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Wednesday, 4 August 2021

This State introduces 'Son of Soil' Bill to give Ownership Rights to small house dwellers

 Pramod Sawant.png 

On Tuesday, the Govt of Goa agreed to reintroduce a controversial bill on "sons of the soil" in the next assembly session after the legislation in its present form drew flak from various quarters, including the Opposition.

CM Pramod Sawant, in his address to the people of Goa, said considering the public sentiments, the "Bhumiputra Adhikarini Bill" would be renamed as the "Bhumi Adhikarini Bill" & it would be reintroduced during the next assembly session to be held in the next 2 months.

Last week, the Goa assembly passed the bill that provides a mechanism to grant the ownership rights to "bhumiputras" (sons of the soil) who are living in small housing units. The Goa Bhumiputra Adhikarini Bill, 2021, was passed in the 40-member House by voice vote on the last day of the session on Friday.

In his video address, Mr Sawant said the bill would be kept open for suggestions from members of the public from August 4.

He said that "Valid suggestions would be considered by the government while reintroducing the bill".

 

The CM said the bill was beneficial to Goans & rubbished suggestions by the Opposition parties that it was aimed at pleasing the migrant vote bank. Mr Sawant said the legislation was drafted after proper study & would benefit Goans whose houses are facing the threat of demolition.

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The CM had told the House last week that the bill provides for a mechanism to give ownership rights to dwellers of small housing units to enable them to live with dignity, self-respect & to exercise their right to life.

Mr Sawant had defined "bhumiputra" as a person who is residing in Goa for at least thirty years.

 

"This bill provides protection to bhumiputras so that they shall not be evicted from the dwelling units occupied by them & the units shall not be demolished during the pendency of any proceedings under this law," he had said in the assembly.

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High Court Collegiums have recommended 505 names for HC judges in three years; 209 appointed: Law Minister tells Parliament

 Cancellation of Winter Session of Parliament Helps the Government Duck Tough Questions 

High Court Collegiums (HCCs) made a total of 505 recommendations for appointment as high court judges in the last three years, Parliament was informed on Wednesday by the Union Minister of Law and Justice.

Of the 505 names, a total 209 persons recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium were appointed to various high courts.

The Supreme Court Collegium rejected 153 names and remitted them to the high courts.

The law minister Kiren Rijiju also informed Lok Sabha that 94 fresh proposals had been received from the HCCs in 2021, which were under various stages of processing with the government and Supreme Court Collegium,

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As per the existing process, the high court collegiums sends their recommendations to the Supreme Court Collegium which in turn, may either choose to approve the recommendations, or defer them or even remit them back to the high court collegium for reconsideration

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In so far as the Supreme Court is concerned, between 2018 to 2020, the Supreme Court Collegium (SCC) made 18 recommendations for the appointment of judges in the Supreme Court. All of them were appointed.

SOURCE ; theleaflet.in/

 

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Minority Scholarship: Petition filed in Supreme Court against High Court judgment

 Indian Currency- Rupees- Salary.jpg 

The petition also alleged that the Kerala High Court erred in understanding the distinction between backward communities and minority communities. The state government had formed a committee headed by Justice JB Koshy to study the backwardness of the Christian community.

The petition also stated that if the committee finds that there was backwardness among Christians, the government can formulate special schemes for them.

The petition also alleged that the High Court erred in understanding the distinction between backward communities and minority communities. The state government had formed a committee headed by Justice JB Koshy to study the backwardness of the Christian community.

The petition also stated that if the committee finds that there was backwardness among Christians, the government can formulate special schemes for them.

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Police to conduct Narco Test of Accused in Jharkhand Judge's Death

 Additional Session Judge Uttam Anand.jpg 

Dhanbad Police will conduct a narco test, layered voice analysis & brain mapping of both the accused arrested in the case of the alleged killing of Additional District Judge Uttam Anand.

Sanjeev Kumar, Senior Superintendent of Police, Dhanbad district said that "Police have got permission from Dhanbad Court to conduct four tests including narco, layered voice analysis & brain mapping of both accused arrested in the case. The tests will be done at Gujarat FSL. We are contacting Gujarat FSL. We will further the process once the date is confirmed from them".

