Editorials - 16-04-2021

Positive messaging, containment measures and a good vaccination strategy are crucial

After daily new COVID-19 cases peaked on September 16, 2020, during the first wave, new cases and deaths in India began to increase from the third week of February 2021, marking the beginning of the second wave. The rise in daily cases and deaths has been steep since April 1. On April 14, India reported nearly 2 lakh cases. The seven-day average test positivity rate has also been climbing. What will it take to contain the second wave? In a conversation moderated byR. Prasad, Gautam Menon and Giridhara Babu discuss some possible options. Edited excerpts:

When do you think the second wave is likely to peak? And when we see such a peak, what do you think will be the number of daily cases?

Gautam Menon:That is very hard to say as you have to know what is the significance of reinfection, what is the level of immune escape that is happening. It’s clear that these new variants are spreading much faster and the reproductive ratio is significantly higher than the reproductive ratio in earlier cases. So far, there seems to be no sign of any point of inflection in the data. So, my guess is that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We may be seeing around 2.5 lakh new cases per day. These are just guesses. The peak will be at the end of this month to the first week of next month.

There have been very few restrictions in the movement of people within and across States. Should we restrict such movement to contain the spread?

GM:We will probably have to curb inter-State travel at this point. But we can only make that decision when we know how much these new variants have spread. I think the rising cases everywhere are driven by the new variants. If they have already spread sufficiently, restricting inter-State travel would be pointless now. So, we need data. Apart from that we need to worry about closed spaces; masking; the intensity of religious and political events, which we need to maybe forbid altogether. I think we will have to restrict the movement of people both within and across States.

Giridhara Babu:I think it’s a bit late. In the first to second week of February, we saw the reproductive number going up and we knew where the localised outbreaks were. That was the time we should have done concurrent genomic sequencing with epidemiological investigations. Even the results of the genomic sequencing were made available in the third week of March. So that won’t be useful in containing the transmission to a limited area.

I believe that there are many variants in circulation. It’s a pity that we are guessing that this variant might be there and so let’s restrict people from going from one State to another. This panic is not justified by data. The easiest thing to do right now is strictly enforce containment measures. If you fail there, especially in reducing the overall transmission trajectory in some of the places that have been hit the hardest, we will lose this opportunity also. It’s a bit late to restrict inter-State travel.

If it’s a new variant that is possibly responsible for the second wave, why do we see more cases in certain States and not in every State?

GM:We are not doing enough genomic surveillance. Even now we don’t know how much Maharashtra has changed between March 24 and today. We know that this variant in Maharashtra has quickly spread to at least 10 States or so. But how those numbers have changed and how much of the spike is in response to that variant we don’t know.

What do you think are the reasons for States that went to the polls not seeing a surge compared to Maharashtra?

GB:If there is a newer variant in circulation, every State is at risk. Some are at higher risk than others depending on when the variant entered the State. Inefficient testing, especially an inefficient syndromic approach, and review and monitoring of COVID-19 responses getting second priority over elections are definitely the reasons why we might have missed it.

GM:In general, an outdoor activity carries less risk than an indoor one.

On March 24, 2020 we went into lockdown when the number of cases was less than 5,000. But now, when there are close to 2 lakh cases a day, we are seeing no restrictions even in closed spaces such as restaurants, theatres and gyms. Are we doing the right thing by allowing such businesses to operate?

GM:If there is a closed, badly ventilated surrounding, you should not allow people to gather there. But what we have not done is to encourage people to go outdoors. All our messaging has been negative so far — do not do this, do not do that. Psychologically this is a mistake. Because unless people understand or have a sort of framework of behaviour in which they can operate, it becomes hard for them to make decisions, and then they will finally throw caution to the winds. Experts from different fields have to discuss this and see if we can alter the messaging a little. You do need to give people some outlet somewhere and I think this has not been sufficiently discussed, and it needs to be done.

