Editorials - 08-03-2021

They are in the midst of a financial distress and are faced with fundamental organisational issues

A surprising feature of the post-Budget discourse in Parliament and in the media these past few weeks has been the total absence of one topic: Railways. Apparently, the understated objective of doing away with a separate Budget for the Railways, namely, shifting the spotlight away from it, has been handsomely achieved. However, sweeping under the carpet the serious problems of viability facing the country’s largest and most crucial transport organisation, by taking cover behind the diversions provided by other, more topical issues thrown up by the Union Budget, will not make them disappear.

Finances are out of whack

Recent public statements about the performance of the Railways on the freight front seem to suggest that all is well with the Railways. In a recent interview, the CEO and Chairman of the Railway Board highlighted the fact that freight loading in January 2021 was the highest ever. A recent press report says that the freight earnings in 2020-21 are likely to be more than in 2019-20 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both these achievements are commendable by themselves but need to be seen in proper perspective. About the record-breaking loading in January 2021, what is relevant is the freight earnings, which during the entire year are projected to be Rs. 1,24,184.00 crore in the Revised Estimates for 2020-21. This is, in fact, lower than what was achieved in 2018-19 (Rs. 1,27,432.72 crore). As for the freight revenues going past that of the last financial year, that was only to be expected, with freight traffic having a relatively free run due to cancellation of most regular passenger services due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, an important financial performance index has been airbrushed to project a picture totally removed from reality. The Operating Ratio (OR), which is broadly the ratio of working expenses to revenues, has been artificially kept below 100% by making less-than-required provision for pension payments during 2019-20 and 2020-21. While the official figures of OR are 98.36% for 2019-20 and 96.96% for 2020-21, the actual OR works out to 114.19% and 131.49%, respectively, if the required provision is made for pension payments. The purpose of indulging in this self- delusional exercise is not clear. Technically, the Indian Railways are well and truly in the red. Tinkering with statistics cannot alter that reality.

Perhaps for the first time ever, the Indian Railways were unable to adequately provide for the Pension Fund, both for 2019-20 and 2020-21, totalling Rs. 78,119 crore. The Railway Ministry has reportedly sought a loan from the Central Exchequer to meet this shortfall. While the under-provisioning for 2020-21 can be explained by the shortfall in revenues due to the pandemic, the shortfall amounting to Rs. 27,642 crore even during 2019-20 (when there was no COVID-19) should be a cause for serious concern. In fact, the passenger and freight earnings in 2019-20 were less than in 2018-19, indicating that a downslide had started even before the outbreak of COVID-19, probably due to the economic slowdown. Railway finances are out of whack. And COVID-19 has nothing to do with it.

Immediate challenges

It is not as though all this has happened suddenly. The fact is, over the years, traffic revenues have been unable to keep pace with the increase in staff costs and pension payments. While the passenger and freight revenues increased by 84.8 % from 2010-11 to 2019-20, the staff and pension costs raced ahead at almost double that rate, by 157%, in the same period. Further, while in 2010-11, the staff plus pension costs formed 55.7% of the traffic earnings, by 2019-20, they had shot up to 77.5% of the traffic earnings. This, despite the fact that there has been a reduction of about one lakh staff on roll during this period. The spike in the staff and pension costs is largely attributable to the implementation of the Central Pay Commission recommendations, a 10-yearly feature. Being a Ministry of the Government of India, the Indian Railway’s finances are bound to be subjected to another fatal body blow by the next (Eighth) Pay Commission around 2025-26. Therefore, the immediate challenges are achieving a quantum jump in the revenues, particularly on the freight front, and a drastic reduction in the number of employees, there being no way to reduce the number of pensioners in the short run.