On Saturday, Jharkhand Govt recommended a CBI probe in the matter.

On this, the SSP said, "The state government has recommended CBI probe in the case. Our investigation will continue till the CBI takes over. Various teams are interrogating & investigating at various places."

Meanwhile, the SIT formed to probe the case submitted its progress report on Tuesday in Jharkhand High Court. The court, through the advocate general, was informed that the state government has decided to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The Court said that it will keep monitoring the case.

Last week, Umesh Manjhi, the officer-in-charge of Pathardih police station, was suspended from his services in the case of the alleged killing of Additional District Judge Uttam Anand.

On July 28, Judge Uttam Anand was allegedly killed after a vehicle hit him near the Magistrate Colony, Dhanbad.

Two people involved in the alleged killing were arrested, & the auto used for the crime has also been seized. The accused, identified as Lakhan Kumar Verma & Rahul Verma, confessed to the crime, said Amol Vinukant Homkar, Inspector General (Ops).

 

On July 30, the Apex Court took suo motu cognizance of the killing. A day later, the Jharkhand Govt recommended a CBI probe into the killing of the Judge.

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Is Essential Defence Services Bill a colonial practice to ban strikes?

 Is Essential Defence Services Bill a colonial practice to ban strikes? 

The Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, prohibits workers engaged in essential defence services from striking work especially in light of the decision to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board. In a two-part series, K.R. SHYAM SUNDAR critically analyses the Bill. Part I deals with the apprehensions and views of trade unions and the continuation of a colonial practice to ban strikes and lockouts

—–

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The decision to corporatise the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and make strikes illegal has pitted the staff of the ordnance factories and civilian defence employees against the Centre.

The OFB, under the Department of Defence Production (DDP) of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), comprises 41 ordnance factories producing arms, explosives and ammunition. Besides, there are nine central public sector undertakings (PSUs), like HAL and BEL, which are under the administrative control of the department.

The decision to dissolve the OFB and replace it with seven government-owned corporate entities was rejected by the employees, who fear eventual privatisation and losing the security of their service and retirement conditions.

On June 27, the 80,000-strong workforce of the ordnance factories and 4,00,000 civilian defence employees, under the banner of three recognised unions, declared that an indefinite strike would start on July 26. 

Subsequently, the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021—which prohibited strikes, lockouts, and lay-offs in units engaged in essential defence services—was promulgated on June 30. On July 22, the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, which replaced the Ordinance, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 22.

Corporatisation and OFB

Successive governments have sought to corporatise the OFB. The UPA-1 government contemplated corporatisation of the OFB following the recommendations of the TKA Nair Committee (2000) and Vijay Kelkar Committee (2006).


Corporatisation of the OFB is expected to result in economic efficiency, improve corporate governance and enable access to market funds, among others. 

In 2001, the Centre opened up the defence sector to the private sector with foreign direct investment (FDI) up to 26%, both subject to licensing. In 2016, it allowed FDI under the automatic route up to 49% and above 49% through the government route wherever it was likely to lead to access to modern technology.

In May 2020, FDI in the sector was increased from 49% to 74%, and up to 100% through the government route as part of the reforms in the defence sector to boost self-reliance. In the same month, the quest for self-reliance was rechristened as Atmanirbhar package.

On May 16, 2020, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced structural reform measures for several sectors, including defence. She proposed two measures to enhance self-reliance, viz. ‘Make in India’ for self-reliance in defence production, and improve autonomy, accountability and efficiency in ordnance supplies by corporatisation of the OFB. This was followed by the constitution of an empowered group of ministers (EGoM) in September 2020 to oversee and take the measures forward.

On June 15, 2021, the Union Cabinet approved the policy measure to corporatise the OFB and bundle them into seven corporate entities. Critics have questioned the operational validity of the corporatisation process.

Apprehensions and views of trade unions

The government has assured that all employees belonging to groups A, B, and C would be transferred to the corporatised entities on deemed deputation initially for two years without changing their service conditions. Further, their pension liabilities would be borne by the Central government.

