MAY 13, Monday

Delhi Edition

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63.5% turnout in sixth phase

63.5% turnout in sixth phase

Incidents of violence reported from West Bengal and Jharkhand

Special Correspondent

An overall tentative turnout of 63.5% was reported from the 59 constituencies in six States and the Union Territory of Delhi on Sunday in the penultimate phase of the Lok Sabha election. Incidents of violence were reported from West Bengal and Jharkhand. The turnout in 2014 stood at 63.67%.

The highest participation of 80.35% again was reported from the eight seats in West Bengal which, however, was lower than the 84.95% in the previous election.

BJP candidate injured

The State also witnessed several incidents of violence. In Keshpur under the Ghatal Lok Sabha constituency, there were reports of an attack on the BJP candidate and former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh when she tried to enter a polling booth. Ms. Ghosh’s convoy was targeted when miscreants threw stones and bombs after she tried to enter another polling booth in Keshpur.

Ms. Ghosh, once seen as close to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and who is contesting against Dipak Adhikari of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), was heckled by ruling party supporters on several occasions.

Following the attacks, Central Industrial Security Force personnel accompanying her resorted to lathi-charge and firing. Ms. Ghosh was forced to take shelter in a temple near the Keshpur police station. One person sustained injuries in the incident.

The adjoining Medinipur constituency also reported violence. At Belda, four Trinamool supporters sustained injuries in clashes with BJP workers.

At a polling booth in Bishnupur, central forces opened fire after a scuffle in the queue of voters.

A delegation of BJP leaders, including Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, met officials at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer and alleged “booth capturing and rigging” at certain booths.

Neighbouring Jharkhand reported a marginal dip in the turnout with 64.5% compared with 65.53% in 2014. There was a bomb explosion in Chaibasa but no casualties were reported. A clash between two communities was reported in Jamshedpur, while the vehicle of a candidate from Giridih was pelted with stones by some locals.

Surge in M.P.

Madhya Pradesh, where senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh is facing the BJP’s Pragya Singh Thakur in Bhopal, an overall polling of 64.77% was recorded as against 56.81% in 2014. In Bihar too, where a poll official was killed in accidental firing by a home guard, the figure improved from 57.25% to 59.3%.

Voter participation in Haryana dropped from 71.86% in the previous election to 68.34%. The same trend was noticed in Delhi, which recorded a tentative figure of 59.8% compared with 65.1% in 2014.

Of the seven seats in Delhi, Chandni Chowk and North East Delhi recorded over 62% turnout, while New Delhi, known for its VVIP voters, saw a turnout of 56.1%. Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh expressed disappointment, saying the turnout did not meet the expectations, given the awareness campaigns.

In the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, the turnout was close 2014’s figure of 54.74%.

Assam produces an orchid link to the Orient

Assam produces an orchid link to the Orient

The parasitic bloom, found by forest officer Jatindra Sarma, is a variant of a Japanese orchid

Rahul Karmakar

Lecanorchis taiwaniana, a parasitic plant without photosynthesis.SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTSPECIAL ARRANGEMENT


An Assam forest officer’s chance discovery has given India one of its smallest orchids in terms of size and duration of bloom to be recorded botanically.

Lecanorchis taiwaniana, which the Japanese Journal of Botany has published as a “new record for the flora in India” in its latest issue, is a mycoheterotroph, one of two types of parasitic plants that have abandoned photosynthesis.

Studied, classified

“We took time to classify this orchid as it appeared close to the nigricans species while bearing 90% similarity with the taiwaniana species named after Taiwan. The vote went in favour of the latter as the slight morphological differences were found to be due to local conditions,” Jatindra Sarma, a Conservator of Forests, told The Hindu.

Mr. Sarma, also the Member Secretary of the State Medicinal Plants Board, co-authored the study on the new orchid with Hussain A. Barbhuiya of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Santanu Dey of Nagaland University’s Botany Department, and Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University in Japan.

Lecanorchis taiwaniana adds to the orchid wealth of northeast India, which has 800 of some 1,300 species in the country.

About 300 species are found in the Western Ghats and 200 in the northwestern Himalayas.

Herbal value?

The orchid, discovered earlier in Japan, Taiwan, and Laos, was found to have a maximum height of 40 cm and a blossoming period of five-six days.

“We are yet to ascertain the herbal value of this orchid that flowers and fruits from July to September. But as it derives its energy and nutrients from fungus, it may be of herbal importance,” Mr. Sarma said.

The forest officer has a few other botanical discoveries to his credit. These include the rare, ginger-like Amomum pratisthana named after his daughter, and the Smilax sailenii named after Prof. Sailen Borah, one of Assam’s best known botanists.

Mr. Sarma has also published the two-volume Medicinal Plants and Mushrooms of India with special reference to Assam.

It contains information on 1,400 medicinal plants and mushrooms, including Costus pictus or the insulin plant used in treating diabetes mellitus, and Ophiorrhiza mungos used in treating cancer because of the alkaloid Camptothecin present in it.

Also known as Indian snake root, O. mungos has been the subject of medicinal research.

Saudi-educated trainer of Easter bombing kingpin held in Sri lanka

Saudi-educated trainer of Easter bombing kingpin held in Sri lanka

Aliyar founded Islamic centre in Zahran’s hometown


A mosque is seen at the Centre for Islamic Guidance at Kattankudy. REUTERSREUTERS


Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a Saudi-educated scholar for what they claim are links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday bombings.

Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Centre for Islamic Guidance (CIG), which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores.

Aliyar, police said, was “involved” with training in the southern town of Hambantota for the group of suicide bombers who attacked hotels and churches on Easter, killing over 250.

“Information has been revealed that the suspect arrested had a close relationship with … Zahran and had been operating financial transactions,” said a police statement late on Friday.

Calls to Aliyar and his associates went unanswered. Reuters was unable to find contact details for a lawyer.

The government says Zahran, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group.

Two Muslim community sources in Kattankudy told Reuters his hardline views were partly shaped by ultra-conservative Salafi-Wahabi texts that he picked up at the CIG’s library around 2-3 years ago.

The sources are not affiliated with the centre.

“I used to always run into him at the centre, reading Saudi journals and literature,” said one of the sources.

During that time, Zahran started criticising the practice of asking God for help, for instance, arguing that such pleas were an affront to pure Islam.

* Nation

Post-Fani, Naveen demands special category status

Post-Fani, Naveen demands special category status

Says massive loss to infrastructure

Press trust of india

Naveen Patnaik


Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has demanded special category status from the Centre for his disaster-prone State, saying it faces natural calamities almost every year.

In his first interview since Cyclone Fani ravaged the coastal districts killing 41 people, he said a special category status was the need of the hour due to the massive loss to infrastructure which may stall growth of the State.

“In fact, this is one of the our main demands before the Union government. Odisha faces natural calamities almost every year. The assistance we get from the Centre is mostly for temporary restoration of infrastructure. We have to spend a lot from State’s own funds to work for the long-term,” Mr. Patnaik told PTI.

“This puts too much stress on our finances. Precisely for this reason, Odisha should be considered for a special category status. In the last five years we had Phailin, Hudhud, Titli and now Fani. In addition to this, we have massive floods,” he added.

Growth rate

Mr. Patnaik, who was sworn in as Chief Minister for the first time in 2000 and is now seeking a fifth consecutive term, said it was necessary to accelerate the growth rate of the State.

“We are maintaining a growth rate higher than that of the country. We are doing so well in all our socio-economic indicators. Proving special category status will help us accelerate growth,” he said.