GB:These decisions are made based on how much power and influence these sectors have. For example, in Karnataka, there was a rule to allow only 50% attendance in theatres. Due to pressure, there was an immediate reversal of the rule and 100% attendance was allowed for a week. Taking a cue from this, people from other sectors also got relief. Now, if there is competition of sorts of how much relaxation each sector gets, this is not the way we can win over this virus. We’re giving more reasons for the virus to flourish. And then we say, we don’t want a lockdown.

Are we carrying out contact tracing and isolating those people who have been found positive in institutional facilities?

GB:There are too many generals and few soldiers. No additional manpower has been granted; we have not used the opportunity to step up preparedness but we want the same people to be tackling the second wave, which is more infectious. We need to have a complete relook at the way health manpower is managed in this country.

GM:When there is large-scale community transmission, contact tracing becomes a bit irrelevant. The question is whether we should even divert resources to that.

Are States really prepared to handle the potentially huge inflow of patients to hospitals?

GB:There are inter-regional and intra-regional disparities in health system access and delivery. If you look at Maharashtra, the distribution of hospitals and healthcare workers in Mumbai is different compared to other districts. That’s why those districts face a greater strain on their health system compared to Mumbai. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, there is a very poor distribution of health system capacity both in terms of infrastructure and human resources. The worry is that with the reproduction number [R0] almost nearing three, these two States will probably have the highest number of cases. Even if you assume 5% of these people need hospitalisation, we have no beds in those States or in the nearby States. And this is what we need to prevent. We need to be very strategic in helping the States with poor resources.

More than 100 million doses have been administered in India. But we have vaccinated just about 6.5% of the population. What can be done to increase vaccine uptake? Is there vaccine hesitancy?

GM:Vaccine hesitancy has now decreased. There are genuine vaccine shortages in multiple States which have seen a huge uptick in cases. There are many questions whether Serum Institute of India will be able to provide the number that it had promised earlier and how these will be divided between Indian and non-Indian recipients.

GB:Vaccine hesitancy is the least of our problems. We have a complicated list of problems including lack of micro planning, lack of mobilisation, lack of better communication, and lack of a vaccination policy on how to go about vaccination in different phases. Most importantly, in every vaccination campaign, we have had a separate plan for social mobilisation of the minorities. We don’t have that yet for COVID-19. So, it’s incomplete preparation.

The private sector has claimed that if allowed, it will exponentially increase the number of vaccines given each day. But it hardly holds 10% of the sessions across India now. What is the reason for this and how can this be scaled up?

GB:For nearly four or five decades now, it is the public health sector which has been the main player in vaccination programmes. So, if we are expecting the private health system to outsmart the public health system in coverage of vaccines just for COVID-19, that’s a wrong assumption. The private health system has a definite and clearly identified population that it caters to, but even that is changing both in terms of COVID-19 care and vaccination. There are government health facilities that are saying that for the first time they are seeing rich people coming to them. The kind of cold chain system in the government system is far superior. But if there are more vaccines, and people want to pay for these vaccines, then the public health system cannot get to it. That’s where the strength of the private health system is. I think we need to recognise the trends of each system and see which is the target population for those systems, and work out mechanisms around it.

Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech are about to scale up production to meet the demand. Do you think it’s time that the government provides them financial support?

GM:Absolutely. This is a time where we and every other country in the world needs vaccines in large numbers. Government intervention and support can make a huge difference in the long term.

Do you think the vaccine shortage will be eased now that Dr. Reddy’s lab can import Sputnik V?

GB:The shortfall in supply will be reduced to some extent. But I am not confident whether it will completely take care of the demand in terms of covering the eligible population above 45 years. I would imagine that at least 10 million doses are necessary per day to completely vaccinate 30% of the population in the next two months.

GM:It’s also important to have a broad base of multiple vaccines, because we don’t know the answers to questions like which vaccine might be better against which variant. This may alter our policy in terms of where to send which vaccine at what time. In general, it will improve the availability of vaccines overall, and will strengthen our ability to at least meet the target of 300 million to be vaccinated by August, which is an important target.

It’s important to have a broad base of multiple vaccines, because we don’t know the answers to questions like which vaccine might be better against which variant.

