Editorials - 17-02-2021

After making a political choice in the disengagement, the government has to now deal with the strategic consequences

In the end, the murmurs of an imminent breakthrough after the last round of military-diplomatic talks between India and China on January 24 were finally confirmed last week when Beijing made the announcement of the start of disengagement between the two armies, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army, in Ladakh. New Delhi followed suit the next day with a selectively detailed announcement by the Defence Minister in Parliament, where he again took no questions, confirming that the two Himalayan neighbours had started walking back from the brink in Ladakh. This is not the end of the 10-month-old military stand-off yet but, palpably, the beginning of the end. It is a welcome move because heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed Asian powers serve no useful purpose for anyone, certainly not India’s.

Political priority

The current disengagement is limited to two places on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh: north bank of Pangong lake and Kailash range to the south of Pangong. There are three other sites of contention on the Ladakh border where the PLA had come in — Depsang, Gogra-Hot Springs and Demchok — and talks will be held to resolve these after the current phase of disengagement is completed. There have been regular clashes between the soldiers of both sides at the north bank of Pangong lake, and nearly a quarter of all the Chinese transgressions on the LAC between 2014 and 2019 have taken place in the area. It has limited strategic importance, but is a popular tourist spot after the climax of the superhit Hindi film,3 Idiots, was shot there.

Moreover, unlike other areas of contestation, there are habitations in the vicinity of the north bank which can observe any Chinese ingress. These sightings have been reported by the elected Ladakhi representatives to the media, including in this newspaper, to the embarrassment of the central government which has been keen on keeping the news of Chinese control of Indian territory off the news cycle and out of public sight.

This means the disengagement at north bank was a political priority — imagine the impact of tourists visiting the area again to signal normalcy — and led to it being clubbed with the Kailash range to the south of the lake. While Chinese troops had moved into the Indian side of the LAC in the other areas, the Kailash range was the only place where Indians had taken the initiative to hold hitherto unoccupied peaks in end-August. A heavy deployment of troops and tanks caught the Chinese by surprise who responded by their own deployment, with the two sides separated by a few yards.

A stance that is unclear

With soldiers and tanks in eyeball range, the Kailash range was a tinderbox that could spark off a much bigger crisis with a minor accident. The Chinese have been insistent in the talks that the two sides disengage from this area first. Knowing that this was the only leverage it had, New Delhi had resisted taking that call until now, instead seeking a simultaneous resolution of all the flashpoints on the Ladakh border. In its statement, the government has not clarified the reasons for its change of stance which was clearly dictated by something more than the desire to remove the most dangerous flashpoint on the border.

Even though it does not restore thestatus quo anteof April 2020 and the details about the south bank are sketchy, the disengagement deal on the two banks of Pangong is a fair deal for India when seen from the limited prism of only these areas. But when considered from the perspective of the whole LAC in Ladakh, it raises questions about the wisdom of giving up the only leverage India had for the sake of disengagement at north bank.

Depsang issue, buffer zones

The Indian military leadership is aware of the strategic importance of the Depsang plains in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector, not only due to its proximity to the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road, the DBO airstrip and the Karakoram Pass, but because of the threat it poses to Indian control over the Siachen glacier. This remains the only area on the Indian landmass where China and Pakistan can physically collude militarily, and has been identified by former northern army commanders as tough to defend in case of a Chinese military attack. The excuse that the Depsang problem precedes the current crisis on the LAC and thus must be treated separately holds little water, for it would be in India’s interest to club them together and find a holistic solution. Moreover, even the current crisis on the north bank of Pangong lake has been there since at least October 2019 though it flared up substantially in May 2020.

The current disengagement plan provides us with a window into the mindset of the Indian decision makers who prefer the creation of a ‘no patrol’ zone or buffer zone as a solution to the tensions on the LAC. Before the buffer zone was created at the north bank of Pangong, a similar buffer zone was created in Galwan in July 2020 around the place where India lost 20 soldiers in a deadly clash a month earlier. That buffer zone has held good till date, even though it denies India access to the areas up to PP14 which it patrolled earlier. There are worries that such buffer zones would lie majorly on the Indian side of the LAC, thus converting a hitherto Indian-controlled territory into a neutral zone.

