#India – The Law That Saved a Billion Lives


4 May 2013

A portrait of a fearless piece of Indian legislation that assures affordable medication to the world’s poor

BY Achal PrabhalaSudhir Krishnaswamy , Open Magazine
NEED FOR CHEAP DRUGS: Cancer patient Siddhart Maske seated outside the Tata cancer hospital in Mumbai

NEED FOR CHEAP DRUGS: Cancer patient Siddhart Maske seated outside the Tata cancer hospital in Mumbai

One day in September 2007, Arun Kumar (1), a serving officer in the Indian Army, took a routine blood test. To his surprise, he found his total leukocyte count (TLC) was at 13,000, a little beyond the normal range (4,000-11,000). The next day, it had climbed to 25,000. Four days later, his TLC had shot up to an alarming 125,000, and he was evacuated from his remote posting in eastern India and flown to a Command Hospital thousands of kilometres away. It was as his doctors suspected: Kumar had chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). He was lucky for having caught the cancer in its incipient phase.

Kumar was lucky in other ways as well. For one thing, his form of cancer is treatable, thanks to a miracle cure called imatinib. For another, the Armed Forces take care of all his treatment costs while on active duty, and the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) will cover him even after retirement. This is no small matter; imatinib is available in generic form from multiple suppliers in India, but a single dose costs Rs 1.2 lakh per annum—and he is likely to stay on medication for the rest of his life.

Despite these advantages, Kumar’s struggle against CML has not been without setbacks. He suffers from chronic indigestion, possibly as a result of his high medicine intake. The Command Hospital he is treated at is overburdened, and frequently runs out of imatinib. During these stockouts, which can last up to several weeks each year, he is on his own: he has to buy imatinib in the market, without reimbursement. Three years ago, his doctors noticed a sudden increase in the chromosomal aberration that indicates CML, and doubled his dosage of the medicine. Still, his body is responding well. Had he instead developed resistance to imatinib, he would have had to upgrade to dasatinib, a newer medicine that Bristol Myers-Squibb (BMS) launched in the market in 2006. BMS, an American pharmaceutical major, markets dasatinib in India under the brand Sprycel at a price of Rs 18 lakh per annum. Natco, an Indian manufacturer, produced a generic version of dasatinib that cost one-eighteenth of the BMS price, at about Rs 1 lakh; BMS sued Natco, and the case is currently in court.

Today, Kumar is alive and well, and his cancer is barely detectable. His annual medicines bill is Rs 2.4 lakh, a sum he can afford only because his employer picks up the tab. That might sound like a large sum of money to expend on one patient alone, but it is in fact the lowest price at which imatinib can be bought anywhere in the world. Hospitals operated by the Forces—like all other government-run health facilities—buy generic imatinib exclusively through competitive tenders; if they were forced to buy Gleevec (spelt Glivec in Europe and other markets), a brand of imatinib marketed by the Swiss multinational Novartis—which introduced the medicine to the world in 2001—they would be looking at an annual bill of Rs 30 lakh for Kumar alone, which is to say, they would have to pay 12 times as much.

Unfortunately, such a price scenario is not idle speculation: until two weeks ago, India’s public health system—funded by taxpayer money—faced the prospect of either instantly multiplying its budget several times over, or, in the case of CML patients, treating only a twelvth of the people it was earlier supporting.

Thankfully, Kumar’s future is safe.

On 1 April 2013, Supreme Court Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai upheld previous decisions of the Intellectual Property Apellate Board (IPAB) and the Patent Controller in deciding that Novartis’ application covering a modification to the original imatinib compound was not worthy of patent protection—and thereby, market monopoly —in India. It was a judgment heard around the world. Mainstream media exploded with news of the Indian Supreme Court decision, marking a first for a lengthy document that put forth a complex technical argument based on the arcane workings of intellectual property, itself an arcane subject.

In the flurry of news coverage that ensued, perhaps no fact was mangled as much as the immediate impact of the decision on price and accessibility. The price of imatinib matters, and it matters to us now. In the wake of the judgment, a popular line of argument has been that no matter how low medicines are priced, there will still be millions of people who cannot afford them. This is true, but it is no justification for a higher price: it is a simple consequence of poverty. A low price still matters to the middle-class because it provides them affordable medicines, and it still matters to the desperately poor because it enables foundations, agencies and governments that fund public health to extend treatment coverage to more people who need it.

The other popular line of argument is that this judgment will have no effect on access to imatinib since most people get it free anyway. These exact words have appeared in the editorials and news reports of several publications over the past few weeks, never mind that the opposite is true. Consider the dissimulation that produces this argument. There are an estimated 42,000 people being treated for CML with imatinib in India today. Of these, Novartis claims 16,000 patients use its brand of imatinib, Gleevec. Novartis further claims that 90 per cent of these Gleevec users—about 15,000 patients—get the medicine free through a charitable programme run by the company. (The Cancer Patients Aid Association—CPAA—disputes these claims). Even if we take Novartis at its word, there are at least 27,000 patients—65 per cent of all people diagnosed with CML—who are paying for their imatinib, either directly or via their employers. Now hear Paul Herrling, head of corporate research at Novartis, conveniently mixing up his numbers, magically expanding the scope of his company’s charity, and setting the narrative: “90 per cent of all people diagnosed with that specific form of leukemia get Gleevec free.”

Regardless of the intent, perhaps we ought to be grateful for the sudden spurt of attention towards Indian patent law. It is well worth understanding. After all, it is the reason we are alive.

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The Nobel Prize-winning relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls India ‘the pharmacy of the developing world’. It is a well-deserved distinction, and it took the better part of five decades to achieve. The Indian generic pharmaceutical industry took off in the 1970s, and continues to provide patients across India with what are arguably the cheapest certified medicines available in the world. After an early phase of consolidation, the Indian generic industry looked outwards—and began exporting its medicines with some success. Today, large swathes of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia (not to mention some sections of the American and European market) depend on Indian generic medicines to a significant extent. An industry born of a straightforward strategy for pharmaceutical self-sufficiency has transformed into a world-class hub of low-cost medicine production.