Asked if Cyclone Fani should have been declared a national calamity considering the magnitude of the damage, he said a special category status would solve the purpose.

Asked how challenging it would be now to bring Odisha back to normalcy, he said his government was leaving no stone unturned to do it quickly.

“We are putting our best efforts in bringing back normalcy. Power infrastructure has been completely destroyed, especially in Puri and parts of Khurda districts where we have to re-electrify completely. Also, lakhs of houses have been destroyed in addition to serious damage to tree cover and plantation crops,” he said.

State reels under drought as water reserves dry up

State reels under drought as water reserves dry up

While situation remains grim in Marathwada, scarcity hits western Maharashtra too; 750 tankers deployed in Pune division

Shoumojit Banerjee

Short supply: A farmer in Beed stores water in drums as water supply from tankers remains inconsistent.Sandeep RasalSandeepRasal


As the water situation steadily worsens in the arid Marathwada region, districts in ‘water-abundant’ western Maharashtra, too, are feeling the lash of the drought.

Rising mercury levels have resulted in the rapid depletion of water stocks in the 22 dams which are part of the Bhima river basin in western Maharashtra and are the potable water lifelines of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.

Low water stock

At least five of these dams, including Dimbhe and Temghar, have 0% water stock currently, while the collective stock in seven other dams is less than 10% of their capacity. The remaining 10 have a collective reserve stock of a little over 20% .

While Pune’s Guardian Minister Girish Bapat announced that Pune city would not face water cuts, sources in the Water Resources Department said that dams in the Pune region had barely 18% water stock available as on May 6, as compared to 38% at the same time last year.

Pimpri-Chinchwad too is reeling under the onslaught of drought. The city receives water only once in two days with water levels of the Pavana dam rapidly depleting. Its water stock, which stood at 31% of total capacity at the beginning of the month, has now reduced to 26%.

Crisis in Solapur

Authorities said more than 750 tankers were deployed to provide relief to the worst-afflicted districts in the Pune division which include Solapur, Mangalwedha, Satara and Maan. The situation in Solapur is grave as Ujjani dam currently has a water level of -34.98% (dead water stock).

On Sunday, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar toured villages in Maan taluk, criticising the State government for its inadequate arrangements to combat drought.

“Merely holding conference calls over phone with secretaries and other officials and taking a review will not help provide relief to the drought-afflicted public. It is important to know the precise condition of the livestock, their owners, the fodder camps, the crops and this can only be ascertained by field visits,” he said, taking a dig at Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

He further pointed out that the aid of ₹90 per animal announced by the government was insufficient for the farmer in this hour of crisis as fodder and water were expensive and scarce. “The per animal monetary aid for fodder must be raised to ₹120. Furthermore, while the government may have arranged for tankers, water supply through them was highly irregular at best,” Mr. Pawar said.

‘Contaminated water’

The NCP chief said that people had complained to him during his visit that the drinking water they received was of poor quality and often contaminated. “I am least interested in indulging in politics at this hour. But I urge the government to ensure that these problems are rapidly remedied and that employment opportunities be immediately created to prevent the increased migration of the rural populace,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Marathwada, despite the relief packages announced by the government, the scenario on ground remains grim as ever.

Residents in pockets of Parli town in Beed district are on a hunger strike in front of the municipal council protesting against the acute water shortage.

The groundwater table has plummeted sharply in several villages in the district as in other parts of rural Marathwada. In Jalna, irate residents staged a rasta roko on Saturday protesting against the alleged mismanagement and theft of water.

According to reports, the desperation of the people of Halsi village in Latur’s Nilanga taluk turned to bitter rage directed at their local representatives. The villagers had collected money to dig up three wells. But the sarpanch, citing the model code of conduct for the elections, refused its implementation, causing the citizens to manhandle him.

Thrissur ‘Pooram’ festivities begin with Raman’s entry

Thrissur ‘Pooram’ festivities begin with Raman’s entry

Lakhs of people witness ‘Vilambaram’ ritual

Mini Muringatheri

Grand arrival: Devotees who gathered to catch a glimpse of Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran at the Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur on Sunday. K.K. Najeeb


An unprecedented crowd gathered to witness the ‘Vilambaram’ ritual of the Pooram celebrations at the Thekkinkadu maidan here on Sunday, with elephant Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran, fondly called ‘Raman’, opening the Thekke Gopura Nada of Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple.

The ‘Vilambaram’ ritual declares the 36-hour-long pooram celebrations open.

It was a record crowd on the eve of the pooram, almost equal to that of Kudamattam (changing of parasols) ceremony, as the ritual and the controversy over parading of the elephant drew national attention.

The Vilambaram ritual involves bringing the idol of Naithilakkavu Temple, Kuttoor, one of the 10 participating temples of the Thrissur Pooram, to the Sree Vadakkunnathan temple and opening the Thekke Gopura Nada. As the District Collector gave permission for parading elephant Ramachandran on the temple ground only for an hour, another elephant Thechikkottukavu Devidasan, carried the idol from Naithilakkavu temple to Manikandanal on the Swaraj Round.

Ramachandran, which was brought in a lorry to the Swaraj Round, received the idol at Manikandanal. There was Pandimelam by Kizhakkoot Aniyan Marar. Later, Ramachandran carried the idol of Neithilakkavilamma to the temple to take blessings of Vadakkunnathan.

Excited crowd

Lakhs of pooram lovers screamed in excitement when Ramachandran opened the Thekke Gopura Nada carrying the idol of Neithilakkavilamma.

For the first time in history, the Vilambaram ritual witnessed a sea of humanity, showing the huge fan following for Raman. Later, the idol was handed over once again to Devidasan and Raman was taken to Thechikkottukavu in a lorry.

Tight security was arranged for the ritual. People were not allowed to come near Ramachandran. Barricades were erected 10 meters away. Police had a tough time controlling the crowd.

The Vilambaram ritual drew attention following the ban on Ramachandran, considering its violent behaviour. The ban was later lifted. The elephant was insured for ₹3 crore for the one-hour long function.

The functions on Monday, the Pooram Day, will begin at 7.30 a.m. A long list of celebrations, including famous percussion ensembles for Madathil Varavu, Chembada and Ilanjithara Melam and Kudamattam, await the pooram lovers. Fireworks lovers have to wait till early morning on Tuesday.

Death of 3 children unsettles Kolam tribe

Death of 3 children unsettles Kolam tribe

Superstition could force the community in Adilabad to relocate

S. Harpal Singh

Kolam elder Kodapa Marubai speaking of witchcraft in Adilabad on Sunday.S. Harpal Singh


Members of the Particularly Vulnerable Kolam tribe of Kothapalli Kolamguda in Telangana’s Adilabad district are on edge following the death of three children from food poisoning on May 8.

The Kolam fear that more ill-luck could be in store for them and are on the lookout for a bhaktak/devari or a priest to ‘exorcise’ the evil that has gripped their habitation.

The process to appease the gods could set them back by a few thousand rupees. However, in a worse scenario, they may be forced to vacate their village and relocate if the priests deem the place unsafe — a process they have undertaken often times before. “This time, we are not going away, calamity or no calamity,” asserted Kodapa Marubai.

“Inexplicable deaths of our compatriots and cattle forced us to leave Muradiguda (close to Kothapalli) and shift to Kothapet-Kawal in Jannaram in Mancherial district and later to Pilateguda, also in Narnoor, then to Bhutai in Bazarhatnoor mandal, and finally back to this place about 10 years ago,” she pointed out.

