The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 19-03-2023 | 11:45 am
In a week from today, Arvind Kejriwal’s Number 2, the marquee face of AAP’s education reform, former Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia, would have spent a month in custody. On Friday, orders went out to his family to vacate their official bungalow, and to the family of Satyendar Jain, the other AAP minister in jail, arrested last year.As the BJP and the Opposition trade sharp unpleasantries on the government’s alleged targeting of political opponents, on the Delhi street, a whiff of a reality check to both AAP and the BJP carries a layered message.The BJP’s hectic bid to smear AAP with the corruption taint hasn’t found much of an echo but, at the same time, few are shedding tears for its leaders in jail.And for all that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appear locked in mortal combat, the two leaders are seen as a cross-party version of the “double engine”: Modi at the Centre, Kejriwal in Delhi.From a JJ camp in Shalimar Bagh to a South Delhi office and mall, you are likely to hear the same division of political labour: Kejriwal for the provision of quotidian “suvidhaein”, goods and services made accessible and free — bijli and paani, mohalla clinic and sarkari school, and free travel in buses for women, not necessarily in that order.Modi for Hindutva of course, Ram Mandir and Article 370. But also for other “big ideas” and, more and more, for securing the country’s “sarhad (borders)”, and steering the “desh-videsh” assertion and outreach.That last image, of India-in-the-world, recurs in the conversation on Modi, even as the refurbished sarkari school is a prominent motif when you talk about Kejriwal — very often to the same voter. It may point to a shift: Modi, who has energetically courted a pro-poor image across the country, is, in Delhi at least, forced to share some of that space with Kejriwal. Here, Modi’s claim to solo space is as the god of big things.In Shalimar Bagh, listen to Shakuntala, housewife, mother of six. Drainage is a problem, dirty water constantly runs into her home, she says, but the government school has definitely improved. Two of her six children go to a sarkari school in the time of the Kejriwal government. “Ab bachhon pe dhyaan dete hain (now they pay attention to the child in school). I went to a parent teacher meeting, and I could see that the teachers were under pressure not to waste time”. She remembers the phone call from Sisodia’s office when one of her children came first in class. “They asked aage kya karna hai (what have you thought for the future of your child)?”Yet “desh ke liye (for the country)”, for Shakuntala too, it is Modi. Because “woh desh-videsh ko madad karte hain, madad lete nahin hain, yeh sahi hai (on Modi’s watch, India helps other countries, instead of seeking their help, that is how it should be)”.Across the city, outside a law firm in well-to-do Jangpura, young lawyer Supriya Jain also acknowledges the Kejriwal government’s success story. “My maid’s son went to a government school, got a scholarship and went on to do a computer course”. But “country-wise”, she says, “it is Modi. His work is being recognised by the world”.The Modi-dominated poster advertising India’s G20 presidency may well have put its finger on a beating pulse. “Climate change, terrorism and pandemic can only be solved by acting together”, it says, marking out the wider ambitions that the BJP hopes will help lift the Modi campaign off the ground when the time comes, and take it to a place presumably unsinged by anti-incumbency.This high-voltage push framing Modi as the leader taking India to the world resonates — but equally, its campaign to tar AAP with corruption has failed.For the AAP, even as the corruption shadow over individual leaders has so far not spread over the party, there is not-so-good news too.The aam aadmi and aurat in Delhi view the arrests of Sisodia and Jain, who presided over two of its biggest success stories — the sarkari school and the mohalla clinic — as par for the political course in a system that typically hides more than it reveals and, in all events, as something the same system will fix eventually.At the Government Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Burari, their children’s exam-time stress is writ large on the faces of parents who crowd at the gates. A teacher lists the many positive changes in the school, from furniture to attendance, and is confident that “the improvement is here to stay”. On Education Minister Sisodia’s arrest, he says: “Tantra hai (this is the system). The people know, it happens, an election is coming… Remember Jain bandhu (a reference to the Hawala scandal in the 1990s), where are they now, that storm passed too. Only the media is agitated.”And at the Seelampur mohalla clinic, where the footfall is high, and a doctor is available in two shifts, asked about the arrest of former Health Minister Jain, patients draw a distinction between what is visible, and what is not.