Gautam Menon

India let its guard down too early and policy hesitancy and fast-spreading virus mutants have added to the surge

The rapid ascent of the second wave of COVID-19 in India from the third week of February, a major source of concern for the general public, the government, health administrators and the medical profession, needs to be carefully interpreted.

A careful analysis of the numbers is instructive. After having reached a nadir by the third week of January and staying there for nearly four weeks, the numbers rose by the third week of February. While the cumulative number at the peak (September 16, 2020) of the first wave was 51,15,893 (reached in six months), infections in the second wave in the last eight weeks are already 29,66,583, or 58% of the numbers at the first peak.

Infection dynamics

We can speculatively predict the timing of the second peak and the time taken to reach herd immunity threshold as follows.

Earlier, we concluded that at the end of the first wave, 60% of the population had been infected (828 million). The uninfected 40% would be 1,380 million minus 828 million = 552 million. According to a recent Indian Council of Medical Research report, the reinfection rate in India is 4.5% — out of 828 million initially infected, 37.26 million are susceptible to reinfection. The total number of susceptible subjects for the second wave would be 552 million+37.26 million = 589.26 million.

We calculate the rate of increase of new cases by looking at the daily new cases of the first and second waves at time points when the daily numbers were nearly equal. On June 12, 2020 and on February 16, 2021 the numbers were 11,320 and 11,795, respectively. Over the next eight weeks, the curves differed in acceleration. From June 12, 2020 to to August 7, 2020 the increase (to 61,455) was 5.4-fold. From February 16, 2021 to April 13, 2021 the increase (to 1,85,248) was 15.7-fold. The doubling time of 28 days during the first wave is 2.8 times the doubling time (10 days) of the second wave.

The R value of the initial ‘variant’ of the virus of the first wave was 2-3, meaning, one infected person would infect 2-3 others; the variant(s) causing the second wave has a higher R value — we guess it may have doubled, ≥ 4. The herd immunity level required to bring the numbers down to end the second wave (herd immunity threshold) would be about 75%-80%, in contrast to 60% for the first wave — in terms of actual numbers, a maximum of ~471 million (80% of 589.26 million).

Of the 828 million infected in the first wave, only 10,904,738 (1.32%) were diagnosed by February 13, 2021. By the same token, only 6.223 million (1.32% of 471.4 million) are likely to be diagnosed by the end of the second wave. At the peak, the numbers detected would be half, namely 3.1 million.

Well into the second wave

We have already diagnosed 2,966,583 infections in the second wave by April 13, 2021 and the current doubling time is 10 days. Therefore, in the next few days we ought to reach ~3.1 million detected cases, spelling the peak of the second wave. We are already 56 days into the second wave; if the peak occurs within the next four days, the time from base to peak would be 56+4= 60 days. The descent after the peak will take an equal length of time — two months — in a normal bell-shaped epidemic curve. We expect steady low levels of infection (endemic state) will be reached by mid-June 2021.

Our estimates assume that the conditions will remain the same throughout the second wave, but with vaccination rates going up, curbs being re-imposed and possibly higher re-infection rates, the timing of the peak may vary by a few days and the cumulative infections detected could differ by one or two million.

Our current pace of vaccination (only 1% of the population has completed two doses so far) and the two week interval required after the second dose of the vaccine to confer sufficient immunity to decelerate the second wave, indicate that vaccination may not decelerate the second wave in India. However, we hope that the elderly and vulnerable, who were prioritised for vaccination, will have reduced mortality.

Deepened by lapses

The faster-spreading U.K. variant was involved in the second wave in Punjab; judging by the tempo of spread, either this variant, other known variants and possibly faster-spreading Indian variants are responsible for the second wave in the country.

By early February the fear of the pandemic waned and people lowered their guard, allowing the virus to spread unchecked; had we stayed vigilant and achieved wide vaccination coverage then, the second wave could have been smaller or even averted. Vaccine hesitancy, policy hesitancy and fast-spreading virus mutants all added to the tempo of the second wave. We let our guard down too early — a costly error.

