits but revenues, and the company actually posted a loss of Rs 1.4 crore that year. As a result of this loss and previous losses, Temple Enterprise stopped its activities in October 2016.

The report also notes that another enterprise called Kusum Finserve in which Jay Shah owns a 60 per cent stake has now diversified into producing wind energy and "is setting up a 2.1 megawatt windmill plant worth Rs 15 crore in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh". Apart from securing finances from a cooperative bank, Kusum Finserve also managed to get a Rs 10.35 crore loan from the public sector enterprise, Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency for setting up the plant.

The report has other details of Jay Shah's companies and those who gave him some of the loans. For the vast majority of ordinary citizens who work for a living and earn a wage or a salary, the ways of business and businessmen can be as incomprehensible as, well, rocket science. But even so, a couple of things about Jay Shah's business would strike anyone as rather odd.

First, how did his revenues skyrocket in the space of just one year from Rs 50,000 to Rs 80.5 crore? And why did his losses mount as spectacularly too - forcing him to close down the business within a year of registering a phenomenal growth in turnover? And what qualifies him to start a wind energy plant when his primary business, according to his lawyer's reply to The Wire, is "trading in stocks and shares, import and export activities and distribution and marketing consultancy services"?

These are simple enough questions and could have been answered without ado - particularly since it concerns the son of India's Number Two. As The Wire rightly noted "The world over, it is normal for the business affairs of politicians' relatives in democracies to be subjected to public scrutiny, especially when there is a sudden change in fortunes that coincides with an uptick in the political cycle."

But instead of coming out with answers to clarify the doubts raised by Jay Shah's business deals, or ordering a probe in the absence of upfront answers, the government has gone on a brazen offensive. Although the report only states facts available in company records, Jay Shah has filed a Rs 100 crore defamation suit - an intimidatory tactic aimed at silencing the media at large from raising further questions. His father has extolled the tactic with the specious argument that the very act of filing a defamation suit was proof of his son's innocence. And worse, even before the report appeared on October 8, the government's top law officer - the additional solicitor general, no less - sought and received permission to defend Jay Shah in court; while a host of senior ministers and party spokesmen were made to speak out in his support after October 8.

Ironically, the BJP government's no-holds-barred defence of Jay Shah makes a mockery of its central argument that he is a private businessman and his affairs have no relevance for the larger public. In fact, the reaction to the report in The Wire has been more telling than the report itself.

It has shown, once again, that much like roadside bullies who believe that offence is the best defence and think nothing of beating up hapless pedestrians or rickshaw drivers who come in the way of their speeding SUVs, the Modi regime is willing to use the might of its machinery to stop anyone from questioning its leaders or their kin even while it brazenly uses the same machinery to target Opposition leaders and critics.

But in the zeal to defend his son, Amit Shah may have dealt a lethal blow to his boss and mentor, Narendra Modi. The prime minister's biggest boast all these years has been that he is above corruption and nepotism. By refusing to order even a preliminary inquiry and maintaining a stoic silence that has only emboldened Shah to step up the offensive, the prime minister has lost an opportunity to burnish his "incorruptible" sheen and shown utter disdain towards the principle of accountability which is a central tenet of functioning democracies.

As a result, Modi may never again be able to look the people of India in the eye and claim: Mitron, na khaunga na khane doonga. That claim now has a hollow ring.

Graft boot for ex-minister

Beijing (Reuters): A former Chinese justice minister has been expelled from the ruling Communist Party following an investigation by the anti-corruption watchdog, the first time the government has announced that she was in trouble.

Wu Aiying, 65, was justice minister from 2005 until February this year, according to her official resume, and one of only a handful of senior female officials in China.

In a statement released late yesterday following a four-day meeting of the party's Central Committee, the largest of its elite ruling bodies, Wu's name was listed as one of a number of officials to have been expelled from the party for graft.

While the other names listed, including former Chongqing city party boss, Sun Zhengcai, had been announced earlier, Wu's name had not been mentioned by the party in connection with any investigation.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection found that Wu had "serious discipline problems", the communique said using a euphemism for corruption.

It was not possible to reach Wu or a representative for comment.

Wu had spent most of her career working in the eastern province of Shandong, where she rose to become a deputy provincial party chief, before moving to Beijing in late 2003 to work at the justice ministry.

China's legal authorities have been one of the focuses of President Xi Jinping's crackdown.