It was no accident. Like so many transformations that mark our time, it began in the 1960s. Justice Bakshi Tek Chand and Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar, two pioneering patent law reformers of the period, laid the foundations on which the generic industry would be built. The Tek Chand Committee reviewed the Indian Patents and Designs Act of 1911, and argued that it did not encourage scientific research in India. The committee recommended that patents be put to use for the good of the Indian public, and that patented products be reasonably priced, failing which, compulsory licences ought to be issued (which would legally revoke the time-bound monopoly conferred by patent protection).

The Ayyangar Committee took the argument further, noting that far more patents were being granted to foreigners than Indians, and that Indian patents were not proving commercially successful. The Ayyangar Committee asked for the country’s patent law to be redesigned to respond to India’s needs as a developing country, and drew upon European precedents to exempt food, medicines and chemicals from product patents. This legal provision formed the cornerstone of India’s Patents Act of 1970, and enabled the emergence of the generic pharmaceutical industry we know today.

At the same time as Justices Tek Chand and Ayyangar were looking for ways to reform Indian patent law, a nascent pharmaceutical manufacturing base was coming into its own. The Bombay-based generic medicine pioneer Cipla, founded by Khwaja Abdul Hamied, had been operating for 35 years by then. Cipla and other firms of its kind made it clear to the Government that they needed to bypass product patents in order to grow, and it is likely that the presence of a capable manufacturing base hastened the introduction of a law that would help it expand. Once the law took shape, there was no looking back. The Patents Act of 1970 changed the game: the global landscape of medicines was forever altered, and for the better.

The period extending from the 1970s to the early 1990s was something of a golden age for the Indian generic industry. In the absence of binding international treaties that regulated patents, the State was more or less free to do as it pleased, and the generic industry took advantage of this to build its capacity and spread its wings. Then, in 1994, India signed the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), as part of its accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO)—and the trouble began. The Indian State had no choice, really; WTO membership was an offer it couldn’t refuse if the country wanted to keep trading with the world.

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In Novartis AG vs Union of India, Justice Alam traces the antecedents of Indian patent law. While he does not delve into the frenzied political bargaining that foreshadowed TRIPs, he does reflect on the deep concerns expressed within India—and in other countries reliant on Indian medicines—over the impact of product patents on the domestic generic industry. India’s experience of patents was limited, and the immediate crisis posed by signing up to TRIPs was an existential one: would the pharmacy of the developing world have to shut shop?

In the years following 1994, the Indian State struggled to reconcile its domestic patent law with the international regime it had acceded to. In part, this was because of the commonly held belief that TRIPs forced India to forgo the flexibility to mould its patent law to suit its needs. The feckless thrashing about by the Indian political class in the wake of TRIPs produced several failed ordinances, many aborted legislative attempts, and some modest legal reform between 1994 and 2005. Notably, it was in this period of indecision that the governments of the United States and the European Community launched formal complaints against India at the WTO—in 1996 and 1997, respectively—for failing to fulfil its obligation to provide interim protection to patent applications in advance of a new patent law. (By the terms of TRIPs, India was required to bring its patent law into line by 2005; it was also required to set up an equivalent system in the intervening period.) The WTO upheld the US and European complaints. As a result, India amended its patent law in 1999, setting up a ‘mailbox’ for patent applications and instituting a scheme of Exclusive Marketing Rights (EMR) to serve as a proxy for patent privileges in the run-up to patent protection.

Within the generic pharmaceutical industry, the period between 1994 and 2005 was characterised by confusion. Some generic manufacturers stuck to their guns: Cipla, for instance, made a brilliant, headline-grabbing move in 2001 by offering MSF the cocktail of medicines required to treat HIV and AIDS at a jaw-dropping price of $350 per annum—at a time when the prevailing price around the world was over $10,000. But as India further complied with TRIPs, the effects of full compliance were becoming clearer, and they did not bode well for the industry.

In the end, the demands were met by the 2005 amendment to the Patents Act. Unusually—or luckily—a curious combination of negotiating deadlocks, parliamentary unrest and the strong presence of the Left parties in the ruling coalition resulted in a strikingly bold and original law. The amendments finally made to Indian patent law were a culmination of the policy concerns expressed since 1994.

In his judgment, Justice Alam notes that Parliament paid particular attention to Novartis’ exorbitant pricing of Gleevec—the first medicine in India to have been granted an EMR—and used the experience as a lesson in understanding what could happen under a patent regime of unfettered monopolies. The amendments of 2005 complied with TRIPs and ushered in product patents and yet featured several distinguishing details. Significant among these was a higher threshold for inventiveness, which, while allowing for incremental innovation, demanded that the increment be amply demonstrated in the form of measurably greater efficacy.

At the outset, there was no doubt these largely unprecedented provisions would eventually be challenged. An early exercise to deflect international murmurs about the legitimacy of these provisions was the formation of a Technical Expert Group on Patent Law Issues, headed by Dr RA Mashelkar, the (then) head of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The Mashelkar Committee was established in April 2005 and tasked with examining a couple of crucial questions pertaining to the TRIPs-compatibility of Indian patent law. It took its time to deliver.

Soon after, Novartis’ application for patent protection on its beta crystalline modification of imatinib was examined. (The patent on the original compound was instituted before 1995, making it ineligible for consideration under Indian law.) In 2006, the Patent Controller rejected Novartis’ application on the grounds that it failed to satisfy several provisions, including section 3(d) of the Patents Act, which asks for a demonstration of increased efficacy to prove incremental innovation. Novartis appealed the decision to the IPAB, which rejected the application in 2009. As a last resort, Novartis filed a Special Leave Petition under Article 136 of the Indian Constitution to challenge the ruling of the IPAB, and this is how the case reached the Supreme Court.

