India’s Cash Transfers for the Poor Face Early Hurdles #UID #Aadhaar


200 px

200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

By AMOL SHARMA

 

DOHAKATU, India—Officials in this impoverished eastern Indian village have a message for local residents: the government wants to give you a bank account and plop money in it—now.

 

India is embarking on a dramatic shift in how it delivers welfare benefits to its hundreds of millions of poor citizens. The program, which officially begins in January and will be rolled out nationally by the end of next year, will transfer up to $58 billion in cash into the bank accounts of some 90 million households. Beneficiaries will withdraw the money using a high-tech system that verifies their identities using fingerprint scans.

 

Indians who now must get welfare payments at post offices—enduring waits of days or weeks and sometimes paying bribes to get entitlements—will get direct deposits in their personal bank accounts for everything from old-age pension to scholarships to salaries for public works projects.

 

Poor households will also get cash deposits to buy basic commodities like kerosene and cooking gas at market rates. That would replace subsidies that currently go to distributors, who are supposed to offer discounts—a system that critics say is plagued by waste and fraud.

 

The new payment approach doesn’t create any new entitlement programs for the poor. But the ruling Congress party has trumpeted it as a signature anti-poverty initiative, hoping it will prove a masterstroke ahead of national elections in 2014. Party leaders say direct deposits will ensure entitlements get to beneficiaries instead of being siphoned off by middlemen, and are touting the slogan “Your Money in Your Hands.”

 

Dohakatu is a village of subsistence potato and rice farmers in Jharkhand state. Its residents largely depend on government handouts to survive and it is among the handful of regions that participated in early trials of cash transfers and have a head-start in the rollout. People here are already getting direct cash deposits for a range of benefits.

 

“We are quite confident the cash transfer scheme will create magic in the next election,” said Shahzada Anwar, a Congress party official in Jharkhand who was in Dohakatu village recently to watch locals withdraw cash.

 

India’s huge amount of welfare spending is a major contributor to its shaky public finances. The nation’s budget deficit was 5.8% of gross domestic product in the year ended March 31. The government says the new cash deposit program can generate much-needed budget savings by eliminating corruption such as people using fake identification documents to get the same benefit twice.

 

To withdraw money under the program, beneficiaries must present a 12-digit unique identification number that every Indian is gradually being issued—220 million people have them so far. Then, they must scan their finger on a portable device known as a micro-ATM, which validates their identity in a national biometric database.

 

“No one can falsify their identity and get away with it,” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters recently. He said the efficiency gains are “incalculable.”

 

But at least in the early going, the cash transfer project will actually be a financial drag, with $1.2 billion in estimated net losses for the exchequer through March 2015, according to a recent study by the government-funded National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. The expected savings will come in the following six years and will total about $14.5 billion, or 15% of the budget deficit in the latest fiscal year, the report says.

 

Transferring cash for 29 government welfare programs will be a massive administrative undertaking. The first challenge is to open bank accounts quickly in places like Dohakatu: only 40% of India’s 1.2 billion people have bank accounts, and only 36,000 of India’s 600,000 villages even have a bank branch. There are plans to open 73,000 new “ultra small” bank branches of about 100 to 200 square feet apiece and hire one million banking employees in rural areas, according to minutes from a government committee overseeing cash transfers.

 

The micro-ATM machines depend on creaky wireless connectivity with speeds on par with the standard a decade ago in the U.S. Getting the system to work requires the intricate syncing of databases by managers of the national unique ID program, government agencies dispensing benefits, and banks. Banks have to be equipped to process a flood of new transactions in their networks. Cooking gas-related transactions alone could number 1.7 billion per year.

 

“The magnitude is just staggering,” said R.S. Sharma, director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India that runs the national “Aadhaar” identification program. “If you start transferring money into people’s accounts and don’t create a distribution network, then you are in for big trouble,” he said.

 

India took inspiration for its new approach from other big emerging economies, including Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa, which have started cash transfer programs to combat poverty and social inequality. India is targeting a far larger number of households than those countries. But its program is different because it isn’t linking benefits to specific social goals. Brazil’s program, for instance, gives 12 million low-income households about $30 a month on the condition that they show their children have an 85% school attendance rate and have received medical checkups and vaccinations.

 

About 2,000 people are participating in the Jharkhand cash transfer program now. In Dohakatu, part of Ramgarh District, locals were streaming into a ramshackle community center on a recent afternoon to withdraw cash. Among them was Riman Devi, a 51-year-old widow.

 

Her salary for digging wells and ponds as part of the government rural jobs program was deposited directly into her first-ever bank account that was created last month. Rather than go to a distant bank branch to access it, Ms. Devi approached an official and uncertainly handed over a card with her 12-digit ID number printed on it. He keyed the number into a micro-ATM. She scanned her finger to check her balance, and then again to withdraw her week’s salary: 400 rupees, or $7. Everything checked out. The official reached into his pocket, pulled out a wad of bills and paid her. (He, in turn, gets reimbursed by the government.)

 

Ms. Devi said the new system beats the old approach of getting government payments from the local post office, which often wasn’t open or would run out of money. “Sometimes it took two to three days to get the money. It was very difficult. It’s faster here,” she said. She spent some of the cash that afternoon on edible oil, spices and vegetables at a local bazaar.