“Our backwardness is the main reason for our superstitions,” said Kolam elder Athram Raju, a former sarpanch of Gowri in Jainoor mandal of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district. “The government should appoint a special Kolam Development Officer like in the past so that our people get the much-needed special attention,” he suggested.

“Thrust should be given to educate our people, and awareness camps on superstitions should be held,” he added.

The superstitious nature of the PVTG tribe often has villagers shifting locations. There have been instances like the current one of Sidam Mutha of Jhari Kolamguda in Kerameri mandal of KB Asifabad district wherein a few villagers have branded him a sorcerer and are harassing him constantly.

In 2017, Sidam Poshiga, a Kolam from Chinnuguda in the same mandal, was killed by members of the community, who suspected him of practising witchcraft. “Let the Kothapalli incident be a new beginning towards creating awareness on the issue,” Mr. Raju said.

Small creations that speak volumes

Small creations that speak volumes

Ajay Kumar enters Limca Book of Records for making the smallest functional violin

Special Correspondent,

Painstaking effort: The 20-mm-long violin made by goldsmith and micro artist M. Ajay Kumar.M. Murali


A goldsmith by vocation and a micro sculptor by passion, Mattewada Ajay Kumar has secured a place in the Limca Book of Records once again — this time for the smallest functional violin and scissors made of gold.

The 45-year-old created the violin that measures 20mm in length using 0.740 milligrams of gold. Its four strings are made of steel and it took him 12 hours to complete. The scissors, which measures 11 mm in length, was made using 0.180 milligrams of gold which took him three hours to finish.

Having been in the field of micro art for over two decades, Mr. Kumar has created many wonders and has won accolades from different quarters. His previous three Limca records are for making a seven-levered lock and a fan. He also holds the world record for his miniature lock.

His depiction of Dandi March using wax in the eye of a needle drew nationwide attention. The micro sculpture with Mahatma Gandhi and seven freedom fighters following him during the Salt Satyagraha even awed Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The work has now found a place at the National Salt Satyagraha Memorial in Dandi, Gujarat, set up by the Government of India.

Speaking to The Hindu, he said it was a laborious task and it often took more than 20 hours to finish each piece. “The implements I use are also made by me. Though it demands a lot of patience, I like the work,” he signed off.

Vedanta gets initial clearance for 274 hydrocarbon wells in T.N., Puducherry

Vedanta gets initial clearance for 274 hydrocarbon wells in T.N., Puducherry

Environment Ministry grants permission to conduct environmental assessment

T.K. Rohit

The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has granted the Terms of Reference (ToR) to Vedanta Ltd’s Cairn Oil & Gas, to carry out Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for drilling a total of 274 offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration wells in the Bay of Bengal, Nagapattinam, Karaikal, Villupuram and Puducherry.

The sanction letter with the ToR to proceed with the EIA was issued to the company on Saturday and Sunday, kickstarting the first step in the process.

Vedanta proposes to drill 116 exploratory and appraisal wells in project block 1 and 158 wells in project block 2. The depth of the drilling wells will be between 3,500 and 4,500 metres each. The project is just 0.49 km from the Pichavaram mangrove forest. Densely populated areas such as Poompuhar, Karaikal, Nagapattinam and Velankanni are located in the block. A number of rivers also run through the project block.

In 2017, Vedanta was allocated hydrocarbons exploration and production licence by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas under a revenue sharing contract. The first block covers an area of 1,794, of which 1,654 is offshore in the Bay of Bengal and 141 is onshore — 139 in Villupuram and 2 in Puducherry.

The second block covers 2,574 consisting of 142 of Nagapattinam, 39 of Karaikal and 2,393 of sea portion of the Bay of Bengal, according to Vedanta’s submissions to the MoEF while applying for the grant of the ToR. The ToR for carrying out an EIA is the first step that needs to be completed and certified for setting up a project. The EIA will study the environmental impact of the project, explain the consequences and the mitigating measures to be undertaken. Approval for carrying out the EIA is no guarantee of a project being granted final approval, but generally it is granted clearance, unless the reasons are too difficult to justify.

“Under the EIA Notification 2006, the Standard TOR for environment impact assessment report and environment management plan for obtaining environment clearance is prescribed with public consultation,” the Ministry said in a letter to Vedanta

A century behind them, but voting is still a youthful pursuit

A century behind them, but voting is still a youthful pursuit

47 people aged above 100 exercise their franchise in Delhi; polling officials indulge them with VIP treatment

Press Trust of India

Bachan Singh, 111, the oldest voter in Delhi, leaves the polling booth after casting his vote on Sunday.PTI

New Delhi

Age is just a number, says a family member of 111-year-old Bachan Singh, the oldest voter in Delhi, who carried his youthful enthusiasm into the polling station in Tilak Nagar here.

Mr. Singh and 110-year-old Ram Pyari Sankhwar were the oldest man and woman to vote in the national capital on Sunday.

Mr. Singh and Ms. Sankhwar have been voting since India’s first general election following Independence.

This time, they were taken to the polling booth in a car by the polling staff, and also dropped back. Overwhelmed by this gesture from the office of Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer, they said it had been a “VIP experience” for them.

Till the previous Assembly election in 2015, Mr. Singh cycled to the polling booth. This time, he arrived in a car along with polling officials in full media glare.

He was later wheeled into the polling both. A paralysis attack around three months ago had rendered him bedridden.

Importance of franchise

Although Mr. Singh cannot walk the way he did before, he knows the importance of his vote.

“I will vote for those who worked for us,” he said.

“He doesn’t even know that the Aam Aadmi Party exists. For him, every election has been a contest between the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and the Congress,” his youngest son, Jasbeer Singh, 63, said. Mr. Jasbeer Singh claims his father has never missed out on an election since 1951.

The family says they have traditionally voted for the Congress because former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru “supported Namdhari Sikhs at the time of Partition”. But they think the AAP should be given another chance in Delhi.

Ms. Sankhwar, who has been through age-related ailments for the past one decade, voted at Kondli. Her son Ram Dhani said his mother was overwhelmed as she was taken to the polling station in a car, which had the mark of the Government of India, with a Delhi constable escorting her. “They treated me like a VIP,” she said.

“Four days ago, the District Magistrate and the SDM [Sub-Divisional Magistrate] had come to our house to invite my mother to cast her vote. They also honoured her with bouquets and a shawl,” he said.

Ganga Devi, a 107-year-old resident of Kewal Park, was also picked up from home and felicitated at the polling station.

According to data shared by the Delhi CEO’s Office, there are a total of 96 centenarians — 42 male and 54 female — who were eligible to vote in the Lok Sabha polls here. Delhi CEO Ranbir Singh told presspersons that 47 of them exercised their franchise and were felicitated. A total of 450 cars were used for picking them up and dropping them back, he said.

Besides centenarians, several senior citizens aged above 80 exercised their franchise.

‘The present government does not respect the Constitution’

‘The present government does not respect the Constitution’

Filmmaker-actor Tigmanshu Dhulia says one must vote to ensure that the country keeps having elections in the years to come

Namrata Joshi


Filmmaker-writer-actor Tigmanshu Dhulia, back in from a road trip through Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, predicts that the decisive factor in the Lok Sabha election this year will be the vote of the small, poor farmer as against that of the urban middle class. “It’s a fight between the villages and the cities,” he says.

It is quite apparent that Dhulia likes to engage with politics, what he prefers to describe as “an interest in what is happening around me”. He attributes the inclination to growing up in a politically charged city — Allahabad — and the lively political atmosphere at home.