“Hum aam public hain… dawaiyan mil rahi hain, shiksha mil rahi hai, ration mil raha hai… androoni baat hamein nahi pata (we are getting medicines, education and ration, how do we know what goes on behind the scenes)”, says Ram Vinay, who describes himself as unemployed.While the response on the street to the arrests of Sisodia and Jain is marked by the absence of urgency or outrage, on one of the issues in play — the scrapped excise policy in connection with which Sisodia has been sent to jail — there is more than a hint of moral censure.In Seelampur, Ashok Kumar says, “The buy-one-get-one-free scheme that was being offered by private liquor shops was completely out of order”.“Bas sharaab ka kaam galat hua hai (there was a mess-up on the alcohol front)”, says Imran, in a tea shop near the Seelampur clinic. Here, a group of young men, self-professed Kejriwal supporters, are strong critics of Modi. “In 2014, a roti cost Rs 2, now it is Rs 5. A plate of korma was for Rs 30, now it costs Rs 70,” says Fahim.And at the liquor vend in a mall in Mayur Vihar, customer Deepak Sarna, an interior designer, says: “Alcohol had become too easy. People started drinking even during the day”.Another takeaway for the AAP: There is goodwill for Sisodia, for his work in the government school, but a campaign around his arrest is also likely to come up against the stigma that attaches to all issues involving alcohol.A signal for the Congress, too, the almost invisible third Delhi player, in the matter-of-fact response to the escalating political hostilities on public display. “A thin line divides the ruling party and Central agencies” but “there is a nyaypalika (justice system) to go to”, says Abhishek, a civil service aspirant, out with friends at a Saket mall.Santosh, the balloon seller outside the same mall, says: “Let the CBI tell us (the evidence for Sisodia’s arrest)”. And in Shalimar Bagh’s JJ cluster, Anil Chowdhury says: “One man may want to impress his dominance in the country but this is a prajatantra, not rajtantra (democracy, not monarchy)”. Rahul Gandhi’s scenario of institutions bent and broken under the growing pressure of authoritarianism strikes very few sparks.
He has been on the death row for about 25 years, after being arrested for murder and sent to Pune’s Yerawada jail. During all those years behind bars, this primary school dropout taught himself Marathi and English, and obtained an MA in Sociology. But for the Supreme Court, what really mattered when setting Niranaram Chaudhary free on Monday was a date from the admissions register of a school in Rajasthan’s Bikaner.The register, from Rajkiya Adarsh Uch Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Jalabsar, showed that Chaudhary had dropped out of Class 3 on May 15, 1989.And so, the apex court ruled that he was a juvenile while being sentenced to death in 1998 with two others for the murder of five members of a family, including a pregnant woman and two children, in a “rarest of the rare” case.On Monday, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice K M Joseph, directed that Chaudhary “be set free forthwith from the correctional home in which he remains imprisoned, as he has suffered imprisonment for more than 28 years” after his arrest in 1994.Chaudhary’s death sentence had earlier been confirmed by the Bombay High Court and twice by the Supreme Court in 2000. However, abandoned by his family at the time of conviction, Chaudhary’s name and age were incorrectly recorded by the Pune court that awarded him the death penalty. In 2018, with the intervention of Project 39A, a criminal reforms advocacy group based in National Law University, Delhi, Chaudhary moved the Supreme Court again.He also argued that his actual name was Niranaram, which was wrongly recorded by the court as “Narayan”.In January 2019, the Supreme Court had referred the case to the Principal District and Sessions Judge in Pune to decide on Chaudhary’s status as a juvenile at the time of conviction. The inquiry led to the school admissions register in Jalabsar.“Apart from the documents of the school, there is a family card, to which we have referred to earlier. The date of issue of Family Card is 1989 and, in this card, issued by the State Government, Nirana’s age is shown to be 12 years,” the Supreme Court said in its final verdict.“Going by that certificate, his age at the time of commission of offence was 12 years and 6 months. Thus, he was a child/ juvenile on the date of commission of offence for which he has been convicted, in terms of the provisions of the 2015 Act. This shall be deemed to be the true age of Niranaram, who was tried and convicted as Narayan,” the Supreme Court said.Anup Surendranath, director of Project 39A, told The Indian Express that Chaudhary is currently in a jail in Nagpur. “Once the Pune Sessions Court orders his release, the Nagpur prison will set him free,” he said.