It is in this context that the full commissioning of the two Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs), slated to be operational by 2022, assumes great urgency and importance. A related aspect is the product mix of freight that will be carried in the near future. A disturbing feature of freight traffic is the overwhelming dependence on one commodity: coal. Despite all the marketing efforts over the years, almost 50% of freight earnings are contributed by the transport of coal. With the availability of alternative sources of renewable energy such as solar at competitive prices, the dependence on coal-based thermal power plants is bound to reduce to meet the incremental energy needs. Even these are likely to be set up at the pitheads, requiring no substantial movement over the Railways system. Also, India is a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement, committed to achieving targeted reductions in carbon emissions in a time-bound manner. The Railways have to therefore think seriously of a life after coal. An option that merits consideration is the adoption of the roll-on roll-off model of transporting loaded trucks on rail on the DFCs, which apart from boosting revenues has the added advantage of reducing the overall carbon footprint.

The other major challenge facing the Railways is the burgeoning staff costs including pension. At this juncture, the reported move to go in for recruitment of 1.5 lakh staff is simply baffling. There have been suggestions to corporatise the Railways’s Production Units and outsource the medical services. The government needs to firm up its policies on these crucial issues after discussions with all stakeholders. More than a year ago, a grand proposal to merge all cadres and have a single Indian Railways management cadre was announced to eliminate “departmentalism”. This implies that the existing organisational set up will continue, because it will take at least 25-30 years for any beneficial impact to be felt. On the other hand, moves are afoot to invite private players to operate passenger and freight services. These are conflicting moves, akin to driving a car with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brakes.

Need for public scrutiny

A separate Railway Budget has passed irrevocably into history. However, the need for a detailed public scrutiny of the affairs of one of the largest undertakings in the country, public or private, at least once a year has not gone away. As suggested earlier by this writer in these columns, an annual report called ‘Indian Railways Report’ on the lines of the annual Economic Survey should be placed in Parliament every year detailing the physical and financial performance of the Railways, identifying the challenges and plans for the future to meet the country’s rail transport needs. The Railways are in the midst of an unprecedented financial distress and are faced with fundamental organisational issues. This is no time for evasiveness and obfuscation but for clarity and transparency. It is also time to confront reality.

K. Balakesari is former Member Staff, Railway Board. Email: balakesari_k@hotmail.com

‘Citizen watch’ gets a new meaning after the notification on the IT Rules, 2021 — the promotion of lateral surveillance

This year, the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), launched the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program with the aim to allow citizens to register themselves as “Cyber Crime Volunteers’’ in the role of “Unlawful Content Flaggers”. As per the official website of the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal (https://bit.ly/2O2yaq6), the programme will help law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting and in the removal of illegal/unlawful online content. The programme, which will be launched all over the country, is going to have its test run in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura.

An explainer

This form of surveillance, which enables citizens to “watch over” one another is called lateral surveillance. The conventional understanding of the term, surveillance, is its use in the hierarchical sense, i.e. the vertical relationship between the person watching and the person being watched, which is usually the state and its citizenry. Lateral or social or peer-to-peer surveillance differs from typical surveillance.

While surveillance of any kind shows an imbalance of power between the person who surveils, and the one under surveillance, lateral surveillance specifically ensures that the imbalance of power no longer exists. Informal watching of communities by their members has been an age-old part of society, and its members view it as a harmless activity. The problem arises when it is organised and state-sponsored.

In the 1970s, the United States had the neighborhood watch schemes which increased community policing. With the introduction of technology and development of applications such as Citizen and Nextdoor, monitoring of people and their behaviour has become easier. Further, government and private sector institutions alike collect swathes of data for supposedly ‘public functions’. Specifically in the sphere of crime prevention, much like the cyber crime prevention programme, there has been a transition in the outlook from a ‘punishing state’ to a ‘preventive state’.

Its extent in India

This is not the first time state-sponsored lateral surveillance has been implemented in India. For example, the C-Plan App in Uttar Pradesh launched for keeping a tab on anti-social elements, is designed to receive inputs from certain identified individuals in villages across the State. These individuals have been given the responsibility to solve local problems such as providing information about simmering communal tensions or land disputes taking place in their respective villages through the mobile application.

The scope of lateral surveillance was greatly expanded during the pandemic lockdown, both with and without the introduction of technology. The Karnataka government released a PDF with the names and addresses of around 19,000 international passengers who were quarantined in Bengaluru while in the North, a woman was harassed and boycotted by her neighbours after the Delhi government marked her house with a quarantine sticker.