 

The new way of paying has hardly solved Ms. Devi’s problems. Her only income comes from occasionally selling homemade bamboo baskets for 50 cents apiece. She doesn’t qualify for a widow’s pension because the government doesn’t classify her as below the poverty line. A local official says that is a mistake that will be corrected when the central government does a new poverty survey. Ms. Devi lives with her son in a mud-walled house with a bedroom that doubles as a rice-storage area. “Winter is coming and we don’t have warm clothes,” she said.

 

Sitting nearby in the village center was Vasudev Pahan, an 80-year-old whose family lives mainly on subsistence wheat and potato farming. Collecting his $7 monthly pension—which goes to low-income senior citizens—used to be an ordeal. He’d squeeze into a car with 14 people to go to a government office in a nearby town. Then he would wait in a line of as many as 400 people. Sometimes the office would run out of money or close before he could get his cash, so he’d have to return a few days in a row.

 

Now Mr. Pahan walks 20 minutes to the micro-ATM in the village center and withdraws cash in minutes from an account where the government has deposited his pension. “People who are getting it this way are happy,” he said.

 

A few local Congress party officials arrived at the Dohakatu center to take stock of the action and take credit for what they already proclaim as a signature achievement. Mr. Anwar, an affable, mustachioed man with a thick shag of black hair, shook hands with some villagers before plopping into a plastic chair. “This is the strongest weapon for us,” he said of the political benefits of the new program. “No one can give opposition to this.”

 

Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress’s main opposition in New Delhi, have criticized the Congress party for over-politicizing the initiative, but haven’t attacked the idea of the new direct payments.

 

Glitches in technology were on display in Tigra, a group of farming villages 12 miles west of Ranchi, Jharkhand’s capital. Some 39 people signed up to participate in the new program in October, but 30 of them weren’t able to take out cash from the mini-ATM despite trying several times. The main problem, authorities said, was that their new bank accounts at state-owned Bank of India weren’t “seeded” with unique ID information for beneficiaries—so it was impossible to verify people’s identities.

 

On a recent afternoon, Mahmood Alam, the local banking representative in Tigra who handles micro-ATM transactions—known as a “business correspondent”—believed the problem had been solved and was setting up to give out cash to a few dozen locals. He set up his micro-ATM machine not far from men and women threshing rice crop and goats wandering in the fields.

 

He tapped with his stylus to enter the details of Teju Gope, a 71-year-old pensioner who has a new account with Bank of India. “Place your finger for processing,” a message on the screen said. Mr. Gope swiped his finger. After a few seconds came a disappointing reply: “UID (unique ID) blocked/inactive/wrong.”

 

Mr. Alam shook his head. “It’s still not working,” he said. He said he’s optimistic about the new program but acknowledged the government’s rushed approach has resulted in some errors. “It looks to me like everything wasn’t totally ready,” he said.

 

A.K. Pathak, assistant general manager of Bank of India, said the Tigra payments snafu is an isolated incident that has been resolved. He said the Jharkhand trials overall have gone well.

 

The Jharkhand government is racing to expand the program. About 19 million of the state’s 32 million people still haven’t gone through the sign-up process to get biometric ID numbers. In Ramgarh district about 60% of the 950,000 residents don’t have unique IDs. The government is trying to prioritize people who will be getting cash transfers.

 

“This is a huge task for us—a technological leap forward is happening,” said Amitabh Kaushal, Ramgarh’s deputy commissioner, the top local bureaucrat.

 

Local officials say the use of biometric identification will weed out people who used aliases or fraudulent documents to get the same benefit twice. In one block of villages in Ramgarh, the government used to have 43,801 claimants in the rural job program as of the last official figure in 2006. But after a recent sign-up drive with biometrics, there were nearly 9,000 fewer people on the rolls. Mr. Kaushal said it isn’t clear yet whether that discrepancy is a result of fraud removal or the normal transition of some people off welfare.

 

New Delhi officials are counting on the biggest savings to come from countering fraud in the subsidy programs for commodities like kerosene and cooking gas. Critics say the current system is rife with corruption. Dealers siphon off goods and sell them on the black market. People fake their way into getting benefits they don’t deserve.

 

Food subsidies are the government’s biggest welfare expense, accounting for $13.3 billion in spending in the year ended March 31. But the government left food out of the cash transfer program, wary that it is too complex and too sensitive to do now. A survey of 1,200 households last year by the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi found that two-thirds of respondents were strongly in favor of keeping the status quo of picking up food grains at government ration shops rather than going to stores to pay market rates.

 

The biggest limitation of the cash transfer project, critics say, is that it won’t solve the most fundamental problems in India’s targeting of welfare subsidies. Biometric screening ensures that people trying to get benefits are who they say they are—and eliminates duplicate subsidies. But if a person is being excluded from benefits now because they aren’t classified as below the poverty line, or is wrongly classified as eligible for benefits, nothing in the cash transfer program will detect that or change it.

 

Meanwhile, there are limits to the program’s ability to stamp out corruption. There is no reason a micro-ATM operator can’t ask for a kickback when giving people their money, just as a postal worker might, the critics say. “If you’re getting arm-twisted today, you’ll get arm-twisted tomorrow,” said Reetika Khera, a development specialist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

 

From a political standpoint, putting cash into the bank accounts of the poor would seem like “manna from heaven” for the Congress-led government, says Ravi Srivastava, a development economist who has studied cash transfers. But he said it would be “incredible folly” for the government to underestimate the challenges of executing the project, especially in such a quick time frame.