A larger number of symptomatic infections in youngsters in the second wave may be attributable to their higher mobility and premature opening up of schools and colleges in the face of highly infectious variants.

The weekly average of new cases reported on March 23, 2021 was 42,162 and three weeks later (April 13, 2021) the average of deaths was 844 — a relatively low infection fatality rate of 2%; priority vaccination of the elderly and the vulnerable who stayed cocooned, and clear-cut management strategies for serious cases may have contributed to this.

The strategy ahead

We should insist on the golden rules of mask wearing, cough etiquette, maintaining physical distance, hand-hygiene and avoiding crowds, and pursue an aggressive vaccination drive to contain the situation without imposing a lockdown, which will hurt the recovering economy and lead to untold public misery.

Travel curbs for fully vaccinated individuals are being lifted in the United States. In India, vaccination can be made a pre-requisite for those who come in contact with large numbers of vulnerable people (for example, teachers). Vaccination at offices (started in Tamil Nadu) and persuading staff in the Indian Railways to get vaccinated quickly are innovative steps in the right direction.

If vaccination is a pre-requisite for any public assembly, fewer people will gather and more people will seek vaccination. If vaccination is a pre-condition for entry into crowded public places and use of public transport, those who use these facilities will feel safe and the public will accept vaccination readily. Mobile vaccination vans can cover inaccessible rural pockets and reach people unable to reach vaccination centres.

Universal mask use, an important and effective preventive measure, despite proven benefits, is practised by only 50% of people in our surveys. This COVID-19 inappropriate behaviour can be addressed innovatively; anyone found without a mask in public may be given a mask and charged for it. If all public figures wear masks in all their public appearances, citizens will get a clear and effective message.

The government’s decision to give emergency use authorisation to all World Health Organization-approved COVID-19 vaccines is likely to narrow the demand-supply gap. The mRNA vaccines, which appear to offer greater protection against new variants and other vaccines in the pipeline to cover variants of concern need to be mass produced, tested and commissioned quickly to benefit everyone.

M.S. Seshadri, retired Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology, CMC Vellore, is currently Medical Director of the Thirumalai Mission Hospital, Ranipet, Tamil Nadu. T. Jacob John is retired Professor of Clinical Virology, CMC Vellore

Japan, Iran, Turkey and India are well set to shape the emerging world order

The acrimony between the United States and Chinese delegations at the Anchorage conclave on March 19, followed by U.S. President Joe Biden referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” and Mr. Putin’s sharp riposte, and Mr. Biden’s reluctance to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran, are positions which make it clear that in respect of three crucial relationships, namely China, Russia and Iran, Mr. Biden is following in the footsteps of his much-reviled predecessor, Donald Trump.

Mr. Biden has also extended his firm backing for another of Trump’s priorities: the “Indo-Pacific” as an area of strategic significance for the U.S. and the associated alignment that gives shape and substance to this geopolitical concept — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad for short. On March 12, Mr. Biden convened an online summit meeting (https://bit.ly/3wXrZVO) of the four Quad members, namely, the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, at which the leaders affirmed their commitment to a “free, open, resilient and inclusive” Indo-Pacific region.

New Cold War

It is clear that the U.S. continues to view China as its principal adversary on the world stage and that it will use the Quad to challenge China in the Indo-Pacific, possibly as part of a “new Cold War”.

This new Cold War was given concrete shape during the Trump presidency when the ravages of the pandemic made the President and his officials demonise China. Then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on like-minded nations to curb China’s growth, reduce its influence in international institutions, and “induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways”, a clarion call for regime change.

The U.S.’s hostility for Russia goes back to the latter’s war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, followed by allegations of Russian cyber-interference in the U.S. presidential elections of 2016. Mr. Biden continues this hostility for Russia.

U.S. animosity has encouraged China and Russia to solidify their relations. Besides significantly expanding their bilateral ties, the two countries have agreed to harmonise their visions under theEurasian Economic Unionsponsored by Russia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This idea has now been subsumed under the ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ to which both are committed. Both have condemned the Quad for “undermining global strategic stability”.