However, workers have some grave concerns. Trade unions have contested the very process and logic of corporatisation and pointed out some serious implications for employees and even for the defence sector.

All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF) Secretary C Srikumar observed that ‘the government is converting the OFB into a corporation only to privatise it (later)”. This apprehension is supported by the fact that Sitharaman announced in May that there would be a maximum of four PSUs in the strategic sector and all others would be privatised.

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Also read: Corporatisation of ordnance factories may lead to selective privatisation in the long term

Even if the entities are declared part of the strategic sector, there is no guarantee they will not be privatised. The main contention of the unions is that economic efficiency can be achieved even staying within the government-regulated framework. On November 21 2020, the trade unions had submitted their reform proposals to enhance economic efficiency to the government. The government has not considered the proposal.

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Besides, there is no guarantee that the service conditions of the employees will not change after two years. The service conditions of OFB staff are on par with that of Central government employees. Post-corporatisation, their service conditions would become the same as that of Central PSU employees, the OFB workers argue. 

The unions further argue that the decision to corporatise the OFB is arbitrary, and violates the previous commitment by various governments and also the settlement reached with the Centre in October 2020.

Also read: Ordnance Factory Board federations condemn ‘draconian’ Ordinance

Strikes and government promises

Trade unions were always against corporatisation of the OFB. In fact, one of the issues of the general strike called by a majority of CTUs in the 2010s concerned allowing FDI and privatisation of defence, the railways and insurance.

In August 2019, the three recognised union federations—AIDEF, Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation and even the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh—struck work. As a result, the Ministry of Defence constituted a high-level committee of the DDP on June 2, 2020, to address the concerns of the trade unions regarding corporatisation of the OFB. The committee assured the trade unions that it would engage with them as per their request.

When the government started pushing for the corporatisation of the OFB aggressively even during the pandemic last year, the federations called for an “indefinite strike” to be held from October 12, 2020. However, it was deferred as a result of a conciliated settlement between the Centre and the unions that the service conditions would remain the same and the federations can express their concerns to the EGoM. 

However, the government and the unions made little headway for two reasons. First, while the government asserts that corporatisation is a “policy decision” and non-negotiable, the trade unions contest its very validity and legitimacy. Second, the workers want their service conditions to remain unchanged.

Emergency powers

Corporatisation measures had been shelved for several years thanks to the agitations and strikes by trade unions. However, the current regime has assumed ‘emergency powers’ to prohibit strikes in the defence sector to thwart any attempts to block corporatisation. The Bill is similar to the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), 1968. The Central and the state governments have often used ESMA to prohibit strikes.

The use of emergency powers was typically a colonial strategy. State intervention in industrial disputes became very severe during the Second World War, when the British introduced the Essential Services Act, 1941, and the Defence of India Rules (Rule 81-A, introduced in 1942, and Rule 56-A, introduced in 1943) to ban strikes and lockouts and other forms of industrial protests. General and political strikes were also prohibited.

In the neoliberal dispensation, the governments irrespective of parties in power have used ESMA to secure reform objectives. In this sense, the “globalisation logic” drives the state to acquire extraordinary powers as in the defence sector now. (https://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2012_47/21/Essential_Services_Maintenance_Act.pdf). From a welfare state, it is becoming a hard reform state and it appears that the neoliberal state would use all the strategies up its sleeve to drive reforms even it is antithetical to the ethos underlying the pluralistic democratic state.

The government should not introduce laws that have a colonial hangover. In a democracy, workers have the right to strike if their legitimate demands are either not met or new laws endanger their job security.

(K. R. Shyam Sundar is Professor, HRM Area, XLRI, Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur. The views expressed are personal.)

SOURCE ;  .theleaflet.in


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Ayurvedic Doctors entitled to enhanced Retirement Age of 65: Supreme Court

 Ayurvedic Doctors Entitled To Enhanced Retirement Age Of 65: Top Court 

Ayurvedic doctors covered under AYUSH are also entitled to the benefit of enhanced superannuation age of 65 years at par with allopathic doctors, the Apex Court said on Tuesday. A Bench of Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Hrishikesh Roy opined that both - allopathic and Ayurvedic doctors - render service to patients and on this core aspect there is nothing to distinguish them.