 

“This whole thing has raised expectations to an unrealistic level, both within government and within the Congress party,” he said.

 

—Rajesh Roy and Krishna Pokharel contributed to this article.
Write to Amol Sharma at amol.sharma@wsj.com

 

A version of this article appeared December 27, 2012, on page A9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Tapping Benefits GetsEasier for India’s Poor.

 

 

 

Sanction pension to mentally challenged person: Madras High Court #good news




CHENNAI : Coming to the rescue of a mentally affected person who was denied disability pension, the Madras High Court has directed the authority to sanction the pension in three months.

Disposing of a writ petition filed on behalf of him, Justice N. Paul Vasanthakumar concurred with petitioner’s counsel that the mentally affected individual was also entitled to get ‘Physical Disability Pension.’

The Judge also pointed out that the government had removed income limit for receiving such pension.

The writ petition was filed on behalf of C. Rajamani (46) of Jodukuli village in Salem district by his brother C. Saravanan, contending that Rajamani was denied pension even after authorities had issued Disability Certificate stating that he had mental disability to the extent of 65 per cent.

An application, submitted by him to Special Tahsildar, Social Security Scheme, Omalur, on June 28, 2010 seeking grant of pension, was rejected on the ground that his mother was getting pension and that the applicant had landed property.

M.R. Jothimanian, counsel for the petitioner, submitted that the income limit mentioned earlier was removed by the government from the financial year 2010-2011 and therefore the petitioner was entitled to get such pension.
When the petitioner again submitted an application, it was rejected on the ground that being a mentally disabled person, the petitions did not come in the category of ‘Physically Disabled Person.’

The counsel also submitted that the issue was clarified by the Deputy Director of State Commissionerate for Physically Disabled Persons, through his proceedings in 2012 stating that “if a person is mentally disabled, he is also entitled to get Physical Disability Pension.”

The counsel further said that the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 also defines that physical disability includes ‘mental illness’ and therefore, the petitioner was entitled to get ‘Physical Disability Pension’ at the rate of Rs.1,000 per month.

After hearing the submissions, Mr. Justice Paul Vasanthakumar said, “Considering the said submission and having regard to the Certificate issued by the District Disabled Rehabilitation Officer, Salem, and in the light of the order dated June 28, 2010 removing the income limit, the impugned orders cannot be sustained.”

Setting aside the impugned orders, the Judge directed the Special Tahsildar to sanction pension to the petitioner within three months.

The court also permitted Mr. Saravanan to get pension on behalf of him, after getting orders in the Original Petition which was already filed in the District Court, Salem for appointing him as a guardian.

 

source: The hindu

 

Lessons From Post-Conflict Sudan: Sing Songs, Build Health


 

By Kamayani Bali Mahabal

20 December, 2012
Countercurrents.org

The team of health activists that is working in post-conflict South Sudan. Dr Hiba Salih (in the pink head cover) is a physician from North Sudan who has worked for three years in post-conflict sites in South Sudan.

Thunderbay, Canada (Women’s Feature Service) – South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; a young girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than to reach Grade Eight. So how can change be ushered in under such adverse circumstances?

This was one of the themes at a recent international public health conference, held in Thunderbay, Canada, which was hosted by the Women Health Task Force (WHTF) and focused generally on the theme of reducing maternal and newborn mortality. It was attended by 850 delegates from 50 countries.

WHTF, incidentally, has a very interesting history. According to WHTF founder member, Professor Judy Lewis, who is Director, Global Health Education and Professor, Departments of Community Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, it was formed in 2002 with support of Global Health Education, Training and Service as a part of an international health network. Its significance lay in south-south collaboration to improve education and health outcomes for women. The group unites experts working on women’s health and higher education with members from different regions and countries around the world. The WHTF is also an active and growing forum for the exchange of ideas and the development of strategies and resources for women’s health.

The recent conference showcased the impact of this exchange of ideas very clearly, especially with regard to the situation in South Sudan. It brought to the fore voices like that of Dr Khalifa Elmusharaf, Head of the Reproductive and Child Health Research Unit at the University of Medical Sciences & Technology, Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. “I started to work in South Sudan in 2010 with motivated and inspired post-graduates students. Together, we launched ‘Rebuilding Reproductive & Child Health System in Post Conflict Settings Initiative’, an intervention that aimed to rebuild reproductive and child health systems in a post-conflict setting by getting a better understanding of local contexts and cultures. This helped us design culture oriented interventions that improved the demand side of health delivery and empowered women to stay healthy, make the right health decisions and act on those decisions,” elaborated Dr Elmusharaf.

Sudan is a country that witnessed a bloody civil war that has raged for the past 50 years, with the more developed north of the country pitted against the south. This was a war that affected eight million with an estimated two million killed and about four million displaced from their homes.

In was against this background that Dr Hiba Salih, a physician from North Sudan, who actually worked for three years in post-conflict sites in South Sudan, could make a difference. “In the past, Sudan’s health interventions had a top to bottom approach. They did not involve local communities. What made the situation even more difficult was that the traditional modes and methods prevalent in North Sudan were completely different from those existing in the south. We inverted the pyramid and adopted a bottom-up strategy,” revealed Dr Salih.

