The Toxic Effects of Agent Orange Persist 51 Years After the Vietnam War

Tuesday, 07 August 2012 09:42By Jeanne Mirer and Marjorie CohnTruthout | Op-Ed Truthout

Defoliant spray run, part of Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War by UC-123B Provider aircraft.Defoliant spray run, part of Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War by UC-123B Provider aircraft. (Photo:USAF)There are images from the US war against Vietnam that have been indelibly imprinted on the minds of Americans who lived through it. One is the naked napalm-burned girl running from her village with flesh hanging off her body. Another is a photo of the piles of bodies from the My Lai massacre, where US troops executed 504 civilians in a small village. Then, there is the photograph of the silent scream of a woman student leaning over the body of her dead friend at Kent State University, whose only crime was protesting the bombing of Cambodia in 1970. Finally, there is the memory of decorated members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War testifying at the Winter Soldier Hearings, often in tears, to atrocities in which they had participated during the war.

These pictures are heartbreaking. They expose the horrors of war. The US war against Vietnam was televised, while images of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have intentionally been hidden from us. But what was not televised was the relentless ten years (1961-1971) of spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides over vast areas of South Vietnam. These chemicals exposed almost five million people, mostly civilians, to deadly consequences. The toxic herbicides, most notably Agent Orange, contained dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).

From the beginning of the spraying 51 years ago, and even today, millions of Vietnamese have died from, or been completely incapacitated by, diseases which the US government recognizes are related to Agent Orange for purposes of granting compensation to Vietnam veterans in the United States. The Vietnamese, who were the intended victims of this spraying, experienced the most intense, horrible impact on human health and environmental devastation. Second and third generations of children, born to parents exposed during the war and in areas of heavy spraying hot spots, suffer unspeakable deformities that medical authorities attribute to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

The Vietnamese exposed to the chemical suffer from cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity and skin and nervous disorders. Their children and grandchildren have severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases and shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam were devastated and denuded. Centuries-old habitat was destroyed and will not regenerate with the same diversity for hundreds of years. Animals that inhabited the forests and jungles are threatened with extinction, disrupting the communities that depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Erosion and desertification will change the environment, causing dislocation of crop and animal life.

For the past 51 years, the Vietnamese people have been attempting to address this legacy of war by trying to get the United States and the chemical companies to accept responsibility for this ongoing nightmare. An unsuccessful legal action by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies in US federal court, begun in 2004, has nonetheless spawned a movement to hold the United States accountable for using such dangerous chemicals on civilian populations. The movement has resulted in pending legislation HR 2634 hot spots, lawsuit to compensate them, as the unintended victims, for their Agent-Orange-related illnesses. But the Vietnamese continue to suffer from these violations with almost no recognition, as do the offspring of Agent-Orange-exposed US veterans and Vietnamese-Americans.

What is the difference between super powers like the United States violating the laws of war with impunity and the reports of killing of Syrian civilians by both sides in the current civil war? Does the United States have any credibility to demand governments and non-state actors end the killings of civilians, when through wars and drones and its refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the use of Agent Orange, the United States has and is engaging in the very conduct it publicly deplores?

In 1945, at the founding conference of the United Nations, the countries of the world determined:

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and

to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

If we are to avoid sinking once again into the scourge of war, we must reaffirm the principles of the charter and establish conditions under which countries take actions that promote rather than undermine justice and respect for our international legal obligations. The alternative is the law of the jungle, where only might makes right. It is time that right makes might.

August 10 marks 51 years since the beginning of the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam. In commemoration, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign is urging an observation of  51 seconds of silence at 12 noon, to think about the horrors of wars which have occurred. No one wants to see future images of naked children running from napalm; or young soldiers wiping out the population of an entire village; or other atrocities associated with war, poverty and violence around the world. In the United States, you can sign an orange post card to the US Congress asking it to pass HR 2634, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2001.

Mobile phones and not Roti, Kapda, Makan #Indiashining ? #WTFnews

Free mobile phones for all poor families, UPA promises

Free mobile phones for all poor families, UPA promises
In what could turn out to be its calling card for 2014 general elections, the govt is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore scheme to give one mobile phone to every BPL family.

NEW DELHI: In what could turn out to be its calling card for the 2014 general polls, the UPA government is finalizing a Rs 7,000 crore scheme to give one mobile phone to every BPL family.