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There is no rational justification for having different dates for bestowing the benefit of extended age of superannuation to these two categories of doctors, said the top court.

In the judgment, the Supreme Court said, "We have no hesitation in holding that the respondent doctors (Ayurvedic) are entitled to their full salary arrears and the same is ordered to be disbursed, within eight weeks from today. Belated payment beyond the stipulated period will carry interest, at the rate of six percent from the date of this order until the date of payment. It is ordered accordingly."

The judgment further stated that "We are quite clear in our mind that the respondents must be paid their lawful remuneration arrears and current, as the case may be. The State cannot be allowed to plead financial burden to deny salary for the legally serving doctors. Otherwise, it would violate their rights under Articles 14, 21, and 23 of the Constitution".

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The bench's judgment came on an appeal filed by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) against the Nov 2018 verdict of the Delhi HC which had upheld a Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) order holding that applicants who are Ayurvedic doctors covered under AYUSH are also entitled to the benefit of enhanced superannuation age of 65 years (raised from 60 years), same as the allopathic doctors.

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On the contentions of the NDMC that classification of AYUSH doctors and doctors under Central Health Services (CHS) in different categories is reasonable and permissible in law, the bench clarified that the classification is "discriminatory and unreasonable" since doctors under both segments are performing the same function of treating and healing patient.

The Supreme Court said that the difference in the method of treatment employed by the two systems will not be a reasonable ground to classify Ayurvedic and allopathic doctors differently for fixing retirement age.

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A year on, Beirut port blast survivors still waiting for justice

 

Lebanon’s political elite has been accused of corruption and mismanagement that led to August 4, 2020 explosion in which more than 214 people died.

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Banners reading "here starts your end and our beginning" and "hostages of a murderous state" hang on a building damaged during last year's Beirut port blast in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2021. (Reuters)

After the massive explosion at Beirut’s port a year ago, only a small part of Ibrahim Hoteit’s younger brother has been identified: his scalp. Hoteit buried his brother, a large man, a firefighter, a martial arts champion, in a container the size of a shoebox.

Since then, Hoteit has sold his business, a perfume and accessories shop. He sleeps only a few hours a night. Black circles ring his eyes.

One thing drives him now: winning justice for the victims of the August 4, 2020, explosion that killed 218 people and punishing Lebanon’s political elite, blamed for causing the disaster through their corruption and mismanagement.

“I don’t see a minister or president or parliament speaker. I am seeing the person who killed my brother and others with him,” said Hoteit, who says he gets anonymous threats. “This is what gives me strength. I see that I have nothing to lose.”

 

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Hoteit and his wife, Hanan, have built an association of more than 100 families of those killed. They are waging a campaign of protests and rallies trying to shame, pressure and force politicians to allow the truth to come out.

A year later, critics say the political leadership has succeeded in stonewalling the judicial investigation into the explosion.

President Michel Aoun has said no one will have political cover if they are found negligent or guilty, but has not addressed accusations that officials are obstructing the investigation.

Hoteit and other families say they are up against not just a government but the political system that has ruled Lebanon for more than 30 years. It’s a system that protects itself so intensely it seems invulnerable, even as many Lebanese say it has led the country into ruin, pointing to both the explosion and a financial meltdown that is one of the world’s worst in the past 150 years.

Even the current caretaker premier, Hassan Diab, has acknowledged this, saying weeks after the explosion that corruption in Lebanon “is bigger than the state”.


Portraits of victims 

Black and white portraits of each of the blast’s victims, commissioned by Hoteit’s group, hang from the walls of a central square near the port. Painted on a wall opposite the still mangled port, a large slogan declares “my government did this”.

The blast was preceded by a fire that broke out at the port, and hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar along with other highly combustible materials exploded.

It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Along with the dead, thousands were injured. Some 300,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

It soon emerged in documents that the ammonium nitrate had been stored improperly at the port since 2014 and that multiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.