A no patrol zone has not been announced, at least publicly by the Defence Minister, for the Kailash range and that exposes the limitations of any plan to create such buffer zones in all the contentious border areas for the sake of peace and tranquility on the LAC. Owing to the disputed nature of the border and a lack of trust between the two sides, any perceived violations of ‘no patrol’ zones can lead to deadly outcomes as seen in Galwan on June 15, 2020. At best, these buffer zones can provide a temporary reprieve but are no alternative to the mutual delineation of the LAC and a final settlement of the Sino-Indian boundary.

A power differential

As the Indian media highlighted the rapid pace of the PLA’s withdrawal from disengagement sites, obliquely suggesting a Chinese weakness, the response from Chinese experts was in the form of a threat. Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University was quoted in theGlobal Timessaying that if the PLA can withdraw this many armaments and ground forces in one day, it can also return equally swiftly. It goes to the nub of New Delhi’s weaknessvis-à-visBeijing: India does not have the military capacity and the political will to evict the Chinese troops out of its territory. Because of the power differential with China, India’s best-case scenario is to deploy sufficient troops to prevent any PLA ingress as was done with a massive deployment on the LAC after May 2020. The option of undertaking a promptquid pro quomilitary operation in Chinese territory, as advocated by the Non-alignment 2.0 strategy document produced by Centre for Policy Research in 2012 (https://bit.ly/37BGGTB), contains escalatory risks which an India in economic recession lacks the appetite for.

The enduring impact

The Ladakh border crisis of 2020 will leave a lasting impact on India’s strategic calculus. The political imperative of defending every inch of territory, while lacking the wherewithal to reverse a Chinese ingress, is likely to favour an enhanced deployment of the Indian Army all along the LAC, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. Not only will it stretch the Army, it would divert scarce resources towards the continental border away from the maritime domain. With India’s attractiveness to the United States and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad, firmly anchored in the Indian Ocean, such a move would work to China’s advantage. It is another matter that having struck a disengagement deal with China, New Delhi itself may no longer be as enthusiastic about the Quad as it was a couple of months ago when the Chinese threat was imminent. Will it lead to a reset of ties with Beijing?

By seeking the restoration of peace and tranquillity on the LAC instead of a reversion to the status quo ante as of April 2020, the Narendra Modi government has made a political choice in Ladakh. It will have to bear the strategic consequences of that choice.

Sushant Singh is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. The views expressed are personal

The accusations against Wasim Jaffer inject a new toxicity that could corrode Indian cricket from its roots

On February 11, after Wasim Jaffer, former Test opener and the country’s most prolific first-class batsman, was made to defend himself against allegations by a State cricket official of communal bias in coaching, Indian cricket was left peering over the edge of its abyss. It’s not a place visited often because elsewhere Indian cricket remains shiny and happy. The national team is dominating England, the IPL’s mini-auction promises large payouts and fans don’t care what administrators do.

Except last week, an official was allowed to pull off the grotesque. Cricket Association of Uttarakhand (CAU) secretary Mahim Verma framed Indian cricket with a familiar political narrative meant to reinforce stereotype, destroy reputation, cause damage and protect his own skin. What he actually did was reveal the venality of our cricket administration and the shallowness of its wealthy and influential. A snapshot of contemporary India, except clad in cricket kit.

The events

This is what happened: On February 9, Mr. Jaffer emailed his resignation as coach of the Uttarakhand team citing “interference and bias of selectors and secretary in the selection matters for non-deserving players.” He said Mr. Verma was “pushing the names of players for selection who were not at all deserving.” Mr. Verma’s response on February 10 was headlined on the front page of the Hindi daily,Dainik Jagran,as ‘Coach Wasim Jaffer caught in a religious dispute’. Mr. Verma accused Mr. Jaffer, their Muslim coach, of dividing the team with “mazhabi gatividhi(religious/ communal activity)”, fighting with officials and using coercion to replace captain Kunal Chandela with fellow Muslim, Iqbal Abdullah. Team manager Navneet Mishra toldJagranthat maulvis had turned up for Friday prayers during a training camp.