Tool for exclusion, suspicion

If a pattern were to be drawn, one notices that lateral surveillance is used to further emotional objectives such as community building and strengthening relationships with neighbours where emotional and social factors act as a driving force, thus creating a situation where privacy may be undermined for the betterment of the community.

However, surveillance technologies not only act as a tool for social control but also as a tool for social exclusion. Lateral surveillance thus makes it easier to discriminate between those who conform to the social norms of the majority. For example, the LGBT community in South Korea came under the scanner after a cluster of novel coronavirus cases were reported from a particular area which had resulted in large-scale circulation of homophobic content and comments against the patients who tested positive from the community. This not only made it difficult for authorities to collect information but also increased troubles for the people belonging to the sexual minority in getting themselves tested.

State-sponsored lateral surveillance is harmful as it creates a culture of ‘hate’, ‘fear’ and ‘constant suspicion’ against an ‘enemy’. Wherever the state identifies that it “cannot be everywhere”, it deploys this mechanism. This culture places a duty on people to ‘keep an eye out’ for ‘their own safety’ and this heightens the fear of crime in society.

Such perceived threats have a tendency to increase intolerance, prejudice, xenophobia and casteism in our society, while also violating the fundamental right to privacy, and, consequently, the unfettered expression of free speech and behaviour.

In policy

Despite the potential harm, the government, on February 25, notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (https://bit.ly/3kRdwoC) which intends to expand “due diligence” obligations by intermediaries. However, this not only substantially increases surveillance but also promotes lateral surveillance. For example provisions pertaining to user directed take downs of non-consensual sexually explicit content or ‘any other matters’ and even the harsh content take down/data sharing timelines will enable intermediaries to remove or disable access to information within a short period of time of being notified by users, circumventing the “actual knowledge” doctrine given inShreya Singhal vs Union of India. This will further create an incentive to take down content and share user data without sufficient due process safeguards, violating the fundamental right to privacy and freedom of expression. One wonders how long it would be before a neighbour with a “passion to serve the nation on a single platform and contribute in [the] fight against cybercrime in the country” reports you or me on a social media platform or otherwise.

Mira Swaminathan is a public policy lawyer based in Delhi. The views expressed are personal

With more awareness of other histories of struggle, India needs to ask what it wants to celebrate, on March 8 or 10

Among the many “international days” initiated by the United Nations, the best known is the one for women. Given its widespread institutionalisation by nation-states as well as private corporations targeting the woman consumer, many may now know something about its history. It began over a century ago as a commemoration of the struggles of women factory workers and was first organised by socialist movements as “international women’s day”.

From the 1920s onwards, it began to be celebrated annually by communist parties, first in the Soviet Union and then in China. Much later, the United Nations “established” International Women’s Day in 1977 in the wake of the International Women’s Year in 1975. In India, as elsewhere, movement-led campaigns and gatherings on March 8 spread from the 1980s.

Savitribai Phule’s legacy

In the last few years, Dalit and Bahujan feminists in India have been issuing a call to use this occasion to celebrate a different legacy, that of Savitribai Phule, long ignored by upper caste histories of women’s rights. Savitribai’s own biography is now being gradually recovered, rescuing her from being restricted to the role of the intrepid wife of Jyotiba Phule, who is himself celebrated for his dedication to the cause of “social justice” against women’s caste-differentiated enslavement. Born in 1831, Savitribai was colonial India’s first woman teacher. Her death on March 10, 1897 has made it possible to commemorate her life and legacy as “our” International Women’s Day. The Bahujan-feminist perspective emphasises the central importance of access to a non-Brahmin form of education for the larger agenda of transforming the gender, caste and labour structures in our society.

Shaheen Bagh, the lockdown

As we educate ourselves about alternate histories of struggle, we must also ask what it is we would want to celebrate in 2021, whether on March 8 or March 10? What has the last year given us? A year ago, the city of Delhi (where I live) was witness to horrific riots mainly targeting Muslim property and lives. Its purpose was to bring months of peaceful protests against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) to a violent end, protests that had been led by Muslim women. A series of sit-ins in parks and public places in several cities, most famously on the highway abutting Shaheen Bagh, during the cold winter months from December 2019 to February 2020, were brought to a sudden halt. This was followed by the even more shocking spate of arrests of those alleged to have been the leaders of these peaceful protests, many of them young women and students, on the charges of having incited the very riots that ended the protests.