But a year after the government launched a judicial investigation, nearly everything else remains unknown, from who ordered the shipment to why officials ignored repeated internal warnings of the danger.

Multiple government agencies have a role at the port, but all of them have said the ammonium nitrate was not their responsibility.

Hoteit’s brother Tharwat was among the group of firefighters who rushed to battle the initial blaze. All were killed.

Hoteit and his wife spent the next 12 days searching through hospitals for his brother. It was harrowing. They turned over bodies to see their faces. Doctors notified them when they identified Tharwat’s remains.

Along the way, they met other families on the same grisly search.

Hoteit and Hanan saw one man carrying his dead son’s hand in a plastic sack. The families continued to communicate, first through a WhatsApp group, trading stories of their loved ones.

Then they organized to fight.

 


Symbol of  justice 

With his black T-shirt, jeans and hair slicked back, Hoteit has become synonymous with calls for justice. The 51-year-old-father of three is unforgiving, determined and a clear-eyed strategist.

He coordinates with local groups to document and archive every piece of information on the blast. He has met with several of the politicians he has led protests against, as well as repeatedly with investigators.

At first, the group held vigils outside the port on the 4th of every month. But as the investigation stalled, the group changed tactics, targeting specific officials with protests.

At a protest last month, hundreds carried empty coffins outside the acting interior minister’s home.

At first, Hoteit tried to keep the group orderly, while Hanan and others shouted angrily at the minister inside. The protest got tense as numbers swelled and the minister never came out to talk to them. Protesters tried to make their way through the gates.

Police fired tear gas and pushed them back.

 


Stalled investigation 

The biggest challenge has been trying to ensure the investigation moves forward.

The first lead investigator was Fadi Sawwan, a former military judge. When the families felt he was dragging his feet, citing coronavirus restrictions, they protested outside his home.

When he did act, they couldn’t protect him.

Sawwan named three former government ministers and Diab, the caretaker prime minister, to be charged with negligence leading to death. Diab has dismissed the allegations as “diabolical”. The political class united and won Sawwan’s removal by court order in February.

That’s when the families staged their first angry rally, burning tires, blocking roads and warning they may storm the Justice Ministry. A replacement for Sawwan was swiftly named: Tarek Bitar, a younger judge with no clear political affiliations.

Bitar cast a wider net, pursuing even senior military, intelligence and security officers. In February, he asked the government and parliament to lift immunity from the heads of two main security agencies and two lawmaker s so he could question them.

The families were elated.

But the political elite again closed ranks. Lawmakers and government officials refused to lift immunity. The interior minister said his legal department advised against it, reportedly because the security agency in question was not responsible for the shipment.

So the families took aim at parliament members and officials they accuse of burying the truth. In TV ads and social media posts, they branded those who opposed lifting immunity as “the ammonium nitrate lawmakers.”

Political elite

The same group of politicians has run Lebanon since its long civil war ended in 1990.

They head the same sectarian-rooted factions that fought the conflict. They have divvied government offices up among themselves, and their patronage system has fomented widespread corruption.

Dozens of political assassinations have never been properly investigated. Corruption has gone unpunished despite widespread documentation.

Impunity is entrenched in the system. Though rivals, the factions close ranks to prevent accountability.

That impunity translated into stunning callousness by politicians in the wake of the explosion.

No one deployed security around a city thrown into chaos. No authority took charge of the crime scene or search and rescue. No politician visited damaged areas. No state agency offered aid or shelter to those left homeless, and none cleaned up the rubble, all was left to volunteers.

The state never offered an apology or condolences to families. Even declaring August 4 a National Day of Mourning took months of pressure.

“The state didn’t care for anything at all. If we didn’t follow up on everything big and small, nothing would happen,” Hoteit said, speaking at his home in the mainly Shiite southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh.

Like many Lebanese, Hoteit had long been resigned to the system. It was dictated by fate and geopolitics, he felt.

He can abide it no more.

“If the judiciary doesn’t give us our right, I will take vengeance for my brother with my own hands.”

