Editorials - 22-04-2021

In Tamil Nadu, the movement seeking a delinking of state and religion misprizes the law’s value

In the midst of the recent electoral campaign in Tamil Nadu, a movement to free Hindu temples from state control gained some traction. Ask the proponents of the movement who they see as the state’s successor and the answer you get is, the community of Hindus. But by that, what do they mean? Who selects the personnel that will constitute this community? Does the movement want a reversion to thestatus quo antethat existed before the state intervened in the management of temples? If so, what was thatstatus quo ante? A lack of clear answers to these questions suggests that what the programme really seeks is to plant in the state’s position powerful private interests, and in the process, reinstate some of the hierarchical divisions that might have been negated, albeit not nearly entirely, through the Constitution and its processes.

Civic history and faith

At an intuitive level, the idea of governments overseeing the management of religious institutions strikes one as anathema to a secular, democratic republic. But the principles on which secularism rests in India are distinct from their western antecedents. The makers of India’s Constitution were conscious of the dangers in promising an American style right to non-establishment. To them, there was little doubt that all persons must be entitled to a freedom of conscience. But that freedom, they believed, ought not to be circumscribed by extending to extreme limits the divide between the state and religion.

The Constituent Assembly was especially mindful of the civic history surrounding matters of faith in India. It understood that left unattended, religion could lead to a perpetuation of historical evils. To treat religion as a subject beyond the state’s sovereign reach was to thwart the Constitution’s aim of establishing a free and egalitarian society at its very founding. The framers were also conscious that achieving these goals meant that the government had to ensure that resources vital to the commonweal were properly managed. As they saw it, it was the state’s responsibility to guarantee, for instance, that a temple dedicated for public use was, in fact, being put to such use.

Caveats and provisos

It was with these ends in mind that various caveats and provisos were written into Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The former makes the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. What is more, this right, the provision clarifies, will not stand in the way of the state making laws regulating any economic, financial, or other secular activity associated with religion, or in the way of the state making laws providing for social welfare and reform.

Article 26, on the other hand, protects group rights. It grants to every “religious denomination” the right to establish institutions; to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; to own and acquire property; and to administer that property in accordance with law. This right too is bound by considerations of public order, morality, and health.

A plain reading of these provisions shows us that a religious denomination has substantial freedom over matters concerning its faith. But this right does not override the state’s power to make laws regulating the management of properties belonging to these denominations. The state’s authority is wider still in attending to religious institutions that partake a public character. The protections of Article 25 are expressly restricted to matters within the domain of religion. Government has every authority to regulate and restrict a secular function performed by a public religious institution. It was in exercise of this power that the government of Madras enacted a Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in 1951, which was replaced in 1959 by the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Act.

As essential role of the state

But this power to oversee administration of religious bodies was seen as an incident of sovereignty long before the Constitution came into force. In his 1918 treatise, The Law Relating to Hindu and Mohammedan Religious Endowments, P.R. Ganapathi Iyer points to how Hindu kings habitually employed ministries to supervise temples and charitable bodies. Indeed, the regulation of temple management was seen as an essential role of the state. The book also shows us how under Mughal administration, the governments of the time recognised that it was their duty to guarantee that all religious endowments were “applied according to the real intent and will of the grantor,” and appointed Mutawallis to manage Waqf properties.

To be sure, that this was once the case does not by itself suggest that state control over religious institutions must now continue. But the circumstances that existed in the 1920s, when the government of Madras enacted its first endowment law, have not substantially changed. The provincial administration of the time introduced the law because it found that the colonial regime, in ceding regulatory authority over temples, had paved the path for a division of power in which powerful castes and communities within the Hindu fold appropriated control over religious institutions. The statutes of 1951 and 1959 which succeeded the 1927 legislation were both framed with the same objective: to ensure that Hindu public endowments were being put to use for the true purposes for which the endowments were first made.