Intense microcosm

Campus politics is often regarded as the microcosm as well as the building block of the larger national electoral politics and Dhulia kicked off his innings in Hindi films with Haasil (2003), an incisive look at student politics and gang rivalry in Allahabad University that he himself had been a witness to as a student. It has become a cult classic over the years.

His other film that dealt head on with politics — Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) — was not as personal. It was about the member of a decadent royal family who takes to politics to maintain the stature and power that is getting steadily eroded.

Dhulia graduated from Allahabad University in 1986. “There was simmering violence at the university,” he recollects. According to him, Haasil was portentous of the times to come. The violence that was stewing underneath got unleashed with full force at the turn of the century, the time the film is set in.

It was also the time when the BJP had emerged as a strong force with Atal Bihari Vajpayee forming the government at the Centre and there was a rise of the regional parties in the north, all of which got depicted in the film, albeit obliquely.

“Gaurishankar Pandey, played by Ashutosh Rana, was a right wing character and his opponent, Ranvijay Singh (Irrfan Khan), was of the Samajwadi Party. I haven’t stated it openly, but it is there in the conversations, in the rivalry and the caste politics,” he says.

Marginalisation of Left

Though not a card-carrying member himself, Dhulia was a sympathiser of, and worked for, the ultra-Left Progressive Students’ Organisation at Allahabad University. “Apart from a Jawaharlal Nehru University or Delhi University, the Left has almost vanished now. Other than the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), all others [Left parties] have come under the umbrella unit of AISA (All India Students’ Association),” he says.

While neither defending nor critiquing the Left, he is quick to point out that the Left’s presence on the campuses at least ensured that students would read good books. “Painting, art appreciation, poetry recitals… these activities were organised. Gorky, Tolstoy are good writers; they were read. At least the right foundation was laid. Left made a good person out of us,” he recalls.

He recently went to the campuses in North India to research for a web series on campus politics and found that, like politics at large, student politics is becoming murkier by the day. “Consumerism has entered in a big way, everything now boils down to money. Earlier it was about leadership and power. Now it is about bagging contracts for the various works in the university,” he says.

According to him, with the growth of the extreme Right, the Left will also re-emerge.

“Solid ideology rests either with the Left or the Right. Congress has no ideology. But, yes, it is secular… Left might be dead, it might be zero. But there is a saying that ‘mare hue haathi se darr lagta hai (there is a fear of the dead elephant).’ Right is scared of it still. That’s the reason for the assault on institutes like JNU, FTII,” he says.

Crucial vote

In the recent Vote Sambhal Ke series, Dhulia had talked about how one must vote for someone who wouldn’t destroy India’s social fabric. He urged the young to vote while keeping real issues — like employment — in mind. He also warned that one must vote to ensure that the country keeps having elections in the years to come, and that 2019 election should not turn out to be the last one. He confesses that there is the fear that it can happen.

“They [the present dispensation] don’t respect the Constitution,” he says.

According to him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was brought into power with a majority but didn’t take advantage of it. “They have run the government as though they have been in the Opposition,” he says.

“Chaahe jaisi bhi sarkar aaye, aisi nahin aani chahiye. Is sarkar ne desh to kharaab kiya hi kiya, deshwasi bhi kharaab kar diye hain (Whichever government may come to power, it should not be like this one. It hasn’t just spoilt the country but its citizens as well),” he says. Economic, social reforms can still fix the wrongs when it comes to the country.

“But who will set the people right?” he asks rhetorically, pointing at the rampant hate politics, the ubiquitous fear and polarisation around. “It wasn’t like this earlier. BJP government was there earlier too,” he says.

His concern is that the freedom to say what we want to shouldn’t be taken away and that society should engage in a dialogue than a cacophonous war of words.

Says he: “I am a filmmaker, you are a journalist. What’s the point if the personal self is not allowed to reflect in our work?”




* Editorial 1

Of shells, companies and GDP

Of shells, companies and GDP

The government must put the MCA-21 data under scrutiny and bring transparency in calculating corporate output 

Getty Images/iStockphotoHYWARDS/Getty Images/iStockphoto

About a third of non-government non-financial companies in the services sector are not traceable is the finding of a National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) survey for 2016-17 that has just been released. Since such entities could be shell/fake/bogus companies included in the MCA-21 database of “active” companies used for estimating the gross domestic product (GDP), the new finding could imply that private corporate sector GDP is being currently overestimated, denting the official growth narrative.

The background

In 2015, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) issued a new GDP series with 2011-12 as the base year, replacing the earlier series with the 2004-05 base-year as a routine matter. Usually, the revision leads to a slight expansion of the absolute GDP in the base year, but its growth rate does not change, implying that the underlying pace of economic expansion in the two series has remained the same. This time was different, however. The absolute GDP size — the sum of the value of all (unduplicated) goods and services produced in a year — got diminished slightly in the base year, and its growth rates went up subsequently.

Faced with public scrutiny and scepticism, the CSO defended the revision by claiming that it had followed the latest global template (the System of National Accounts 2008), applying improved methodologies to a newer and larger data set; hence the new GDP was kosher. In a first, the new series estimated private corporate sector (PCS) GDP directly using the Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ (MCA) statutory filing of financial returns, MCA-21. Accounting for over a third of GDP, as the non-financial PCS now spans widely, the revision has affected the estimates of many industries and services. Hence the GDP debate has mostly centred on the PCS.

Since the MCA-21 database is much larger than those used earlier — like the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) for manufacturing or the Reserve Bank of India sample of large companies for estimating corporate saving and investment) — the CSO claims the new GDP better captures the economy’s value addition, especially of smaller enterprises and services activities. Critics, however, wonder if it is a case of a better description or an overestimation.

Screening and setback

Though now contributing over a half of GDP, services sector output estimates are poorer, outside of the public sector and large private sector companies. To redress the shortcoming, the CSO is committed to launching an annual survey of services (on the lines of the ASI). As a first step, the NSSO carried out a survey of non-government and non-financial companies/establishments in 2016-17, using three list frames (or the universes of enterprises) to draw samples for the survey, the MCA sample being the largest. A 10% sample was drawn from the CSO’s universe of 3.5 lakh active non-financial companies. After due screening, at the survey stage, the NSSO, to its shock, found that 45% of the selected companies did not respond to the survey.

The NSSO report says, “About 45% of MCA units were found to be out-of-survey/causality…. Non-response of a large number of units was a major setback for this survey. This happened due to unit non-response, closure of the unit, unit found to be the one other than headquarter, unit out of coverage or unit non-traceable.”

To its dismay, the NSSO found the results to be so poor that it had to abandon the planned output of two-volume survey results, and instead settle for a brief technical report which was released recently. It candidly admitted the difficulties the NSSO faced in the survey: “Many units, particularly of the MCA list, were not identifiable due to lack of proper/adequate postal addresses. Therefore, many notices could not be delivered. A large number of out-of-coverage units was also found in the list. Affixing signatures on Schedule 2.35 for out-of-coverage units was time-consuming and difficult as owners were reluctant to sign. In many cases, it was found that the selected enterprises had not prepared the Annual Audit Report for 2015-16 or the balance sheets any time before.”

The inference could be that such companies are likely to be shell/fake/spurious entities that remain legally registered (but merely on paper), without actually producing goods and services.