On February 11, Mr. Jaffer called the allegations “lowly” and “sad.” It was chief selector Rizwan Shamshad and his panel who had put forward Mr. Abdullah’s name as captain to him. The maulvi had been called in by Mr. Abdullah. Mr. Jaffer would not move practice for the Friday afternoon prayer for the team’s Muslims and told Mr. Abdullah that if wanted a maulvi in after training, he needed official permission. Mr. Mishra gave Mr. Abdullah permission saying, according toThe Indian Express, “No problem, Iqbal, prayer and religion are most important.”

Maybe Mr. Abdullah shouldn’t have asked for the maulvi. Maybe Mr. Verma shouldn’t have allowed it. Maybe there is actually a bad time or a wrong place to showbhaichaara(brotherhood) or indeed faith itself. In the exchange between Mr. Mishra and Mr. Abdullah lie Indian cricket’s routinely messy multifaith entanglements. Its varied religious demographic has always stood for India’s once-celebrated plurality. A 1980 poster for communal harmony featuring Kapil Dev, Maninder Singh, Mohammmad Azharuddin and Roger Binny read: “If we can play together, we can live together.” In the Jammu and Kashmir team, regardless of political trouble, Hindus from Jammu and the Muslims from the Valley remain united not just by cricket but by having to cope with their shabby administration.

In 2013-2014, as J&K neared their first Ranji Trophy knockout qualification, crowds packed into Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir stadium. News crews gathered to record a tight chase and chants of ‘Azaadi, Azaadi’ broke out for the cameras. The J&K batsmen, one Muslim and one Hindu, joked mid-crease, “Yaar, lekin jeetenge-haarenge, azaadi kahan se aayegi?[Whether we win or lose, where will freedom come from?]” In a recent tribute on Ishant Sharma’s 100th Test, Munaf Patel spoke of how Ishant as a rookie wanted to bunk with Munnabhaion tour because he wasn’t used to sleeping alone even in sealed-off luxury.

Timidity of players

But Indian cricket does not always smell of politically correct roses. Sniff around and the word ‘miyavaad’ (roughly translated as Muslim-centricness) appears. As Mumbai captain, Mr. Jaffer knew that if he made a case for cricketers who happened to be Muslim, people would mutter. In his press conference, he said, “It was the selectors who had selected them… Iqbal was a part of the India Under-19 World Cup squad and when Sachin Tendulkar took Rahil Shaikh to Mumbai Indians, nobody spoke about that.”

Young Muslim cricketers, like Muslims in India today, know that knives can arrive without warning. With Mr. Jaffer, they see, no matter their achievements, neither their institution nor the majority of their peers will speak for them. A State official makes grievous, unsubstantiated accusations against a giant of the Indian game, but the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly says nothing in public. If a player president won’t speak for a teammate, why expect secretary and dynast administrator Jay Shah to bother? Or the many ethics officers and ombudsmen around Indian cricket? The mute Indian Cricketers Association is now proven lily-livered. Players’ bodies elsewhere would have protested vociferously and demanded official apologies.

It is no surprise either that only a handful of former players, Anil Kumble being the most prominent, spoke up for Mr. Jaffer. As an excuse, it’s argued that cricketing celebrities have much “at stake”, “to lose.” What they guard so preciously with their wallets is timidity. Rarely outspoken on anything outside cricket, we see them today as hollow men even inside their sport, reduced to rapidly retreating feet, always backing away to leg. Several have joined politics to receive new training in trolling.

Two days after Mr. Jaffer’s conference, Mr. Verma denied making communal accusations, to aJagranrival,Amar Ujala: “I have got tired of replying to this question, this is completely baseless… Why is he making these accusations against me, I cannot understand.”

