தலையங்கம் - 06-07-2021

ஜூலை 1 முதல் நடைமுறைக்கு வந்திருக்கும் புதிய விதிமுறைகளின்படி, அங்கீகரிக்கப்பட்ட ஓட்டுநர் பயிற்சிப் பள்ளிகளில் பயிற்சியை முடித்து, அங்கு நடத்தப்படும் தேர்வில் தேர்ச்சி பெற்றாலே நிரந்தர ஓட்டுநர் உரிமத்தைப் பெற முடியும். ஒன்றியப் போக்குவரத்து மற்றும் நெடுஞ்சாலைத் துறை அமைச்சக அறிவிக்கையின் ஒரு பகுதியாக இந்தப் புதிய விதிமுறைகள் நடைமுறைக்கு வந்துள்ளன. ஓட்டுநர் உரிமம் பெறுவதில் மண்டலப் போக்குவரத்து அலுவலகங்களை மையமாக வைத்து, ஒரு சில இடங்களில் இயங்கிவந்த இடைத்தரகர் முறைக்கு இம்முறை முற்றுப்புள்ளி வைத்துள்ளதோடு, விபத்துகளைக் குறைக்கவும் பாதுகாப்பான பயணங்களை உறுதிசெய்யவும் ஓட்டுநர் பயிற்சியை மேம்படுத்த வேண்டிய காலத்தின் தேவையையும் கருத்தில் கொண்டுள்ளது.

ஓட்டுநர் பயிற்சிப் பள்ளிகளைப் பொறுத்தவரை தகுதியான பயிற்சியாளர்கள் இருந்தபோதிலும் பெரும்பாலானவை பயிற்சிகளுக்கான பிரத்யேக சோதனைச் சாலைகள் இல்லாதவையாகவே இருந்துவருகின்றன. இதற்கு அவை நகரங்களின் மையப் பகுதிகளில் அமைந்திருப்பதும் ஒரு முக்கியக் காரணம். தற்போது திருத்தப்பட்டுள்ள புதிய விதிமுறைகளை, ஓட்டுநர் பயிற்சிப் பள்ளிகளை மேம்படுத்திக்கொள்ளக்கூடிய வாய்ப்பாகக் கொள்ளலாம். அதே நேரத்தில், ஏற்கெனவே பயிற்சிப் பள்ளிகளை நடத்திவருபவர்கள் பாதிக்கப்படாத வகையில் அவர்களுக்கு முன்னுரிமையும் முதலீட்டுக் கடன் வாய்ப்புகளையும் வழங்கிட வேண்டும். ஓட்டுநர் பயிற்சி பெறுபவர்களின் வருகைப் பதிவுக்கு பயோமெட்ரிக் முறை, இணையவழித் தேர்வுகள் ஆகியவை நம்பிக்கையளிக்கின்றன என்றபோதும் முழுமையான பயிற்சியை முடித்தவர்களுக்கு மட்டுமே சான்றிதழ்கள் அளிக்கப்படுகின்றனவா என்பதைக் கண்காணிப்பது அவசியம். பயிற்சி மையங்களை வழக்கமாகவும் அவ்வப்போது எதிர்பாராத வகையிலும் சோதனைகள் மற்றும் தணிக்கை செய்வதற்கான விதிமுறைகளும் உருவாக்கப்பட்டுள்ளன என்றபோதும் நடைமுறையிலும் அவை செயல்வடிவம் பெற வேண்டும்.

--Source: hindutamil.in

அரசு நிா்வாகத்தை நடத்துவது மக்களால் தோ்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட ஆட்சியாளா்களா அல்லது நீதிபதிகளா என்கிற ஐயப்பாடு எழுகிறது. அதை நீதித்துறையின் வரம்பு மீறல் என்று குற்றம்சாட்டவும் முடியவில்லை. ஏனென்றால், நிா்வாகம் தனது கடமையிலிருந்து வழுவும்போது, சட்டப்பேரவை பரிகாரமும் கிடைக்காத நிலையில் மக்கள் நீதிமன்றத்தை நாட வேண்டிய அவலம் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது.

கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று போன்ற பேரிடா் காலங்களில் நோய்த்தொற்றை எதிா்கொள்வதும், பாதிக்கப்பட்டவா்களுக்கு நிவாரணம் வழங்குவதும் அரசு நிா்வாகத்தின் கடமை. பிராணவாயு தட்டுப்பாடு உள்ளிட்ட அரசு நிா்வாகத்தின் குறைபாடுகள் நீதிமன்றத்தை அணுக வேண்டிய கட்டாயத்தை ஏற்படுத்தின. அந்தப் பின்னணியில்தான் கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றால் உயிரிழக்கும் ஒவ்வொருவரின் குடும்பத்தினருக்கும் பேரிடா் மேலாண்மை சட்டத்தின் அடிப்படையில் ரூபாய் நான்கு லட்சம் நிவாரணம் வழங்க மத்திய - மாநில அரசுகளுக்கு உத்தரவிடக்கோரி உச்சநீதிமன்றத்தில் தாக்கல் செய்யப்பட்ட மனுக்களைப் பாா்க்க வேண்டும்.