BJP stunned, north to south

Chandigarh: The Congress on Sunday wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat in Punjab from the BJP, the by-election victory coming as a confidence booster ahead of the Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

"The Gurdaspur by-election marks another major step in the revival of Congress. It's clear that party is on upswing ahead of 2019 LS polls," Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh tweeted. He cited the party's victories in recent campus elections and the Maharashtra civic polls.

In Kerala, a Congress ally, the Indian Union Muslim League, won the Vengara Assembly by-election but with a reduced victory margin over the CPM, while the BJP lost its third spot to a Right-wing Muslim party amid an ongoing yatra.

Sunil Jakhar, son of the late Balram Jakhar, won Gurdaspur by a margin of 193,219 votes, raising the Congress's Lok Sabha tally to 46.

The last time the Congress had won the seat by more than one lakh votes was in 1980.

The seat fell vacant in April with the death of the actor and BJP politician Vinod Khanna.

Some BJP insiders said a by-election result could not be a definite indicator of the nation's mood but agreed that it had dented the image of invincibility projected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah.

"It's time to take serious note of economic issues and the job scenario. If there is disenchantment, it has to be addressed," a senior BJP politician said.

Meat attack scan on vigilante

Chandigarh: The leader of a " goraksha" group who had lodged a police complaint against five Muslim youths after cow vigilantes thrashed them in Faridabad on Friday has now himself come under the police scanner.

Cops are probing whether Bittu Bajrangi had a role in the attack on polio-stricken auto-rickshaw driver Azad and his brothers and friends over a parcel of what the assailants claimed was beef but a lab later identified as buffalo meat.

"Bajrangi heads a little-known group called the Goraksha Bajrang Force. We are ascertaining whether there were any previous complaints against them," an officer said.

Deputy commissioner of police Astha Modi said the group's possible links with the Sangh parivar were being probed.

On a complaint from Bajrangi, the police had on Friday night registered an FIR against the injured youths. Later, after visiting them in hospital, another FIR was lodged against the "unknown" attackers.

Officers said the case against the five victims would be dropped as soon as the final lab report arrives.

Three men - Ram Kumar and brothers Lakhan and Dileep Kumar - were arrested last night on the basis of a video clip of the attack. They have denied links with Bajrangi or his group, officers said, adding that the cops were trying to identify more people from the clip.

Azad claims the attackers informed the police after thrashing them.

"Bajrangi claims his organisation suspected that beef was being ferried but did not participate in the attack. Some other people surrounded the auto and assaulted those inside," a police source said.

"Azad and the others were taken to a place near a crematorium where they were held captive for almost four hours and beaten."

While the brothers are residents of Peer Colony, Ram Kumar lives in Pali village adjoining Faridabad town.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Modi hits out at UPA for neglecting health

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday flayed the previous UPA regime for neglecting health care in the country. While inaugurating a new medical college and launching a new vaccination drive on his first visit to his hometown Vadnagar after becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Modi said his government has accorded top priority to the health care sector.

During its entire 10 year term, the UPA had failed to bring a health policy, which was last formulated during the previous NDA regime headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr. Modi said.

‘No empathy for people’

“The last health policy was announced during Atalji’s regime around 15 years back. After that, such a government assumed power which used to hate development. It did not have any empathy for the people,” Mr. Modi said, referring to the UPA government’s 2004-2014 tenure. “As a result, a new health policy was introduced after almost 15 years by our government,” he said.

He added that the previous regime had not considered it necessary to increase seats in medical colleges in the country, which was facing a huge shortage of medical practitioners. “As a result, very few students could get into the medical field. Now, our government has taken up the task of opening a new medical college for every three to four parliamentary constituencies,” Mr. Modi said, inaugurating a medical college set up by the Gujarat government in Vadnagar.

Seats in PG courses

"Since we also need good professors and faculty members for new colleges, we have also increased 6,000 seats in PG medical courses in the last one year. Though some people criticised the move, we remained firm because we understand that we will need good professors for producing good doctors,” Mr. Modi added.

Besides opening new colleges, the Prime Minister said the government has focussed on bringing down medical costs to make health care more affordable.

“Earlier, the prices of stents were around ₹1.5 lakh to ₹2 lakh. Someone would get a heart attack by just hearing such a high price. We decided to reduce costs. So [we] called the manufacturers and asked them and today, stents are available at just 40% of its original price of three years ago.”

He added that similarly, the government has set up a chain of stores to sell generic medicines at subsidised rates to bring down the price of medicines.

‘Squirtable’ elastic surgical glue seals wounds in 60 seconds

Scientists have developed a highly elastic and adhesive surgical glue that can be simply squirted on wounds to seal them within 60 seconds, doing away with the need for stitches. The glue, called MeTro, is ideal for sealing wounds in body tissues that continually expand and relax – such as lungs, hearts and arteries – that are otherwise at risk of re-opening.