Sources in the PMO said that the scheme, Har Hath Mein Phone, expected to be announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on August 15, will not only aim to give away mobiles to around six million BPL households, it would also provide 200 minutes of free local talktime.

Top government managers involved in formulating the scheme want to sell it as a major empowerment initiative of the UPA-II. While the move will ensure contact with the beneficiaries of welfare programmes worth thousands of crores, there is also a view the scheme will provide an opportunity for the ruling dispensation to open a direct line of communication with a sizable population that plays an active role in elections.

The scheme is likely to be funded from telecom department’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) funds. According to a source, 50% of the cost is likely to come from the bidder who gets the right to provide service and the remaining from the USO fund. According to estimates, the scheme will involve a monthly expenditure of Rs 100 per cellphone.

PMO is involved with the Planning Commission and telecom ministry in giving shape to the scheme.

The government has already launched a national infrastructure initiative under PM‘s advisor Sam Pitroda that aims to link 2,50,000 panchayats in 16 months through internet so basic communication facilities can be provided.

As our census revealed- Nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home, but more people own a mobile phone.Only 46.9% of the 246.6 million households have lavatories while 49.8% defecate in the open. The remaining 3.2% use public toilets.About 77% of homes in the eastern state of Jharkhand have no toilet facilities, while the figure is 76.6% for Orissa and 75.8% in Bihar. All three are among India’s poorest states with huge populations which live on less than a dollar a day.

Greenpeace Launches A Unique #antinuclear Campaign


Greenpeace India has launched a unique campaign to create awareness about the dilution of the Nuclear Liability Act and how the government of India is planning to surreptiously  allow foreign companies to get away scot free in case of any nuclear accident in India.

Readers would remember that the government has hinted that “foreign funded hands and NGO’s” were behind the anti nuclear movement in Koodankulam. However, it failed to provide any proof of the same.

On the contrary, the government is now faced with mounting anti nuclear agitations not only in Tamil Nadu, but also at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Rawatbhata in Rajasthan and Gorakhpur in Haryana to name just a few.

The Greenpeace advertisement informs the citizens about the true “foreign hands” who will benefit from the dilution of the Liability Act and allow these suppliers to supply shoddy reactors knowing fully well that they will not have to pay for any damages in case of accident.

The ad requests readers to give a missed call on 08049311734 and register their protest (or help contribute small amounts to sponsor the ad)which Greenpeace will collate and forward as online votes to the government of India

You Can Read the Advert Here



Rajasthan makes disabled children eligible for family pension #goodnews

Locator map for the state of Rajasthan

Locator map for the state of Rajasthan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


JAIPUR, August 3, 2012, Hindu

Son, daughter suffering from disorder eligible beyond age of 25

Unmarried daughters of retired government employees in Rajasthan will be entitled to a share in the family pension even after attaining the age of 25. The Rajasthan Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1996, will be amended to facilitate this decision taken by the State Cabinet.

According to the proposal, a government employee’s son or daughter suffering from any disorder or challenged mentally or physically and not able to earn a livelihood will be eligible for family pension beyond the age of 25 years. The monthly income limit for eligibility in such cases has also been increased from Rs.2,550 to Rs.6,000.

The Cabinet meeting also approved allotment of 150 bighas of land free of cost to the Dargah Committee of the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Dargah in Ajmer for construction of a rest house or “Vishram Sthali” for pilgrims. A proposal for grant of a special allowance of Rs.500 to Gram Sevaks with effect from August has been cleared. To improve the prospects of promotions for Gram Sevaks it has been decided that 265 posts of Panchayat Prasar Adhikari would be created.

Government Polytechnic College in Dausa will be renamed after the late Union Minister Rajesh Pilot who had represented Dausa constituency in the Lok Sabha. The meeting decided that the buildings being constructed in the district Collectorate and the Zila Parishad premises for public facilities will be named “Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi Bharat Nirman Seva Kendra”.

In another step, to boost the morale of the Secretariat employees, the Cabinet decided to change the designation of Senior Personal Assistant to “Additional Private Secretary”. Necessary amendments will be carried out in the Rajasthan Secretariat Service Rules, 1954, and the Rajasthan Secretariat Ministerial Service Rules, 1970, for this.