அந்த வழக்கு நீதிபதிகள் அசோக் பூஷண், எம்.ஆா். ஷா அடங்கிய அமா்வின் முன் விசாரணைக்கு வந்தது. பதவி ஓய்வு பெறும் கடைசி நாளில், நீதிபதி அசோக் பூஷண் வழங்கியிருக்கும் உத்தரவு ஒருபுறம் பாராட்டுதலையும், இன்னொருபுறம் விமா்சனத்தையும் எழுப்பியிருக்கிறது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றால் உயிரிழந்த அனைவரின் குடும்பத்திற்கும் நிதியுதவி அளிக்கும் வகையில் புதிய வழிகாட்டுதலை வெளியிடுமாறு தேசிய பேரிடா் மேலாண்மை ஆணையத்திற்கு நீதிபதி அசோக் பூஷண் அமா்வு உத்தரவு பிறப்பித்திருக்கிறது. அதே நேரத்தில், குறிப்பிட்ட தொகையை நிவாரண உதவியாக வழங்க வேண்டுமென்று உத்தரவிட முடியாது என்பதையும் அந்த அமா்வு தெளிவுபடுத்தியிருக்கிறது.

கொவைட் 19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று என்பது இந்தியாவை மட்டும் பாதித்த பேரிடா் அல்ல. கடந்த ஒன்றரை வருடமாக ஏறத்தாழ 40 லட்சம் பேருக்கும் அதிகமாக உலகில் பலா் பலியாகியிருக்கிறாா்கள். அதில் நான்கு லட்சம் போ் இந்தியாவில் மட்டுமே உயிரிழந்திருக்கிறாா்கள். அதிகாரபூா்வ கணக்குப்படி தமிழகத்தில் 33,059 உயிரிழப்புகள் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கின்றன.

தேசிய அளவிலும் சரி, மாநில அளவிலும் சரி கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று காலத்தில் பல்வேறு நிவாரணங்கள் வழங்கப்படாமல் இல்லை. அனைவருக்கும் பொது விநியோகக் கட்டமைப்பின் மூலம் உணவுப் பொருள்கள் வழங்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. நேரடி மானியம் பல்வேறு பிரிவினருக்கு வங்கிக் கணக்குகளின் மூலம் செலுத்தப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. தமிழகம் உள்ளிட்ட மாநிலங்களில் நிவாரணத் தொகை தரப்படாமல் இல்லை.

வரலாறு காணாத அளவிலான கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றை எதிா்கொள்வதற்கான மருத்துவக் கட்டமைப்பை ஏற்படுத்துவதில் மிகப் பெரிய அளவிலான ஒதுக்கீடுகள் மத்திய - மாநில அரசுகளால் செய்யப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன என்பதை யாரும் மறுத்துவிட முடியாது. அனைவருக்கும் இலவச தடுப்பூசி என்பதில் தொடங்கி, பல்வேறுவிதமான கடனுதவிகளும், பாதிக்கப்பட்டவா்களுக்கு மருத்துவ வசதிகளும் வழங்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன.

கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று காரணமாக பெற்றோரை இழந்த குழந்தைகளுக்கு பாதுகாப்பு வழங்கும் விதத்தில் மத்திய - மாநில அரசுகள் நிவாரண தொகுப்புகளை அறிவித்திருக்கின்றன. ஆதரவற்வா்களான குழந்தைகளை அரசே தத்தெடுத்துக் கொள்ளும் விதத்திலான சலுகைகளும், அறிவிப்புகளும், உத்தரவாதங்களும் தரப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன என்பதை பாராட்ட வேண்டும்.

இத்தனைக்குப் பிறகும் உயிரிழப்பை எதிா்கொண்ட அனைத்து குடும்பங்களுக்கும் நிவாரணம் வழங்குவது என்கிற உச்சநீதிமன்றத்தின் உத்தரவை மனிதாபிமான அடிப்படையில் வரவேற்றாலும்கூட, அது அதிகப்படியான தலையீடு என்றுதான் கூறத் தோன்றுகிறது.

நாட்டின் நிதிவளத்தை நியாய முறையில் மிகக் கவனத்துடன் செலவழிக்க வேண்டியிருப்பதால் ‘கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றால் உயிரிழக்கும் அனைவரின் குடும்பத்தினருக்கும் தலா ரூபாய் நான்கு லட்சம் நிவாரணம் வழங்குவது என்பது சாத்தியமில்லாதது. ஏற்கெனவே பெருந்தொற்று தடுப்பு, மீட்பு நடவடிக்கைகளுக்காக தேசிய பேரிடா் மேலாண்மை நிதி, மாநிலப் பேரிடா் மேலாண்மை நிதி உள்ளிட்ட நிதித்தொகுப்புகளில் இருந்து நிவாரணங்கள் வழங்கப்படுகின்றன. பாதிக்கப்பட்டவா்கள் வசதி படைத்தவா்களா, இல்லையா என்கிற வேறுபாடில்லாமல் மக்கள் வரிப்பணத்தை நிவாரணமாக வழங்குவது என்பது சரியல்ல’ என்கிற மத்திய அரசின் வாதம் ஏற்புடையதாகவே இருக்கிறது.

கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று உயிரிழப்பு குறித்த சரியான புள்ளிவிவரம் மாநில அரசுகளால் தரப்படவில்லை என்கிற குற்றச்சாட்டு நிலவுகிறது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றிலிருந்து குணமான சில நாள்களில் இணை நோய்களால் உயிரிழந்தவா்கள் பலா். அதை எந்தக் கணக்கில் சோ்த்துக் கொள்வது? போபால் விஷவாயு கசிவால் பாதிக்கப்பட்டவா்கள் 35 ஆண்டுகளாக நிவாரணம் கிடைக்காமல் உச்சநீதிமன்ற வாசலில் நின்றுகொண்டிருப்பதுபோல, கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று நிவாரணமும் அமையுமே தவிர, நடைமுறை சாத்தியமாகுமா என்பது சந்தேகம்தான்.

இந்தப் பிரச்னையில் அரசைவிட அந்தந்தப் பகுதியில் இருக்கும் அரசியல் கட்சிகளும், தன்னாா்வ நிறுவனங்களும், சேவை அமைப்புகளும் உண்மையிலேயே ஆதரவு தேவைப்படும் பாதிக்கப்பட்ட குடும்பங்களை அடையாளம் கண்டு உதவ முடியும். உச்சநீதிமன்றத்தின் நோக்கம் பாராட்டுக்குரியது; ஆனால், அதன் உத்தரவு நிா்வாக ரீதியாக நடைமுறை சாத்தியம் ஆகாது.

--Source: dinamani.com

“A historical solidarity is today a modern partnership,” tweeted External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his recent trip to Kenya. Critical to its foreign policy matrix, New Delhi’s engagement with the African continent has been multifaceted, with projects implemented under Indian lines of credit, capacity-building initiatives, and cooperation in a range of sectors. As an importer of fruits, nuts, grains and pulses from the continent, Indian congruence with African countries in the agriculture sector is expanding. With 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, employing over 60% of the workforce, and accounting for almost 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, agriculture is critical to Africa’s economy. The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement is expected to improve cost competitiveness by removing tariffs. As this relationship enters the post-pandemic world, it is vital to prioritise and channel resources into augmenting partnership in agriculture. This is crucial given its unexplored potential, centrality to global food security, business prospects and to provide credible alternatives to the increasing involvement of Chinese stakeholders in the sector.

Analysing Chinese engagement

Over the past few years, I have led and worked with different teams of experts from various African countries, conducting evidence-based studies at the grassroots level to demystify Chinese engagement in the region. Evaluating the approaches that Chinese corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs adopt has provided a layered perspective of the sociopolitical, economic and environmental impact of Chinese engagement.

Today, China is among Africa’s largest trading partners. It is also Africa’s single biggest creditor. Its corporations dominate the region’s infrastructure market and are now entering the agri-infra sector. Increasingly critical to China’s global aspirations, its engagement in African agriculture is taking on a strategic quality. Therefore, dismissing Beijing’s engagement in African agriculture as inconsequential for New Delhi would be unwise.

While access to Africa’s natural resources, its untapped markets and support for ‘One China Policy’ are primary drivers of Chinese engagement with the region, there are other factors at play. Chinese-built industrial parks and economic zones in Africa are attracting low-cost, labour-intensive manufacturing units that are relocating from China. Chinese engineers interviewed spoke of how their operations in Africa are important to accumulate global experience in management, risk and capital investments. Not only are they willing to overlook short-term profits in order to build ‘brand China’, but they want to dominate the market in the long term, which includes pushing Chinese standards in host countries. Chinese tech companies are laying critical telecommunications infrastructure, venture capital funds are investing in African fintech firms, while other smaller enterprises are expanding across the region.

While many Chinese entities have been active in Africa’s agricultural landscape for decades now, the nature, form and actors involved have undergone substantial change. In Zambia, Chinese firms are introducing agri-tech to combat traditional challenges, such as using drone technology to control the fall armyworm infestation. They have set up over 20 Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centers (ATDCS) in the continent where Chinese agronomists work on developing new crop varieties and increasing crop yields. These ATDCs partner with local universities, conduct workshops and classes for officials and provide training and lease equipment to small holder farmers. Chinese companies with no prior experience in agriculture are setting out to build futuristic ecological parks while others are purchasing large-scale commercial farms. Furthermore, African agriculture experts, officials and farmers are provided opportunities to augment skills and be trained in China.