Then in March came the state’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic — the world’s largest and strictest country-wide lockdown announced with four hours’ notice. The planet was eerily drawn together by the very isolation created by efforts to control the pandemic’s spread. We were treated to silent, empty streets, images of sparkling blue rivers, the smell of clean air, loud birdsong, and animals emerging from their hidden habitats. Indians glued to their screens soon received another shock as they witnessed hitherto invisible city-dwellers — migrant workers and their families — forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to their rural homes in search of food, shelter and care. Videos of women carrying bundles and small children along deserted highways and railway tracks were headline material. Everyday life became unviable for vast numbers and relief workers were hard pressed to meet their basic survival needs.

The home in focus

In the months that have elapsed since, there has been an unprecedented outpouring of writings about the effects of the pandemic and lockdown across the world. Much has been said about the “inequality virus”, even though its worst victims have been elderly men living in some of the richest countries of the world.

One sphere in particular has come into sharp focus in these pandemic discourses, that of the home. Being “locked down” meant being “locked in” — workers who could do so had to work from home, children had to study from home, and even people who had lost their jobs had to stay at home. Overnight, the home became the centre of attention — the very sphere that feminists have long been struggling to make visible. In “normal” times, the home silently houses the labour, work and care responsible for the reproduction of society without due recognition. Many men forced to work from home by the pandemic were seeing for the first time the other kinds of “home work” that they had always taken for granted. Some were more ready to condemn domestic violence — another kind of “home work” that had been going on for ages.

Women figured prominently in the attention the home was now receiving. New questions were being asked: Would the absence of paid domestic workers in middle-class families make the men of these families more willing to take on domestic responsibilities? Would the institutions of the state finally give care work and housework the recognition due to them? Unfortunately, as life limps back to a strange new “normal”, the answer appears to be no. Although women took on the greatest burdens when life was in crisis, they should not expect recognition of any kind.

But violence against women was not confined to women’s homes even during the pandemic.

New movements

From the State of Uttar Pradesh in particular, came many reports of extreme sexual assaults on, and even the murder of, Dalit girls who stepped out to work. The accounts are numbing, regardless of whether they also include information about the arrest of perpetrators. The only silver lining here (as with the Hathras rape case) has been the leadership of a new generation of Dalit women demanding accountability from the state.

This winter also witnessed the birth of a new social movement near the borders of Delhi, as farmers brushed aside pandemic protocols and arriveden masseto protest against the new farm laws. While media images focused on the weather-beaten faces of older men, there were also women who spoke out about their rights as women farmers. These protests are showing no sign of abating while they offer new lessons about the worlds that make possible the food we eat.

We cannot know what Savitribai would have said on March 10, 2021 to the Shaheen Baghdadis, to students, mothers and farmers, to the families of the victims of violation. But we do know that nothing stopped her and her comrades — not being thrown out of the family home for breaking caste codes, nor the widespread enmity they encountered — from working for the new Satyashodhak Samaj of their dreams.

Mary E. John is at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies. The views expressed are personal

At this juncture, to defend our hard-won rights and freedoms, we need to collectively raise our voice

Two disturbing reports were published last week. One emerged from Washington, D.C. and the other from New Delhi. Both vividly describe the thin ice on which journalists and news organisations, for whom public interest remains the core value, are treading, and the determined state apparatus which expects journalists to behave like a choir.

Shrinking democratic space

In its annual report, Freedom House, a U.S.-based think tank which produces periodic reports on issues related to democracy, political rights and civil liberties, has downgraded India’s status from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ based on several indicators. In the Freedom House ranking system, where 100 represents a near perfect democracy, India has fallen by four points from 71 last year to 67.