Understand instead CAU’s ‘chronology’: Mr. Jaffer is the third Uttarakhand coach in its three years. Previous coaches, K.P. Bhaskar and Gursharan Singh, had good first seasons but were not given longer runs. When Mr. Jaffer called out selectoral malpractice, Mr. Verma chose India’s latest and most efficient diversionary tactic — the ‘Muslim card’ — to dodge real issues: about Mr. Jaffer’s complaints; why CAU picks 56 probables for two limited-overs tournaments; why its website is useless, minus annual accounts; what its elected officials squabble over.

In its first year, the BCCI oversaw Uttarakhand cricket as four factions fought for recognition. The group headed by Mr. Verma’s father P.C. Verma (over 70 and ineligible for office) won that contest. Verma Jr., previously a sports co-ordinator at the Uttarakhand Technical University, was named Mr. Ganguly’s BCCI vice-president, but quit in April 2020. He returned to where the real power plus access to the annual Rs. 30 crore BCCI subsidy rested — with CAU. His BCCI replacement was Rajeev Shukla, a ‘non-retiring director’ in the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association, where before its cricketing statehood, Uttarakhand was a mere district association. Mr. Shukla, mover and shaker in the region, with voluble Indian cricket omnipresence and enjoying unconstitutional dual roles, has no words on Mr. Jaffer either.

Politicians involved in Indian cricket usually sought clout, office, money and match passes. The Jaffer affair exposes our game to the poison-spreading day job of its political volk. Mr. Verma’s casual induction of Mr. Jaffer’s Muslim-ness in a debate over cricketing competence injects a new toxicity that could corrode Indian cricket from its roots. One petty official, one corrupt association at a time. There is no shortage of those.

Sharda Ugra is an independent sports journalist based in Bengaluru

There are lessons from the pandemic that can be applied usefully to how health care can be delivered

In the novel coronavirus pandemic, health-care providers have been reassigned from other specialties to COVID-19, restricting high quality care for other conditions. Simultaneously, lockdowns and fear of transmission have dampened demand for non-emergency care. A survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 105 countries in July 2020 (https://bit.ly/3aqKJ6R) showed that essential services were disrupted in the majority of countries, with immunisation, antenatal and childcare services among the most widely affected. About 45% of low-income countries incurred at least partial disruption of over 75% of services, relative to only 4% of high-income countries. Almost 60% of services were at least partially disrupted in South East Asian countries.

COVID-19 impact

In India, detection of tuberculosis cases was down by 50% in April-December of 2020 relative to the same period in 2019, and antenatal care visits were down by 56% in the first half of 2020. With stoppage of routine follow ups, blood sugar control for diabetics was at risk, increasing the chances of adverse events requiring hospitalisation, including worse outcomes in the case of COVID-19 infection. Cancer care has been badly affected in many countries, as well as diagnosis and treatment of other non-communicable diseases.

Further, the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities — people living in rural and remote areas were further disadvantaged by not being able to travel to cities to seek specialist care. The pre-existing shortage of specialists in many rural areas led to care being delayed or not happening at all.

Enhance technology use

The acceleration in the use of digital technologies has mitigated the impact of COVID-19 to some extent. Virtual consultations avoid the risk of COVID-19 transmission and are helping to bridge this socio-economic divide.

The Indian government’s eSanjeevani platform offers both provider-to-patient interactions and provider-to-provider interactions, where patients visit smartphone-equipped community health officers in rural health and wellness centres; these in turn connect to general practitioners and specialist doctors through a hub-and-spoke model. Private providers and non-governmental organisations have also expanded virtual access to underserved populations.

Yet, given the scale of unmet demand, there is an urgent need to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of every minute spent in virtual care interactions. There are lessons we can learn from the pandemic that can be applied usefully to how we deliver health care.

Remote-shared medical appointments in which multiple patients with similar medical needs meet with a clinician at once, remotely, and where each receives individual attention, can greatly increase telehealth capacity by eliminating repetition of common advice.