To that end, the law accords to a state-appointed commissioner a power of general superintendence over all Hindu religious endowments, and it authorises the commissioner, among other things, to appoint executive officers to temples to ensure that their funds are being properly applied. The Supreme Court of India tested the rationale for this oversight in the Shirur Mutt case (1954). In substantially upholding Tamil Nadu’s 1951 legislation — which was repealed and re-enacted in 1959 — the Court recognised that the basic framework of the law was in perfect consonance with the authority vested in the state under Articles 25 and 26. Today, with no obvious successor available, should the state surrender its regulatory authority, it will surely be acting in breach of its sovereign duties. The consequence of such action will be precisely what the Constituent Assembly strived to avoid: a reassertion of social power by dominant groups.

In other religions

Those calling for deregulation also point to the state’s approach to other religions. But a reading of the Waqf Act, 1995, will show us that the government also exercises substantial supervisory control over management of properties dedicated for religious purposes under Muslim law. It is possible to argue that this legislation does not go far enough, as Justice S.A. Kader, a former judge of the Madras High Court has in his book,The Law of Wakfs. Similarly, in the State of Kerala, repeated demands have been made by reformist Christian groups for the creation of state-managed committees to administer the church’s finances and properties. Perhaps a time will come for such laws.

In the meantime, though, we must consider the HR&CE law on its own merits. An examination of the legislation enforced in Tamil Nadu demonstrates that the movement seeking a delinking of state and religion misprizes the law’s value. If applied properly, the regime will allow the state to act as a genuine tribune of social justice. No doubt there might be deficiencies in how the statute is applied today. For this reason, we must constantly demand transparency and hold the state responsible to the administrative standards prescribed under the law. But a call to do anything more is to risk the abandoning of the promises that underpin the Constitution.

Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate practising at the Madras High Court

The Centre’s latest policy may push a huge chunk of the population out of the safety net

With the stroke of a pen, the Central government on April 19 abdicated its responsibility to ensure equity in vaccine availability by clearly stating that free vaccination would be limited to healthcare and frontline workers and people above 45 years of age. Worse, the government has set the stage for State governments, private hospitals and the private market vying to have access to vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.

The April 19 announcement of the roll-out of vaccines in the third phase, wherein anyone above 18 years is eligible for vaccination, comes at a time when many States have already been reporting shortages in supply, which is reflected in the dropping number of vaccine doses administered daily, the four-dayTika Utsav(vaccination festival) notwithstanding.

While allowing all adults above 18 years is indeed a welcome move, the Centre’s announcement comes with several caveats.

The two vaccine manufacturers will supply 50% of their vaccine doses to the Union government, while the remaining doses will be made available to State governments and private hospitals. A press release from the SII says Covishield will be available in retail and free trade after four to five months.

Unlike the rest of the world, the Indian government took the first step of charging for vaccines by fixing the cost of jabs at private hospitals at up to Rs. 250 per dose. But with the April 19 announcement, the government has gone the whole hog by allowing the two companies to decide the price of vaccines.

A contradictory approach

Many developed countries have sealed vaccine supplies many times their total population; most countries, including the U.S., where healthcare is highly privatised, are vaccinating adults for free. Against this, India has taken a dangerous gamble in allowing companies to sell vaccines at huge profits amid a pandemic, and particularly so when the second wave is ravaging the country and daily deaths are spiralling.

The government’s projected population for the year 2021 for the 18-44 years age group is 595 million. With two doses per person, this translates to 1,190 million doses. This huge population has not been included in priority groups to have access to vaccines, and it would be covered solely by State governments and the private sector. While the private sector may be able to cater to a small percentage of the population that can afford to pay a higher price per dose, the States must buy vaccines and administer them for free for a huge number of people, lest the poor are left out. Whatever policy each State government formulates to identify those eligible for free vaccines, it would need to allocate huge resources to buy the doses. A significant number of people are likely to be left out in this process.

As per the Centre’s demand, on Wednesday, the SII announced the price at which vaccines will be sold to States and private hospitals. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India,toldCNBC-TV18that Covishield will cost Rs. 400 for both Central and State governments and Rs. 600 for private hospitals.