Impact of estimation

What does this imply for GDP estimation? Apparently, quite a lot since they are part of the universe of active companies for which GDP is estimated. Though it may not be possible to show how much difference it would make to the GDP level and growth rate (in the absence of more information), the survey findings could bring down the growth estimates.

However, those knowledgeable have dismissed such an apprehension on two counts: one, shell companies add value to the economy, hence their deletion would underestimate GDP; two, as all active companies are said to submit their audited accounts at least once in three years, the contribution of shell companies is well captured in the MCA database.

Both arguments seem questionable. Shell companies, by definition, do not produce goods and services; they help the promoter/owner to hide profits or evade taxes/regulation. A dictionary meaning of a shell company is “a company existing as a legal entity but having no significant assets, independent business operations, etc., often owned or controlled by another company and used for various, often illegal purposes”.

The argument that all active companies under the MCA have filed statutory returns at least once during the last three years is a bureaucratic fiction. If it were true, there would be at least one year for which there would exist data for seven-eight lakh companies, which has never been the case. In reality for most years data are available for around three lakh active companies, estimates for which are inflated (or multiplied) for the (fictitious) universe of about 10 lakh active companies. As the database is not made public and the methodological details are not adequately revealed, there is no way of verifying the veracity of the official estimates — an issue critics have flagged since 2015.

If the share of shell/fake/bogus companies in the universe of active companies in the MCA-21 database is as high as what is found in the NSSO’s services sector survey, then GDP estimates based on a more realistic list of working companies are likely to be smaller. Hence this could affect the corporate sector’s GDP level and its growth rate.

Case for scrutiny

In sum, the NSSO’s survey of active companies in the services sector discovered that 45% of them could not be traced or misclassified; hence they could represent or be shell/fake/bogus companies. The finding throws into sharp relief the poor quality of the MCA-21 data set, which has formed the backbone of the new GDP series. The NSSO survey results have added more questions about the beleaguered GDP series, strengthening doubts that have arisen from various aspects of the revision process. As a first step towards dispelling the growing distrust in the new GDP series, the government should put up the MCA-21 data for public scrutiny and lift the opacity of the methodology used in estimating corporate sector output.

R. Nagaraj is with the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai

Playing the division card

Playing the division card

The BJP’s electoral fortunes depend on its capacity to polarise the OBC vote

Getty Images/iStockphotoLuckyTD/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the ongoing elections, the Congress’s electoral strategy continues to be based on its age-old Nehruvian strategy of ‘politics of accommodation’. In contrast the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh strategy thrives on the ‘politics of polarisation’. As has been evident in the last five years, social tensions amongst various social constituencies across caste, religion, and region have been brewing. These tensions have underpinned the political strategy of the BJP for 2019. It has mobilised support by polarising in order to delineate social differences and prejudices in social relations. As part of this strategy, there has been a sustained attempt to divide religious groups between Hindus and Muslims, to keep Kashmir as a point of reference, and with increased violence and political rhetoric to collapse the distinction between communalism and nationalism.

Sum of all tactics

With regard to caste groups, one has witnessed a sustained marginalisation of Dalits, beginning with the death of Rohith Vemula in early 2016, attacks in Una, Gujarat, to attempts to dilute the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and well-laid out provisions for reservations. The attempt seemed to be to go to polls by consolidating the votes of caste Hindus and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The caste Hindu votes were sought to be secured on the basis of the proposed 10% reservations for the economically weak among the upper castes. Though small in number, consolidated voting of the upper castes would make a difference, though the BJP’s fortunes in 2019 depend on the OBCs.

Though the OBCs are a heterogeneous group internally divided across economic and social location, there has been a sustained movement of the OBCs to the fold of the BJP. This shift was somewhat consolidated with the ascent of Narendra Modi in 2014 and his rhetoric of belonging to a backward caste. This shift of the OBCs will continue to define in important ways the electoral prospects of major national and regional parties. In the 1980s, the OBCs consolidated behind various regional parties. After the 1990s, and post-Mandal, it is intriguing that the politics of social justice and the ‘second democratic upsurge’ inaugurated the OBC shift towards the BJP. It was also typified as a ‘secular upsurge’ as the OBC reservations had the potential to bring the Hindu-Muslim OBCs together by conjoining their interests and potential mobility.

The shift towards the BJP has to be understood in terms of the particularistic location of the OBCs in the caste order and the relative economic mobility they have enjoyed in the last three decades. The less dominant OBC castes today define the aspirational generation of India, marking mobility from rural to urban areas, and they constitute the bulk of the lower-middle classes in urban and peri-urban areas. In rural areas, with the sustained agrarian crisis, the farmers’ movement of the 1970s and 1980s got converted to OBC identity politics, putting emphasis on joining the formal education and employment sectors. The BJP holds a strong promise to such social constituencies through its rhetoric of ‘New India’, creation of jobs, rapid urbanisation and smart cities. After the economic reforms of the 1990s, the OBCs have benefited from greater inter-generational mobility; today, more than abject poverty, they perceive themselves to be vulnerable to slipping into poverty. Such a precarious location attracts them to the processes of corporatisation and the promise of new opportunities that a globalised economy offers.

Hindutva’s appeal

Further, in terms of their caste location, the OBCs never had a programme of moving out of the Hindu fold, unlike the Dalits. This becomes partly clear in the difference between Ram Manohar Lohia, who has come to symbolise OBC politics in the Hindi heartland, and B.R. Ambedkar. While Ambedkar was convinced that caste is inextricably linked to Hindu religion and conversion was the only way to emancipate Dalits, Lohia preferred a critique of caste-based discrimination but never linked it to a critique of the Hindu religion itself. The BJP’s robust Hindutva mobilisation that symbolises a celebration of Hindu identity offers it a ready entry-point to appeal to the OBCs, including in many of the southern States. It also signifies a local cultural idiom that was earlier articulated by parties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) in its campaigns against English and introduction of computers. OBCs also become a ‘natural’ constituency for the BJP’s campaign to make Hindi the sole official language, which also allows for the optics of an anti-elite political rhetoric.

In addition, the BJP has been at the forefront of the ‘movement’ to sub-divide the OBCs in order to provide representation to the more backwards among the OBCs. The party had succeeded in doing this in Uttar Pradesh, one of the main reasons for its stupendous victory in the Assembly elections in 2017. This allows for more backward OBCs to come out of the yoke of patronage of dominant OBC communities such as Yadavs and Kurmis in U.P. and Bihar. The BJP has the unique advantage of providing more seats for individuals from the smaller and less dominant OBCs since it is a relatively younger party still expanding its leadership ranks in many States. Further, the BJP in its strategy of not offering seats to Muslims, unlike any other party, keeps more seats reserved for OBCs. Paradoxically, while the dominant OBCs such as the Yadavs moved to a socialist-brand of politics, other caste groups among the OBCs have moved towards a muscular Hindutva brand of politics.

The BJP’s electoral prospects depend on this new directionality of OBCs and how its strategy fares in the face of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh.