The Cabinet granted special exemption in minimum pass marks in Teacher Eligibility Test to candidates from the Scheduled Tribes belonging to the notified areas. It has been decided to add a new provision in Rule 14(2) of Rajasthan Police Subordinate Service Rules, 1989, to consider cases with a minimum 5 cm inflation of chest during the chest measurement in the recruitment tests along with the provision of deflated 81 cm chest and inflated 86 cm chest measurements. In the case of Sahariya Adivasis of Shahbad and Kishanganj in Baran district, it has been decided that special exemption in physical measurements be allowed in the police constable recruitment.

  • 150 bighas of land free of cost for Ajmer Dargah
  • Special allowance of Rs.500 to Gram Sevaks

Save India From Becoming A Liability-Free Nuclear Abyss: says PMANE, to the MPs


English: Construction site of the Koodankulam ...

English: Construction site of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Deutsch: Baustelle des Kernkraftwerks Kudankulam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Idinthakarai & P. O. 627 104
Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu
Phone: 98656 83735; 98421 54073

Members of Parliament
Tamil Nadu and Kerala
New Delhi

Dear Sir/Madam:

Greetings! We write to bring your kind attention to the liability issue involved in the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government concluded a secretive Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia in February 2008 and signed it in December that year. Article 13 of the IGA states: “The Indian Side and its authorised organisation at any time and at all stages of the construction and operation of the NPP power units to be constructed under the present Agreement shall be the Operator of power units of the NPP at the Kudankulam Site and be fully responsible for any damage both within and outside the territory of the Republic of India caused to any person and property as a result of a nuclear incident occurring at the NPP.” This simply means that the Russian government or their companies have no liability whatsoever for their technology and the equipment.

This allows the polluter to go scot free and runs quite contrary to the “polluter pays” principle enshrined in the Indian Constitution and all our environmental laws. Any blanket waiver to the foreign suppliers will make the Indian liability act a cruel joke. Russians claim that the Koodankulam reactors are the “best” and the “safest” in the world. If that is so, why should they shy away from offering any liability for their technology and components, but keep insisting that the Indian operator, NPCIL, is responsible for all damages?

In the meantime, the Prime Minister has questioned the atomic energy department’s decision not to exercise the right to recourse in the event of an accident at the Koodankulam plants 3 and 4. If we allow liability waiver to the Russians for KKNPP 1 and 2, and insist on their liability for KKNPP 3 and 4, how would we sort out a situation like Fukushima at Koodankulam if and when all these reactors burst one after the other? How would we decide if a radiation victim suffered from KKNPP 1 or 2 or 3 or 4?

Please note that the Indian government has not shared this IGA with the Members of Parliament or the project-affected people. When the KKNPP projects 1 and 2 are not even completed yet, the Government of India must announce the 2008 IGA null and void and implement the liability act 2010. Honorable Minister Narayanaswamy has been making rash and irresponsible statements about the KKNPP all along and now announces all of a sudden that the government has Rs. 1,500 crores as a deposit to meet liability commitments.

We would like to request you, the Members of Parliament, to establish the validity of the Indian liability act of 2010 and demand liability from all these countries as per the Indian act; and to reaffirm the fact that Indian life is not any less valuable than the lives of Russians, Americans and the French,

With best personal regards and all peaceful wishes,


S. P. Udayakumar
M. Pushparayan
Fr. F. Jayakumar
M. P. Jesuraj

People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)



The NDTV case against Nielsen and Kantar has raised questions about TV ratings- The “Raddi Business”

Are newspaper sales and readership measurements any less questionable?

Shivendra Gupta / Mumbai Aug 06, 2012,  IST, BT

A 5 a m cup of tea at Supela Chowk on National Highway 6 in the steel city of Bhilai is an unlikely place to understand the economics of the newspaper business. But over tea, newspaper vendors and agents talk of the unspoken part of the business. Two leading newspaper publishers in Chhattisgarh, they claim, buy about 50,000 copies of each other’s newspapers every morning. The idea is to prevent the competitor’s product from reaching the reader. Ex-employees, with some pride, tell you war stories of how the two publishers have dedicated staff and godowns from where they manage this operation. They add quirky tales of how at one stage the rate of “raddi”, or old newspapers, was higher in Nagpur, 275 km from Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, and they hired trucks to ship the “raddi” to Nagpur to get better value.

Similar stories are heard in Bhopal, where two publishers have been engaged in tough competition. Action like this has unintended consequences. The Audit Bureau of Circulation, or ABC, certifies the circulation numbers of publishers, and these numbers get boosted as a result of such competitor action! In turn, advertisers rely on ABC certificates to know which newspaper sells how many copies. So while buying a rival’s copy is intended to hurt him, it unwittingly ends up also helping the rival through higher certified circulation numbers. Inevitably, there are also multiple cases of newspaper companies across the country doing voluntary “raddi” of their own newspaper in order to get higher certified circulation.