On April 6, Mr. Poonawalla went on record saying that even at the subsidised price of Rs. 150–Rs. 160 per dose, the company was not selling at the cost price but was making a profit. “I would not say we are not making any profits, but we have sacrificed what we call ‘super profits’,” he toldNDTV. “Super profits are needed to further build capacity, innovate and compete with the western companies. But we don’t care for these at the moment as we want to address the needs of the nation first … and we can make profits after a few months.”

However, since the Centre has already agreed to advance Rs. 3,000 crore to the SII and Rs. 1,500 crore to Bharat Biotech to ramp up manufacturing facilities, would the two vaccine manufacturers still feel the need to make a killing?

Rising costs

On several occasions, thelatest beingDecember 30 last year, both Oxford University and AstraZeneca promised to manufacture and distribute the vaccine “on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic”. When AstraZenecawalked backon its word with Brazil, the company said it had the right under the contract “to declare the pandemic over by July 2021” and that it could extend the agreement beyond July 2021 but only in “good faith” and if it considered that the COVID-19 pandemic was not over.

In India, the SII, despite not selling the vaccine at the cost price, is making a small profit while supplying it at Rs. 150 per dose. With the price tags of Rs. 400 and Rs. 600 per dose, the company will be earning more than 2.5 to three times the profit as early as May 1, when the pandemic is nowhere close to ending and the second wave is raging in India.

How much vaccine inequity will be seen in each State will depend on the policies that governments design to identify beneficiaries. Since no one is safe till at least a vast majority is protected to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, it is imperative that the Indian government ensure that companies do not become greedy while selling to State governments. Any “super profit” that a company plans to make can come from retail and free trade about four to five months later.

Further, India may soon have three more vaccines, in addition to the three already approved for restricted use. The rich can then avail of the best vaccines in the open market, in line with the government’s announcement that all imported vaccines will be available only in the private market.

The second wave has amply demonstrated that unlike last year, more people in the age group of 18-40 years have been symptomatically infected, with many requiring hospitalisation. Hence, a policy that promotes vaccine inequity based on age bands is a dangerous proposition.

A bigger issue is that with States required to procure 50% of vaccines directly from manufacturers, the governments will end up competing with each other and with private players. A similar situation was seen in the United States last year, when former President Donald Trump made individual States procure ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) on their own, leading to a chaotic situation where States outbid each other and diversion of supplies from one State to another became rampant.

With around 2.4 million doses being produced a day, the SII is currently manufacturing 60-65 million doses a month. According to Mr. Poonawalla, the company will be able to ramp up production only after June; capacity addition at Bharat Biotech, too, will take a few months. Hence, the current shortage is likely to continue for a few more months.

Amid the sharp criticism for the shortfall, the Central government, by allowing States to procure vaccines directly from manufacturers, has deftly shifted any future blame to State governments.


A balance needs to be struck between the government’s legitimate role and the police chief’s operational autonomy

Recent developments in the Mumbai Police which resulted in the removal of Param Bir Singh from the Mumbai Police Commissioner’s post focus the spotlight once again on long overdue reforms needed in the process of appointing and removing police chiefs. A crucial way in which governments exercise control over the State police is through their unregulated power to decide who the chief will be.

There is no independent vetting process to assess the suitability of qualified candidates, and the government’s assessment, if it is done at all, remains opaque and is an exercise behind closed doors. While the principles of democratic accountability necessitate the police chief to remain answerable to the elected government at all times, the moot reform issue is in ensuring the right balance between conditioning the government’s legitimate role in appointing or removing the police chief with the need to safeguard the chief’s operational autonomy.

Have an oversight panel

Two elements are vital to reforms in this area. The first is the need to shift the responsibility of appointment and removal from the government alone to a bipartisan, independent oversight body of which the government is one part.