The exponential growth in the China-Africa economic ties and the emergence of Beijing as an alternate to traditional western powers has motivated change in perceptions across groups. Governments and heads of state are recalibrating approaches, media houses are investing more resources for on-the-ground-reporting and artists like Michael Soi in Kenya are using satirical paintings to start a dialogue. Simultaneously, Africa-China relations are becoming complex with a growing, insular diaspora, lopsided trade, looming debt, competition with local businesses and a negative perception accompanied by greater political and socioeconomic interlinkages.

Examining Chinese interactions also provides cues on what not to do. The Chinese and African experts working in ATDCs seemingly operate in silos. On occasion, there seems to be a gap between skills transferred in China and the ground realities in Africa. In some cases, the technology taught in China is not available locally and in others, there is inability to implement lessons learnt due to the absence of supporting resources. Larger commercial farms run by Mandarin-speaking managers and the presence of small-scale Chinese farmers in local markets aggravates socio- cultural stresses.

Takeaways for India

India-Africa agricultural cooperation currently includes institutional and individual capacity-building initiatives such as the India- Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural development in Malawi, extension of soft loans, supply of machinery, acquisition of farmlands and the presence of Indian entrepreneurs in the African agricultural ecosystem. Indian farmers have purchased over 6,00,000 hectares of land for commercial farming in Africa. Sub-national actors are providing another model of cooperation in agriculture. Consider the case of the Kerala government trying to meet its steep requirement for raw cashew nuts amounting to 8 lakh tonnes a year with imports from countries in Africa to complement its production capacity currently limited to 0.83 lakh tonnes. There are also proposals to create a jointly-owned brand of Africa-Kollam cashews. Similar ideas could encourage State governments and civil society organisations to identify opportunities and invest directly.

There is also promise in incentivising Indian industries to tap into African agri-business value chains and connecting Indian technology firms and startups with partners in Africa. The transformative power of innovative and disruptive technology has been evident in the African agri-tech sector as the startup ecosystem in the continent enjoyed a 110% growth between 2016 and 2018. In the past year, despite the pandemic, the sector witnessed a record increase in investments.

A thorough impact assessment needs to be conducted of the existing capacity-building initiatives in agriculture for India to stand in good stead. This could include detailed surveys of participants who have returned to their home countries. Country- specific and localised curriculum can be drawn up, making skill development demand-led.

While India’s Africa strategy exists independently, it is important to be cognisant of China’s increasing footprint in the region. Beijing’s model, if successful here, could be heralded as a replica for the larger global south.

It is important to note, however, that prominent African voices have emphasised that their own agency is often overlooked in global discourse on the subject. In that sense India has consistently chosen well to underline the development partnership to be in line with African priorities. It is pertinent, therefore, that we collectively craft a unique modern partnership with Africa.

Veda Vaidyanathan is a Visiting Associate Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi and is currently based in New York

Imagine a town with a nuclear power plant close by. If its residents displayed signs of radiation sickness, the finger of suspicion will point towards the plant, however much the plant’s operator might swear to its safety.

Mirroring a scenario

Suppose the town was also home to a research centre where radioactive material was stored and used in experiments. The finger of suspicion would now waver between the nuclear plant and the research centre. To complicate matters, if nuclear waste from both the plant and the research centre was buried in an underground dump a fair distance away from the town, a third focus of suspicion would arise.

Public opinion would be divided. Those suspicious of the nuclear power industry would be convinced that the plant was the source of their pollution. Little bits of circumstantial evidence would begin to circulate on social media as well as in the opinion columns of newspapers pointing to the power plant.

The nuclear industry would fight back and accuse the research institute of causing a radiation leak. The scientific establishment would close ranks around the research lab and testify to safety standards in the laboratory as well as the quality of the researchers.

A third group of people would probably accuse both the power plant as well as the research institute of poisoning the world by using and storing toxic nuclear waste.

Each of these groups would believe they had the truth and others were wrong. They would be critical of any investigation that did not agree with their beliefs.

Hypothesis and evidence

The debate over the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic, mirrors this scenario. One school of thought is convinced that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a leading coronavirus research centre, is responsible for introducing a new coronavirus that it was secretly creating in its laboratories.

This hypothesis is driven by evidence ranging from reports of documents missing from the website of the Wuhan Institute, to the re-naming or re-numbering of a virus originally discovered in a mine in 2012 that is the closest known ancestor to SARS-CoV-2, to reports of researchers mysteriously falling ill at the Wuhan Institute in late 2019, and other reports of a researcher who has reportedly gone missing. The fact that the outbreak occurred in Wuhan, home to the institute, is seen as additional evidence of where the virus emerged from. This hypothesis is greatly favoured by those who believe China is responsible for the pandemic, but lacks evidence that would stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

The second hypothesis is that the virus emerged through a natural “spillover” event, where a bat coronavirus jumped species and infected humans either directly or through intermediary animals that in turn passed it to humans. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the predecessor of this current pandemic, started similarly in late 2002 when a bat coronavirus probably infected animals and then humans in the markets of Guangdong province in southern China. New viral infectious diseases, whether it is HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) or Nipah, have all arisen from spillovers of animal viruses to humans.