Utilising shared appointments

Remote shared medical appointments essentially virtualise in-person shared medical appointments (SMAs) which have been offered successfully in the United States for over 20 years. Patients get more time with their clinician, albeit not in private. SMAs enable peer support and peer-to-peer learning. Providers who have offered SMAs have found them to improve both productivity and outcomes for many conditions, notably diabetes. SMAs could help tackle India’s widespread “sugar” problem.

The Aravind Eye Hospital in Puducherry has successfully trialled in-person SMAs for patients with glaucoma, a disease that causes gradual, irreversible blindness. Glaucoma progression can be slowed through regular follow up and taking prescribed medications. The eye hospital found that in shared appointments, patients spur one another to engage more and ask more questions. Such (virtual) peer interaction could be welcome in the current paradigm of social distancing.

eSanjeevani and other telehealth platforms could consider offering virtual shared medical appointments. Patients in different villages, with similar conditions can be seen at once remotely by a generalist or specialist, during the pandemic. Once transmission risk subsides, seeing patient groups within each village centre will help build supportive bonds, enable sharing of local knowledge, and likely attract supplementary providers (physiotherapists, optometrists, etc) due to scale.

Testing and vaccine adoption is stymied by misinformation. Providers can offer virtual group information sessions accessible via smartphone in which a health-care worker explains the benefits of COVID-19 testing and vaccination and answers questions, reaching potentially quite large audiences. Engaging in real time with a care provider in an interactive format will likely encourage safe behaviours to a greater extent than if the same information is provided without interaction.

Switching to radically different care delivery models requires rigorous testing combined with mentoring, training and behaviour change for both patients and providers. Adoption of in-person shared medical appointments has been slow. The unique telehealth capacity crisis which COVID-19 has created is drawing interest to virtual SMAs. Training platforms such as ECHO, which train primary-care providers in many States through an online platform — can accelerate adoption and should also guide implementers on how to gather data that can be used to scientifically validate this care model.

Patients who choose to attend an in-person SMA often like the experience and return for more. This is likely for virtual SMAs too. Trialling and acceptance of this model could amplify the impact of health systems both during the pandemic and beyond.

The plusses

Relative to other nations, India is well poised to ramp up telehealth. Data plans are cheaper in India than anywhere. It is possible to get 1.5GB of data a day for a few hundred rupees a month, and Indians from all socioeconomic groups regularly enjoy group video chats with friends and relatives. Having a group interaction with a care provider on an appropriately secure platform is certainly conceivable.

WHO’s Global Strategy on Digital Health, adopted by the World Health Assembly, is a call to action providing a road map for nations to rapidly expand digital health services. With innovation in systems thinking, learning and adaptation, new digital tools bring an opportunity to leapfrog into a reality of ‘Health for All’.

Kamalini Ramdas is Deloitte Chaired Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan is Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. This article draws on an article by the same writers that appeared in the January 2021 issue of Nature Medicine; https://rdcu.be/cdwgq

A storm of misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines may seriously dent the fight against the pandemic

After a year of unprecedented changes, chaos and panic, COVID-19 vaccines are the most awaited products of 2021. But though mass vaccination drives have begun, the response has been lukewarm despite the availability, affordability, and accessibility of the jabs to healthcare, sanitation, and frontline workers.

To date, two vaccines have been approved for inoculation in India: Pune-based Serum Institute’s Covishield and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. While Covishield has completed phase 3 trials, the latter has been rolled out with its phase 3 trials still ongoing. In fact, Bharat Biotech had announced recently that the vaccine may not be suitable for those with a history of allergies, bleeding disorders, pregnant/lactating women, and even for people on blood thinners and other immunity-based medication. Similar information is found in the Covishield fact sheet.

An adequate supply of vaccines is in place at least for the first phase, but procurement is just half the battle won — the trickier part is to persuade the population to roll up their sleeves for the two jabs. Social media has seen a rising number of self-proclaimed experts who have been decoding the ingredients and efficacy of the vaccines through unsubstantiated claims.