Establishing a state-level oversight body with a specified role in the appointment and removal of police chiefs was first suggested by the National Police Commission (NPC), constituted in 1979, and much later reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of India in its judgment in 2006, inPrakash Singh. While the top court entrusted the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) with a role in shortlisting candidates from which the State government is to appoint the police chief, the Model Police Bill, 2015 (https://bit.ly/3at9U8q) places the responsibility with a multiparty State Police Board, also referred to as the State Security Commission (SSCs), instead (Section 8). Made up of government officials, the Leader of the Opposition as well as independent members from civil society, the board provides the additional safeguard of civilian oversight over the appointment process.

Gaps in SSCs

India, however, has made little progress in constituting truly independent bodies. While 26 States and the Union Territories (https://bit.ly/2P8nab3) have established SSCs, either through new police acts or amendments or through executive orders, not a single one adheres to the balanced composition suggested by the top court. Some do not include the Leader of the Opposition; others neither include independent members nor follow an independent selection process of the members. In essence, the commissions remain dominated by the political executive. Keeping aside the concern over non-functioning SSCs (as of 2019, information secured through the Right to Information Act (https://bit.ly/3n7D1n1) indicates that only four SSCs have held meetings since 2014), their design itself will have to be strengthened if they are to drive meaningful reforms.

Moreover, in as many as 23 States (https://bit.ly/3as9aAC), governments retain the sole discretion of appointing the police chief. Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Mizoram are the only States where, on paper, the SSC is given the responsibility of shortlisting candidates. Whether this process is followed in practice each time remains to be verified.

Need for transparency

The second element critical to police reforms is instituting an independent and transparent selection and decision-making process around appointment and removal, against objective criteria. Much standard-setting work is needed on this as only basic safeguards have been defined in reform measures towards protecting the operational autonomy of the police chief. On appointments, the Court and the Model Police Act require the UPSC/SSC to shortlist candidates on the basis of length of service, service record, and range of experience and a performance appraisal of the candidates over the past 10 years.

However, no further guidance has been developed on explaining these terms or specifying their elements to guide the appointments. What qualifies as a “good” range of experience? How is the integrity of a candidate measured during appraisals? What is the process required to be followed by the SSC in reviewing the suitability of candidates? Should not interviews with the candidates be considered as a requirement, for instance?

Similarly, no scrutiny process has been prescribed to justify removals from tenure posts. The NPC had required State governments to seek the approval of the State Security Commission before removing the police chief before the end of term. This important check was diluted under the Prakash Singh judgment that only requires governments to consult the SSC. Most States omit even this cursory step. Broad terms such as “on administrative grounds” or “in the public interest” continue to be retained in police acts to justify the government’s power to remove the police chief. Such terms remain liable to misuse.

Indeed, the Supreme Court has rightly emphasised that “prima facie satisfaction of the government” alone is not a sufficient ground to justify removal from a tenure post in government, such as that of the police chief (T.P. Senkumar vs Union of India, 2017). The rule of law requires such decisions be for compelling reasons and based on verifiable material that can be objectively tested.

Clear and specific benchmarks need to be integrated into decision-making processes, both on appointments and removals, to prevent politically motivated adverse actions.

In improving transparency of the review process, the United Kingdom provides a useful example. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, introduced public confirmation hearings as an additional layer of check for the appointment of the heads of their police forces known as Chief Constables (outside of London city).

Enabling fairness

The proposed candidates are required to participate in a hearing organised by the police and crime panel in each area(made up of representatives from local councils and co-opted independent members) where questions centre on the candidate’s ability to “recognize and understand the separation of political and operational responsibilities in relation to the post”. This constitutes a crucial step of the time-bound vetting process based on which the panel makes its recommendations on the suitability of the candidate. Importantly, these panels have the power to veto (by two-thirds majority) the proposed appointment as well. On removals too, the panels allow the police chief an opportunity to respond to the allegations on the basis of which their removal is being sought as part of the scrutiny process.

Such steps can help ensure fairness in administrative decisions and need to be considered in our context as well in order to protect the political neutrality of the police. Any further delay in implementing reforms in this area will continue to demoralise the police and cripple the rule of law.