As with SARS, many of the early cases of COVID-19 were associated with animal markets, particularly the Huanan market in Wuhan, which sold a variety of live and frozen animal meat. This could be one route the SARS-CoV-2 virus took. But no evidence has been found so far to support this hypothesis either.

To find scientific proof of either hypothesis is a task as challenging as an archaeologist painstakingly digging through hundreds of metres of tightly packed layers of mud and stone and debris in the hope of recovering tiny clues to the existence of an ancient civilization.

For virologists and molecular epidemiologists, the challenge is not sifting through earth, but finding virus samples from the earliest stages of the outbreak in Wuhan, reconstructing their genetic sequences, and then fitting them to a family tree that will hopefully lead to the common ancestor of the diverse strains and variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have spread globally. This could also provide clues as to whether this ancestor emerged in wildlife, in farms and markets, or from a laboratory.

While this viral archaeology sounds simple, it is not straightforward. The earliest detected cases and the earliest viral samples came from those who were hospitalised in Wuhan in December 2019. But none of them is likely to have been patient zero, the first person to have been infected by the virus. Most people with COVID-19 display very mild or no symptoms, so for every hospitalised case, there are likely to have been many earlier cases that were not detected.

It is known that two strains, an A strain and a B strain, were circulating in Wuhan in the early stages of the outbreak. But most of the samples and cases were of the B strain, which caused the first recognised disease cluster in people associated with the Huanan market, while the A strain could have been an earlier strain. These earlier viral samples would have helped build a clearer picture of how the virus emerged. But these cases were never identified or sampled, and they will forever remain unknown.

The other source of evidence are samples from the live animals sold in all the markets in Wuhan in the last months of 2019; this too is also not available, since the animals have long been sold and slaughtered, and the markets more often than not sanitised. The samples that were collected in late December from the Huanan market did have the virus, but it is not clear whether the market was a source of the virus, or merely a place where it was amplified.

The entry of politics

So where does one go from here? The scientific unearthing and classification of viral samples in humans and animals to see where they lead is the only way ahead. But science is being elbowed aside by politics. Those who believe in a Chinese conspiracy are convinced that the truth will only come out after an investigation of the Wuhan laboratory and its staff by international investigators with a wide mandate to search the lab and question staff. This is not going to happen. China will no more allow this than India would allow international investigators to march through the National Institute of Virology in Pune or any other national laboratory in search of evidence of supposed wrongdoing.

Chinese cooperation crucial

The only solution is to work with China. The World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the virus, though rightly criticised for dismissing the laboratory leak theory with little explanation, did unearth evidence on the early stages of the pandemic and suggested a number of studies for the next phase. One important step would be widespread sampling of animals in farms across China that supplied the markets in Wuhan in the search of ancestor viruses to SARS-CoV-2. Workers in farms need to be tested as well for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 or related viruses.

Another suggested step is for blood banks across China to test blood samples from 2019 to see whether they carried antibodies for SARS-CoV-2. This could provide a clue to how early the virus was circulating in human populations. None of this can happen without Chinese cooperation.

For this to happen, polarisation on political lines needs to be put aside, and space needs to be created for science to do its work.

Thomas Abraham is adjunct associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, and the author of ‘Twenty-First Century Plague, the Story of SARS’ and ‘Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication’. He has been a communications adviser to the World Health Organization

Over the last month, Indian journalists from across the country have accessed and reported on State-level all-cause mortality from the Civil Registration System (CRS), currently confidential and closed to the public. While India’s official death toll from COVID-19 has been suspect from the very beginning — for reasons that are partly institutional and partly new and specific to the pandemic — it was the second wave that made the scale of devastation hard to ignore.

States and data

Using the example set by those attempting to capture missed COVID-19 deaths in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Peru, journalists from a range of news organisations accessed all- cause mortality data from the CRS for Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, and other States as well as for several Indian cities. This data has been able to show a large rise in excess mortality in the surge months of the second wave of April and May 2021 in particular, far in excess of the official COVID-19 toll for the same period. The increase in mortality ranges from reported deaths climbing to five times the usual monthly data in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh (between 30-40 times the official COVID-19 toll for the same period), to more modest increases in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Sources of error

While this data has added an important dimension to the question of undercounting of COVID-19 deaths in India and remains the best source of data on all-cause mortality, its continued use will require careful work on account of some known sources of error that exist with the data.