Ajay Gudavarthy is with the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Substantive equality

Substantive equality

The Supreme Court decision rightly rejects the notion that quotas affect efficiency

The Supreme Court verdict upholding a Karnataka law to preserve the consequential seniority of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe candidates promoted on the basis of reservation is notable for being the first instance of quantifiable data being used to justify reservation. After a similar 2002 law was struck down on the ground that there was no data, as required by the judgment in Nagaraj (2006), the Karnataka government appointed a committee to collect data on the “backwardness” of SC/ST communities, the inadequacy of their representation in the services and the overall impact of reservation on the efficiency of the administration — parameters laid down in the 2006 verdict as constitutional limitations on the power to extend reservation in employment. Based on the report, the State enacted a fresh law, which has now been upheld on the ground that it is compliant with the Nagaraj formulation, as well as the clarification found in Jarnail Singh (2018). A key principle in this decision is that where reservation for SC/ST candidates is concerned, there is no need to demonstrate the ‘backwardness’ of the community. The other pre-requisites of a valid system — quantifiable data on the ‘inadequacy of representation’ for classes of people identified for reservation, and an assessment of the impact of such quota on the “efficiency of administration” — remain valid. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s judgment applies the rule emerging from Jarnail Singh, which decided that Nagaraj did not require reconsideration. At the same time, it held that Nagaraj was not right in insisting on data to justify the ‘backwardness’ of SC/ST communities, as it contradicted a nine-judge Bench decision in Indra Sawhney (1992).

The judgment places in perspective the historical and social justification for according reservation, rejecting the argument that quotas, by themselves, affect administrative “efficiency”. It says merit lies not only in performance but also in achieving goals such as promotion of equality, and that India’s transformative Constitution envisages not just a formal equality of opportunity but the achievement of substantive equality. It accepts the subjective satisfaction of the government in deciding the adequacy of representation, subject to the norm that there should be relevant material before it. One must also recognise the constant tension between legislative intent and judicial interpretation. Most judgments on affirmative action indicate that the courts are laying down constitutional limitations, lest the equality norm, a basic feature of the Constitution, be given the go-by. It is welcome that the backwardness of the SCs and STs no more needs to be demonstrated. Policy-makers should heed the appeal contained in the judgment: there is no antithesis between the concept of efficiency and the inclusion of diverse sections of society in the administration. While data on representation may be a requirement, the idea that reservation has an adverse effect on administration must be rejected.

Deal in danger

Deal in danger

Time is running out for European signatories to the nuclear pact to address Iran’s concerns

Iran’s decision to reduce its commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which sought to curtail its nuclear capabilities, is more of a warning than a move to break the nuclear deal. Iran has been under economic and political pressure since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal a year ago. The U.S. has since amped up its anti-Iran rhetoric and reimposed sanctions. While President Hassan Rouhani clinched the agreement in 2015 despite opposition from hardliners, his promise was that it would help lift sanctions, providing relief to Iran’s economy. But the economic benefits did not last even three years, weakening Mr. Rouhani’s position in Iran’s complex power dynamics. With the U.S. having ended the sanctions-waiver it had given to certain countries, including India, on purchasing Iranian oil, from the first week of May, the Iranian economy has come under more pressure. It is in this context that Mr. Rouhani announced the suspension of some of the restrictions in the deal.

Iran will immediately stop shipping out excess enriched uranium and heavy water. Mr. Rouhani has given 60 days to other signatories to find solutions to shield Iran’s banking and oil sectors from U.S. sanctions. In theory, excess enriched uranium and heavy water allow Iran to expand its nuclear programme, but it hasn’t announced any such plan. The big threat is that it will resume higher levels of enrichment to build weapons unless its grievances are addressed in 60 days. Iran’s response may appear to be calibrated. It hasn’t quit the deal as the U.S. did. And its concerns are genuine as it is being punished even as it is compliant with the terms of the agreement. But Iran’s move to put the remaining signatories on notice could be the start of the formal unravelling of the deal. European countries have been working on a mechanism, which is still in the initial stages, that allows Europe to trade with Iran through a barter system avoiding the dollar and circumventing sanctions. But it hasn’t covered oil trade, the mainstay of Iran’s economy. If Europe doesn’t do enough in 60 days and Iran sticks to its threat, the deal will collapse, giving more reason to the U.S. to escalate hostilities. It has, among other things, deployed an aircraft carrier and a bomber squad to the Gulf. A practical alternative would be for Iran to end this brinkmanship and deepen cooperation with other signatories instead of breaking the deal. Europe, on its part, should stand firmly up to the U.S.’s unilateral threats and pressure, and come up with ways to help Iran. A collapse of the deal would not only exacerbate the Iran nuclear crisis but also set a bad precedent in international diplomacy.

* Editorial 2

The War on Terror is in peril

The War on Terror is in peril

The world needs to be united on the issue of terrorism and resolve contradictions

“The attacks in Sri Lanka underline the many cracks in the concept of a global War on Terror.” Security personnel inspect the interior of St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on April 22, a day after the Easter Sunday blasts. AFP

The brutal attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, for which the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, have reignited discussion on the global ‘War on Terror’. Scholars and officials across the world are studying the links of the bombers to the IS’s former ‘Caliphate’ in Syria, where at least two of the bombers are believed to have travelled, and several leaders have now called for a greater focus on the global dimensions of the counter-terrorism effort. The attacks in Sri Lanka, however, also underline the many cracks in the concept of a global ‘War on Terror’, and raise questions on what it has achieved in the time since the term was coined by former U.S. President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

A floundering war

First, the original mission that the War on Terror was named for is floundering. Not only has the coalition of about 60 countries that sent troops and offered logistical support for ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ failed to end terrorism in Afghanistan, it appears it is preparing to hand the country back to the oppressive Taliban regime that it defeated in December 2001. This, despite the fact there is no guarantee that the terror groups living in safe havens in Pakistan will not also have the run of Afghanistan once the coalition pulls out.

The war in Afghanistan was only one of the many coalitions the U.S. led in the name of the War on Terror: 46 nations joined the ‘coalition of the willing’ to defeat Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003, and 19 were a part of the coalition that ousted Muammar Qaddafi from power in Libya in 2011. The U.S. and allied countries were sidetracked by the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, which led them to bolster anti-Bashar al-Assad groups in Syria. This eventually paved the way for the IS to establish a ‘Caliphate’ in territories in Syria and Iraq. The next coalition was formed to fight the terror of the IS. The number of global terror attacks (maintained in a Global Terrorism Database by the University of Maryland of events from 1970 to 2018) per year went up from 1,000 in 2004 to 17,000 in 2014. It is clear that the countries in question — Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq — are far from free of the spectre of terrorism. Despite the defeat of the ‘Caliphate’ territorially, the IS or its franchises are appearing in new parts of the world. Sri Lanka is the latest on that list.

Second, rather than helping fight pan-Islamist terror groups, the War on Terror appears to help the IS and al-Qaeda more, giving them a footprint far bigger than their actual abilities. This helps them recruit and radicalise Muslim youth from around the globe, and allows them to own terrorists around the world as their own, as IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did in a rare video posted shortly after the Easter Sunday attacks.

Not a ‘fight for Islam’

Third, the narrative they build of a “fight for Islam” is equally false. According to the Global Terrorism Database,of the 81 terror attacks in which more than 100 were killed (high casualty) since 2001, more than 70 were carried out in Islamic or Muslim-majority countries. In a specific search of high casualty terror attacks on religious institutions since 2001, 18 of the top 20 were by Islamist groups on mosques. The War on Terror thus appears to be a concept peddled mostly by pan-Islamist groups and propagated most often by extremists of other religions as a motive for terror attacks, such as the 2011 Utoya island attack in Norway or the New Zealand attacks this year. Governments in countries affected by terrorism must not subscribe to this narrative blindly.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the reason the members of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) were successful in their diabolical plot had as much to do with the fact that intelligence inputs given by India were ignored as it did with the fact that since the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lankan authorities had let their guard down and ignored growing internal fault lines. As a result, despite complaints about the speeches that suspected mastermind Mohamed Zahran Hashim made as a preacher of a mosque in Sri Lanka’s Eastern province, he went unchallenged. Police and intelligence agencies also failed to keep a stern eye on other NTJ bombers who were IS returnees, despite the fact that only about 32 Sri Lankans in all are believed to have travelled to IS territory.