The material, developed by researchers at University of Sydney in Australia and Harvard University in the US, also works on internal wounds that are often in hard-to-reach areas and have typically required staples or sutures due to surrounding body fluid hampering the effectiveness of other sealants.

MeTro sets in just 60 seconds once treated with UV light, and the technology has a built-in degrading enzyme which can be modified to determine how long the sealant lasts – from hours to months, in order to allow adequate time for the wound to heal. The liquid or gel-like material has quickly and successfully sealed incisions in the arteries and lungs of rodents and the lungs of pigs, without the need for sutures and staples.

MeTro combines the natural elastic protein technologies with light sensitive molecules. “The beauty of the MeTro formulation is that, as soon as it comes in contact with tissue surfaces, it solidifies into a gel-like phase without running away,” said Nasim Annabi, assistant professor at Northeastern University in the US. “We then further stabilise it by curing it on-site with a short light-mediated crosslinking treatment,” said Annabi, lead author of the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“This allows the sealant to be very accurately placed and to tightly bond and interlock with structures on the tissue surface,” he said. The process resembles that of silicone sealants used around bathroom and kitchen tiles. “When you watch MeTro, you can see it act like a liquid, filling the gaps and conforming to the shape of the wound,” said Anthony Weiss from University of Sydney.

“It responds well biologically, and interfaces closely with human tissue to promote healing. The gel is easily stored and can be squirted directly onto a wound or cavity,” Weiss said. “The potential applications are powerful – from treating serious internal wounds at emergency sites such as following car accidents and in war zones, as well as improving hospital surgeries,” he said.

“MeTro seems to remain stable over the period that wounds need to heal in demanding mechanical conditions and later it degrades without any signs of toxicity,” said Ali Khademhosseini from Harvard Medical School. “It checks off all the boxes of a highly versatile and efficient surgical sealant with potential also beyond pulmonary and vascular suture and staple-less applications,” he said.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kerala to hire 6 SC/ST men as priests

Centuries-old caste barriers that had kept their forefathers beyond even the gaze of upper caste Hindus would soon come crashing down with the Kerala Devaswom Recruitment Board selecting six members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to perform rituals at the temples under the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB).

With the board issuing advice memo to the six candidates belonging to the once socially outcast communities, their entry into the sanctum sanctorum of temples under the Devaswom board has now become a mere formality. The priests, who would be appointed on a part-time basis, would now enter the temples, bathe the idols, adorn them with flowers and customary ornaments, and perform the daily pujas.

One candidate each belonging to the Thandar and Vettuva and four Pulaya community members figure on the list released on Friday. There were also 26 Brahmins, 21 Ezhavas, one each from Nadar and Viswakarma communities and two Dheevara candidates. The appointment order is considered as a path-breaking exercise as priesthood was the preserve of Brahmins and upper caste Hindus in most of the temples till recently.

The present list is for filling the 62 reported vacancies in the temples of the TDB. The list for other temples will follow soon. There are 1,252 temples under the TDB and the sanctioned strength of priest is around 2,500. There are around 70 major temples under the TDB, including the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, Mahadeva Temples at Vaikom, Ettumanur and Chengannur, Parasurama Temple at Thiruvallam, Sree Krishna Temple at Ampalapuzha, Ganapathy Temple of Kottarakkara, and Sreekanteswaram Temple of Thiruvanathapuram.

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which is the employer, will now have to issue appointment letters to the selected priests to temples based on the vacancies reported from there. The qualification fixed for the candidates included the knowledge of temple rituals, exposure to Sanskrit and appearance in Standard 9 examination. Any certificate in ‘Tantra Vidya’ was not insisted as an essential qualification though there were a few who had passed such courses, said M. Rajagopalan Nair, chairman of the recruitment board. The appointment of the members of SC and ST communities and OBCs was possible as the board decided to adhere to the caste reservation policy of the State government in appointments. The State government had also issued an order to this effect, he added.

There was resistance against the appointment of priests belonging to Ezhava community when that was attempted recently.


This time too, there are indications that the recruitment board’s decision would trigger some debate. While Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha president T.V. Babu said the recruitment board’s decision is revolutionary, Malayala Brahmana Samajam president N. Anil Kumar said introduction of reservation in temples would do away with the purity and sanctity of temples. Priesthood is not a job but a ritual. Reservation can be considered only for a job. The current decision is unacceptable, he added.