Source: AP

 

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Families of Accused in Elgar Parishad Case Move Bombay HC Against Transfer From Taloja Jail

 The family members of Anand Teltumbde, Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale allege the reason behind the transfer is to divide them by sending them to separate prisons

 Families of Accused in Elgar Parishad Case Move Bombay HC Against Transfer From Taloja Jail

 Anand Teltumbde, Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale. Photo: YouTube and Facebook

New Delhi: The family members of Anand Teltumbde, Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale – accused in the Elgar Parishad case – have approached the Bombay high court to challenging the decision to shift them out of Taloja prison to an ‘unspecified prison’ in Maharashtra, Bar and Bench reported.

While Gadling and Dhawale were arrested in 2018, Teltumbde has been imprisoned since 2020.

According to news reports, the jail authorities recently moved an application to transfer the male accused in the case to other prisons. The  accused have alleged that they were not even heard or informed about the decision taken by the NIA (National Investigation Agency) court. In fact, the families allege the reason behind the transfer is to divide them by sending them to separate prisons.

The petition stated that “an extremely prejudicial order was passed by the special court under the National Investigation Agency Act, permitting their transfer without offering any hearing to them”.


   

 

However, the application stated that the former superintendent of Taloja Central Prison had in March 2021 sought permission to transfer six out of the 13 under-trials out of the prison for the purpose of decongestion. The application also stated “presence of certain ‘sensitive’ under-trial prisoners in Taloja jail” as a reason for the transfer.

Following several allegations, the former superintendent was transferred out of Taloja prison. But on the basis of his request, special judge D.E. Kothalikar allowed the under-trials to be transferred.

 

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In their petition, the families said that the former superintendent had moved another application on June 7, alleging that the “accused in the Elgar Parishad case, their relatives and their lawyers are taking advantage of COVID-19, are making false complaints through the media and are putting pressure on Taloja jail authorities to achieve their intentions”.

Of the 13 males accused in the Elgar Parishad case and detained at Taloja jail, Varavara Rao is presently on medical bail while Hany Babu has been admitted to a private hospital for treatment. Father Stan Swamy passed away last month.

SOURCE ; THE WIRE

 

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Govt May Not Remember Any Oxygen Shortage Deaths, But the Public Certainly Does

 These official attempts to fool all the people all the time citing unavailability of data shall not remain unchallenged.

 

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 Govt May Not Remember Any Oxygen Shortage Deaths, But the Public Certainly Does 

A patient with a breathing problem is helped by his relative to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, April 19, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave

La Redoute

 

On July 20, Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar, minister of state in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said that no deaths due to lack of oxygen have been specifically reported by states and UTs. Health ministries of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar also joined in similar claims soon after. After all that this country had to undergo because of government inaction, these are not mere denials but diabolical expressions of apathy in a democracy.

La Redoute

Our team of independent researchers, lawyers, students and concerned citizens has been documenting oxygen deaths in hospitals all over the country. In our article published on July 7 in The Indian Express, we noted that at least 629 patients died due to oxygen shortage in 110 hospitals across the country between April 6 and May 19. As per our last update on July 21, the number stands at 682. We have not been able to include oxygen shortage deaths in home quarantined cases, of those who were refused admission in hospitals, those unable to get medical attention on time, and those discharged from hospitals in anticipation of oxygen shortages. This number is also an underestimate because we are relying on media reports only. But the number is surely not zero!

Denying what an exceptionally large number of people witnessed during the devastating second wave is not limited to the Union government. Authorities across levels have been complicit. One of the most enabling factors for such a gross denial is the absence of a definition of oxygen shortage deaths. Medical records, death summaries and autopsies do not note oxygen shortage as a cause of death either.

 A four-member committee constituted on April 28 to examine the number of deaths due to the shortage of oxygen in hospitals in Delhi attributed these deaths to comorbidities. It relied on the fact that there was no mention of a shortage of oxygen in any of the case sheets. On May 27, the state government declared the formation of an oxygen death audit committee to give compensation to these families after a case-to-case basis assessment. Almost a month later, the state government reported that the Union government opposed the formation of such a committee.