Approaches to fighting terror

Fourth, it is necessary for countries fighting terrorism to learn more closely from their differences, rather than try to generalise from experience. Comparing European states like the U.K., France and Belgium, where hundreds of immigrant Muslims have enlisted for the IS, to South Asian states like India, where Muslim populations are indigenous and only a few dozen are believed to have left for Syria, is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Indian officials have also claimed a higher success in deradicalising IS returnees, because they have enlisted whole families, neighbourhoods and local Maulvis in their efforts. In Bangladesh too, after the 2016 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery, government advertisements asked mothers to check on their children’s activities. This acknowledgement that radicalised terrorists are a part of a community is in stark contrast to the current debate in many European countries that are refusing to take IS returnees and their families back. Similarly, several Central Asian states propagate a much more hard-line approach on counter-radicalisation, by banning beards and hijabs, while China’s re-education internment camps in Xinjiang have raised questions about human rights. The success or failure of each of these approaches must be studied before deciding their applicability elsewhere.

Fifth, the world community must address contradictions in the War on Terror. For 20 years, the world has failed to agree on a common definition of terrorism at the United Nations. This has held up the passage of the Indian-sponsored proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Despite the fact that Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar has been targeting Indians incessantly for years, they must ask why China allowed his UN Security Council designation as a global terrorist only after mentions of his attacks in India were removed. They must ask why the U.S. is focused on billing Iran the “world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism”, while states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that have funded and sheltered Islamist terror groups are still treated as “frontline allies” on terror. And why, despite all their resources and expertise, the alliance of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand that share global intelligence was unable to see the impending threat in Sri Lanka. Unless the world is truly united on the issue and resolves such contradictions, the global War on Terror will only be as strong as its weakest link.

More is expected from the reporting team


More is expected from the reporting team

When the credibility of major institutions is undermined, a journalist’s role becomes all the more important

We are witnessing an erosion of credibility of three crucial institutions: the Supreme Court, the Election Commission (EC), and the Central Statistics Office, responsible for computing the GDP numbers. While political scientists will reflect on the problems arising out of such a trust deficit for democracy, the Readers’ Editor’s office is concerned with how this newspaper has been covering developments concerning these institutions.

Covering the judiciary

There seems be a fairly comprehensive approach in covering the crisis in the judiciary. The judiciary was subjected to scrutiny after the tug of war between the judiciary and the government broke over the National Judicial Appointments Commission. The number of reports, analytical stories, and opinion pieces by legal scholars increased after the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court — Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M.B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — held a press conference last year and “raised issues affecting the institution”. There has been an excellent balance of opinions and reportage since. For instance, various issues concerning the judiciary’s handling of the sexual harassment case against the Chief Justice of India were raised in the editorial “Prisoner of procedure” (May 8, 2019), as well as reports and opinion pieces in the newspaper.

Ignoring an early warning

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the controversy over data. Last week, the financial newspaper Mint reported that about 38% of companies, which the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) surveyed from the MCA-21 database of companies used for calculating GDP, could not be traced or were wrongly classified. The same issues were raised by R. Nagaraj in 2016 in “Why 7.6% growth is hard to square” (The Hindu, February 12). He wrote: “The revised NAS has used the Ministry of Corporate Affairs MCA-21 database of about 5.2 lakh companies to estimate PCS’s contribution to domestic output. It is then ‘blown up’ (scaled up) to over 9 lakh ‘active companies’ that claimed to have filed their financial returns at least once during the previous three years. Detailed investigations suggest shortcomings in these procedures, leading to an overestimation of the size and growth rates of PCS in the new GDP series — a tentative result that can be verified only if the MCA-21 database is made available for independent verification.” Professor Nagaraj’s warning was confirmed by the latest NSSO survey. Why was such an early warning from an eminent economist not taken up by the reporting team?

In “The Election Commission must act tough” (May 7, 2019), former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi pointed out how unfortunate it is that the Supreme Court had to step in recently to remind the EC of powers that it always had. In “What is missing in the 2019 election coverage” (April 1, 2019), I had pointed out that the media, including this newspaper, has been too gentle in the coverage of the election body despite numerous issues cropping up on a daily basis.

Need for meticulous reportage

I have mentioned elsewhere that if claims of policy success are not backed by field reports, people suspect the claims. The government’s pronouncements alone cannot build trust when there are reports of data suppression. Meticulous reportage backed by solid empirical data is the best validation for any policy pronouncement.

In 2011, the London-based Frontline Club conducted a survey among journalists on the role of investigative journalism. The responses exemplified the importance of the spirit of inquiry: “Journalism can hold individuals and institutions accountable in the way that elections every five years or AGMs do not… Investigative journalism simply does in a more detailed and comprehensive way what all journalism should do, namely act as a watchdog in the public interest.”

When a cloud of suspicion is undermining the credibility of major institutions, and trusted methodologies are tortured for narrow political gains, a journalist’s role becomes all the more important. Journalistic rigour is not restricted to data journalism and the editorial pages alone. The official growth numbers and the functioning of the EC have not been subjected to proper journalistic scrutiny in the news pages.

Protecting forest fringes

Protecting forest fringes

How city-forest cooperation can be facilitated

Siddhant Nowlakha

India is among the fastest urbanising major countries and forest-rich nations of the world. The current trend of fast-paced, spatial urban expansion is increasing the proximity between forests and the cities. In the next 10 years, this situation is likely to pose a severe sustainability challenge.

In major cities such as Gurugram, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Bengaluru, forests have already faced the brunt of encroachments, roads and highways, local extinction of wildlife, contamination of water bodies, and disturbances originating from the urban neighbourhoods. Across India, many more critical wildlife habitats and biodiversity areas are going to face a direct impact from cities in the near term.

Despite this disconcerting pattern, neither the ongoing urban programmes such as ‘Smart Cities’, nor the draft of the new Forest Policy, 2018, look ready to tackle this challenge. Urban planners and city administrators have ignored the fact that forests are natural shock-absorbers that provide green relief to our grey cities, shield them from the effects of climate change, and aid in urban issues such as air pollution, scarcity of drinking water, flood control and ‘heat islands’. Prioritising forest-city proximity will put the onus on cities to incorporate nature in their design. The question is, where and how will city-forest cooperation kick-start?

Recently notified eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) around protected areas hold the key to the place and the process in this regard. These zones are strips of land outside national parks and wildlife sanctuaries earmarked by the Ministry of Environment for sustainable management. The ESZ committee and its plans fulfil basic conditions to facilitate inter-departmental collaboration of the forest departments, urban bodies and civil society.

However, urbanisation close to forests often means that dense neighbourhoods expand up to the fringe of the forest, as has happened in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, Bannerghatta in Bengaluru, and the Guindy National Park in Chennai. In the absence of physical buffers and hard fences, therefore, these forests will have to be soft-fenced from unscrupulous development. To create a working ground for soft-fencing, urban masterplans must recognise land use at forest fringes, according to ESZ guidelines. In addition, cities should secure wildlife corridors and ‘green belts’ that connect urban forests with a wider natural landscape.