This posed a communications challenge. The task before Dr Salih was to take local traditions and use them in untraditional ways in the advocacy for health. She pointed to a poster she had brought, “It doesn’t matter if you cannot speak Arabic. The fact is 62 per cent of the population in South Sudan is in any case illiterate, so posters like this one has had to cross the literacy divide. The central message of this poster is: ‘We are strong and united, let’s work together for primary health care of women and encourage the husband to take care of his wife and child’.”

Working in post-conflict areas with very limited resources forced Dr Salih and her team to keep their minds open. “The idea was really to connect with the community in order to empower them. So you are forced to think untraditionally and adopt local ways. The people will help you understand their context; they will share their indigenous knowledge with you. But it is ultimately up to you to choose the ways you can identify and utilise local resources for maximum impact. When you do this, you have better chances of creating sustainable solutions, which is always a big challenge in post-conflict areas,” she observed.

So what did Dr Salih and her team do? They started by empowering 15 illiterate women in 15 different villages through simple games. “Women were lined up and told to hold on to one rope. Each woman was then asked to pull a part of the rope and in this way the rest of the group moved closer to her. This was to demonstrate that networks mattered within the community. Anything that happened to any one of them affected not just the whole family but the community,” Dr Salih explained.

Since the team also wanted to understand the daily realities of these women’s lives, it came up with a novel way of getting women to document their own lives. Each woman was handed over a disposable camera for a week and asked them to take photographs relevant to their lives. Later they had to explain why they took a particular picture. Said Dr Salih, “In this way, we got a deeper understanding of their beliefs and attitudes, as well as their lives.”

Slowly, through this process the women were able to identify the important issues in their community which were adversely affecting their health. Over time, they were able to help in designing tools to address the issues that had affected them.

“It was amazing. Not only did we train them they taught us something as well. I remember this song they composed, ‘La la la ya baba yoo, ma tadogo mama yoo, Mama heya hamlana, shelo mashakil betaaki dah (no, no daddy, don’t hit mommy/ Mommy is pregnant, please don’t fight with her)’. These illiterate women had identified domestic violence as a health issue. They wanted to change their community, and even neighbouring villages, through songs,” revealed Dr Salih.

The sustainability aspect also came through. When the team first started, it comprised seven physicians who trained 15 women. Within less than a year, after about six visits, more than 55 men and women wanted to be trained. Remarked Dr Salih, “We trained the trainers and that was how we were able to have a multiple impact.”

Lewis of WHTF saw this as a good example of how participatory research as well as the development of songs and other communication tools for low literacy communities could be used to improve women’s health all over the world – including in the global north.

Women’s Feature Service began in 1978 as an UNESCO-UNFPA initiative. Until 1991, it was a project of Inter Press Service (IPS) Third World News Agency. The only international women’s news/features syndicate, Women’s Feature Service produces features and opinions on development from a gender perspective. http://www.wfsnews.org/

(© Women’s Feature Service)

 

Linguist in a POTA Court


22 December 2012, Open Magazine 

When terror confessions are put to expert scrutiny

  • ·        The speed of writing,  sentence length, credibility  of content, degree of focus  and primacy of form of the  POTA confessions cast  serious doubt on their  genuineness

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BY Peggy Mohan EMAIL AUTHOR(S)

TAGGED UNDER | terrorist | handwriting | POTA

TESTIMONY

The speed of writing, sentence length, credibility of content, degree of focus and primacy of form of the POTA confessions cast serious doubt on their genuineness

When I agreed to assist the defence in the Tiffin Bomb Trial in Ahmedabad by analysing confession statements of the accused, my brief was simple: to convince the POTA Court in Ahmedabad that the confessions could not have been obtained the way the police were claiming. I was to refute the police contention that they were verbatim depositions given freely and written down in real time.

Suspects arrested in India often sign confession statements which they later deny in court, saying that they had signed them under duress. But in a POTA case, they cannot. However, there is nothing in the law that stops an expert witness from seeking to discredit confessions.

My interest in recording and transcribing verbal testimony goes back to the first project I did after finishing my doctorate, a study of the language spoken by rural Indians in Trinidad, West Indies, as a case of language death. Unable to elicit translations from old Bhojpuri speakers, I had to simply let them talk and then transcribe the tapes later to see what I could find in them. And what the data suggested was a way of comparing the testimony of different speakers by reducing their speech to a list of linguistic features that could be counted. I could look for patterns of grammatical errors, the incidence of peculiarly Indic grammatical structures that a non-native speaker might avoid using, and measure each person’s speed of speech.

When I turned my attention to analysing POTA confessions later in India, it was these last two approaches that turned out to be the most useful: transforming speech data into numerical scores, and clocking speed.

+++

The information I was given at the time of the trial was minimal: the boys were accused of having planted bombs around Ahmedabad in 2002, bombs packed in steel tiffin cases. Much later, I learnt that the case had been closed soon after the blasts, as there were no leads. Then, after the assassination of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya the following year, the case was suddenly reopened and 18 boys were arrested and charged under POTA with having planted the bombs. In the case of some boys, the police had obtained signed testimonies from witnesses. But for most of the boys, the only thing that implicated them at all in this case was their signed confessions.