For 15 years, Gleevec travelled through the courts like a bullet in slow motion fired at Indian patent law. Every step of the process was a cliffhanger; every outcome, at every stage of the challenge, had the potential to directly affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people at home and abroad.

Prior to the Supreme Court decision in this matter, Novartis had approached the Madras High Court, arguing—in a separate but related charge—that section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act was unconstitutional. In effect, Novartis was trying to do what the Swiss government would not. Instead of the Swiss government hauling India to the WTO—as the US and EU had done before, and as is standard procedure in a sovereign dispute—Novartis was taking the Indian Government to court for violating its obligations to the WTO. In 2007, the Madras High Court rejected Novartis’ charge and declined to rule on India’s compliance with TRIPs. Novartis did not appeal. Curiously, however, the Mashelkar Committee submitted its own report to the Government a few months before the case was to be heard, and its conclusions supported Novartis. In the run-up to the hearing, Novartis brandished the Mashelkar Report as proof of the Indian Government’s complicity in the alleged flouting of international protocol. More curiously, it turned out that the conclusions of the Mashelkar Report were lifted verbatim from a paper commissioned by a lobby group of multinational pharmaceutical companies and executed by a (then) doctoral student, Shamnad Basheer. In the ensuing scandal, the report was withdrawn and Novartis lost a key prop in its argument. (Several years later, the report was rewritten, re-submitted to the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion—and accepted.)

The Madras High Court’s ruling was primarily concerned with constitutional rights and goals. In contrast, the Supreme Court judgment of 2013 restricts itself to the discipline of patent law. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no reference made within the judgment to the Constitution or rights of patients. Justice Alam’s summary observation is that Indian patent law promotes breakthrough innovation while restraining monopoly claims for minor innovation—by which he means modifications that are trivial and do not substantially add value to the original innovation.

The historic nature of the judgment cannot be overstated: not only does it justify Indian patent law as it exists, thereby safeguarding access to medicines, it recasts the Indian patent regime as an agenda-setter for innovation, thus giving it the potential to change the game once more.

Twenty years after TRIPs made its début on the world stage, thanks to the Novartis judgment we can now safely say there is wide flexibility available to member states who wish to comply with it. To exploit this, however, and to make the system truly work for innovation and access, the Indian experience suggests that four factors are crucial. One: the intellectual capacity to create alternatives to standard interpretations of TRIPs, which depends on a robust academic and activist structure that is unafraid of originality. Two: organised patient groups and public interest lawyers who bear the moral impetus of an independent civil society; in the Novartis case, the CPAA and the Lawyers Collective played outstanding roles. Three: the driving commercial ambitions of a generic pharmaceutical industry that makes medicines for the domestic market. Four: an independent judiciary that is confident enough to withstand the public-relations onslaught and backroom bullying that typically accompany cases with major global implications.

Innovation is the point of the Novartis judgment. Innovation is also the point of every detractor of the judgment, including Novartis. The detraction is simple: that this spells the end of innovation in India. Behind this prediction of doom is a widely held notion that patents are an index of innovation.

In theory, they are. Patents are supposed to be temporary monopolies awarded by law as an incentive for publicly disclosed innovation. In reality, however, the global patent system has been gamed beyond recognition. In the preceding decades, as India struggled to refine its patent law, other countries turned their patent systems upside down. In the US, Europe and Japan, powerful pharmaceutical lobbies have managed to consistently weaken standards, creating a system that no longer has the capacity to recognise, much less reward, genuine innovation. Minor and mostly inconsequential innovations rule, and it’s a bitter victory, for they win at the cost of breakthrough innovation. A recent report in the British Medical Journal sums up the global research situation for new medicines: ‘This is the real innovation crisis: pharmaceutical research and development turns out mostly minor variations on existing drugs, and most new drugs are not superior on clinical measures.’

If breakthrough innovation is more important than the incremental kind, as common sense indicates, why do pharmaceutical companies overwhelmingly focus on the latter? For one thing, breakthrough innovation takes time and money and necessarily involves a high risk of failure. For another, minor innovation—relative to its investment—produces very satisfying results. In a recent Public Library of Science study, researchers tallied the benefits of secondary patents in the US market from 17 years of data. They found that on average, a secondary patent adds between 6 and 7 years to the patent life of the original compound. To appreciate the financial windfall that a single year’s additional monopoly represents, consider atorvastatin, a blockbuster cholesterol medicine. The American pharmaceutical company Pfizer launched the medicine under the brandname Lipitor in 1996. At its peak, while under patent protection, Lipitor generated $12 billion in annual revenues. The moment it went off patent and had to compete with generic brands, Lipitor’s revenues plummeted to a little over $1 billion. Pharmaceutical companies chase secondary patents because they have the potential to extend monopolies and deliver exceptional returns for relatively little effort, and this is exactly the kind of lopsided incentive scheme that Indian patent law is designed to thwart.

The other big detraction—a detraction that almost wholly constitutes the innuendo around the Novartis judgment—is that Indian patent law is not TRIPs-compliant since it has not had its day at the WTO yet. There are several ways to think about this. First, the Madras High Court’s rebuff of Novartis’ constitutional challenge in 2007 implicitly addressed this question. Novartis did not appeal the judgment. Second, the WTO does not hand out certificates of compliance: a law that is unchallenged at the WTO is, by default, compliant. Third, if another sovereign entity—like the US or EU—wanted to haul India to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, it has had plenty of time to do so: eight years to be specific. When India dithered on commitments made to the WTO in 1994, the US and EU formally hauled up India at once. They did so because they were confident they had a case—and they won. India was forced to rectify its mistakes. There is a reason the US and EU have not taken India to the WTO over the TRIPs-compatibility of its patent law. It is not that they are thrilled with the law or perfectly sure it is compliant. The reason India hasn’t yet faced a sovereign challenge on its patent law is that scholarship and evidence weighs in favour of its compliance—and no developed country wants to risk losing at the WTO, for a loss would serve as a licence to every country watching to replicate the Indian model with impunity.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter. India represents 1.3 per cent of the global pharmaceutical market by value. We are a poor country, and a resolutely low-cost generics market to boot. Certainly, there is money to be made here; it’s just that the money is little or nothing when set against the industry’s global bottomline. On its own, India cannot improve the way the industry innovates, regardless of the strength of its patent law, because it lacks clout.