Devyani Srivastava is Head, Police Reforms Programme, at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

India has a key role to play in the hyper-connected world

The shift of global power from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific raises strategic questions for India. Is the world divided because of an assertive China or is the shift of power to Asia a switch to the historical norm? Is the United States defending multilateral rules or the hegemony over the rules it had set? Should India take sides or bide its time as a neutral contender to both China and the U.S.?

The Industrial Revolution restructured the global manufacturing order to Asia’s disadvantage. But in the ‘Digital Data Revolution’, algorithms requiring massive amounts of data determine innovation, the nature of productivity growth, and military power. Mobile digital payment interconnections impact society and the international system, having three strategic implications.

First, because of the nature and pervasiveness of digital data, military and civilian systems are symbiotic. Cybersecurity is national security, and this requires both a new military doctrine and a diplomatic framework.

Second, the blurring of distinctions between domestic and foreign policy and the replacement of global rules with issue-based understanding converge with the growth of smartphone-based e-commerce, which ensures that massive amounts of data give a sustained productivity advantage to Asia.

Third, data streams are now at the centre of global trade and countries’ economic and national power. India, thus, has the capacity to negotiate new rules as an equal with the U.S. and China.

A renewed strategy

Innovation based on data streams has contributed to China’s rise as the second-largest economy and the “near-peer” of the U.S. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander recently said the erosion of conventional deterrence capabilities was the greatest danger in the strategic competition with China. The national security strategy of the U.S. puts more emphasis on diplomacy than military power to resolve conflicts with China, acknowledging that its military allies have complex relationships with Beijing, as it seeks to work with them to close technology gaps.

China’s technology weakness is the dependence on semiconductors and its powerlessness against U.S. sanctions on banks, 5G and cloud computing companies. But its Fourteenth Five Year Plan emphasises a $1.4-trillion strategy for the development of science and technology. China’s digital technology-led capitalism is moving fast to utilise the economic potential of data, pushing the recently launched e-yuan and shaking the dollar-based settlement for global trade.

China has a $53-trillion mobile payments market and it is the global leader in the online transactions arena, controlling over 50% of the global market value. India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) volume is expected to cross $1 trillion by 2025. The U.S., in contrast, lags behind, with only around 30% of consumers using digital means and with the total volume of mobile payments less than $100 billion. The global strategic balance will depend on new data standards. Earlier this year, China formed a joint venture with SWIFT for cross-border payments and suggested foundational principles for interoperability between central bank digital currencies at the Bank for International Settlements. The U.S., far behind in mobile payments, is falling back on data alliances and sanctions to maintain its global position.

India’s goal is to become a $5-trillion economy by 2025.While the country is fast-tracking its digital rupee, the challenge is promoting engagement with major powers while retaining its data for innovation and competitive advantage.

Fluid dynamics

With Asia at the centre of the world, major powers see value in relationships with New Delhi. India fits into the U.S. frame to provide leverage. China wants India, also a digital power, to see it as a partner, not a rival. And China remains the largest trading partner of both the U.S. and India despite sanctions and border skirmishes. These fluid relationships have their own trade-offs, raising the question: whose interests do the current rules really serve? India, like China, is uncomfortable with treating Western values as universal values and with the U.S. interpretation of Freedom of Navigation rules in others’ territorial waters. New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific vision is premised on “ASEAN centrality and the common pursuit of prosperity”. The European Union recently acknowledged that the path to its future is through an enhanced influence in the Indo-Pacific, while stressing that the strategy is not “anti-China”. The U.S. position in trade, that investment creates new markets, makes it similar to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

India alone straddles both U.S. and China-led strategic groupings, providing an equity-based perspective to competing visions. It must be prepared to play a key role in moulding rules for the hyper-connected world, facing off both the U.S. and China to realise its potential of becoming the second-largest economy.

Mukul Sanwal is a former UN diplomat

India must address several challenges to enhance commercial-scale operations

India will soon join 15 other countries in the hydrogen club as it prepares to launch the National Hydrogen Energy Mission (NHEM). The global target is to produce 1.45 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2023. Currently, India consumes around 5.5 million tonnes of hydrogen, primarily produced from imported fossil fuels.