Most importantly, urban residents need to create social fences by strongly advocating for forests in their cities. The urban citizenry today aspires for a green, pollution-free and serene living environment. Integrating forests with urban planning and governance provides an opportunity to shape cities that not only cater to citizens, but also have the citizens actively involved in shaping the city’s future.

The writer is associated with Social Fencers, an urban forest conservation initiative, and his current research focus is Bannerghatta National Park

* Foreign

Anti-Muslim attacks lead to curfew

Anti-Muslim attacks lead to curfew

In Sri Lanka’s Chilaw, war of words on Facebook is followed by violence targeting mosques and shops

Reuters, Agence France-Presse

A new chapter: People attending a mass at the St. Theresa’s Church in Colombo.REUTERSDINUKA LIYANAWATTE


Several dozen people threw stones at mosques and stores and a local man was beaten in the town of Chilaw on Sri Lanka’s west coast on Sunday in a dispute that started on Facebook, sources told Reuters.

This comes three weeks after bombers blew themselves up on in four hotels and three churches, killing more than 250 people on Easter Sunday. Since then, Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from across the country about people being harassed.

“A police curfew has been imposed in Chilaw Police area with immediate effect until 6 a.m. tomorrow to control the tense situation,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told Reuters. The police later said the curfew would be lifted at 4 a.m.

One arrested

Authorities said they arrested the author of a Facebook post, identifying him as Abdul Hameed Mohamed Hasmar, 38. Locals in Chilaw, a majority Christian town, said a post by him was interpreted as menacing and an angry crowd beat him. “Later they pelted stones at three mosques and some Muslim-owned shops. Now the situation has calmed down, but we are scared of the night,” said one local Muslim man.

One mosque suffered extensive damage, he said. Video footage circulating online shows several dozen young men shouting and throwing stones at a clothes store called New Hasmars, which locals said belonged to Hasmar.

Some communities say they are fearful that the government, which failed to act on successive warnings about looming Islamist attacks, has not caught all potential militants. A week ago in Negombo, where more than 100 people were killed during Easter prayers, a violent clash erupted between local Muslims and Christians after a traffic dispute.

Sunday mass resumes

Meanwhile, thousands of Catholics attended mass in Colombo on Sunday amid tight security. Soldiers armed with automatic assault rifles guarded St. Theresa’s church at Colombo’s Thimbirigasyaya residential quarter, while members of the congregation were searched for explosives.

The sprawling church car park was empty as the authorities did not allow any vehicles into the compound as part of high-level security.

Regular services were cancelled across all churches soon after the deadly suicide attacks, but the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith announced on Thursday that mass would be held in his diocese from on Sunday.

The Cardinal conducted private Sunday services in the past two weeks, which were broadcast live on television.

Most churches outside Colombo had resumed regular services from last week, but under tight security provided by the local police.

Catholic private schools, which remained closed after the Easter holidays will now reopen on Tuesday, church officials said.

Rouhani calls for unity amidst ‘unprecedented’ U.S. pressure

Rouhani calls for unity amidst ‘unprecedented’ U.S. pressure

‘We can move past these conditions provided we are united’


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.RETUERSAbdullah Dhiaa Al-deen


President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for unity among Iran’s political factions to overcome conditions which he said may be harder than those during the 1980s war with Iraq, state media reported, as the country faces tightening U.S. sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leaders to talk with him about giving up their nuclear programme and said he could not rule out a military confrontation.

“Today, it cannot be said whether conditions are better or worse than the (1980-88) war period, but during the war we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales or imports and exports, and there were only sanctions on arms purchases,” Mr. Rouhani said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

“The pressures by enemies is a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution… but I do not despair and have great hope for the future and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions provided that we are united,” Mr. Rouhani told activists from various factions.

Magazine suspended

Separately, a media court on Saturday suspended the weekly Seda (Voice), the semi-official news agency ISNA reported, after the reformist magazine published an issue that included articles warning about the possibility of war with the United States.

“At the Crossroads of War and Peace, have moderates lost or will they again save Iran from war?” the main headline on the front page read against a photograph of U.S. Navy warships.

On social media, hardliners attacked the magazine as “Trump’s voice”, suggesting its warning about the danger of war amounted to a call for talks with the United States.

Trump could meet Xi on sidelines of G20 meet in June

Trump could meet Xi on sidelines of G20 meet in June

There is still time to negotiate, says aide after U.S. President orders new tariffs on Chinese imports

Agence France-Presse

President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping could meet next month on the sidelines of the G20 summit to hash out their differences on trade, but no new talks are scheduled, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday.

The world’s top two economies ended two days of negotiations in Washington on Friday with no deal. While making it clear that the U.S. was unwilling to settle, Mr. Kudlow sought to tamp down concerns, insisting that the process was ongoing. “We need to see something much clearer and until we do, we have to keep our tariffs on,” he said in an interview on ‘Fox News Sunday’, adding: “We can’t accept any backtracking.”

As for future negotiations, while there are “no concrete, definite plans yet”, Mr. Kudlow said China had invited Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to Beijing — and higher-level discussions could be on the cards. The chances of Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi meeting during the Group of 20 summit in Japan in late June “are probably pretty good,” the top White House aide said. The G20 summit is scheduled to take place in Osaka on June 28-29.

Mr. Trump ordered new punitive duties, which took effect on Friday, on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, raising them to 25% from 10%. He then ordered a tariff hike on almost all remaining imports — $300 billion worth, according to Mr. Lighthizer — from China.

But Mr. Kudlow insisted it would be months before such punitive measures take effect, and that there was still time to negotiate.

In his own comments on Saturday, Mr. Trump struck a more belligerent tone, urging China that it would be “wise for them to act now”. “They know I am going to win… and the deal will become far worse for them if it has to be negotiated in my second term,” he tweeted.

Myanmar pilot safely lands plane on its nose

Myanmar pilot safely lands plane on its nose

Failure of landing gear forces emergency touchdown of jet without front wheels

Agence France-Presse

Narrow escape: The Myanmar Airlines plane which landed at the Mandalay International Airport on Sunday.APAung Thura


A Myanmar pilot saved the day after his aircraft’s landing gear failed, forcing the jet into an emergency landing with no front wheels on Sunday morning, an official said.

The nail-biting touchdown — in which nobody was injured — was the second instance of a malfunctioning flight in less than a week within the country.

The Myanmar Airlines flight UB-103 — an Embraer-190 model — was grounded at around 9 a.m. in Mandalay, a city popular among foreign tourists, with all 89 people on board, including seven crew members, safe.

An unverified video circulated on social media showing a graceful landing before the nose of the jet tipped over and ground to a halt.

Technical fault

Ye Htut Aung, Deputy Director General of Myanmar’s Civil Aviation Department, said that the pilot tried repeatedly to drop the landing gear at the front of the plane — first through its computer system, then manually. “They tried hard twice by flying around twice and asked to check whether the nose wheel dropped or not,” Ye Htut Aung said, calling it a “technical fault”. “So they had to land with the back wheels… The pilot could land it skillfully,” he said. “There were no casualties.”

Myanmar National Airlines are now sending engineers to Mandalay to check on the aircraft, Ye Htut Aung said, adding that all jets get a daily flight check. Sunday’s incident comes just days after a Biman Bangladesh Airlines plane crash-landed and slid off a runway while landing in Yangon airport during a storm on Wednesday, leaving 11 passengers injured.

Myanmar’s monsoon season has caused problems for commercial and military flights in the past. A military plane crashed into the Andaman sea in 2017 with 122 people on board — one of the deadliest aviation accidents in the country’s history — which authorities attributed to bad weather.