The confessional statements of the Tiffin Trial accused were handwritten in longhand Gujarati. To get a sense of a normal testimony and transcription in Gujarati, I arranged for two boys from backgrounds similar to the accused to speak at length, and videotaped the sessions, keeping both the speaker and transcriber in the same frame. The boys were simply asked to speak in Gujarati about their experiences on the day after the Godhra train fire: that, I thought, would elicit an almost unbroken chunk of discourse. But it was not the boys who interested me, it was the scribes, writing down their speech on camera in real time. The material they had to write would be clearly recorded, as would their attempt to capture it in transcription. How would their transcriptions compare with the actual statements?

Our scribes’ transcription speed was measured, and the total number of words in the transcript divided by the time as recorded on the videotape timer. The first scribe was able to maintain a transcription speed of 46 words per minute. The second scribe managed 40 words per minute.

Native-spoken Bhojpuri in Trinidad tends to be between 110 and 125 words per minute; a speed less than 100 words per minute is positively correlated with the speaker testing ‘non-native’ in terms of other features of competence. By my reckoning, normal spoken Gujarati also falls more or less in this speed range: around 110 to 125 words per minute. I would expect any native speaker of Gujarati to speak fluently too, without the pauses that bring the overall speed below 100 words per minute. This means that the speed of transcription is limited by the speed the scribe is able to maintain, not by the speaker. We only needed to look at the scribe: how fast could s/he write longhand Gujarati?

In confessional statements in India, the starting and ending time of the scribe is always given. This allowed us to calculate the transcription speeds of the Tiffin Trial confessions: they averaged an improbable 60 words per minute.

The handwriting in the transcriptions done by our scribes on camera showed a consistent pattern of deterioration: after a few paragraphs, it got larger and more irregular, the words got shorter (or rather, more abbreviated) and there was an increasing use of acronyms. There was also significant right-shift: each line on the page would begin a bit more to the right of the margin. The vowel maatras, too, above and below the words, were more and more right-shifted with respect to the consonants they belonged with. And the frequency of scratched out words and phrases went up.

By comparison, the confessional statements procured by the police were spectacularly free of right-shift, handwriting deterioration and scratches. Sentence length was another simple indicator of whether the confessional statements represented verbatim speech. The average sentence length of the confessions was about 30 words, and the longest sentence had 70. And all those sentences were complete and grammatically well formed.

To get a sense of what this means, consider that this article so far has averaged a bit under 23 words per sentence, with 46 words in the longest sentence, the first. And this is not by any means colloquial speech: it is technical writing. It has also been edited: I have had the option of going back and changing and expanding sentences as much as I want while still preserving their grammar.

In the verbatim speech transcribed later from the videotape, the average sentence length was a bit less than 14 words, and the longest sentence had 31 words. There were five sentences that were incomplete. These are more credible figures, as we would expect verbatim speech to have shorter sentences. Shorter sentences are simply easier to construct in real time. And, at times, in spontaneous speech, it is normal for speakers to abandon sentences that are getting too complicated, resulting in incomplete sentences that are crudely joined to whatever discourse follows.

+++

Linguists abroad often look at the word usage and style in order to determine who might have written a text, or, conversely, if a defendant could not have written it. This brings in the issue of interpretation, and the credibility of the linguist as an expert witness. Could content, too, be presented in terms of numbers?

In an earlier case in 1984, I was asked by some students of Mass Communications if I could analyse an editorial written by Girilal Jain, editor of The Times of India, during the anti-Sikh violence. They had complained about the article to the Press Council, and there was to be a hearing to decide whether Girilal Jain should be censured. Could I find a way of demonstrating that his editorial was excessively communal? I decided, for comparison purposes, to look at all the editorials in Delhi newspapers on that day. I chose three indices of communal content: phrases where ‘we’ referred to Hindus, phrases where ‘they’ referred to Sikhs, and phrases that showed an approval of violence. I counted the total number of words in each category for each of the editorials, and calculated it as a percentage of the total text. By adding up all three categories, I got a score for how communal that editorial was. Plotting all the scores of all newspapers for the same day on a graph showed where the spikes were: which paper had the most communal editorial. The Times of India won hands down.

Since I do not know Gujarati, the two scribes in our legal team tagged the communally loaded words in the Tiffin Trial confessions. The word for atonement, ‘paschatap’ or ‘pastavo’ (‘prayaschit’ in legal Hindi), turned up in the second-to-last paragraph of all the confessions. Looking more closely, we saw that the last two paragraphs were also essentially identical in all the confessions. This was irrespective of the day on which the confession was written and the scribe writing it. They were block paragraphs that had been inserted into all the confessions, not something that could possibly have been generated independently by each of the boys in spontaneous dictation. I was later told that this paragraph, in essence, appears at this point in all POTA confessions in Ahmedabad, not just those of the Tiffin Trial.

In terms of content, there was one other feature that rang false: the confessions were all too focused, too free of the rambling that verbatim speech is known for. At no point had a boy digressed from giving information that would implicate him. This is a sure sign that the discourse has been edited, or at least condensed. Deciding which part of a verbatim testimony to record and which to omit would require the exercise of judgment by the person taking it down. Could the scribe have done this in real time, without having to go back and cut out text or otherwise deface the transcript? And could the scribe have maintained the already improbable speed of 60 words per minute while doing this?

When we write, even if we are only taking dictation, our attention is always on meaning. The only time we are completely fixated on formis when we are copying. The lines of the Tiffin Trial confessions were in almost perfect registration: each page ended on the same line, and not simply where the last sentence or paragraph ended. In the words of one of the team, they looked almost like animation flipbooks. It would appear that the paragraph with the word ‘paschatap/pastavo’ comes from a standard paragraph intended to serve a legal purpose. This, together with the absence of any sign of editing on the confession, suggested the existence of an earlier draft.