In 2030, according to an analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), green hydrogen demand could be up to 1 million tonnes in India across application in sectors such as ammonia, steel, methanol, transport and energy storage. However, several challenges in scaling up to commercial-scale operations persist. We propose five recommendations.

Key steps

First, decentralised hydrogen production must be promoted through open access of renewable power to an electrolyser (which splits water to form H2 and O2 using electricity). Currently, most renewable energy resources that can produce low-cost electricity are situated far from potential demand centres. If hydrogen were to be shipped, it would significantly erode the economics of it. A more viable option would be wheeling electricity directly from the solar plant. For instance, wheeling electricity from a solar plant in Kutch to a refinery in Vadodara could lower the transportation cost by 60%, compared to delivering hydrogen using trucks. However, the electricity tariffs could double when supplying open-access power across State boundaries. Therefore, operationalising open access in letter and spirit, as envisioned in the Electricity Act, 2003, must be an early focus.

Second, we need mechanisms to ensure access to round-the-clock renewable power for decentralised hydrogen production. To minimise intermittency associated with renewable energy, for a given level of hydrogen production capacity, a green hydrogen facility will typically oversize the electrolyser, and store hydrogen to ensure continuous hydrogen supply. However, such a configuration would also generate significant amounts of excess electricity. Therefore, as we scale up to the target of having 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030, aligning hydrogen production needs with broader electricity demand in the economy would be critical.

Third, we must take steps to blend green hydrogen in existing processes, especially the industrial sector. Improving the reliability of hydrogen supply by augmenting green hydrogen with conventionally produced hydrogen will significantly improve the economics of the fuel. This will also help build a technical understanding of the processes involved in handling hydrogen on a large scale.

Fourth, policymakers must facilitate investments in early-stage piloting and the research and development needed to advance the technology for use in India. The growing interest in hydrogen is triggered by the anticipated steep decline in electrolyser costs. India should not be a mere witness to this. Public funding will have to lead the way, but the private sector, too, has significant gains to be made by securing its energy future.

Finally, India must learn from the experience of the National Solar Mission and focus on domestic manufacturing. Establishing an end-to-end electrolyser manufacturing facility would require measures extending beyond the existing performance-linked incentive programme. India needs to secure supplies of raw materials that are needed for this technology. Further, major institutions like the DRDO, BARC and CSIR laboratories have been developing electrolyser and fuel-cell technologies. There is a need for a manufacturing strategy that can leverage the existing strengths and mitigate threats by integrating with the global value chain.

Even before it has reached any scale, green hydrogen has been anointed the flag-bearer of India’s low-carbon transition. Hydrogen may be lighter than air, but it will take some heavy lifting to get the ecosystem in place.

The authors are with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)

Prime Minister Modi is right about lockdowns, but the vaccination policy needs reform

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the country amid the raging storm of COVID-19 cases was intended as reassurance of the government’s commitment to averting economic decline and ramping up health facilities, he provided little insight into specific measures. It should be evident from the pace of infection spread and the large number of deaths in several regions that the sensible course open to the Centre and State governments is to enable economic production and consumption while massively scaling-up the health response. Mr. Modi, who advised States to treat lockdowns as a last resort, has virtually acknowledged, with the benefit of hindsight, that last year’s measure dealt a severe blow to unorganised labour and the self-employed. The priority now is for the workforce to be vaccinated and containment measures against disease spread to be restricted to micro locations. Yet, the crucial question is that of universalising vaccinations for everyone above 18 years of age from May 1. The Centre’s latest policy has effectively opened the floodgates to an unregulated system with market-determined vaccine pricing. Rather than use monopsonist power to procure all vaccines for price-capped distribution, extending the model that has been in place since March 1, the move has led to a 266% to 400% price increase for Covishield for State governments and private hospitals, respectively. Bharat Biotech has also hinted at the need to recover its investments in Covaxin through price flexibility. Manufacturers should not be rushing to seek approvals in those regions where the profits are the highest, leaving out the poorer territories. All vaccines need a sustainable manufacturing base, but the government must ensure a good, free people’s vaccine for all.