The first is that these numbers are underestimates of total mortality. The Union government last published annual Civil Registration System data for 2019. This data shows that India registered 92 of every 100 deaths as of 2019, but there was large variation between States. Bihar, for instance, registered just half of all deaths. Additionally, the data currently available on State-level CRS portals (behind a login) miss even more deaths. The CRS moved online relatively recently (between five and three years ago in most States), and State-level portals now display data for every day from January 1, 2018 to the present day. For all States for which data is available except Kerala, the online portals show lower numbers than what was published by the Union government for 2018 and 2019. What this implies is that the data currently being used for analyses are an underestimate of total deaths, but should not by itself cause an inflation of the excess mortality estimates for the pandemic (since the online portal’s data was used for past and current years).

What could, however, alter the magnitude of calculated excess mortality would be a second possible source of error — if mortality was either naturally increasing over time, or if registration was getting better, or if both were taking place. If any of these three phenomena were taking place, the magnitude of excess mortality in 2020 and 2021 could be moderated by these processes.

On the first count, total estimated mortality (registered deaths plus those that are not registered) has actually been declining since 2013 (although there was an uptick in some States in 2019) according to the CRS. So, in the normal course of events (if there had not been a pandemic) we would not expect an increase in mortality

Registered deaths, on the other hand, have been steadily increasing in four of the five States that we have detailed mortality data for (but fluctuating in Kerala). While this will mean that some of the excess mortality in 2020-21 will be accounted for by improved registration, this is not a complete explanation. The increase in registered deaths will not continue at the same pace in all States — once States begin to achieve full registration, increases should be more modest. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, the level of death registration improved by over 21 percentage points between 2017 and 2019 to reach 89% in 2019. It is simply not mathematically possible for the level of registered deaths to continue to increase at the same pace for the years after 2019.

For the most conservative estimate, let us assume that Madhya Pradesh achieved 100% registration by May 2021 (although we know from State level data that this was far from the case). Given the flattening of mortality in the State, let us assume that the total mortality in 2021 in ‘normal’ times would have been about the same as the total estimated deaths for 2019 — 5.53 lakh deaths. Even then, the numbers for Madhya Pradesh show over 1.18 lakh excess deaths in 2021, which is over 26 times the official COVID-19 death toll for the same period. The other States too show excess mortality in 2021 even assuming full registration.

Moreover, single-month spikes in months like the one seen in May 2021 cannot be explained away by the gradual increase in registrations alone. Nor are these deaths that occurred months before. From Andhra Pradesh, for instance, we know that 98% of the deaths registered in May 2021 took place within the previous 30 days.

An imperfect resource

Taken together, these potential sources of error indicate that while the total number of deaths in India during the pandemic reported using Civil Registration System data might be an underestimate, a part of the increase in mortality can be explained by improved registration. However, the scale of excess mortality during the second wave in particular is undeniable, especially compared to the low number of COVID-19 deaths officially recorded in the same period.

The Civil Registration System is an imperfect system, yet one that journalists are having to turn to in the face of the continuing refusal of the Union government to engage with the issue of the true extent of mortality. Acknowledging the gaps in the system will help journalists, but does not minimise the magnitude of the crisis.

Rukmini S. is an independent journalist

The Union government appears to be steadfast in its resolve to implement reforms in recruitment and appointment to the subordinate judicial services. In 2019, it spearheaded a consultative process for the creation of the All India Judicial Service (AIJS). Initially, only four States and two High Courts supported the proposal. Eight States rejected it, five suggested changes, and 11 are yet to respond. Recently, the Centre took the ordinance route to effect changes in the appointment of members to various tribunals. In a single stroke, it abolished several tribunals. The manner of appointment of members to the remaining tribunals underwent a sea change. It is likely that the ordinance may not pass judicial scrutiny in light of the Supreme Court’s judgment inRojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank (2019).

Constitutional perspective

Article 233(1) of the Constitution lays down that “appointments of persons to be, and the posting and promotion of, district judges in any State shall be made by the Governor of the State in consultation with the High Court exercising jurisdiction in relation to such State”. The 42nd Constitutional amendment in 1976 amended Article 312 (1) empowering Parliament to make laws for the creation of one or more All-India Services, including an AIJS, common to the Union and the States. However, Clause 3 of Article 312 places a restriction that such a service shall not include a post inferior to that of a district judge. The amendment also brought about a significant change in the Seventh Schedule — Entry 3 of List II in its entirety was placed as Entry 11A in List III.

This paves the way for Parliament to enact laws with regard to ‘Administration of Justice; constitution and organisation of all courts, except the Supreme Court and the High Courts’. Post-Emergency, amendment to Article 312 (1) has escaped parliamentary scrutiny. A dichotomy exists with regard to Articles 233 and 312. What was essentially intended to be the prerogative of the State will now be the prerogative of the Union. If the fundamental power of the States to make such rules and govern the appointment of district judges is taken away, it may be against the principle of federalism and the basic structure doctrine.

The First Law Commission deliberated upon this, but it was only in 1972 that the issue gained momentum. The views of the Chief Justice of India and the Law Commission reports perhaps paved the way to bring in the 42nd constitutional amendment. It was only in 1986 that the Law Commission resurrected the issue and deliberated upon the objections. The primary fear was that promotional avenues of the subordinate judiciary would be severely curtailed. Fifty per cent of the posts of district judges are to be filled by promotion from the subordinate judicial service, thus leaving open the remaining for direct recruitment. Another fundamental concern was the language barrier.