THE committee under Finance Secretary TV Somanathan, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, to relook at pension may not recommend a solution where the gains made over two decades are reversed, The Indian Express has learnt.That’s the big-picture sense from conversations with officials who have to balance the imperatives of politics in a pre-poll year and a reform that has withstood the pressures of time — and partisanship.There are options.One, increase the government contribution to the pension corpus of its employees from the current 14 per cent to such a level that the employee can expect 50 per cent of her last drawn basic pay as pension upon retirement.Indeed, one of the models being looked at is the Andhra Pradesh government proposal which has a “guarantee” that employees will get 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension.Officials said the government may also explore ways to make good for the increase in payout (dearness relief announced twice every year increases the pension by a certain percentage taking care of the rise in living expenses) as it happens under the old pension scheme (OPS).The NDA lost elections in 2004, the year NPS was implemented. But the Congress carried it forward. After a decade, when NDA returned under Modi, it consolidated the gains. But in 2019, just before elections, NDA hiked government contribution. Now, a fresh review again just ahead of 2024 polls.Whatever the formula that’s worked out, one thing is clear.The committee and its mandate mark a sharp turnaround in the Modi government’s support of the new pension system (NPS) — where contributions are defined, and benefits market-linked — which came into effect in January 2004, just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections.“There was no question of any looking back when the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi returned to power. His political conviction in pension reforms and fiscal conservatism meant the NPS was there to stay,” said an official.And yet there was no escaping the politics.In fact, the BJP’s electoral loss in May 2004 may have nothing to do with pension reforms – the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was convinced of the economic rationale behind the move. But the party’s 10-year loss of power, between 2004 and 2014, is a memory that still stalks North Block.This when, in 2009, BJP’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections had not deterred the Congress from staying the course on pension reforms. With Manmohan Singh at the helm, and P Chidambaram as Finance Minister, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government earnestly implemented the NPS, exhorted states to follow suit, and also introduced a Bill to develop and regulate the pension sector. This was one of the many reforms that earned bipartisan support.There were four good reasons the government reformed the pension sector at the time it did: i) with increasing life spans, pension bills were ballooning, putting to risk future finances of the Centre and states, ii) a safety net for a very small percentage of workforce was being funded ironically by even the poor taxpayer, iii) inter-generational equity – the next generation footing the bill for the previous – presented a difficult-to-ignore moral hazard, and iv) India was at the cusp of a 50-year demographic dividend opportunity beginning 2005-05 with the best working age population ratio (workers or those in the 15-64 age group age/ dependents or those under 15 plus 65 and over).However, after the first five years in power, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre did not take any chances. Just before Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it increased the employer’s contribution to NPS to 14 per cent of the employee’s basic pay every month from 10 per cent earlier; the employee continued to contribute only 10 per cent of her basic pay.The timing was not lost on those keeping a tab on BJP’s economic thinking; this came into effect from April 1, 2019.Now with just a year to go for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is acutely aware of an altered economic and social landscape. The straws in the wind have been there for the past couple of years.Low growth that precedes the pandemic, job and income losses during Covid-19, stretched financial resources of people due to medical expenditure, and high inflation – which works like a painful tax on the poor, have highlighted the inadequacy of safety nets for a bulk of the country’s people. The political class cannot be blind to this. To discount the giveaways in recent Budgets by even fiscally prudent states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as an election freebie will be drawing a wrong message.It is in this backdrop that government employees are demanding a return of the old pension scheme. At least five states (Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, JMM-led Jharkhand, and Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab) have done so, having already notified the old pension scheme.The Congress win of the Assembly elections in Himachal, which most attribute to its promise to bring back OPS, has made the BJP leadership anxious. In Maharashtra, protests by state government employees prompted the Eknath Shinde government, whose finance minister is BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, to set up a committee and address the NPS shortcomings. Some national employee unions continue to protest too, giving calls for rallies demanding restoration of OPS.Then, there is the insider bias. A section of senior IAS bureaucrats – who have the political executive’s ear – feel their juniors who joined service after January 1, 2004, can’t be left to the “mercy” of markets while seniors retire with the assurance of a continuously rising pension kitty.This conversation on NPS has been in the top echelons of power for a while now. Not that the Prime Minister is not aware of these noises around him. But if his preference for fiscal prudence is an indication, he will be happy only with a solution that doesn’t put the future of state finances in jeopardy.