The real problem for big pharma is the symbolic value of the Supreme Court’s justification of Indian patent law. You will not hear this problem expressed publicly, because expressing it will only make it worse, but rest assured CEOs in London, New York and Basel are worrying about it. The real threat posed by Indian patent law is that other countries may want it too. If that happens on a large enough scale—and it’s a big if—an unjustifiable business model will be upended and we may finally see innovation and access going hand-in-hand.

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(1) – Name changed

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(This piece draws, in part, on arguments previously expressed by the present authors in The Hindu on April 15, 2013, and by one of the present authors and Kajal Bhardwaj in Business Standard on April 6, 2013, in which the case of the anonymous Indian Army Officer, reported here at length, was discussed in summary. For further perspectives from cancer patients in India on the Novartis case, the Cancer Patients Aid Association has a useful compendium of reports. For a history of actions taken by Novartis over Gleevec in India through the last fifteen years, the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit has compiled a comprehensive timeline with commentary.)

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Achal Prabhala works on access to medicines; Sudhir Krishnaswamy is with the Centre for Law and Policy Research, and on the faculty of Azim Premji University

 

“Modi go back”: Protest against Narendra Modi’s Karnataka visit


Submitted by admin4 on 28 April 2013 – twocircles.net

By TwoCircles.net Staff Reporter,

Bengaluru: A section of civil rights activists and concerned citizens gathered in the state capital, under the coalition banner of Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (KKSV), to protest against Narendra Modi’s visit to the state.

The protest which took place in city’s Anand Rao Circle today was part of a campaign, “to stop the Gujarat chief minister;” who is accused of perpetuating the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in his state, “from entering Karnataka to campaign for the forthcoming elections.”

 

 

“Modi go back” resonated in the air as protesters kept shouting the slogans.

Writer and critic Agni Shridhar who was part of the protest said, “Modi, like any other citizen of this country has a constitutional right to enter any state, and this protest is not against his right to enter. This protest is against the butcher and mass murderer of people belonging to the minority community; it is against his crimes. The people of Karnataka do not want such a person to enter our state, we would not agree to it morally”.

Freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy, Senior journalists Indudhar Honnapur, KKSV President KL Ashok and Human rights activist and advocate T Narasimha Murthy were among the noted participants.

Modi is all set to campaign in Bangalore this evening, which BJP party workers believe would turn the tables in their favour in this election.

 

#India – Download the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act #Vaw


Ink pink... Bullies stink!

 

The New Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act   came into effect on April 23, 2013.

 

Under the Act, employers’ organisations must have mechanisms to address complaints of sexual harassment, and deal with such complaints within 90 days. Non-compliance of the law is punishable by a fine, and repeated non-compliance can lead to higher penalties and cancellation of the employer’s licence to conduct business.

 

The law comes 15 years after the Supreme Court’s historic Vishakha judgment in 1997.

 

The Vishakha judgment was incorporated into the Central Civil Services(Conduct) Rules, 1964 and the The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Rules, following the 1999 order on the Medha Kotwal case.

 

Download the Act here

 

 

 

Press Release- Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD) condemns the brutal attack on Sarabjit Singh,


PRESS RELEASE, APRIL 28 , 2013, Mumbai

 

The Indian chapter of PakistanIndia Peoples’ Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD) condemns the brutal attack on Sarabjit Singh, an Indian death row prisoner in the Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail yesterday. He was attacked with bricks and blades. He is now being treated in the Lahore’s Jinnah hospital and is in the ICU and said to be out of danger.

The authorities have registered a complaint against Amir and Mudassar. Both of them are death row convicts. An inquiry has been launched. FIR also says the prisoners Safdar and Ehsanul Haq tried to protect Singh during the attack. Sarabjit Singh was apprehensive about attack on him. His sister Dalbir Kaur had also expressed her concern earlier.

Sarabjit Singh has been in the Pakistan jail for over 21 years. He was charged with serial blasts in Lahore, Multan & Faisalabad and was sentenced to death. His mercy petition was rejected by ex Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. But, when Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led government came into power in 2008 they put off Sarabjit’s execution for an indefinite period. Many Indian, Pakistani and peace loving people from across the globe has repeatedly appealed Pakistan to release and repatriate him to India.

We feel a high level, independent inquiry need to be set up to look into the incident. The investigation, inquiry need to go to the bottom of it and must punish responsible persons, officials however higher they may be.

As his condition improves he should be immediately released and repatriated to India.

India and Pakistan must take care of each other’s prisoners and see that in future no untoward incidences like this take place.

Both the countries should consider adopting a plan  under which if someone is sentenced for many years then he / she can be transferred to his / her own country and spend remaining sentence in their country. India has such kind of agreement with Bangladesh.

E Deenadayalan                      Jatin Desai

Secretary                                Joint Secretary

Foster Hindu parents bring up Farzana in Islamic tradition #Sundayreading


The Hindu , By J. S. Ifthekhar

Farzana with Madhu and Laxmi Reddy.

Farzana with Madhu and Laxmi Reddy.
When they marry off their daughter Farzana on Sunday, Madhava Reddy and Lakshmi Reddy will have set a new benchmark for secularism. The couple raised Farzana, who lost her parents, from the age of four as their own child and according to Islamic traditions

Take heart. All is not lost yet. There are still people around who stand by values, pluralism and tolerance. While most cry hoarse about religious co-existence, here is a family that lives by it. Madhava Reddy and his wife Lakshmi Reddy are perhaps the best hope for humanity.

When they marry off their daughter Farzana on Sunday, they will have set a new benchmark for secularism. If you do a double-take, you must be an outsider. For the people of Gouraipally, a sleepy village 7 km from Yadgirigutta in Nalgonda district, it is nothing unusual.