In her article “The trouble with English Papers” (Business Standard, February 28), Vanita Kohli-Khandekar pointed out that while the circulation of English newspapers has grown 70 per cent in the last six years, readership as put out by the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) has hardly grown by two per cent. The “raddi” business is one of the key reasons for this trend. Copies that get printed are not reaching readers, and in fact are not intended to reach any reader.

An important reason is the low price at which newspapers are sold. Compared to a cost of about Rs 15, newspapers in India are priced mostly between Rs 2 and Rs 4. For ABC certification, newspaper companies have to show recovery of at least the “raddi” value (Rs 1 to Rs 1.50 per copy). The difference between the cover price and “raddi” value can be paid by publishers to agents as commission, and used for other incentives. The low cover price creates plenty of room for misuse.

It gets worse, because most newspaper companies promote special schemes like one- to two-year subscriptions at rock-bottom prices, and combo plans for multiple publications of the same group at attractive prices. This not only makes the product very cheap for readers but also makes copies vulnerable for further misuse in the hands of vendors. For such copies, the ABC certification rules are even easier. Newspaper companies have to recover just 10 per cent of the cover price of the newspaper to get certification, which is typically less than half the “raddi” value.

Sample this: The manager of a housing society with 20 flats in Mumbai’s Vile Parle got an unbelievable offer. The newspaper agent wanted the society, on behalf of its members, to subscribe to the two-year subscription scheme of two popular city newspapers by paying about Rs 8,000. The publishers were running a two-year, Rs 199 subscription offer. In return, the agent, instead of supplying the newspapers every day, promised to give the society Rs 30,000 back after six months. To the manager it sounded like a Ponzi scheme, but he discovered that the two newspapers were willing to give a product with a cover price of more than Rs 70,000 over two years, for as little as Rs 8,000. The agent was merely using the society address to get 20 copies of each of the publications at the low subscription price, which he would then sell to his regular customers at the printed cover price. From this arbitrage, he was ready to share half his spoils with the society. ABC sometimes catches on to some schemes, and it is not infrequent that publishers’ circulation claims are rejected.

As it happens, these subscription copies would not qualify for ABC certification, so what was their purpose? This is where the readership survey comes in. The Indian Readership Survey, or IRS, is used to determine readership and consumption patterns for a lot of durable goods by households across India. The IRS numbers, now published every quarter, are the basis on which advertisers and ad agencies decide how to allocate some Rs 15,000 crore of advertising money among various publications. With a sample size of more than 250,000, collected through four quarterly cycles, the IRS is one of the most comprehensive efforts at collecting data.

But if you want to understand how IRS functions on the ground, you don’t need to meet any newspaper company CEO, or for that matter any Media Research Users Council (MRUC) office-bearer. The best person to go to is Sandeep (name changed), who lives near Laxmi Nagar in East Delhi. It is difficult to believe what Sandeep promises. He claims he can “fix” any newspaper’s readership for as little as Rs 5 lakh for each city. He claims that he and his masters do this for a living and boast of leading publications as their clients.

The method is simple. Just fix the sample at the data collection stage. This sample forms the basis of the IRS survey. Sandeep claims to have field staff in his pocket; through this network of people responsible for data collection, he can fix the sample not only to improve the readership of a particular newspaper but also to reduce the readership of a rival newspaper. He offers the personal contact details of senior managers at big publications who are involved.

It is not that MRUC and the industry, including advertisers and agencies, have not been warned of such misuse. Recently, MRUC wrote to its members asking them to bring to MRUC any such instance that comes to their knowledge. The letter warned that MRUC would take police action against guilty agents and field staff.

Earlier, a rival readership survey (National Readership Survey, or NRS) faced similar charges of quirky and unrealistic numbers, and court cases were filed. Eventually, NRS was discontinued as a separate entity. With IRS now the sole survivor, it is in the same position as the sole TV viewership survey — a monopoly means the industry has nowhere else to look for reliable numbers.

The trouble with newspaper companies, as Vanita Kohli-Khandekar pointed out in her article, is that they have run out of good ideas to increase genuine circulation and readership. The pressure to grow has led the industry to adopt practices that are both unethical and in the long run unsustainable. Executives in some publications now spend most of their time managing such distorted schemes.