You may have often been alerted about the stimulant properties of coffee (or equivalent sources of caffeine) in elevating your blood pressure (BP) levels but so far, no clinical study has been able to prove that coffee-drinking is bad for hypertension. Of course, as with all foods and beverages, doctors advise coffee consumption in moderation simply because it does spike blood pressure temporarily before settling down and is, therefore, considered a stressor for those already hypertensive.Explains Dr Balbir Singh, Chairman, Cardiac Sciences, Cardiology, Cardiac, Electrophysiology-Pacemaker, Max Hospitals, “The BP spike is very temporary and then goes down, so one cannot say that coffee-drinking has a significant long-term effect on BP. This is the reason why we advise people to measure their BP for trustworthy readings 30 to 45 minutes after they have had their cup of coffee. It is for the same reason that we advise people not to have coffee before they undertake any intense physical exercise or strenuous activity which can raise your BP. Even then the BP response varies from person to person. Some studies have shown that in habitual coffee drinkers, the spiral effect reduces over time as they develop tolerance to the brew, compared to non-regular drinkers. Why this happens is yet to be pin-pointed. Some researchers believe that caffeine blocks a hormone that widens our arteries. Others attribute the BP spike to coffee spurring the release of extra adrenaline. At the same time, latest research on caffeine, particularly over the last year or so, has focussed on the encouraging effects of antioxidants and flavonoids present in coffee in reducing overall inflammatory markers in the body.”What worries Dr Singh is that all available research on coffee in the West is done with the way the brew is had there, which is black. “So even if research finds no convincing correlation between drinking coffee and hypertension, it would not apply to the coffee-drinking culture in India. We have our coffee with a lot of milk and sugar and that’s harmful for the body at many levels. Latest research says sweeteners too raise the risk of blood clotting, which is worrisome for heart health. But one to two cups of black coffee are not as worrisome. I have black coffee myself,” says he.Given that coffee is a stimulant, a cup increases your BP by five to ten points for a short period of time. Says Dr Udgeath Dhir, Director and Head of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery (CTVS), Fortis Memorial Research Institute, “This is a rise similar to when we exercise. In a two-year study of 45,589 men, between the ages of 40 and 75, which was released last year, researchers of the Harvard Medical School found no link between coffee consumption and the risk of coronary artery disease even in heavy drinkers. While regular coffee was found to be safe, they found a decaf version to be associated with a slightly increased risk of heart disease, though it claimed the link was weak. Studies have found that coffee does not seem to disrupt the heart’s rhythm, even in recent heart attack patients.”The Harvard Medical School last year even published the findings of a study by US and Swiss scientists on 15 volunteers, who didn’t have a high blood pressure and six of whom were just habitual coffee drinkers. According to the study, “The researchers monitored each volunteer’s blood pressure, heart rate and sympathetic nervous system under four conditions: before and after drinking a triple espresso, before and after drinking a decaffeinated triple espresso, before and after receiving 250 mg of caffeine by intravenous injection, and before and after an intravenous placebo (salt solution). A triple espresso caused quite a jolt, and it did jolt blood pressure readings. But although blood caffeine levels rose to a similar degree in all the subjects, not all experienced a rise in blood pressure. In fact, espresso did not boost the pressures of habitual coffee drinkers, though it raised systolic pressure readings on average by 13 mm Hg and diastolic pressures by 7 mm Hg in subjects who were not coffee drinkers. Espresso is strong stuff, but an intravenous slug of caffeine should be even more potent. Indeed, blood caffeine levels rose to the same degree after the caffeine injections and the espresso. But the straight-up caffeine had a much smaller effect on blood pressure than the espresso, boosting systolic blood pressure by an average of just 6 mm Hg. Moreover, the coffee drinkers and the non-drinkers responded similarly to intravenous caffeine.” A review of 34 studies showed that two cups resulted in an average increase of 8 mm Hg and 6 mm Hg in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively.Dr Dhir’s advisory is avoiding coffee before sleep as it could interfere with the restorative process of cell repair. “Coffee is a sleep disruptor. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says 400 milligrams a day of caffeine is generally safe for most people. However, if you are already hypertensive and worry about its spiking effects, no matter how temporary, limit yourself to two cups a day,” he says.Far more important is the way we control blood pressure through moderate physical activity for anything between 30 and 45 minutes five times a week. “A cup or two of coffee won’t harm us but ignoring high blood pressure levels or avoiding lifestyle correction means that the resultant condition could impact your vascular system, damage arteries, affect the aorta and end organs,” warns Dr Dhir.