Refusal to vaccinate

According to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is defined as a reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccine services. Like Western nations, vaccine hesitancy has been a cause of concern in the past in India as well. For instance, U.P. witnessed a sudden dip in the uptake of oral polio vaccines when the Muslim community was struck by misconceptions that the vaccine led to illness and infertility. Similar hesitancy was witnessed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which are otherwise familiar with the concept of vaccines. Hesitancy for the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine was sufficiently high in the Malappuram district of Kerala to render community immunisation a challenging goal.

Vaccine hesitancy is as old as the concept of vaccination itself. However, in times of uncertainty, people are particularly susceptible to misinformation due to an intricate combination of cognitive, social and algorithmic biases i.e., information overload and limited attention spans.

The debates around hesitancy for COVID-19 vaccines include concerns over safety, efficacy, and side effects due to the record-breaking timelines of the vaccines, competition among several companies, misinformation, and religious taboos. According to a survey conducted by LocalCircles in December, a community social media platform, about 69% of the respondents said they will not rush to vaccinate themselves against the pandemic. Another survey indicates that 55% of healthcare professionals are hesitant to take the vaccine; 64% prefer to do an antibody test before vaccination. Despite negligibly low cases of adverse effects reported so far, such notions have silently wormed into our vaccination efforts.

People can choose to not be inoculated, but to break the chain of transmission, it is imperative to have the right strategy in place. Hence, it is suggested that we adopt the idea of libertarian paternalism, a concept of behavioural science, which says it is possible and legitimate to steer people’s behaviour towards vaccination while still respecting their freedom of choice. Vaccine hesitancy has a different manifestation in India, unlike in the West. According to the World Economic Forum/Ipsos global survey, COVID-19 vaccination intent in India, at 87%, exceeds the global 15-country average of 73%.

The way forward

Instead of anti-vaxxers, the target audience must be the swing population i.e., people who are sceptical but can be persuaded through scientific facts and proper communication. The second measure is to pause before you share any ‘news’ from social media. It becomes crucial to inculcate the habit of inquisitive temper to fact-check any news related to COVID-19 vaccines.

The third measure is to use the celebrity effect — the ability of prominent personalities to influence others to take vaccines. Studies suggest that celebrities can serve as agents of positive social change, erasing scepticism associated with vaccine adoption and prompting information-seeking and preventative behaviours. We can start with politicians and government officials who are next in line for vaccination. Celebrities can add glamour and an element of credibility to mass vaccinations both on the ground and on social media. The infodemic around vaccines can be tackled only by actively debunking myths, misinformation and fake news on COVID-19 vaccines.

Rakesh Dubbudu is the founder of the fact-checking initiative Factly and Nanditha Kalidoss is Health Fellow (Misinformation) at Factly

While four capitals may not be feasible in India, a Supreme Court Bench in south India can be created

Speaking at a roadshow in Kolkata on January 23, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asked why India should have only one capital and suggested that there be four. She directed Sudip Bandyopadhyay, MP and leader of the Trinamool Congress in the Lok Sabha, to raise the issue in Parliament. She suggested that Parliament sessions should be held in each of the four capitals in a rotating manner. While Ms. Banerjee has the right to have her opinion on the issue, she doesn’t seem to have given much thought to the feasibility of the proposal.

A plan the nation cannot afford

Four capitals would obviously mean having Parliament buildings in three other regions, too. If there are four capitals, accommodation for all the MPs and the adjunct staff will have to be constructed. While those from the northern parts of the country would prefer to be comfortably ensconced in the existing residential accommodation in New Delhi, those from other parts of the country may prefer to settle in the capital of the region to which they belong. During Parliament sessions, MPs will descend in droves to the envisaged capitals and fly out, leaving these residential accommodations vacant for months after every session. Add to this the huge expenditure involved in all the MPs and their staff having to fly to and from these capitals every now and then. Providing security to all the MPs will be a huge burden for the State Police. Even the vacant accommodations where the MPs don’t reside will have to be guarded round the clock. Depending on the risk factor, enhanced security will have to be necessarily provided to a fair number of them, many of whom manage to get top security cover merely for their imprudent utterances.