Thus, the new Cold War is now being reflected in a new geopolitical binary — the Indo-Pacific versus Eurasia.

The final shape of this divide will be determined by four nations, namely Japan, Iran, Turkey and India, which, as “middle powers”, have the capacity to project power regionally, build alliances, and support (or disrupt) the strategies of international powers pursuing their interests in the region.

On the face of it, their alignments are already in place: Japan and India are deeply entrenched in the Quad and have substantial security ties with the U.S. Iran, on the other hand, has for long been an outcaste in western eyes and has found strategic comfort with the Sino-Russian alliance. Turkey, a NATO member, has found its interests better-served by Russia and China rather than the U.S. and its European allies.

So, why the uncertainty? The main reason is that, despite the allure, the four nations are not yet prepared to join immutable alliances.

Reluctant allies

Japan has an ongoing territorial dispute with China relating to the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Thus, the security treaty of 1951 with the U.S. has been crucial for Japan’s interests. But there is more to Sino-Japanese relations: in 2019, 24% of Japanese imports came from China, while 19% of its exports went to China, affirming the adage: Japan depends too much on the U.S. for its security and too much on China for its prosperity (https://fam.ag/3ad40bA).

The eight-year prime ministership of Shinzo Abe has instilled in Japan greater self-confidence so that it can reduce its security-dependence on the U.S. and pursue an independent role in the Indo-Pacific. Hence its $200 billion ‘Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ that funds infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa, though Japan is also willing to work on BRI projects on a selective basis. But these are early days and it remains unclear whether Japan will explore the wide oceans or confine its strategic interests to the East China Sea.

India’s ties with China have been caught in a vicious circle: as threats from China at the border and intrusions in its South Asian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean became sharper, it moved closer to the U.S. It is likely that India’s expanding defence ties with the U.S. from 2016, consisting of massive defence purchases and agreements on inter-operability and intelligence-sharing and frequent military exercises, as also the elevation of the Quad to ministerial level in September 2019, signalled to China that India was now irreversibly in the U.S. camp. With the border stand-off at Ladakh, China is perhaps reminding India that its security interests demand close engagement with China rather than a deepening alignment with its global rival.

China has a point: while the Quad has made India a valuable partner for the U.S. in the west Pacific, neither the U.S. nor the Quad can address the challenges it faces at its 3,500-kilometre land border with China. The ‘revenge of geography’ and concerns relating to the U.S.’s intrusive approach on human rights issues ensure that India will need to manage its ties with China largely through its own efforts, while retaining Russia as its defence partner.

The crippling sanctions on Iran and the frequent threats of regime change make it a natural ally of the Sino-Russian axis. However, its strategic culture eschews long-term security alignments. This will surely assert itself after sanctions are eased, when the Islamic Republic of Iran will seek to redefine its strategic space and exercise independent options.

The “neo-Ottomanism” of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — celebrating Turkey’s glory through military and doctrinal leadership across the former territories of the Ottoman empire — has been achieved through a steady distancing from its western partners and increasing geopolitical, military and economic alignment with Russia and China. But Turkey still wishes to keep its ties with the U.S. intact, and retain the freedom to make choices. Its “New Asia” initiative, for instance, involves strengthening of east-west logistical and economic connectivity backed by western powers and China.

Defining characteristic

The four middle powers, whose choice of alignment will impart a political and military binary to world order, are reluctant to make this a reality. While Cold War advocates in home capitals and in the U.S. will continue to promote ever-tighter alliances, these nations could find salvation in “strategic autonomy” — defined by flexible partnerships, with freedom to shape alliances to suit specific interests at different times.

These four middle powers will thus make multipolarity, rather than a new Cold War, the defining characteristic of the emerging global order.

Talmiz Ahmad is a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE

Introducing even partial lockdowns again will widen economic and social inequalities

India’s second COVID-19 wave is more virulent than the first. Many States have restarted enforcing shutdowns of various scales. Unfortunately, large-scale political, social and religious events are still being held, rendering these restrictions meaningless.