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Earlier in June, an RTI seeking responses on deaths owing to a shortage of oxygen ventilators, and beds was also met with a similar denial. The Delhi government rejected the application saying “no such data available.” Several premier hospitals across the country also denied oxygen shortage deaths in response to these queries.

The denials adhere to template responses. For instance, following the probe initiated for the deaths of five patients reported due to oxygen shortage in Meerut, the Chief Medical Officer Meerut, Akhilesh Mohan, said all these patients were already “comorbid and seriously unwell.” Lest we forget, this is the same state where a private hospital conducted a mock drill resulting in 22 patients gasping for breath, turning blue, and finally dying within a short timespan. In response, the district magistrate still claimed there was no death due to lack of oxygen on that day and that a probe would be conducted. The chief minister of the state had even declared earlier that there was no oxygen scarcity in any hospital.

In Goa, at least 83 people died of oxygen shortage in hospitals between May 11 and May 15 as per our compiled data. When the Bombay high court at Goa was hearing this matter, it said, “we have long passed the stage of determining whether patients are suffering from the lack of oxygen or not.” It also refused any judicial probe into the incidents at the Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) saying that it would “be highly unjust and would have an effect of demoralising” on the hardworking frontline workers. It forgot that frontline workers care about doing their job well, and would have appreciated a regular supply of oxygen.

Chhattisgarh, one of the most well-prepared states during the oxygen crisis in India, tells a different story. To facilitate transparency and accountability, the state government is exploring options to conduct a public audit to track any such deaths due to oxygen shortage. The chief minister of the state said that the Union government’s claim about the unavailability of such data from the states and UTs is “misleading”. He said that states are required to submit the number of deaths on a day, deaths with and without comorbidities, and types of comorbidities, but no data on deaths due to oxygen shortage was ever asked for.

 

 

 All through the second wave of the pandemic, several hospitals issued SOS requests on social media, media statements and more. Friends and families of patients were desperately looking for oxygen supplies from outside. Volunteers were at their wits end trying to source oxygen supplies for patient families everywhere. Social media feeds were flooded with calls for help and even live testimonies of people succumbing to death while watching the dwindling oxygen supply in the hospital. Courts were also hearing and responding to this crisis, so much so that on May 4, the Allahabad high court even called these incidents “a criminal act and not less than a genocide” by authorities. It was impossible to not be painfully aware of the oxygen shortage during the second wave.

 

 

On July 27, the Union government has asked states and UTs to share data on deaths due to the shortage of oxygen, and this is likely to be presented in the Parliament before the monsoon session ends. But, after that unsurprising but unfortunate denial earlier, we do not know if we can dare to get our hopes up about this data now. Official responses to avoidable public crises have often been evasive, unreliable and callous, especially during the pandemic. In the face of such non-transparency, independent public documentation is a mode of resistance. These official attempts to fool all the people all the time citing unavailability of data shall not remain unchallenged. The numbers on our publicly accessible database echo the story of the oxygen crisis that the public knows too well and shall not forget.

Sweta Dash is a researcher interested in public health, identification documents, and welfare rights. Aditi Priya is a Senior Research Associate at LEAD at Krea University and is also with Bahujan Economists. The writers are grateful to Aashish Gupta for his incisive comments. 

 SOURCE ; THE WIRE


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NATO donates military supplies worth millions to Afghanistan on its way out

 

NATO has given supplies worth $72 million so far this year to the Afghan government to help in its fight against the Taliban.

An Afghan policeman stands guard inside the Bagram US air base after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 km north of Kabul.
An Afghan policeman stands guard inside the Bagram US air base after all US and NATO troops left, some 70 km north of Kabul. (Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

NATO is donating millions of dollars' worth of military equipment to Afghanistan as its forces leave the country.

"As we withdraw our forces from the country, we will continue to support Afghanistan, including with equipment to help the Afghan forces better provide for their own security," NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement on Tuesday.

So far this year, NATO said, it has given supplies worth $72 million (62 million euros) to the Afghan government to help in its fight against the Taliban.

The armed group has seized many rural regions since US-led forces started pulling out in May.

   

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The equipment includes specialist bomb-defusing devices, body armour, combat simulators, firefighting trucks and medical supplies that will go to "treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield," the alliance said.