They have seen Reddy and his wife raising Farzana right from the age of four as their own child. The girl, who lost her parents at an early age, could not have asked for better foster parents. When none of her relatives came forward to adopt her, Madhava Reddy took her in his care.

The Reddy couple, who have two sons, took an instant liking for Farzana.

They not merely showered love and affection on her but brought her up according to Islamic traditions. Apart from giving her modern education, they ensured that Farzana was not deprived of Islamic teachings.

“We never forced our religion on her but allowed the girl to perform ‘namaz’, read the Quran and observe fast during Ramzan,” says Madhava Reddy, who retired from the Electricity Board.

No wonder, as 22-year-old Farzana prepares for a new phase of life on Sunday, she is sad to part with her parents.

“I will miss mummy and daddy a lot,” she says in a choked voice.

A bright student, Farzana passed 10th Class and Intermediate in first division. Later, she did nursing course in Hyderabad and got a job at Yashoda Hospital, Malakpet.

Qazi Akhter of Yadgirigutta is expected to perform Farzana’s ‘nikah’ with a Nalgonda boy, Mohd. Rasheed, on Sunday. Ghiasuddin Babukhan, chairman, Hyderabad Zakat and Charitable Trust, who supported Farzana’s education, is lending a helping hand in her marriage, too.

Reddy’s two sons, who are working in the U.S., are fond of Farzana and keep in touch with her. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself is the golden principle of the family. Sure, an ounce of practice is worth tonnes of preaching.

 

Change.org – Sign the change you want to see #onlineactivism


The concept of online petitioning is riding high on the wave of social change sweeping the world. MANU MOUDGIL says that while the impact is promising, there are several roadblocks to be negotiated.
Posted/Updated Saturday, Apr 27 , thehoot.org
Every other day, a new mail drops into the inbox asking you to ‘change the world’ by signing a petition. It can be as serious an issue as seeking justice for an acid attack victim or as trivial as asking Justin Bieber to have a live concert in India. For an increasing number of urban Indians bred on concepts of equality and justice but frustrated by trappings of age-old power hierarchies of this country, the idea is promising. You don’t need to be a kurta-wearing social activist sitting on dharnas or a donor writing cheques to fund campaigns. Just filling in your name, email Id and postal code would do.
Petitioning around social campaigns has been in practice for decades but never has its impact been more pronounced than today when a call to ‘stop rape’ can gather 59,000 signatures in just 24 hours (On last count, the petition had 6.64 lakh signatures). For every signature, the decision makers get an email (many petitions also request the supporters to call the officials) thus ensuring constant pressure on them to act.
Two government school teachers in Jharkhand get paid after four years, five asphalt factories in Rajasthan shut down for causing air pollution, a discriminatory temple ritual is banned in Karnataka…the list goes on about the impact online petitions have made, though not singularly.
Online petitioning picked up pace in India after 2011 when Change.org, the world’s largest e-petition platform, started its operations here. Today, it has close to 6 lakh users with 600-800 petitions started every month, up from 11-15 petitions two years ago. Worldwide, it has operations in 18 countries and boasts of 35 million users.
Change.org also scores over other online platforms because of its support team, which helps build a communication strategy around selected petitions. In India, a small five-member team sends emails to users, talks to the media and suggests ways to engage with decision makers around campaigns which are bound to get popular support like the anti-rape petition started in wake of the Delhi gang-rape. The team works on 14-16 campaigns a week.
Everyone’s invited
 