Calcutta (now Kolkata) was once a capital of this country until King George V announced in December 1911 that Delhi would be the new capital. Parliament House was opened in 1927 and the magnificent Viceroy’s residence (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the government buildings were inaugurated in 1931. One of the factors that may have weighed in favour of New Delhi could be its proximity to the summer capital, Shimla.

But today, even shifting a State capital would involve huge expenditure. In the 1980s, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister proposed to shift the State capital to Tiruchirappalli in central Tamil Nadu. The plan was ultimately shelved when the huge burden it would impose on the State exchequer became apparent. The cost to the government exchequer to have capitals in three other States will be mind-boggling and our nation can ill-afford this.

A proposal to be considered

A similar request was made in January 2021 when the Bar Councils of the five southern States called for a Supreme Court bench in south India. This has been a long-standing demand. Unlike the proposal to establish four capitals, this one merits serious consideration given the prohibitively long distance between the southern States and Delhi. Not many can afford to travel all the way to New Delhi to engage lawyers and plead their cases. The exorbitant fees of the Supreme Court lawyers in New Delhi is another deterrent.

While speaking at an online event last year, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal suggested that four benches of Court of Appeal with 15 judges each be created across the country to reduce the burden of the Supreme Court. This would enable judges to go through each case thoroughly and deliver a well-thought-out verdict. Setting up these courts would call for an amendment in the Constitution. Though the demand is to set up a bench in the south, southern Bar Councils may later take up the issue of setting up separate appellate benches in regions in the south. Such an arrangement would leave the apex court free to deal with constitutional issues. With cases mounting in various courts, a viable solution needs to be worked out. Easy accessibility to justice for every citizen is a right that cannot be countered.

M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), Central Reserve Police Force

The govt. must view freedom of speech as an aid, not impediment, to national security

By calling on social media platforms operating in India to follow the law of the land, as it did last week in Parliament, the government has not just stated the seemingly obvious but also delivered a warning to Twitter that it ought not to defy its orders again, the way it did in early February, when the government wanted certain handles blocked for spreading incendiary content. “We respect criticism… you can criticise even the Prime Minister,” said Minister of IT and Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament on Thursday. “But if social media is used to propagate hate, then action will be taken.” Further, he asked, why “when police act in Washington’s Capitol Hill ransacking, a micro blogging site stands in their support, but when a similar action is taken at Red Fort, our national pride, the platform opposes it?” That the government wanted problematic hashtags blocked is understandable, given the tense situation on the ground on the day of the farmer protests, but what is difficult to appreciate is that it also wanted handles of some journalists, activists and politicians to be blocked. Twitter eventually complied, but not fully. “We have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians,” it said in its blog. “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

After all this, the issue is still in the realm of statements and counter-statements. While keeping up the pressure on Twitter by threatening to take action, the government, at least for the time being, seems to have stopped short of taking action. And while being defiant initially, Twitter also seems to have stopped short of escalating it and going to court. This is significant because if either one of the parties had decided to escalate the issue, the contentious law under which social media platforms are required to comply with blocking orders could come under legal scrutiny. The reference is to Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, under which the government can order a digital intermediary to block any content on grounds including security of the state and public order. Sure, the Supreme Court did uphold the constitutionality of Section 69A in the Shreya Singhal vs. the Union of India case in 2015, but criticism over the secrecy of the process and the arbitrariness with which it has been used over the years has never ceased. This Section, in a way, represents the wide censorship powers that the government has. It is, therefore, important that freedom of speech is not seen as the antithesis of security of the state, but as one of its key facilitators.