Uneven growth

Our overall economic trajectory had been on the upswing after the disastrous economic collapse at the onset of the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund projected India’s GDP to grow at 12.5% this year. However, the growth during these times can hardly be described as inclusive. Many sectors, including the technological, pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, saw record growth. The wealth of our billionaires increased by 35% even during COVID-19 times.

However, sectors including travel and tourism and wellness and hospitality, that form the bedrock of economies, receded to historic lows. The pandemic decimated the informal and MSME sector and pushed 75 million Indians into poverty. An unplanned nationwide lockdown last year created the distressing imagery of the exodus by foot of millions of migrant workers desperate to reach their homes hundreds of kilometres away. Meanwhile, a few among us, especially in white collar sectors like IT, consulting and financial services, could stay in the safety of our homes.

Even before the second wave, many economists were of the view that India’s revival from the COVID-19-induced downturn would be a ‘K-shaped’ curve where only a segment of our population recovers.

COVID-19 has affected the least affluent the most. Introducing even partial lockdowns again will constrain the movement of goods and labourers. It will significantly bring down our industrial productivity and create avenues that will widen our economic and social inequalities.

As an alternative, interconnected industries should be aggregated and allowed to function at maximum possible capacity in multiple shifts. Stringent health and safety regulations should be formulated and implemented. Non-essential gatherings should be restricted or banned.

Preventing distress

Demand contraction has been the biggest contributor towards the economic downturn during the pandemic. Governments will have to account for this and urgently ensure cash stimulus packages at both individual and institutional levels. This will boost consumption and investments. Extra emphasis will have to be given to industries most affected by the pandemic. Additional allocations will have to be made for job stamps, direct cash transfer and employment guarantee schemes. The NYAY scheme formulated by the Congress in 2019 that guarantees a minimum income of Rs. 6,000 to every household is a solution whose time has come.

Reports from many States indicate that new COVID-19 mutations are unforgiving even to the younger population. India will have to accelerate vaccine production, procurement and distribution. Vaccination should be opened up for all age groups. This would make it easier for the majority of our labour to be at their workplaces with fewer risks. Students will also be able to attend classes and examinations and participate in skilling programmes without further breaks.

As the second wave hits us, our governments share the blame for our health systems to again be caught lacking; and for vaccine shortages. However, since the onset of the pandemic, our health workers and policymakers have had enough time to be familiar with the virus, and design effective treatment and safety protocols. The private sector and NGOs played a big role in rapidly scaling up healthcare infrastructure during the first wave. With political will and public participation, we should now be able to save lives without compromising on our population’s livelihood, or without letting many more fall behind through inadequate safety nets.

Anil K. Antony is a National Co-coordinator of AICC Social Media and Digital Communications Department, and National Coordinator of PIIndia.org, a COVID-19 action group. He tweets @anilkantony

CBI probe into ISRO spy case mastermindsis a much-needed step forward

The Supreme Court’s order tasking the CBI to look into the Justice D.K. Jain committee report on the action to be taken against those who implicated space scientist Nambi Narayanan in the ‘ISRO espionage case’ of 1994 is a logical and much-needed step forward in ensuring accountability for the suspected frame-up. Representing a dark, but brief, chapter in the annals of police investigation in the country, the case was based on unfounded suspicion sparked by the arrest of two Maldivian women and the claims they made in their statements to the police. The Kerala Police arrested Mr. Narayanan based on suspicion that he was among those sharing official secrets relating to space technology and missions to foreign agents. After the investigation was transferred to the CBI in a matter of weeks, the central probe agency recommended that the case be closed, highlighting grave lapses in the probe and the complete lack of evidence. When the Supreme Court awarded a compensation of Rs. 50 lakh to the scientist in 2018, taking into account the damage to his honour and dignity following the arrest on grave charges and the interrogation that followed, it was widely expected that police officers who framed him ought to be proceeded against too. The Court formed a committee headed by Justice Jain, a retired apex court judge, for the purpose. The panel’s report was submitted recently, and the Centre supported the demand for follow-up action. Significantly, the Court has mandated that the report’s contents be kept confidential while being forwarded to the CBI for a decision on how to proceed further. The element of secrecy may seem odd, but avoiding any contestation on its findings, which are to be treated as the outcome of a preliminary enquiry, will indeed be helpful in the agency proceeding on merits.