It is not that all practices in the television industry are above board, so newspapers can hardly follow the lead of TV companies. But a newspaper industry that is in decline globally cannot hope to show growth in India by resorting to questionable practices that distort crucial industry matrices — or there will be fresh law suits filed

Doctors’ freebies to be Taxed :-) #Goodnews


C Unnikrishnan, TNN Aug 7, 2012, 03.56AM IST

MUMBAI: The income-tax (I-T) department will tax the amount pharmaceutical and allied health sector industries spend on freebies for medical practitioners and their professional associations. Those who accept the freebies will also be taxed.

The decision follows an amendment to Medical Council of India regulations banning doctors and their associations from accepting freebies. The freebies include money, travel facilities and hospitality extended by pharma firms and makers of medical devices and ‘nutraceuticals’.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes August 1 circular says the department has come across such instances and a senior pharma company official admitted companies do it to advance sales. He said a company was planning to take around 80 doctors from across the country on a full-expenses paid foreign trip for a ‘seminar’.

The I-T department grants an exemption to money spent on business promotion. It accepts firms’ claims and allows deduction. An official said, “Pharma firms cannot claim the benefit as regulations prohibit it. If we can prove the company extended freebies to doctors, they have to pay taxes. Those who receive freebies will also have to pay a tax on the gift’s value or money spent on it. If a doctor gets a fridge, its market value will be treated as income.”

Chandra Mohan Gulati, a drug regulatory expert, said it was a great first step but “let it not be the last”. He felt doctors should be told to mention details of their ‘gifts’. In 2009, MCI had set guidelines for doctors vis-a-vis pharmaceutical companies.

Ranga Iyer, who used to head Wyeth and the OPPI (Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India), said, “We must look at the IT Act changes in isolation. The need is for ethical marketing practices for pharmaceutical firms and we support any such move.”

Dr Arun Bal of the Association for Consumers’ Action on Safety & Health an NGO that works for patients’ rights, said, “This follows attempts by MCI and the government to bring about self-regulation among doctors and the industry.”

(With inputs from Malathy Iyer)


Posters warn girls of acid attacks if seen in jeans in Ranchi #VAW #Moralpolicing

, TNN | Aug 8, 2012,

Posters threaten attack on girls for wearing jeans

Posters threaten attack on girls for wearing jeans
RANCHI: Posters warning of serious consequences like acid attacks if women wore jeans and tops created panic across the city on Tuesday but police refused to react to the threats and had made no arrests throughout the day.Written in red ink, these posters by a group calling itself Jharkhand Mukti Sangh were seen at Albert Ekka Chowk, outside the office of the registrar and St John School at around 9.30am. They were deliberately penned in red ink to give the impression that they were the handiwork of a rebel group, said police.

“We are not taking the posters seriously as we feel some miscreants are behind them. But we will investigate,” said DGP G S Rath, adding to the insecurity created among the city’s women.

“The police should immediately look into the matter and take action. If they are not booked, it will be very difficult for us to move around freely,” said a girl student of St Xavier’s College. She was furious with the group. “They are behaving like the Taliban. Recently a khap panchayat also decreed that girls would be punished for wearing jeans. I don’t know why they have started this moral policing,” she said on condition her identity be kept secret for fear of reprisal.

The chairperson of the State Women’s Commission, Hemlata S Mohan, was shocked. “There is no justification for such posters. We cannot allow the girls to be targeted in this fashion,” said Mohan.

The posters also warned of violence against job seekers in Jharkhand who are not domiciles of the state. “Outsiders” planning to buy land in the state have also not been spared, just as companies have been warned about the backlash if they displace people.

The police said “attacks” and warnings to “outsiders” is nothing new. Sometime back, activists of the Adivashi Mulvasi Chhatra Morcha (AMCM), roughed up a high school teacher, Avadh Bihari, who hailed from Samastipur, Bihar.

“I was called by the District Education Officer to join as a 10+2 teacher. AMCM members asked me to leave the state or face violence,” said Bihari over phone.

AMCM president, Kamlesh Ram, said no leniency would be shown while dealing with outsiders. “Outsiders cannot enjoy the fruits of the state at the cost of the tribals.” He added that the tribals had fought for their rights and a separate state. Now that they have it, they should be the first claimants over its resources.

Senior BJP leader, Raghubar Das, said the Constitution grants Indians the right to live anywhere they want. “Any attempt to challenge this right is condemnable. The police should immediately launch a probe. It might be the handiwork of some antisocial elements,” said Das.