The Union Law Minister has extolled AIJS to be an ideal solution for equal representation of the marginalised and deprived sections of society. Most States already have a reservation policy in force. Tamil Nadu provides for a roster-based reservation of 69%, of which 30% is for women. Uttar Pradesh merely provides 20% reservation for women and the AIJS may therefore benefit States like U.P. Arguments that the AIJS will reduce judicial delays do not hold water as the subordinate courts are the crucial point of delays owing to the existence of large vacancies.

In the early 1960s, the issue was debated during the Chief Justices Conference and was favoured by the eminent body, but many States and High Courts opposed it. The First National Judicial Pay Commission found that it would be in the interest and the health of the judiciary to form an AIJS. The report supported and reiterated the recommendations of the 14th Law Commission.

In theAll-India Judgescase in 1992 the apex court had opined that the recommendations of the Law Commission should be examined and implemented. The issue was again discussed inAll India Judges Association Vs. Union of India(2002). The court accepted most recommendations of the Shetty Commission and directed the government to implement the judgment.

Any groundbreaking reform is bound to receive criticism. The National Commission constituted for review of the Constitution headed by luminaries including Justice H.R. Khanna, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy and K. Parasaran, the then Attorney General, had suggested a paradigm shift in the approach of the Union. The feasibility of the AIJS in the current context requires to be studied, especially when reliance is placed upon archaic reports of the Law Commission. It is for the Union to dispel doubts and at the same time give wings to the aspirations of all stakeholders when implementing the proposal. It, however, remains to be seen if the AIJS would be like the proverbial curate’s egg.

Rajnish Pathiyil is an Advocate and a Special Public Prosecutor for the Enforcement Directorate, practising at the Madras High Court

During his visit to Punjab on June 29, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that if the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is voted to power in the 2022 Assembly elections, it would provide 300 units free electricity for each family and waive previous power bills. He did clarify that while the promise of providing 24-hour electricity would take time, waiver on power bills would be immediate.

Days earlier, he had also said that AAP would project a Sikh as the chief ministerial face of his party. Not projecting a local Punjabi face was cited as one of the reasons for the party being unable to form the government in 2017, in spite of a groundswell of support. While projecting a local face is imperative, Mr. Kejriwal may have over-estimated the ability of doles to see the AAP through in the 2022 elections. While populism has worked in the past, there are other issues which need to be addressed.

Issues that need to be addressed

First, while many people look at the Delhi AAP government’s focus on health and education with interest, there is a clear understanding that there are significant differences between Punjab and Delhi in terms of the economic landscape.

Second, there is a growing clamour for a government which gives primacy to the State’s long-term interests. Over the past two decades, when it was in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had kept mum on important issues related to Centre-State relations. There has thus been a clear void as far as effective articulation of Punjab’s regional aspirations and a number of Sikh issues is concerned. The Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, in spite of his proximity to the Congress high command, was perceived to be vocal in safeguarding the State’s interests. His triumph in 2017 can be attributed to the same, though in his current tenure he has failed to live up to that reputation.

It is true that after breaking its alliance with the BJP after the passage of three farms bills, SAD has been making the right noises on issues pertaining to federalism and also attempted to find common cause with other regional parties. But a large section of what comprised its core support base is still disenchanted due to the incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib and the killing of peaceful protesters during the tenure of the SAD government. While SAD has allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for the upcoming Assembly elections, there are murmurs that it could return to the BJP.

Making inroads into Punjab

If one were to look at the AAP, there is some interest in its governance model in Punjab. But there are concerns about its sidetracking of local leaders during the earlier election and its ambiguity on issues concerning Punjab, specifically on the river water issue. Apart from this, the high command culture of the party, like in other national parties, is not likely to go down well with voters.

Third, from a political standpoint, the AAP has little support in the Malwa region, but no support in Doaba or Majha. It may be able to make some inroads into these regions if it ties up with a breakaway group of the SAD, the SAD (Sanyukt). Also, if the AAP can draw a sizeable chunk of urban votes, which generally go to the BJP or Congress, it could be in a pole position. Finally, there is a growing awareness about the pitfalls of populism. While there has been opposition to the farm laws, the detrimental impact of the current wheat-paddy cycle which has caused the water levels to drop and impacted the environment has not gone unnoticed.