When it awarded compensation, the Court was quite convinced that the initial probe was malicious. “The criminal law was set in motion without any basis. It was initiated... on some kind of fancy or notion,” it had observed. It is rare in India that those falsely implicated or maliciously arrested on grave charges get justice. The police are given to using questionable methods, and treat the gravity of the charge as something that necessitates stronger and more persuasive means of investigation. That Mr. Narayanan has succeeded in the battle for restoring his honour is a matter of relief, but it should be noted that the Kerala government has been resisting calls for disciplinary action against the erring police officers. It opposed the CBI’s closure report and tried to revive the investigation by its own police, but thankfully, the effort was shot down by the Supreme Court. It would be in the fitness of things if there is no further impediment to the CBI in proceeding with its investigation against the officers concerned, and that the process of restorative justice leads to its logical conclusion.

Cricket’s fight against the scourge ofgambling and match-fixing is far from over

Sport rests on two pivots. The first is the athlete’s desire to win by putting in the greatest endeavour. The second attribute is the fans’ belief that what unfolds on the turf is based on sincere effort. Sport is real and its immediacy also invests it with long-lasting meaning. It is this enduring template that gets torn asunder when cricketers throw matches or athletes consume anabolic steroids and break records. Corruption that taints performance is a poisoned dagger which cleaves sport’s throbbing heart and the latest scandal involving Heath Streak, is a crushing blow to cricket. The former Zimbabwe captain admitted to sharing information with bookies while he was the coach of various teams ranging from Zimbabwe to Kolkata Knight Riders, and has also accepted bitcoins for favours rendered. This breach of trust occurred largely from 2016 to 2018 and on Wednesday, the International Cricket Council (ICC) banned Streak for eight years. It was a fall from grace for one of Zimbabwe’s greatest players. Streak was a crafty fast bowler and a useful batsman as evident in his combined international tally of 455 wickets and 4933 runs during a 12-year career that finished in 2005.

Disbelief was the first emotion when match-fixing reared its head in 2000. It was a conflagration that hurt many high-profile cricketers including the late Hansie Cronje, Mohammad Azharuddin and Saleem Malik. The allegations may have failed to gain legal sanctity in long-drawn cases but the whispers remained. The sordid saga had another instalment when spot-fixing hurt the 2013 Indian Premier League forcing a cleansing of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The same despondency was in vogue after the ICC mentioned Streak’s transgressions even if the caveat was that his actions had no bearing on the results of the games in which he was involved as a coach. Streak may not have fixed a contest but in sharing contacts of players with bookies, he was paving the way for a probable underwhelming show. Bookies lure with requests for seemingly innocuous information before they spread the net wide. It may be recalled that in the 1990s, Shane Warne and Mark Waugh confessed to sharing pitch and weather information with a book-maker. Streak’s misdemeanour is also a step back for Zimbabwean cricket, which is returning from a long-drawn administrative crisis that forced the early retirement of the Flower brothers – Grant and Andy — and the exile of Henry Olonga. Streak’s dalliance with greed shows that the ICC’s fight against the scourge of gambling and match-fixing is farfrom over.

The Libyan war provides a lesson for both dictators and foreign interventionists

As we taxied into Tripoli airport in March 2011, it was clear we had landed in trouble. Instead of making normal announcements about disembarking and the temperature outside, the flight attendant said this would be the airline’s last flight into Libya, and if we wanted, we could stay on board and fly home immediately. Otherwise, we were on our own.

My cameraman and I, among a handful of passengers, walked out of the plane in troubled silence. Among our worries was that our visas had been signed by the Libyan Ambassador to India, who had subsequently defected in protest against Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s policies, and had been declared a traitor. After several hours of interrogation by immigration officials, however, we were allowed to enter Tripoli to cover what we later realised would be the last days of Gaddafi in power.