One palpable difference online platforms have made in the field of campaigning is democratisation of the petitioning tool. Anybody can mobilise support for a cause they strongly feel about. Namita Bhandare, who started the anti-rape petition, had never participated in protest marches or candlelight vigils. She wrote the petition just to give vent to her anger and feeling of helplessness after the Delhi gang-rape. “At first, I questioned myself what would a petition do. In fact, now I realise that the recommendations we made in the petition were very basic and the Justice Verma Commission went much beyond as it factored in marital rape, action against armed forces and redefined sexual assault. However, filing that petition was cathartic for me. The tool lends power to the people who were earlier completely dependent on media or NGOs to mobilise support,” she says.
However, critics believe that e-petition promotes slacktivism or armchair activism which is also the reason it is so successful. It gives “false power” to those who feel helpless in face of problems they can’t control and prevents many of the supporters from participating in on-ground action. Preethi Herman, Campaigns Director at change.org laughs off such criticism. “We tend to assume that people just sign petitions. Online platform is the first point of engagement. They make telephone calls to decision makers, participate in offline events and help spread the word further. You can’t equate mobilisation with activism as it’s more about developing a larger support base for your cause. Most of the supporters are not activists but they do want a change,” she says.
Bhandare agrees: “ E-petition does sensitise one to the cause. You can’t just start a petition on rape and go to a cocktail party. I am sure many of the signatories to my petition also joined the on-ground protests.”
Change.org also collaborates with Video Volunteers and CGNet Swara, the two grassroots-level organisations which use video and audio media to highlight issues in rural India. “It was important for us to adapt to Indian conditions where Internet penetration is still very low. We work with Video Volunteers and CGNet Swara to identify issues in their areas which could be promoted online and hence bridge the gap between rural and urban population,” Herman says.
Tania Devaiah, the impacts manager at Video Volunteers, confirms that getting numbers behind a cause through online petition lends an institutional approach to the campaign. “Constant flow of emails and phone calls does build pressure on decision makers in comparison to a single approach of making and screening of videos. We pick up issues for online campaigns where either it’s difficult to make the authorities act or the cause has a universal appeal,” she adds. The next frontier change.org wants to conquer is to make the platform available in Hindi and adapt it to mobile phones.
The loopholes
Change.org believes that to get the desired impact, online petitions should be supported by on ground action, exposure in local media and interactions with decision makers. However, in many cases, the offline or on-ground mobilisation may be completely missing, thus putting a question mark on sustainability of the impact generated. For instance, a petition by Video Volunteers against a discriminatory practice in a Rajasthan village where a traditional practice of Dalit women carrying their footwear in their hands while crossing the houses of upper caste families garnered 5,480 signatures.
Acting on the petition, the District Collector along with other officials held a meeting in the village apprising them of the law banning caste discrimination and ordered that the practice be disallowed. However, the villagers did not even know that there was a campaign running on this issue and unknown people were playing their saviours over the Internet. The impact has been that the Dalits are now much more scared to talk about the discrimination, as mentioned by this report in Times of India. Herman refutes this claim, saying that the correspondent of Video Volunteers had mobilised Dalit women against this practice and villagers might be scared of talking to the media due to local power equations. However, independent inquiries made by The Hoot confirm that the action taken by the officials was solely on the basis of the online petition and there was no local campaign against the practice.
Verification of facts reported in the petition is another sore point. Though some petitions do carry images and videos related to the issue, there are chances that you might end up supporting a wrong cause. For instance, an incident in Hyderabad got two separate petitions running on the website. Girl college students coming out of a pub after a farewell party were accused by the regional news channels of creating nuisance at a public place and depicted as uncultured while the students blamed the media of moral policing and wrongful depiction. The chances are you may end up signing one of these petitions without getting to know the other side. Herman says since numerous petitions are created daily, it’s not possible to substantiate the facts presented in each of them but whenever the Change team works on and pushes a petition, the facts are verified in detail.
Values shortchanged?
Change.org claims to be a corporation using the power of business for social good. It made revenue by allowing sponsored petitions from progressive groups willing to shell out dollars to promote their campaigns. The concept has helped the company generate enough profit to make its functioning self-sustaining.
However, something changed in October last year when a leaked internal documentrevealed how the organisation was replacing its value-based advertising policy to an ‘open’ approach allowing even conservatives and corporates to use its resources. This invited widespread criticism from the progressive community which felt that the vast user database it helped build through the years was being sold to the opposition camp.
On the other hand, as underscored by Isaac Luria of Groundswell, organisations running social campaigns don’t get a full contact list of their supporters whom they could later invite to attend meetings, join local groups, or donate. “Of course, I could have bought the names that signed the petition on Change.org for around $500,000 or about $2 per name if I had the foresight before the campaign was launched or had the money,” he adds.
Change’s founder Ben Rattray responded to the criticism by arguing that the organisation “cannot maintain an open platform and simultaneously block all ads that don’t fit a particular political view” and ads from controversial groups would only be accepted if the platform has users interested in their work. He also emphasised that an open advertiser policy was essential to avoid being “regularly forced into unsustainable positions.”
However, not everybody was impressed with these clarifications. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, an online campaigner who has initiated a petition asking Rattray to come out clean, says the definition of openness pushed by Change.org is not in consonance with progressive principles. “I used to laugh at some of the inane petitions like the ones promoting homophobia or anti-abortion, as I was sure change.org will not give any support and the petition will die its own death. But with the new policy, anyone is eligible to advertise. So, after I sign a petition for human rights, I might find a link to a sponsored petition on giving legal recognition to khap panchayats,” she says.
Mahabal has now been trying other online platforms but is not happy with their technical support. For the time being, she is using her own blog to mobilise online support and is hopeful that Indian activists will have their own independent platform soon.
Meanwhile, as they say, every change is accompanied by discomforts. The question is how well can we deal with these.
Official recognition

Online petitioning is officially recognised in the US where the right to petition your government is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The White House hosts an online platform ‘We the People’ where any petition which gets 1,00,000 signatures within 30 days elicits a government response. The threshold before January 2013 was 25,000 signatures and one of the petitions which got the White House speaking was seeking ‘genocide’ status for the 1984 Sikh riots in India. The petition had more than 30,000 signatures.

original article http://thehoot.org/web/Signthechangeyouwanttosee/6753-1-1-12-true.html

Fuzzy thinking on SC Niyamgiri verdict #Vedanta


Reports and editorials on the Supreme Court verdict in the Vedanta case might have missed the mark. ARITRA BHATTACHARYA says a section of the media is even acting as apologist for the multinational.
 Saturday, Apr 27 , The Hoot.org

The April 18 Supreme Court judgement on the Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills has been widely reported. While some quarters and activists hailed it as a positive judgement, Vedanta and Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) found enough reason for hope and opportunity in the judgement. Other reports underscored how local people had been given the right to decide on the operations of a global mining giant, pointed out how it was a landmark event, and underscored the power of the local tribals.

Most reports, however, failed to point out the fact that the court had, in a sense, chosen to bypass the most vexing questions relating to violations of environmental laws in the case. The SC decision, while granting the ‘right’ to decide on the fate of the bauxite mine to the gram sabhas, chose to set aside all ecological concerns and made religious rights of the Niyamgiri tribals the central plank of the judgement.

Bypassing connections

The OMC had decried the earlier 2010 order of the Supreme Court where it refused clearance to the bauxite mining project on grounds of violation of laws in the alumina refinery. The Supreme Court order, while making a note of this, said:

Petitioner… submitted that the order wrongly cites the violation of certain conditions of environmental clearance by “Alumina Refinery Project” as grounds for denial of Stage II clearance to OMC for its “Bauxite Mining Project”…the violation of any statutory provision or a condition of environmental clearance by one cannot be a relevant consideration for grant of Stage II clearance to the other.

Holding forth on the connections between the two ‘projects’— a crucial plank in the petitioner’s argument — the Supreme Court judgement made all the right noises. It noted:

Quite contrary to the case of the petitioner, it can be strongly argued that the Alumina Refinery Project and Bauxite Mining Project are interdependent and inseparably linked together and, hence, any wrong doing by Alumina Refinery Project may cast a reflection on the Bauxite Mining Project and may be a relevant consideration for denial of Stage II clearance to the Bauxite Mining Project.