+++

The final question at the hearing was: what would have been the actualspeed of writing for a document as neat as the confession statements? I had two sources of information to go on.

At the time of the Parliament Attack case, for which I had to analyse confessional statements written in English, I had some paragraphs dictated to me and timed myself writing them down. My speed at first was 22 words per minute, dropping later to 20 words per minute as I saw my handwriting start to deteriorate. If I had tried writing down a full confession, my speed would certainly have dropped further. But I am not a professional scribe.

Our faster scribe was timed copying down the videotaped deposition. He was allowed to pause and rewind if necessary. His instructions were to write as neatly as the confessions. His speed was 18 words per minute. But then, copying down from a tape is not exactly the same as taking dictation longhand in real time.

So, in the end, I was asked to use my judgment. I estimated somewhere between 20 and 22 words per minute, definitely not more than 25.

My conclusion was drawn from this consideration of speed of writing, sentence length, credibility of content, degree of focus and primacy of form: that the genuineness of the confessional statements was in serious doubt.

It was not part of my brief to speculate on how these confessions bore the signatures of the 18 boys in custody. But it seemed unlikely that the boys had actually read the confessions before signing on the back of each page. Later some of them spoke about having been asked to sign blank sheets of paper. Their families, too, said they had been asked to sign blank sheets. But at the time of the trial, it was just an uneasy question in my mind: what exactly had happened between the time of their arrests and the day they appeared in front of the magistrate that made them all decide to sign their ‘confessions’?

 

 

Roselyn: Idinthakarai activist, anti nuke protester – a victim of Neglect #RIP


A photograph of Roselyn taken on the day of her arrest by Amirtharaj Stephen photograph.

63-year old J. Roselyn, a mother of three from Idinthakarai, was among the 7 women randomly picked up from the Idinthakarai beach on the police crackdown of 10 September 2012. She was jailed in Trichy Women’s prison along with Xavier Ammal, Sundari and Selvi. Even at the time of arrest, she had complained that she was extremely unwell and had been suffering frequent bouts of vomitting, and needed medical attention and diagnosis. These facts were even registered in her records prior to her detention in Trichy prison.

She was not given adequate treatment in the prison hospital, and her requests for medical attention went unheeded.  When bail was granted for the case she was arrested under, the police filed two more cases and prolonged her stay in prison. She was finally released from prison on 30 October, 2012, on condition that she signs her presence at a police station in Madurai. As her condition worsened, it became impossible for her to visit the police station, and she was hospitalised in the Madurai General Hospital.

About 10 days ago, she was moved to Idinthakarai where she died early this morning on Dec 21, 2012 . Mugilan, who informed me about Roslin Amma’s demise said she had a cancer-like ailment, which had already manifested itself before the 10 September protests.

Roslin is a victim of neglect, and the vengeance of a state that views the very holding of a contrary opinion on nuclear power as a crime warranting imprisonment under harsh sections. 63-year old Roslin was accused and jailed under the following sections, including of “Waging War against the Government of India.”

1. Crl OP 15368, Crime No. 70/2012. Offence date: 16.2.2012
Charges: 121 — Waging War. 142, 163,152(a), 241, 242, 500, 508

2. Crl OP 15385, Crime No. 300/2012. Date of Offence: 11.6.2012
Charges: 124A — Sedition. 142, 168, 291

3. Crl OP 15389/2012, Crime No. 349/2012.. Date of Offence: 10.9.2012
147, 145, 163 r/w 144, 222, 252, 255, 294(b), 207, 427 r/w 149

Mumbai cops to film New Year parties, legal experts decry move #WTFnews #moralpolicing


By , TNN | Dec 27, 2012,

Mumbai cops to film New Year parties, legal experts decry move
MUMBAI: This New Year’s eve, partying at clubs and hotels may not be so much fun if the Mumbai Police‘s flying squads have their way and zoom in on your Gangnam-style moves.Allowing police to film parties at hotels and clubs is nothing short of unauthorized violation of privacy of individuals, say legal experts. Former senior IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh said, “Any use of force by the police has to be sanctioned by law and filming of parties at a club would amount to use of force which has no sanctity of law.” The Bombay Police Act does not permit any such filming, he said. Police said they would seek support of club owners to video shoot the parties if their flying squads suspect any activity underway at such a place that may be against the law. But legal expert point out that there is no provision in law to permit the police to record such parties or to ask club owners to do so on their behalf on mere suspicion that the law may be broken.

Western democracies hold the “right to privacy” as sacrosanct. Unlike India, which lacks a comprehensive law or rules governing privacy, the Criminal Code of Canada under section 162(1) states that, ‘Everyone commits an offence who, surreptitiously, observes – including by mechanical or electronic means – or makes a visual recording of a person who is in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“Police cannot decide to wire up public places with CCTVs without justifiable reason,” said senior advocate Amit Desai. International lawyer S S Kothari said, “It is ludicrous to suggest that the police can film private parties without infringing on the right to privacy ensconced in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution“. He added, “In the United States, the laws stipulate when a photographer is on private property, the property owner sets rules about taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, the owner can order you off his property and even have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply.” Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant in the US. “It would be perhaps only in the case of ‘national security’ or ‘a person is going to commit a crime’ that the police may do away with the right to privacy,” said Kothari. Another lawyer Sujay Kantawalla added, “Such filming would open doors to mischievous elements taking full advantage and throw up new avenues for harassment and corruption.”