The announcement came as the 200,000 residents of Lashkar Gah, the main city in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, were being urged to evacuate under a withering Taliban offensive.

At least 40 civilians have been killed there since the weekend, according to the United Nations.

'Lion's share of power'

On Tuesday, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the Taliban are demanding in US-backed peace talks “the lion’s share of power” in any political settlement.

 

"At this point, they are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it," Khalilzad told the Aspen Security Forum in an online conference.

Khalilzad repeated Washington's call for a negotiated peace accord, saying that the last 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan "has no legitimacy any more".

"It's just a struggle for a balance of power, dispensation of power between various factions," he continued.

Fighting continues

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US warplanes have stepped up air strikes across the country in recent days to try to slow the Taliban's advances.

But the last of the US forces are set to leave this month, ending America's longest war.

 

They are withdrawing under orders from US President Joe Biden, who has said his country has done all it can in Afghanistan after invading two decades ago to wipe out Al Qaeda fighters held responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

NATO allies are withdrawing their forces at the same time, although the alliance chief, Jens Stoltenberg, has vowed continued support in terms of financing and training outside of Afghanistan.

Source: AFP
 

 

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US envoy: Afghan Taliban seeks 'lion's share of power' in stalemated talks

 

"At this point, they (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government, given the military situation as they see it," says special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in bleak assessment of Doha peace process.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban co-founder, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy on Afghanistan, shake hands after signing a deal in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban co-founder, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy on Afghanistan, shake hands after signing a deal in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020. (Reuters Archive)

The Taliban and the Kabul government are far apart in US-backed talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan, with the insurgents demanding "the lion's share of power" in any new government, the special US envoy said.

Afghan-born veteran US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad's bleak assessment of the peace process coincides on Tuesday with Taliban advances on provincial capitals that have uprooted tens of thousands of civilians as the US troop pullout nears completion after 20 years of war.

"At this point, they (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it," Khalilzad told the Aspen Security Forum in an online conference.


Taliban could become 'international pariahs'

The deadlocked negotiations in Doha were the subject of a telephone call on Tuesday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with them agreeing on the need accelerate talks, the US State Department said.

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Blinken and Ghani also "condemned the ongoing Taliban attacks and displacement of the civilian population," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The Taliban's rapid advances have fuelled fears that the insurgents aim to re-establish by force their harsh brand of Islamist rule ended by the 2001 US-led invasion, including the repression of women and the independent media.

The insurgents say they want a peace deal.

 

Kabul blast 

A car bomb blast followed by sporadic gunfire hit Kabul on Tuesday near the heavily fortified "Green Zone," leaving three civilians and three attackers dead.

Khalilzad was the architect of the US-Taliban deal for a US troop pullout reached in February 2020.

In his rare public assessment of the Doha talks started under that deal, Khalilzad said peace can only be reached through a ceasefire and negotiations that would establish a transitional government.

Ghani's administration says the talks should focus on "bringing the Taliban into the current government," he said.

The Taliban contends that Ghani's government "is the result of military occupation" and they want an agreement on a transitional government and constitution, Khalilzad continued.

"They are far apart," he said. "They are trying to affect each other's calculus and the terms by what they are doing on the battlefield."

Khalilzad said that 40 years of continuous conflict "has no legitimacy any more."

"It's a struggle for a balance of power, dispensation of power between various factions, and no Afghans, especially civilian Afghans, should die because of that," he added in remarks that risked angering the US-backed Ghani government.

 

US says civil war one of many concerns

Meanwhile, the United States said on Tuesday that one of many concerns about Afghanistan is that it could spiral into civil war.

Since the United States announced plans in April to withdraw its troops with no conditions by September 11 after nearly 20 years of conflict, violence has escalated throughout the country as the Taliban seeks more territory.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Taliban saw "the utility of a negotiated solution, they are engaged in Doha."

"If they seek to contravene what they have said, then they will be an international pariah ... and the concern on the part of all of us, one of the many concerns is that the result will be civil war," Price told reporters.

Source: Reuters
 
 

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