It would be a missed opportunity if we were to read the report as western propaganda. It is not wise to wear a narrow governmental lens that reduces patriotism to parroting the official line. The report points out the shrinking democratic spaces in some of the major western democracies. It clearly documents how various “authoritarian actors grew bolder during 2020 as major democracies turned inward, contributing to the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom”. The report also indicates areas for course correction.

It is high time the Government of India realises that its fervent rejection of the report rings hollow. It cannot invoke federal arrangement, where ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are State subjects, to shift the onus of specific excesses onto the State governments. It is a fact that various State governments have been in the forefront of muzzling the media over the last five decades. For instance, journalists in Tamil Nadu are familiar with the breach of legislative privilege cases against journalists, where journalists and media houses got penalised for an uncodified privilege. The spate of criminal and civil defamation cases filed by governments against journalists has been well documented. But this does not mean that the Union government has become a vanguard of freedoms.

Indeed, most restrictions are created by the Union government and its desire to undermine the federal balance. From rampant Internet shutdowns to subtle warnings, the method adopted by the Government of India is more layered, more varied and more chilling in its effect than those adopted by the State governments.

Revealing the character of the state

Hence, its loud rejection of the Freedom House report fails to impress anyone — more so because the influential Group of Ministers (GoM) has suggested draconian steps to stem ‘negative narratives’ on the government.

Let us examine the nature of the language used by the GoM. It is certainly not the language that is used by people who believe in dialogue, debate and dissent, the three integral elements of democracy. In my considered opinion, the language adopted by the GoM shows the character of the new Indian state. The desire of those in power is to ensure that the writ of the government, which is monochromatic and homogenising, prevails over the polyphony of democratic voices.

The question before us is to examine, critique and confront the GoM’s report thoroughly. It would be futile to get into an argument about the intent of the journalists who participated in the deliberations held by the government. The divided journalistic cohort diverts our attention from the principle challenge before us: a government that wants only its voice to be heard, and is prepared to tweak rules and create new laws to ‘neutralise’ the negative narrative.

While rejecting the Freedom House report, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s assertion had two interesting elements. One, it said: “Discussion, debate and dissent are part of Indian democracy. The Government of India attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists.” It did not provide answers to any of the specific charges listed by the American organisation.

Second, on the question of Internet shutdowns, the Ministry said that such shutdowns were “only temporary”. Is it fair to call a 213-day shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir a temporary measure?

At this juncture, to defend our hard-won rights and freedoms, we need to collectively raise our voice, call out the excess of the executive, the complicity of the judiciary, and avoid the unwarranted internecine attritions among journalists and journalist organisations that is hurting public interest.


The government can balance LPG subsidies and ensure clean fuel consumption in poorer households

Subsidised LPG prices have increased by a massive 50% in this financial year alone, consistently capturing headlines. What would be the impact of this in sustaining the gains of the government’s flagship scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY)?

Since 2016, PMUY has provided LPG connections to 8 million poor households to reduce women’s drudgery and indoor air pollution. Providing an upfront connection subsidy of Rs. 1,600, PMUY helped expand LPG coverage to more than 85% of households. In comparison, less than a third of Indian households used LPG as their main cooking fuel in 2011.

However, multiple studies assessing PMUY concluded that while access has increased, many new beneficiaries are not consuming LPG in a sustained manner. Large-scale primary surveys by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) suggest that, on average, recent PMUY beneficiaries consumed only about half the LPG compared to long-standing regular consumers. Limited uptake of LPG among poor households has two main reasons. First, the effective price of LPG is not affordable for such households, despite the subsidy. Second, many rural consumers have access to freely available biomass, making it difficult for LPG to displace it. Beyond causing indoor air pollution, biomass use for cooking contributes up to 30% to the ambient PM2.5 at the national level, more than the contribution of transport, crop residue or coal burning.