Rashtriya Janata Dal state president, Girinath Singh, did not turn down the possibility of the involvement of some splinter group. “I want immediate action. The government’s failure has caused the people to stand up in protest. It is in fact a fallout of the domicile policy,” remarked Singh.

The efficacy of the intelligence system was also questioned. “It shows that the intelligence system has failed,” said Singh.

Threats of this kind are an unpleasant surprise anywhere, but even more so in a city like Ranchi which has long had a cosmopolitan culture. The government should not take such threats lightly, because they do tend to intimidate people even if those issuing the threat are only a fringe group. Outfits that take it upon themselves to do ‘moral policing’ must be dealt with firmly by the state. Firm action by the government at this stage can nip the menace in the bud. Any laxity shown in this respect is likely to encourage not just this group but other potential vigilantes

Plan panel wants govt to retreat from healthcare #Goodnews


Nitin Sethi & Kounteya Sinha, TNN | Aug 8, 2012, 02.17AM IST

NEW DELHI: In a move that has angered the health ministry, the Planning Commission has asked for reversal of the long-standing public health policy from the 12th plan onwards ending governments’ dominant role in providing health services and transiting to greater privatization of the health sector, something along the lines of the ‘managed care’ system which is followed in the USand Mexico.The health ministry has taken a tough stance against what is referred to as “corporatization of health care” and will send a strong reply on Wednesday to plan panel deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia arguing that “the first priority should be to strengthen the public health system and involve the private sector only for critical gap filling”.

The letter from health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad says that “the private sector should not substitute but actually supplement the public sector”.

TOI accessed a draft, finalized at the end of July, of the 12th five year plan‘s health chapter which sketches the dramatic policy reversal that would bring in universal health insurance coverage by allowing a selected ‘network’ of private and other operators to sell their services on competitive basis to the government for which they would be paid on what the health industry calls ‘capitation’ basis or simply on fixed rates for different treatments for every person handled.

The plan panel’s prescription visualizes government’s role in delivering primary healthcare as restricted to mere essentials like antenatal care, leaving more lucrative medical treatment to the ‘managed-care’ system where private players will compete with cash-strapped government-run hospitals to run the ‘networks’.

The commission’s proposal runs contrary to what even its High Level Expert Group (HLEG) on health reforms had said as recently as November 2011.

The HLEG, headed by Dr K Srinath Reddy, had recommended, “Purchases of all healthcare services under the universal healthcare system should be undertaken either directly by the central and state governments through their departments of health or by quasi-governmental autonomous agencies established for the purpose.”

In other words, the HLEG recommended that health delivery services should be run by the government and where a need arises, the government can hire private hospitals for which they would be paid on fixed basis. Under this system, the private players would not be competing but filling the gap.

The HLEG went against the ‘managed care’ system that the Planning Commission has now recommended.

“It becomes necessary, therefore, to either explore a completely different approach towards the use of insurance companies and independent agents – more in the ‘managed care’ framework, where they take on explicit population level health outcome responsibilities or invest further in the capacity of the ministries and departments of health to directly provide and purchase services from contracted-in private providers wherever necessary. We favour the latter option,” the expert group had held.

HLEG will meet on Thursday to discuss the commission’s latest proposal.

Dr Reddy told TOI, “We have clearly voted for strengthening of the public sector. We will meet on Thursday to discuss where there is a mismatch between our recommendations and the commission’s proposal.”

He added, “We have clearly said that the public sector needs to be strengthened and should be the main provider of services under the UHC. Where needed, the private healthcare provider could be contracted to supplement these services through a well designed system. Both public and private providers should be monitored by an independent regulator for quality of care so that the entitlement under the UHC is properly delivered through technically competent and ethically correct health care.”

The health ministry, however, is livid. An official told TOI, “We should not forget the exploitation of patients that goes on in the private sector every day through over prescription and over diagnosis. The health challenges in India‘s urban and rural areas are completely different. The private hospital chains have no presence in such backward areas facing the worst health indicators. How will they perform there?”

The ministry is also worried that such a move by the Planning Commission will take away “the few doctors that are still practicing in public hospitals”.

“The National Rural Health Mission needs to be continued. We have invested huge amount of money and planning over the last seven years over it and are finally seeing results. A National Urban Health Mission needs to be floated for the urban poor,” the ministry said.