While India lacks a special law on privacy and the new bill on Right to Privacy is still pending, the Supreme Court through numerous rulings has held it to be fundamental right under right to life and also a right under the Common Law. Such a right cannot be trampled on by circulars or rules made by the police or state departments without satisfying the test of Constitutional validity. Hence, any move to film the NYE parties in Mumbai, will be stamped with a VIP mark—”violating individual privacy”, said a young lawyer.

Know your rights:

Right to privacy is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court has held.

WHAT THE SC had ruled: ‘Rights and freedoms of citizens are set forth in the Constitution in order to guarantee that the individual, his personality and those things stamped with his personality shall be free from official interference except where a reasonable basis for intrusion exists. ‘Liberty against government’ a phrase coined by Professor Corwin expresses this idea forcefully. In this sense, many of the fundamental rights of citizens can be described as contributing to the right to privacy.”

* Police cannot invade an individual’s privacy without reasonable grounds or suspicion that an offence is expected to be committed.

* Filming without specific provisions in a statute is contrary to law and thus unlawful.

* Phone tapping too, which is if done without proper permission, is an invasion of a person’s privacy.

* The Indian Telegraph Act lays down strict rules to govern phone tapping.

* Electronic surveillance such as land line phone tapping or intercepting conversation through on cellular services and web-based technologies requires permission from none other than the Home Secretary, a high ranking officer.

Voices:

Advocate Swapnil Kothari: Any such circular or act by the government to allow filming would go against the Constitution and open unwanted floodgates of litigation on courts that are already overburdened. It is time that the Government lets its citizenry alone and leaves the individual’s peremptory rights to privacy and livelihood unfettered!

Advocate Amit Desai: This is like big brother watching. It would be a complete invasion of an individual’s privacy. What would be the justification? Legal principles require for any rule or law to be brought in, there has to be reasonable apprehension of commission of crime. “Police cannot decide to wire up public places with CCTV with out a justifiable reason,” said Desai

Advocate Shrikant Bhat: CCTVs outside at the entrance may be a permissible exception because of rise in terrorist attacks, but police cannot act in a knee-jerk reaction and seek to implement a move that would invade privacy, without any study that would merit such a law.

Times View

The government should have considered basic privacy issues before taking this step. What right does the state have to film what a citizen does in an enclosed space? Can it ensure the film will not be used against anyone in future? Effective policing does not mean filming law-abiding, paying patrons of bars and nightclubs; instead, it has to do with putting the fear of law in criminals. Breaking or bending of rules by bar owners and restaurateurs is condem- nable; but, for the man (and the woman) on the street, of much greater concern is crime on the street. We need to feel a lot safer on the street and at railway stations and on trains and buses before we know that no bar in town is breaking some rule formulated decades ago.

New Year 2013

 

#India -Pharma firms ply doctors with gifts #medicalethics


Published: Thursday, Dec 27, 2012, 5:30 IST
By Sandeep Pai | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Even as the prime minister Manmohan Singh-led National Development Council meets on Thursday to discuss a law to curb unethical practices adopted by pharmaceutical companies to persuade doctors to promote their products, a four-month investigation by DNA has shown that the ‘pay-for-prescription’ practice flourishes.

While doctors admit that there is a grave danger of drugs being overused when pharmaceutical companies woo doctors and stockists with various sops for promoting their drugs, even the parliamentary standing committee on health and family welfare in a report dated May 8, 2012 says there is no let-up in this “evil practice”. It says, “… pharma companies continue to sponsor foreign trips of many doctors and shower them with high value gifts like air conditioners, cars, music systems, gold chains etc… to obliging prescribers who then prescribe costlier drugs as quid pro quo. Ultimately all these expenses get added up to the cost of drugs.” What’s more, the pharma firm-doctor nexus is not limited to innocuous over-the-counter drugs, a DNA investigation has found.

Take the example of US Vitamin (USV) Ltd, a major player in the oral antibiotics market. In August 2011, its product manager wrote to company representatives appreciating their efforts in making its product, Drego-D, the Number 1 prescribed brand in the preceding two months. The letter went on to say they should also push another drug, Drego, similarly, given the huge opportunity it presents. All doctors except paediatricians have the potential to prescribe Drego, the letter urged. Drego and Drego-D are both Schedule H drugs, to be sold only on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner.

The letter goes on to detail the promotional activities for the Drego group of drugs, including “on demand campaign” every month specifically for general practitioners, ENT specialists, orthopaedics, gynaecologists and more. l Turn to p9

The “engagement” and “development activity” for these doctors included investment of Rs65,000/ year or Rs80,000 per year on one or two selected doctors for a single drug, the letter revealed.

“…with such a line of promotion we are sure that you all will very easily achieve a minimum per member per month (PMPM) of 250 strips of Drego & 350 strips of Drego-D,” the letter said, going on to insist that representatives should, during their field work, ensure that doctors give Drego prescriptions “on priority”. The letter posted a target a business worth Rs14 crore for a single drug in a single year.