With Trump surviving the Senate trial, his politics will remain relevant till 2024

Donald Trump has survived, by a mere 10 votes, the Senate trial that might have convicted him for inciting insurrection. All 50 Democrats of the Upper Chamber voted ‘guilty,’ and seven Republicans joined them, yet the tally fell short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction. The charges framed against the former U.S. President came from the House of Representatives, which impeached him — for the second time — last month, this time for goading on a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. The attack came after months of sloganeering by Mr. Trump on Twitter to the effect that the mail-in voting, a necessary feature of the pandemic-era election, was fraudulent and that his supporters ought to #StopTheSteal. Statistics from every previous presidential election suggest that this claim is entirely unfounded. The result was that a woman was killed at the site of the siege, and four others died during the course of the attack and its aftermath, including a police officer. Beyond the loss of life, the attack was recognised by President Joe Biden as an “unprecedented assault” on the soul of American democracy. In a sense, it marked the culmination of Mr. Trump’s relentless disregard of the traditions and norms of governance whether in terms of harsh immigration policies, the rejection of major global alliances and multilateral forums, a willingness to spark off trade wars and exacerbate tensions over tariffs, or to brazenly use his public position for personal gain.

The fact that Mr. Trump survived the vote to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanours and potentially bar him from running again, leaves ominous questions regarding the future of the Republican Party. Its leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, waxed eloquent about Mr. Trump’s culpability for incitement yet failed to grasp the irony that he had led the majority of his party to acquit the very man he claimed to denounce. This potentially raises at least two scenarios. The first is that Congressional Republicans are not, as a group, convinced that the harm that Mr. Trump did to the presidency and the fabric of American society warrants banning him from the highest office in the land. Second, even though they might secretly believe that Mr. Trump’s views were not in line with mainstream conservative values, they fear that convicting him and banning him from a second run for the White House might have the reverse effect on his supporter base — strengthening the Make America Great Again “movement”. After all, Mr. Trump did end up garnering over 74 million votes in last year’s election, and he mobilised these numbers through a relentless barrage of rhetoric fuelling nativist populism and a sense of disenfranchised white privilege, a political phenomenon not seen in recent decades. Unless the Grand Old Party pivots away from this Trump-centric view of its political fortunes, the bitter polarisation of the past few years will almost certainly make an ugly revival by 2024.

Lahore, Feb. 16: The following communique has been issued by the Punjab Government:- Two private soldiers of an Ammunition Column about to proceed as part of an escort to ammunition from Campbellpur to Rawalpindi by the evening goods train on 14th February on being placed by the warrant officer under arrest for concealing beer in the wagon began firing at random from the shelter of wagon at about 8 P.M. The station staff and the few passengers about took cover, but unfortunately a passenger who was crossing the line was shot dead a few yards from the wagon. A railway menial servant was slightly injured in the head. Military aid arrived from cantonements and the men were disarmed and confined. A British solder got a bullet through his cap in making the arrest. The O.C.R.A. and two other officers of the R.A. with the D.C. and D.P. arrived at the station and a joint military and police enquiry began which continued till next day. The case will be dealt with by civil courts and Commital proceedings will be held this week in the court of the District Magistrate.

Common market cows yesterday [Brussels, February 16] were herded carefully up three flights of stairs to join E.E.C. Ministers in their deliberations on the Community’s agriculture problems.

About 100 Belgian opponents of the Community’s food prices policies drove the cows up the staircase straight into the centre of the chamber where the Ministers had just settled down for what was planned a routine meeting. Ushers struggled with demonstrators as the protesters shouted, “We want to live”, “Give us a fair price”, and “Hang Mansholt” (E.E.C. official in charge of farm affairs).

Apart from the cows, Mr. Sicco Mansholt seemed the calmest person present. Around him raged the storm, as ushers tried to persuade the cows to leave peacefully.

Calm was restored by the police — who held about 20 demonstrators for questioning. In all the protest lasted a little over an hour.

Chairman Michel Cointat of France then ordered the session suspension for mopping up operations, since cows, it was noted, will be cows. — AFP