Amidst deepening tensions between the ruling and Opposition parties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his party members on Tuesday morning that they should focus on spreading positive information about the central government’s social security programmes as the Opposition is indulging in a ‘below the belt’ attack against the government after their debacle in the Northeast elections.“The Prime Minister said the Opposition is nervous after the BJP’s impressive performance in the recent elections in the Northeast. They had a similar reaction after BJP’s Gujarat victory too,” said a source who was present in the meeting.“The PM told us that the Opposition will attack us more as they are rattled by the repeated victories of the BJP. The more we win, the harsher will be the attack. Now they are worked up because of our wins in Gujarat and Northeast,” said an MP who was part of the meeting.While the BJP won a simple majority in Tripura, it formed governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya with the NDDP and the NPP, respectively.Sources said PM Modi addressed the BJP MPs for the first time after the budget session resumed on March 13. The budget session has witnessed abrupt adjournments and acrimonious scenes with the Opposition protesting the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi and demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Adani issue.The Prime Minister was referring to the ongoing tension between the Opposition and the ruling party over Gandhi’s disqualification after being convicted in a defamation case by a Surat court. The Opposition has closed ranks against the government over the issue. Both Houses of Parliament have been disrupted and no major business, except budget formalities, was transacted.The PM is learnt to have told the MPs that the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign has helped improve the sex ratio in Gujarat and that they should focus on the implementation of social security schemes to win the hearts of people.The BJP MPs were also asked to focus on the 100th episode of Mann Ki Baat next month and the ninth-anniversary celebrations from May 15-June 15, sources said.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Monday directed the officers of Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP) to develop a separate dashboard for all the properties of the state’s urban development authority.Details such as property location and owner’s name would be registered in the dashboard, he said. He also directed the officials that the entire record of the HSVP including the documents of the properties should be digitised.The chief minister, who is also the chairman of HSPV, was presiding over the 125th meeting of the authority here, according to an official statement.In the meeting, Khattar gave ex-post facto approval for the construction of multi-storey car parking and commercial complex by Faridabad Smart City Limited on about 4,000 square metre land in Sector-18A of Faridabad.Post facto approval was also given for the issuance of allotment letters of ownership rights to 131 shopkeepers and Antyodaya Market being constructed in place of the Rehri Market; as per the instructions of the Chief Minister, after the incident of fire in the Rehri market of Sector-9, Panchkula last year. Apart from this, pucca shops will be set up as Antyodaya Market in place of Rehri markets in Sectors 7, 11 and 17 of Panchkula.The chief minister said pucca shops should be constructed in the cities where Rehri markets are functioning.On this, HSVP Chief Administrator Ajit Balaji Joshi informed the chief minister that the HSVP has a proposal to set up Antyodaya Market in place of Rehri markets in Gurugram, Faridabad and Karnal.Khattar instructed the officers to constitute a committee to prepare a list of the cities where buildings or any other type of construction or activity has been done on the HSVP’s land or on the land of other departments. It was also apprised in the meeting by the officials that the HSVP has 5,418 residential, 2,688 commercial and 230 institutional properties, out of which 4,804 residential, 2,305 commercial and 205 institutional properties have been sold through e-auction.Khattar said that on the lines of the scheme for setting up cooperative group housing societies for MLAs, employees, journalists and lawyers in Panchkula, permission can be given to set up cooperative group housing societies for former MLAs as well.