Punjab’s political landscape is witnessing an interesting churn. There is a general consensus that a futuristic vision for Punjab which gives precedence to the State’s interests is imperative. Unlike West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the regional party of the State which is best placed to do that, the SAD, has failed in recent decades.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is faculty member, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat

The Trump Organization, the company owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump, has been charged by authorities in New York state on 15 felony counts including for committing a scheme to defraud, conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records. Prosecutors have also brought charges against a “sweeping and audacious” fraudulent scheme involving the firm’s CFO taking more than $1.7 million in undeclared remuneration from the company for personal expenses. While Mr. Trump has not been charged in this legal salvo, it is possible that that might happen in the future, should the investigation determine that he engaged in criminal conduct. Already, Mr. Trump’s name was mentioned at several points in the indictment and the evidence at hand appeared to show that as the former CEO of the company, the 45th President of the U.S. had signed some of the illegal compensation cheques in the 15-year tax fraud scheme. There are also indications that the indictment might be the tip of the iceberg in relation to the extent of the New York District Attorney’s investigation of the corporate practices of Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization. In May 2021, legal filings in New York revealed that the office of the DA, Cyrus Vance, was arguing in court that Mr. Trump’s accountants were required to produce eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns in compliance with a grand jury subpoena. This hinted that what was originally suspected to be an inquiry into illicit payments made by Mr. Trump’s associates, prior to the 2016 presidential election, to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump, had expanded into a far-reaching investigation relating to bank and insurance fraud.

While Mr. Trump has characteristically attacked the ongoing indictment and broader case as a “political Witch Hunt by the Radical Left Democrats,” there is no escaping the reality that if the charges stick and the investigation continues to broaden its scope, he will be hobbled by a political distraction should he attempt a second presidential run in 2024. There have been troubling questions about his business activities ever since he entered office, including, given that his real estate holdings were used for U.S. government activities, whether he was in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The larger question, however, is the one facing the Republican Party as such: when the next presidential election rolls around, will it continue to place its faith in a man who despite claiming to be an outsider to Washington politics is evidently no different from any run-of-the- mill plutocrat or any networked member of corporate elite bent on maximising personal gain no matter the social cost? Should they do so for want of real leadership within their ranks, that would be a sad commentary on the state of and prospects for the conservative movement in the country.

The crisis in the Congress in Punjab has been smouldering beneath the surface for a long time, before the current eruption. Until a few months ago, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had appeared invincible and poised to lead the party to a second consecutive victory in the Assembly election due early next year. Rebel leader Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relentless open battle against the Chief Minister has now cast a long shadow on the party’s prospects. Mr. Sidhu, a party hopper driven by personal ambition, has by default become the champion of the resentment among party MLAs and workers against the Chief Minister’s unilateralism. Mr. Singh was the sole architect of the Congress victory in 2017. After winning 77 of the State’s 117 Assembly seats then, its victory march continued through the 2019 Lok Sabha and local body elections. But a streak of arrogance probably disconnected him from some sections of the party. His very strength — he is head and shoulders above any alternative, including Mr. Sidhu, within the Congress — seems to have opened up a weakness: so sure of his own indispensability, he had little time or patience for some of those in the lower rungs of the party. Congress MLAs complain of humiliation at the hand of bureaucrats and found their lives overshadowed by the giant figure of Mr. Singh.

Also, the performance of the Government is coming under scrutiny too. High power tariffs, power cuts, a high unemployment rate and unchecked drug trafficking have exposed the chinks in the armour of the Chief Minister. Faced with bad options, the Congress central leadership appointed a committee headed by Mallikarjun Kharge. It met with around 150 party leaders and submitted a report but that has only opened a Pandora’s box. The Chief Minister took the committee deliberations as a slight, and his detractors, as an open season. Meanwhile, the unmistakable, though oblique, endorsement of Mr. Sidhu by the Gandhi family has complicated the scene further. The former cricketer is a recent entrant in Congress, after a cushy stopover in the BJP as Member of Parliament and contemplating a detour to the Aam Aadmi Party. As a life-long careerist with a reputation for a short temper, he is hardly the leader that critics of the Chief Minister yearn for. Punjab politics is in a churn due to the farmer agitation and an ongoing realignment of political forces. The SAD and BSP have formed a new alliance, and the BJP is left alone. Agitating farmers may have political plans in the coming months. The Congress central leadership and Mr. Singh must work together than at cross purposes to bring order within the party, so that the Government can steer the State’s progress without the dramatic distractions.

India is prepared to consider Pakistan’s request for information on West Pakistanis who have taken shelter in India from East Bengal “on humanitarian grounds” if Pakistan will also act according to the norms of international law and procedure in regard to more than 250 Indians languishing in Pakistani jails, official sources said to-day [New Delhi, July 5]. The sources were commenting on the Pakistan Foreign Office statement on Friday alleging that India was holding back several Pakistani Government officials, businessmen and tea-estate owners who had sought shelter in India during the “disturbances in East Pakistan”. The Pakistani newspapers, television and radio had played up this allegation and Mr. Aftab Ahmed Khan, Director-General in the Pakistani Foreign Office, had also spoken about this to India’s acting High Commissioner in Islamabad. The Pakistani press had also reported that the Pakistan Government had approached the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and “friendly governments to arrange relief and repatriation of the “East Pakistani nationals”.”