With 2,94,365 new cases and 2,011 dead on just April 20, India is waging a war against the virus that calls for strong leadership, decentralisation to allow States to take speedy action and the effective use of regulatory authority. The Prime Minister is right to identify urban workers and labour as key coverage groups for vaccination, with support from the Centre and States. Here, the Union Budget allocation of Rs. 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccines should be able to cover more categories this year and the outlay can be enhanced if necessary. Worldwide, governments have made COVID-19 vaccination a fully state-funded effort. The case for free market pricing for vaccines, on the ground that private enterprise is leading vaccine development, is overstated. For AstraZeneca-Covishield, the single biggest research funding component, at over £38 million, came from the British government, followed by overseas governments, universities and charities. What India needs is free universal vaccination, modelled on the polio campaign. The Centre cannot abdicate that responsibility.

Conviction in the George Floyd case and the police reform bill should help build bridges

A U.S. judge found Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, guilty of murdering an unarmed African-American man, George Floyd, an incident last May that ignited a nationwide storm of protest against police brutality and a worldwide outpouring of anger at America’s racial injustice. Mr. Chauvin has been convicted of second-degree and third-degree murder, and manslaughter — all three for an encounter that lasted around nine minutes, during which he pinned Mr. Floyd’s neck to the roadside with his knee until he stopped breathing. Mr. Floyd’s final words, “I can’t breathe”, became the clarion call of a massive wave of street protests across the U.S. At the time, erstwhile President Donald Trump fanned outrage when he described the protests a result of the “radical left” and threatened to send in the National Guard. President Joe Biden, at the time a presidential race frontrunner, contrarily went to Houston to meet with Mr. Floyd’s relatives. He said at the time that he would not “fan the flames of hate”, but instead, “seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country”. A few months ahead of one of the most remarkable presidential elections in recent history, his words lent hope to many Americans that should he win, there might be a real possibility for reform in law enforcement and criminal justice that could result in less violence against racial minorities.

Yet, it is clear that the road towards achieving a more perfect union is laden with pitfalls that render the task at hand formidable. Literally minutes before the verdict in the Chauvin trial, a teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, was killed by the police. Her death comes in the wake of others felled in police encounters, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice in 2014, and Breonna Taylor in 2020, to name but a few. In most such cases, charges have been rare, and convictions rarer still. Analysis of these cases suggested that most often charges were dropped, or plea bargains and civil settlements agreed. It is only a minority of these instances of what many consider police brutality against people of colour that result in convictions at trial. Four years under Mr. Trump did little to build, across communities, bridges of the sort necessary to bring about a greater measure of empathy and nuance in policing. Now, Mr. Biden’s ambitious police reform bill, which bans chokeholds, offers qualified immunity from lawsuits for law enforcement and creates national standards for policing towards greater accountability, has cleared the House and faces a steep climb at the Senate, where analysts say it is unlikely to pass without the support of at least some Republicans. If some of these Republicans can eschew unproven allegations about Democrats seeking to “defund the police” that will be a good start.

[Moraghati, Bangladesh Border, April 21] Troops aided by non-Bengal Muslims have killed over 6,000 persons at Thakurgaon Sub-divisional town and Shibganj military aerodrome during the last two days, according to refugees entering the border here.

West Pakistani troops combed the villages around Thakurgaon town, apprehended pro-Mujib students, officials and Awami League workers, assembled them at one place and machine-gunned them according to eyewitness accounts.

At some places, West Pakistan troops sprinkled petrol on innocent people and burned them.

The refugees said that the West Pakistani troops first shot dead a batch of people and then asked another batch to dig graves for those killed. After they had dug graves, they too were shot dead.

The local non-Bengali Muslims, the refugees said, helped the troops in locating the liberation fighters. The troops set fire to houses in Thakurgaon town and a number of villages around.