Sources said at stake in this controversial move is the health sector pie which is set to rise substantially as the government ups its investment in the 12th five year plan to Rs 10,85,369 crore.

At present, almost all health funds provided to states are part of the flexible arrangement to help states set public health priorities.

The Planning Commission has recommended that this be kept to a minimum of 10% of the total funds and the rest be part of an ‘incentive fund’ which will be linked to the state governments undertaking such ‘reforms’ and other targets. This would also effectively reduce the funds that the health ministry controls substantially.

Oddly, the Planning Commission’s report even misinterprets what the HLEG recommended and claims, “The expert group has recommended that we should move towards a system of a network of health service providers at the primary, secondary and tertiary level which is funded on the basis of per capita payment to the network. The system managed as a network of service providers and individuals is registered on payment of a charge per person covered. Once enrolled, the individual’s health problems are handled by the network as a whole, with proper regard to the need for preventive care and a sequence of care from primary to the higher level as needed.”

Times View

India’s healthcare system is already among the most privatised in the world and the last thing we need is a further retreat of the state in this sector.Far from reducing its role, the government should be focussing on increasing it.

Not only does it need to spend much more on building infrastructure like hospitals and primary health centres, it must ensure that these are adequately staffed and equipped.Of course, ensuring that the money spent is well-utilised is important, which also means constant monitoring of whether doctors and paramedical staff are actually present where they are supposed to be.

The immunisation programme too needs to boosted and urgently. These are not options but necessary steps because, like education, healthcare too must be seen as something all citizens are entitled to.


Rejoinder to story on #SoniSori in Indian Express: (IADHRI)



The  International Alliance for Defence of Human Rights in India (IADHRI) is based in the US and has participated in the campaigns for the release of Dr. Binayak Sen, Kopa Kunjam and now more recently Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi.

On August 5th, The Indian Express published a disturbing, supposedly investigative story on Soni Sori, implying both that she was guilty of the charge of being a Maoist as well as casting doubt on the activists in India and outside who support her, and who are mainly responsible forbringing into the open the fact that she was and continues to be tortured in prison.

The IADHRI has written this response to the story, rebutting it point by point.