The court, however, refused to take a clear stand on the issue. In the same breath, it went on to rule:

In this Judgment, however, we do not propose to make any final pronouncement on that issue but we would keep the focus mainly on the rights of the Scheduled Tribes and the “Traditional Forest Dwellers” under the Forest Rights Act.

With this, it may be argued, the judgement refused to tackle the most vexing aspect of the case; instead, in focusing on the rights of the STs and TFDs, it shifted the parameters of discourse elsewhere, away from violation of environmental laws by a part of the project.

In no uncertain terms, the judgement states that the only the state has the right to decide on the extraction of minerals. It notes:

The Forest Rights Act, neither expressly nor impliedly, has taken away or interfered with the right of the State over mines or minerals lying underneath the forest land, which stand vested in the State. State holds the natural resources as a trustee for the people.

Through the judgement, the Supreme Court has clearly defined the arc within which the local population of an area may have a say in a large-scale mineral extraction project in their area. In the event of majority of claims under the Forest Rights Act in the project area being settled, the only grounds on which local people can oppose a project they may not want is religion and culture. The judgement, in the last part, holds forth on this:

Religious freedom guaranteed to STs and the TFDs under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution is intended to be a guide to a community of life and social demands…Their right to worship the deity Niyam-Raja has, therefore, to be protected and preserved.

The court further observed:

We are, therefore, of the view that the question whether STs and other TFDs, like Dongaria Kondh, Kutia Kandha and others, have got any religious rights i.e. rights of worship over the Niyamgiri hills, known as Nimagiri, near Hundaljali, which is the hill top known as Niyam-Raja, have to be considered by the Gram Sabha.

The gram sabhas have been asked to arrive at a decision within three months, and the MoEF is supposed to take a final call on the matter within the following two months.

What does this shift in the parameters of the discourse hold? For one, in shifting the locus of decision-making in the gram sabhas to the domain of the cultural/ religious, the argument will now shift from verifiable facts to matters of perception.

In the coming months, local bodies in the area will have to deal with the following question: will the local deity be disturbed if mining is allowed within a 10-km radius of his/her abode? How much space, and what kind of access will be required to preserve my religious practices and rituals? As is evident, there can be no factual replies to such questions; instead, responses will be based on perceptions. Therefore, the task of any well-meaning industrialist has to be one of perception management.

In a clear reflection of this, the Economic Times editorial on April 19, the day after the judgment, pointed out:

The Supreme Court has…opened a window of opportunity for Vedanta to win over the tribal group, Dongariya Kondhs, who worship the bauxite mounds the company wants to mine…Mining companies should offer terms that elicit consent of those who stand to be displaced for the uprooting of life and livelihood as they have known them. The Kondhs in Niyamgiri can perhaps be persuaded to restrict their worship to a couple of hills, by offering them access to a better, albeit different, life.

As pointed out earlier, this editorial underscores how religious and cultural rights are a matter of perception, and how sound negotiation can persuade locals to re-look at their traditional practices.

To be sure, Vedanta is no novice at perception management. Readers will recall its “Creating Happiness” campaign, and its claims of running plush health clinics and educational institutes in the project-affected areas. Although some reports and documentaries showed how these clinics were without doctors and hardly had any health facilities, and how local educational institutes were, in some cases, merely buildings, Vedanta has continued to cultivate perceptions in and outside the project- affected area. Now, perhaps, it needs to do a wee bit more to convince the poor tribals that their deity after all will be well served by prosperity.

ET’s Vedanta plug?

In fact, a piece on the edit page of the Economic Times on April 19 makes precisely this very argument. Waxing eloquent on the prowess of Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal, the article notes:

Vedanta has somehow acquired this public image of being hostile to environment and the habitats of tribals and villagers…All this may have been due to past mistakes and a communication gap, but it is time for Agarwal to address and solve this problem. Many mining and metal companies operate in India but only Vedanta seems to face this problem on a persistent basis.

It is strange that the author can make this claim about only Vedanta facing this problem on a persistent basis in the same breath where he speaks about the shutting down of the company’s smelter in Tamil Nadu owing to violations of environmental laws.

The choice of words is also instructive, for the writer says that Vedanta has ‘acquired this public image of being hostile’— a sleight of hand suggesting that this is actually not the case; that Vedanta in fact, adheres to the highest norms of upholding rights of local communities.

The writer goes on to locate the troubles of Vedanta in the activities of hostile global NGOs. In what appears to belittle the Dongria and Kutia Kondhs, the author proclaims:

Tribals are often smarter than city dwellers. They know the advantages of proper schools, housing and a decent standard of living, and are unlikely to dismiss sincere outreach efforts.

All that Vedanta’s Anil Agarwal needs to do is “use his clout as an industrialist to win over Niyamgiri”, as the article suggests. Perhaps, the Supreme Court judgment lays the ground for this. After all matters of religion and culture, particularly when it does not happen to pertain to forces right of Centre, are not set in stone.

Irony escapes notice

Those opposed to the Vedanta project, as well as Vedanta and OMC — the project proponents — lauded the judgment. This irony, however, escaped the notice of most papers, which remained fixated on the flawed narrative of tribals halting a multi-million dollar company in its tracks. Indian Express, The Hindu, Times of India, Economic Times, The Telegraph, Hindustan Times and Mint — all reported on the verdict. In its coverage, Mint looked at the Niyamgiri verdict in conjunction with the SC verdict on partial lifting of iron-ore mining ban in Karnataka. The story suggested that the twin verdicts were a relief for the natural resources sector, but there was hope for mining companies. None of the newspapers, however, carried an editorial or opinion pieces on the judgment.

However, Ananda Bazar Patrika, the Bengali daily from the Telegraph stable, reflected on the judgment in a piece on the edit page on April 25. The article sought to underscore the SC judgment for what the author saw as the most important aspect. She noted that the judgment, perhaps for the first time, had upheld the religious and cultural rights of tribals. She noted that while tribals constitute over 11 per cent of the population, their right to uphold their traditional and religious practices had so far escaped recognition. The author, Jaya Mitra, questioned whether anyone would dare raise the issue of taking apart even a section of the Kalighat temple or the Jama Masjid in the interest of a project, while pointing out that the opposite has been the norm as far as places of worship of tribals are concerned. In the same piece, however, she noted that examples of large corporations being punished for violating environmental norms are few and far between.