Changing prices

The recent increases in the subsidised LPG price have made it more difficult for the poor to sustain LPG use. India determines domestic LPG prices based on imported LPG price (we import more than 50% of our consumption). As the pandemic set in, the LPG subsidised price began to rise, even when global LPG prices plummeted, contributing to the refiners’ margins and government finances. However, now with LPG prices rising globally, a 50% reduction in the LPG subsidy budget for FY22 (versus FY21) does not bode well. The government is either banking on low global prices (wishful thinking) or reducing its subsidy burden significantly, even while offering 1 crore new connections under Ujjwala 2.0 in FY22. The government’s lack of transparency in the pricing of subsidised LPG adds further to the citizen's plight. The information about LPG price build-up and subsidy has become more difficult to obtain in recent years. As a consumer, one is no more aware of whether the subsidy reduction or global price changes are changing the subsidised LPG prices.

Better targeting

So, can the Central government tread a tight rope to balance LPG subsidies and ensure sustained clean fuel consumption in poorer households? The answer lies in better targeting of subsidy. Currently, the government provides a uniform subsidy per cylinder to all LPG consumers (PMUY or otherwise). Many long-term LPG users, who are also middle- and higher-income households, will continue to use LPG even at a (higher) unsubsidised price. In contrast, economically poor households need a greater subsidy to make it affordable for them to use LPG as their main cooking fuel.

One approach for such targeting is to rely on the existing LPG consumption patterns of consumers. Provide households exhibiting low consumption or a decline in LPG consumption over time with greater subsidy per cylinder to sustain health gains. Further, the subsidy levels could be dynamic with different slabs reflecting the previous year’s consumption. Alongside, the de-duplication efforts to weed out households with multiple LPG connections must continue to avoid subsidy leakages.

In the post-pandemic rebuilding, the continued support to the economically poor for sustaining LPG use is not merely a fiscal subsidy but also a social investment to free-up women’s productive time and reduce India’s public health burden. This social investment will yield rich dividends in the years ahead through a healthier and productive population.

Karthik Ganesan and Abhishek Jain are Fellows at CEEW

SC should not allow outrage industry to shape moves to tighten OTT content regulation

It is a matter of concern that the Supreme Court chose to convert a routine hearing on a petition for anticipatory bail from an executive of the Amazon Prime Video into an occasion to call for tightening the regulatory norms for over-the-top streaming services in the country. Aparna Purohit, India Commercial Head of the content streaming platform, sought advance bail after the Allahabad High Court denied her the relief with a sweeping declaration that some offending scenes on a new series, now deleted, constituted punishable offences. Accused of hurting religious sentiments by allowing the streaming ofTandav, Ms. Purohit did get protection from arrest, but what is disconcerting is that the Court went through the recently notified rules for digital media and intermediaries and observed that these lacked teeth. It is quite unusual and, in fact, gratuitous, that a constitutional court should push for more stringent rules after finding that the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, did not provide for punishment and fine. The Court’s very approach is way out of line. The new rules are essentially restrictions on free speech and expression through digital media. Courts generally examine the validity of such curbs on free speech and decide whether they are reasonable or too restrictive. It is unusual that the apex court should seek to go beyond what the executive describes as ‘soft-touch monitoring’, and press for inclusion of punishment clauses.

The Court seems to be concerned about obscenity and uncensored content on streaming services, the ostensible reason for its incursion into regulatory territory, when there was no challenge to the new rules before it. When the matter is taken up again, the Court should bestow attention on the High Court order that gave rise to the proceedings, an order that shows extraordinary zeal to protect religious sentiment. While refusing pre-arrest bail, the High Court has made an unusual claim that the title ‘Tandav’itself could hurt the sentiments of a majority of Indians because it is associated with Lord Shiva. It has observed that alluding to Lord Ram gaining popularity on social media is a reference to the Ayodhya dispute, and, therefore, offensive. It has a sweeping claim that the Hindi film industry, in contrast to its southern counterparts, was generally disrespectful to the Hindu religion. It would be unfortunate if the judiciary lets itself be seen as departing from its record of protecting individuals harassed by those claiming that their religious or cultural sentiments have been hurt by some work of art, or even remarks or gestures by celebrities. The new norms for regulation of online content have their origin in the Supreme Court voicing concern about child pornography and content that could provoke sectarian violence. While that was a justified concern, the tendency to allow anyone professing a sense of hurt to prosecute anyone anywhere in the country should not be encouraged. The higher judiciary is expected to clamp down on the ‘marketplace of outrage’, not join it.