That the media often compromises its integrity for corporate interests and the political elite is not news any more. The recent Sunday Express report titled ‘Soni’s Story’ is symptomatic of a belief that if a lie is repeated often, it becomes the accepted truth.  The report talks of Soni Sori, the Adivasi school teacher from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, who has been arrested and accused of being a Maoist conduit. With a clever sprinkling of truth, a report can seem unbiased- the reporter appears to be the warrior fighting to find facts and settling for nothing less. It is, however, imperative that fallacies be broken down, and the casual picking and choosing of facts be exposed for what it is. Let us use the same structure that the story uses.
  1. Sori, the police and the Maoists
    1. The report paints a picture of Soni Sori, a vocal, educated school teacher with an influential family. It mentions that “Villagers in Palnar say Sori was not a Maoist, but like most people in these parts, she had links with the rebels.”
    2. However, in the quest for truth, the reporter does not remain satisfied, and to substantiate charges of Sori’s Maoist links refers to the incident where Maoists shoot her father in the leg but spare her as a subtle insinuation that there is something wrong brewing underneath. How exactly one’s father being shot is a sign of camaraderie we will never know, but the Sunday Express seems to have some ideas.
    3. The report does not stop at this, but cites an unnamed Palnar-based journalist and family-friend who says that “Madam was a bridge between Maoists and the local company contractors. She helped them levy taxes and was also close to the police,” which of course is sufficient evidence to incriminate Sori as a Maoist.
    4. The report exonerates Sori of the attack on Avdesh Gautam’s house, stating that “Evidence suggests both Sori and Futane were not involved in the attack. But curiously, while Futane was arrested and continues to be in jail, Sori remained free. She was slapped with several offences in a series of cases from July to September 2010—all false, say her lawyer and even the police.” Curiously, this does not prevent the reporter from quoting the same Gautam saying that “She was playing to both sides. She could not have managed it for long.” This begs the question: how does one take Gautam’s words to be credible when it was his FIR that led to charges being slapped against Sori for the first time in 2010?
    5. The report does reinforce the claim made by activists that Lingaram Kodopi (Sori’s nephew – a co-accused in the Gautam case and also arrested for being a Maoist conduit) was not arrested at Palnar market when handing over 15 lakhs to BK Lala, an Essar contractor, as suggested by the police. Relatives have confirmed that Kodopi was arrested from Sori’s father’s house, and Sori fled. What the report fails to inform readers is that after fleeing to Delhi, Sori sought out the office of Tehelka magazine and helped conduct a sting operation- the recorded conversation clearly suggests that she was framed through the conspiracy of SP Ankit Garg and a constable by the name of Mankar. It was also here that Sori spoke of repeated harassment by the Chhattisgarh police and their attempts to coax her to implicate her nephew Kodopi as being a Maoist.
  2. Sori and the activists
    1. This is perhaps the most intriguing part of the Sunday Express report. The journalist seeks to discredit activists for bringing attention to Soni Sori’s medical report, furnished by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata. Sori was examined there between October 26th and 28th and it was through this report that Sori’s torture became evident after stones were recovered from her private parts. The medical report, contrary to what is mentioned in the report, was never “leaked”. The report was only made available after being produced before the Supreme Court. (It is also worth noting here that after the medical report was dispatched by speed post, it took a good two weeks for it to reach the Supreme Court.) One does not know what to make of the story’s suggestion that there was a “selective leak” of the medical report. What parts of the report that were of relevance were omitted by the various petitions? The report goes on to say, “While the four-page confidential report, submitted to the SC, a copy of which is with The Sunday Express, recorded in detail her medical condition and did not confirm the torture charges, only a sentence about the “foreign bodies” was leaked.” Is the Sunday Express trying to suggest that Sori inserted these foreign bodies into her body herself? If one were to also carefully read the four page medical report, it can be seen that the only sentence the Sunday Express chooses to mention is in the summary of the report. The foreign bodies are mentioned along with other details, throughout the rest of the report. The recovered stones themselves were also submitted to the Supreme Court by the  hospital.
    2. The other means of discrediting the NRS medical report is to cite the medical report from hospitals in Dantewada and Raipur, where no foreign object was discovered. It is also worthwhile to note that the scans from Raipur have not been made available to Sori’s lawyers despite repeated appeals for the same. To ward off the charges made by activists that these reports were “doctored” (no pun intended), the Sunday Express interviewed a private practitioner Dr. Rakesh Gupta who finds the NRS medical report to be contradictory. One is of course supposed to ignore the fact that Dr. Gupta has not examined Sori himself. But to lend credibility to his claims, the report cites that Dr. Gupta is the “state president of the Naagrik Sangharsh Samiti who supports “social and economic causes of Maoists”. We are now being coaxed to believe an alleged Maoist sympathizer! Ironic one would say, but irony is only every bright morning that Soni Sori spends in darkness behind bars in prison.
  3. The case of the letters
    1. The Sunday Express seems more interested in learning how the letters came from prison and were released through Himanshu Kumar rather than the contents of the letters themselves. It leaves no stone unturned in attempting to discredit these letters. At first the report attacks the handwriting, citing Himanshu Kumar as not recognizing the handwriting. Himanshu Kumar, in a response to this piece, has categorically stated that he recognizes the handwriting as that of Sori’s. It is not surprising that no one would confess to being a courier for Soni’s letter, considering that Dr. Binayak Sen spent two years in jail on similar allegations.
    2. While questioning Sori’s letters, the report had no problem in quoting a purported letter from Sori’s husband, who is currently in jail,  without explaining how they got hold of it.  Curiously, no one other than the Sunday Express seems to have seen this letter.
  1. The waiting family
    1. The journalist somehow manages to summon all his compassion for this last section to sign off on a sympathetic note. To show the readers that it really is the all-powerful “jholawalas” that are playing Sori. To do this again, the uncredible Avdesh Gautam is quoted as “feeling sorry for her”. Mr. Gautam could perhaps be more concrete in his sympathy if he drops Sori’s name from the FIR he filed. But perhaps that is wishful thinking.
At the end the story, one if left wondering what primary purpose such a report serves. Whether or not Sori is innocent (and indeed, the report itself questions some of the charges against her), why not question the administration and the judiciary that places thousands of Adivasis in the conflict zones behind bars, prolonging their detention and often refusing them any trial at all? It has been almost a year since Soni Sori was arrested. Months have passed since the Supreme Court expressed its anguish over the NRS Medical Report. No investigation has been initiated against those accused of this custodial torture, no response has been forthcoming from the government of Chhattisgarh. If the purpose is only to malign individuals who raise their voices against these injustices, the Sunday Express  has served the purpose very well.



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