What effect will Mitra’s observation hold for large projects in tribal areas across the country? Perhaps, it is imperative to mention the case of the Western Ghats here: Readers might recall that a recent MoEF High Level Working Group identified around 37 per cent of the total area of the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive, classifying the rest of the 63 per cent area as “cultural landscape”. The operative word here, of course, is culture, and following the SC verdict on Niyamgiri, people in these areas would not have any grounds to oppose a project — however detrimental it may be to the environment — save by resorting to a religious lexicon.

 

Karnataka student gang-raped, killed, ‘Maratha’etched on body #Vaw


TNN | Apr 28, 2013, 05.02 AM IST

 #India- Chastity, Virginity, Marriageability, and Rape Sentencing #Vaw  #Justice #mustread
Deputy commissioner Munish Moudgil called it a most heinous incident, and said the accused deserve to be hanged.
BELGAUM: A 20-year-old college student was gang-raped and murdered at Sulebhavi village, 20 km from here, on Friday. The girl’s half-naked body was found in a farm on the outskirts of the village the next morning.

Police sources said the rapists had smashed her face with a stone and written “Maratha” on her body in Devanagari script before fleeing the place.

Sources said the victim was kidnapped on Friday evening when she was returning home after writing an examination in Belgaum. She was a student of the Government Degree College here.

The girl’s father identified the body on the basis of her clothes and footwear. Her family members waited for her till Friday evening and looked for her all night. They filed a police complaint on Saturday.

Police superintendent Sandeep Patil and deputy commissioner Munish Moudgil visited the spot. Police have formed three teams to nab the culprits, the SP said. Moudgil called it a most heinous incident, and said the accused deserve to be hanged.

Hundreds of residents and college students blocked the road near the village bus stand. They withdrew the roadblock after an assurance from the SP and DC.

This is the second gang rape and murder of a college student in Belgaum district in the past three months. A pre-university student was gang-raped and killed in Athani in January. The rapists had burnt the body after killing her. Police are yet to arrest them

 

#India – Centre’s report indicates Nuclear plant not safe for Jaitapur


Sunday, Apr 28, 2013, | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

A section of the Jaitapur nuclear plant site selection committee’s report that was withheld by the government and was recently retrieved by a local Premanand Tiwarkar through the Right to Information Act (RTI) contradicts Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited‘s (NPCIL) claim that the site is fit for a nuclear plant.

A section of the Jaitapur nuclear plant site selection committee’s report that was withheld by the government and was recently retrieved by a local Premanand Tiwarkar through the Right to Information Act (RTI) contradicts Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited’s (NPCIL) claim that the site is fit for a nuclear plant.

In the past there have been other studies on the region that have stated that the area is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. However, some pages of the September 2002 ‘Report no 3 Assessment of sites for locating nuclear plants’, which was kept confidential by Centre’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), is the first report made public by the government that states the site is unsafe for a nuclear plant.

The NPCIL had earlier assured locals that the 90-ft high plateau would be adequate to protect the plant in event of a tsunami but the DAE report contradicts NPCIL’s claim. The DAE states that the plateau is made of laterites which is derived from basaltic rock that make the site dangerous.

The report also states, “The seacoast at the Jaitapur site is prone to erosion by breaker (waves) as evidenced by the large number of boulders strewn below the cliff.”

Activists opposed to the nuclear site also say that DAE had initially stated that the construction of the plant would not require excavation. However, they have recently informed the locals that 20 to 30 metres of the lateritic cover and the underlying weathered zone would have to be excavated. This would make the plant susceptible to tsunamis. A 1972 study by the Site Selection Committee of the DAE also stated, “Tectonic features in the region can be regarded as potential sources of earthquakes as some of them may get reactivated at any point….”

 

Gujarat HC notices to Tata Motors, Essar, L&T, GIFT city over land allotment


English: Wordmark of Essar. Trademarked by Essar.

 

English: Wordmark of Tata Motors

English: Wordmark of Tata Motors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

S Reporter  |  Mumbai/ Ahmedabad  April 26, 2013 Last Updated at 20:30 IST

Alleges that the companies received favours from state govt; asks them to file replies on affidavit

 

Gujarat High Court on Friday issued notices to Tata Motors Ltd, Essar Steel Ltd, Larsen & Tubro (L&T) and Gujarat International Finance Tech (GIFT) City Company Limited while hearing separate public interest litigations (PILs) alleging that the companies received favours from state government.

A division bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala while issuing notices have asked them to file replies on affidavit and have scheduled further hearing in June after the court vacation.

The PIL against Tata Motor Ltd (TML) alleges state government had violated policy by giving tax and financial reliefs against the VAT payable by the company. It has further claimed that government had wrongly disbursed over Rs 300 crore loan at 0.1 per cent payable after 20 years of TML’s Nano car plant operations. It said that state government’s move “is a deliberate action against the interest of public at large which is also beyond the purview of state government and also dehors the law.”

PIL has demanded cancellation of the loan given by state government to TML. It has further alleged that the company was “misusing and abusing the condition of the tax relief granted” to get soft loans from the state government. “Total sales of the NANO car are shown to have been made to a wholly owned subsidiary company of TML in state of Gujarat and later on cars are indirectly sold all over the country and other states of India by that wholly owned subsidiary company,” the PIL said, adding that the company manipulated sales figures to get more loan from government.

Meanwhile other PILs against L&T, Essar Steel Ltd and Gift City have claimed that the land allotment to the entities was done without following proper procedures, resulting in private companies getting undue benefits from the state government.

They have further claimed that government land was allotted to the companies at throw away prices without competitive bidding process, causing a loss crores of rupees to the state exchequer. The PILs have cited the latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India where these issues have been raised.

 

 

 

 

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