Debate on pitches will continue, but India’s supremacy over England was not in doubt

It was back to the tried and tested methods as India’s practitioners of the slow-art, especially R. Ashwin and debutant Axar Patel, helped Virat Kohli’s men clinch a 3-1 Test series triumph over England. India’s innings and 25-run victory in the fourth Test at Ahmedabad, concluded a series that was largely one-sided barring England’s win in the opening encounter at Chennai. Like it did in Australia, India shrugged aside the early loss and turned around its fortunes in riveting fashion. The pitches on offer, especially for the third game, may not have been ideal, tending to age faster besides providing the obvious impetus to spin. Despite the surface-tension, the strips were in no way diabolical like some of the 22-yards offered in the past, especially in the 1980s when a few pitches made batting arduous. In the latest series, after skipper Joe Root’s double ton in Chennai set the stage for an England ambush, a stung India mounted a fiery comeback and ensured that the Englishmen never repeated their heroics of 1984 and 2012, when they humbled the host.

This was not just another success at home as the four Tests were invested with the larger goal of qualifying for the World Test Championship final in England from June 18 to 22. Originally scheduled to be held at Lord’s, there seems to be some ambiguity as England is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic’s second-wave and there is a push to have it at Southampton’s bio-secure Ageas Bowl, which also has a hotel within the premises. Lord’s may still conduct the premier clash but India’s rival is certain — Kane Williamson’s New Zealand, an opponent that stunned Kohli’s men in the 2019 World Cup semifinal at Manchester. Meanwhile, it is time for limited-overs cricket to take centre-stage. India and England will play five Twenty20Is and three ODIs before the Indian Premier League commences on April 9. For now, Kohli and company besides the coaching staff led by Ravi Shastri deserve credit for a splendid performance. The flowering of Rishabh Pant, Axar, Washington Sundar and Mohammed Siraj reflects a solid bench-strength. The excellence of youth and the terrific form of Ashwin and Rohit Sharma, papered over the modest returns from Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Shubman Gill. India has topped the ICC Test rankings but in June under low-slung clouds and on an English pitch laced with grass and against crafty New Zealand seamers, a tougher scrutiny awaits.

London, March 4: Lord Reading was last night entertained to dinner by the Royal Colonial Institute at Hotel Victoria. Mr. Montagu, who presided, said he was looking forward with confidence to working with Lord Reading. He said there was no future for India except as a member of the British Empire. Lord Reading’s political task was to maintain and consolidate the understanding between the Government of India and the Princes of India and to lead the proud peoples of India with their racial and national consciousness to the highest destiny that awaits any country, namely, partnerships in the British Empire. Lord Reading had undertaken this task with the complete confidence of every part of the British Empire. Lord Reading, who was accorded a tremendous reception, replied briefly. He paid tribute to the interests of India. He expressed the opinion that the reason for his appointment was that he might represent the justice of Britain.

Within half an hour of the Pakistan President, Gen. Yahya Khan’s broadcast yesterday [March 7] in which he threatened to use his full martial law powers to “ensure the country’s absolute integrity”, East Pakistanis marched in procession through the streets. Carrying a black flag, the marchers shouted “we oppose President’s declaration”. Yesterday was the sixth day of a strike touched off by the President’s postponement of the inauguration of the Assembly which is to write the country’s Constitution. According to UNI several Dacca residents evacuated on Saturday because of the dwindling food supply to the city. Food supply from villages in the east wing had stopped since Monday. Over 300 prisoners bolted from the Central Jail in Dacca and joined the protest marches in the city. Police opened fire on the escaping prisoners, killing three. Reports from Rawalpindi quoted prison authorities having said that seven prisoners were killed out of the 325 who broke out. Prison authorities said that 30 prisoners were injured in the firing and another 16 were recaptured. Seven warders were also injured in the break-out, prison officials said. The Associated Press of Pakistan alleged that Awami League members, on the orders of Sheikh Mujibur, stormed the jail to help the prisoners escape.