The company’s brochure also says doctors stood to win a smartphone or LCD television once they enter the “MPower Club” for a certain number of prescriptions of Zylera, a drug for nasal problems or asthma-like symptoms, also a Schedule H drug.
Franco India, expected to have a turnover of Rs2.1 billion this year, offers a variety of gifts to doctors, including a hamper of basmati rice, handmade orange soap, an all-in-one mobile phone charger and other stationery items.

Svizera Healthcare, a division of Maneesh Pharmaceuticals Limited, issued a brochure called Club Inspira 2010-2011, which invites doctors to become members by prescribing products worth Rs50,000 between May and August 2010. The prescriptions would have to be for Si-Fixim, Si-Fixim XL, Si-Fixim CV, FlanZen, FlanZen D/DP and others.

These are all highly sensitive drugs. Si-Fixim is generally used for the treatment of infections caused by susceptible bacteria. Doctors prescribe the medicine to patients suffering from upper respiratory tract infections, such as pharyngitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis and lower respiratory tract infections like acute bronchitis and acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis etc. FlanZen is prescribed for reducing inflammation and edema occurring due to rheumatic disorders, surgeries, breast engorgements, pregnancy-related thrombophlebitis as well as fibrocystic breast diseases. It causes hypersensitivity reactions including rashes, abdominal discomfort and nausea if not taken properly.
Those entering the ‘club’ would be eligible for a gift, with their options ranging from a microwave oven, digital camera, a gold coin, etc.

While doctors get incentives for prescriptive drugs, incentives are offered to stockists for non-prescriptive drugs too. Though some may debate that there is nothing wrong in offering incentives to the stockists, but others believe it does make the stockist unethically push for product in order to win the gifts. While doctors get incentives for prescriptive drugs, incentives are offered to stockists for non-prescriptive drugs too.

A Gelusil festival extravaganza was announced by Pfizer to strengthen the product’s position as the Number 1 antacid in its category. Distributors were offered slab-wise gifts for achieving targets and also a chance to participate in a lucky draw. A similar offer had been launched last year for Becosules, the vitamin supplement. On offer was a chance to win diamond pendants, gold chains, travel bags, LCD televisions, home theatres, and wrist-watches.

While most pharma companies DNA approached refused to respond to queries on ethical practices while promoting drugs, Pfizer spokesperson Shyam Kumar said the company takes compliance with norms very seriously. “In fact, over the past several years, Pfizer has taken very significant steps to strengthen our internal controls and pioneer new procedures in the area of compliance. Corporate integrity is an absolute priority for Pfizer, and we will continue to take appropriate actions to strengthen public trust in our company.”

Dr Kailash Sharma, member, board of governors, Medical Council of India, and director, academics, Tata Memorial hospital, said, \”MCI has already given strict guidelines but the practice of accepting gifts is so prevalent, it becomes difficult to monitor. Doctors must restrain themselves from accepting gifts or foreign trips from pharma companies. There is a need to bring in penal provisions for pharma companies, which offer gifts to doctors. There is also a need to audit the accounts of pharma companies to know how much they are spending on publicity.”

 

The Naxalite Rebellion: Social Inequality and Violence in India #mustwatch


An objective look at the social, political, and economic conditions in India which have given rise to the Naxalite insurgency.

Despite economic growth, overall poverty in India has increased due to uneven economic development. The Naxals consist of various political parties influenced by Mao Zedong‘s communist ideology calling for armed peasant insurrection against the upper classes.

India’s poor and tribal peoples are the victims of a class war, suffering severe economic exploitation and brutal political repression as well as loss of land at the hands of the ruling establishment and multinational corporations.

The Naxals, representing the lower classes, have taken up arms against India’s government in a bid for state power. They have instituted land reforms and other measures in areas under their control.

India’s federal government continues to wage a bloody counterinsurgency campaign against the Naxals, refusing to undertake the necessary land reforms and other political and economic changes required for hostilities to cease.

Numerous sociological studies demonstrate that greater social, economic, and political equality correlate to increased individual and societal health.

 

Rape Culture, Capitalism and India #AFSPA #Vaw


 

Swaziland bans ‘rape-provoking’ mini-skirts, low-rise jeans #WTFnews #Vaw


PTI : Mbabane (Swaziland), Mon Dec 24 2012, 19:14 hrs
Mini skirts banned

Police in Africa’s last absolute monarchy Swaziland have banned women from wearing miniskirts and midriff-revealing tops saying they provoke rape, local media reported today.

Offenders face a six-month jail term under the ban, which invokes a colonial criminal act dating back to 1889.

“The act of the rapist is made easy, because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women,” police spokeswoman Wendy Hleta was quoted as saying in the Independent Online news.

The ban also applies to low-rise jeans.

“They will be arrested,” she said.

Hleta said women wearing revealing clothing were responsible for assaults or rapes committed against them.

“I have read from the social networks that men and even other women have a tendency of ‘undressing people with their eyes’. That becomes easier when the clothes are hugging or are more revealing,” Hleta said.

However, the ban does not apply to traditional costumes worn by young women during ceremonies like the annual Reed Dance, where the ruling King Mswati III chooses a wife.

The flamboyant king already has 13 wives.

During the ceremony, beaded traditional skirts worn by young bare-breasted virgins only cover the front, leaving the back exposed. Underwear is not allowed.

The law was enforced after a march by women and young girls last month calling for protection against a spate of rapes in the impoverished kingdom, almost entirely surrounded by South Africa.

According to the media report, the march was blocked by police.