Outside the airport, a tent city had come up of foreign nationals, immigrants, labourers, nurses and teachers including thousands of Indians who were queuing up to leave Libya. At the Indian Embassy, a few valiant diplomats worked day and night to issue passports and help with exit papers, amidst sounds of intermittent gunfire and clashes, before they themselves had to leave Libya, to escape the violence.

The UN Security Council had begun to discuss a British- and French-backed ‘R2P’ (Responsibility to Protect) resolution to bomb Libya, so as to (ironically) protect its citizens from its dictator. War clouds were gathering over the country that, for all Gaddafi’s public lunacy, still had the highest per capita income in Africa. Gaddafi had gambled that while foreign journalists (American and European, that is) remained in Tripoli, he would not be bombed, so he had put them up in splendour at his own Rixos Hotel. He also thought that he could control their reportage by slowing down the Internet everywhere except at the hotel, so that they would be forced to file positive stories from one easily monitored place.

The ruling militia took us to see pro-Gaddafi rallies and escorted us to towns that they had won from the rebels. On some evenings, Gaddafi and his son Saif would appear at the hotel and exude confidence that they would defeat the uprising. Finally, Gaddafi figured that while Western powers had a UN mandate to protect people in eastern Libya (Benghazi and Cyrenaica), they did not have a mandate for regime change, especially while he controlled western and southern Libya (Tripolitania and Fezzan), and even in the worst-case scenario, he would remain in power.

Gaddafi was wrong. NATO forces never stopped once Benghazi was secured, and eventually stormed Tripoli too, led by rebel forces. They then launched a massive hunt for Gaddafi, and when he was found by a mob, he was lynched to death. It was too late for Gaddafi to learn what the end of all dictators from François Duvalier to Saddam Hussein should have taught him.

For the West, after the decade of conflict that followed their ‘intervention lite’, and especially after the tragic killing of the U.S. Ambassador and other staff in Benghazi in 2012, the victory was a pyrrhic one. The rebel groups that U.S. troops accompanied to Tripoli were soon led by Islamist terrorists. The lesson for dictators and foreign interventionists can only be one: when you use violence to remove your enemies, ensure that what follows isn’t worse than them.

Patna, April 15: At the Patna High Court yesterday, Justice Sir B.K. Mullick on behalf of himself and the Chief Justice delivered judgment in appeals in what is known as the Peresnath Temple case. The Counsel for the appellants were Babu Sarat Bose assisted by Mr. Bankim Chander De for Swetambar Jains and Sir Benode Mitter assisted by Messrs. Asgar and Sishir Madhab for Digambars. These appeals arose out of a suit brought by Swetambars against entry in the record of rights that both Swetambar and Digambar Jains had equal rights of worship according to the modes and rituals of their own sect in several temples and tanks on the Pareshnath Hill. Swetambars also asserted their claim to proprietary rights over the whole hill by virtue of two firmans granted to them by the Mogul Emperors, Akbar Shah and Ahmad Shah. They also based their claim on their immemorial use of the hill. The Digambars claimed that the hill was sacred to both sects of Jains and each had equal right of worship with the other. The learned Judges have found that Swetambars claim of ownership was not sustainable and with respect to 21 out of 27 tanks and temples on the hill both Digambars and Swetambars have equal rights of worship and the Swetambars have no right to compel the Digambars to worship at particular time in particular way.

Colombo, April 15: There had been an insurgent plot to assassinate the Ceylonese Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, on the night of April 5 and to blow up her Colombo residence. Interviewed by the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, two captured terrorists hailing from Enderamulla, 30 km north of the capital, gave details of the abortive plot. The 20-year-old insurgents who had undergone five courses in guerrilla warfare were asked to be present near Rosemead Place (residence of the Prime Minister) in Colombo around 23-00 hours local on April 5. They were told that 50 terrorists armed with handbombs and other lethal weapons would be present there around that time and they should join them in an attack on Mrs. Bandaranaike’s residence and kidnap her in a jeep failing which should assassinate her and carry away her body. The two terrorists working in a Colombo commercial establishment returned disappointed on finding none near the Rosemead Place.