The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 16-01-2023 | 11:40 am
For the past several months, the West Bengal government is facing a “central teams” problem. Investigative teams from the Centre have regularly been making forays into the state, following allegations of corruption made by the Centre against various departments of the state administration, often in tandem with the BJPs own “fact finding” teams, keeping the Mamata Banerjee-helmed TMC government on its toes.The TMC alleges the BJP has been using central investigators as political tools since 2019, when it won big in the Lok Sabha polls, and especially after the 2021 Assembly polls, in which it received a drubbing.In their latest foray, central teams have been inspecting allegations of “misappropriation of mid-day meal funds” in the run-up to the panchayat polls, a week after the BJP’s Leader of Opposition in the state, Suvendu Adhikari, wrote to Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, urging him to audit the state’s utilisation of funds for the Centre’s PM Poshan scheme.In a communication to the state government last Friday, the Union Education Ministry conveyed that a team of nutrition specialists and central government officers would be visiting the state to take stock of the implementation of the PM Poshan scheme, across 16 parameters.Earlier, on January 6-7, two central teams arrived in the state to look into allegations of irregularities in allotment of houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). Discontent over PMAY allotment has been growing across West Bengal for close to a year now. The Centre has initiated action by withholding its share of funds in the scheme. The Centre and the state bear the cost of the scheme at a 60:40 ratio. As the first two central teams surveyed in East Midnapore and Malda districts, more central teams arrived in West Bengal to survey the details of PMAY lists in other districts of the state.Before that in 2021, just a week after the Assembly elections, the Centre sent teams of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and National Commission for Women (NCW) to probe post-poll violence, including alleged atrocities on women.Even during the Covid outbreak in 2020-2021, central teams visited Bengal over the TMC government’s perceived mishandling of the pandemic. And last November, the state BJP had demanded that a team of medical experts visit Bengal over a dengue outbreak.According to TMC leaders, it is a common tactic to remain relevant by the BJP as it doesn’t have a grassroots organisation in West Bengal. A senior leader of the BJP said, “It is obvious that we will try to gain political mileage from this. But you can’t deny the corruption of the TMC government at all levels of administration.”This is not the first time the Centre has been alleged to be using government investigators as proxy to influence West Bengal politics. During the Left regime, Mamata Banerjee, then the Rail Minister in the UPA 2 government, had forced the Centre to send a team to probe the violence in Nandigram and elsewhere.Expectedly, the TMC is now sharply criticising this “sending central team culture” of the BJP-led central government. TMC MP Sougata Roy said, “The idea is to irritate and vex the government and disturb its activities as much as possible. They won’t succeed in their attempt.”Another TMC leader, Kunal Ghosh, said, “The Centre can send as many teams as they want and try and spread as much disinformation they wish, but the people of Bengal would see through their motives. Their leaders, who have no connection with people and are trying to stay politically relevant by resorting to letter politics, will also be rejected.”BJP leader Rahul Sinha said, “If there was no corruption the central teams would not have come here.”Echoing his sentiments, state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said, “TMC leaders at the helm of panchayats actually run the show on the ground. They are responsible for this corruption. What has TMC leadership done to stop it?”Senior CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “It is unfortunate that the Chief Minister is trying to hide the fact that there has been a huge corruption in the implementation of the scheme.”
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.
A single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court on Monday dismissed the bail plea of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa, 72, in a bribery case filed earlier this month by the Karnataka Lokayukta police. The BJP MLA was arrested by the Lokayukta police a few hours after the bail plea was dismissed.The case was filed by the Lokayukta police after the MLA’s son Prashant Madal was caught red-handed on March 2 while allegedly receiving a bribe of Rs 40 lakh from a businessman for awarding a tender for the supply of raw materials to the state-run Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Ltd (KSDL), which was then headed by Virupakshappa.The Lokayukta police told the high court that the KSDL managing director had given a statement which revealed the active participation of Prashant in the tender process at KSDL at the instance of Virupakshappa despite Prashant not being connected to the KSDL and being an employee of another government department.“If the company pays crores of rupees as commission or bribe, one cannot expect good quality raw materials to be supplied and the very process followed by the tender accepting committee of accepting the lowest price and good quality of raw materials will be frustrated,” Justice K Natarajan said in his order.There was no question of Prashant approaching the complainant with a demand for a bribe if there had been no demand from Virupakshappa, the then KSDL chairman, the court said.The single-judge bench of the high court had on March 7 granted anticipatory bail to Virupakshappa on the grounds that there was no mention of the demand or acceptance of bribe by the MLA in the police complaint.On Monday, the bail plea was dismissed after the Lokayukta police produced material to show Virupakshappa’s direct involvement in the bribery and corruption at KSDL, which he headed till March 3. The Lokayukta police also told the court that Virupakshappa needs to be interrogated in police custody since he was evasive in his replies during regular questioning.The MLA’s bail plea was dismissed even as a hearing began in the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the Lokayukta police against the anticipatory bail order.Businessman Shreyas Kashyap, who is a partner in a firm named Chemixil Corporation, allegedly told the Lokayukta police in February this year that he was asked by Virupakshappa to pay a bribe of Rs 1.2 crore to be cleared for a contract to supply 5,100 kg of Guaiacwood oil, and 29,520 kg of Abbalide, as raw materials to KSDL.Kashyap allegedly struck a deal for payment of a bribe of Rs 81 lakh for the supply contracts by Chemixil Corporation and Delicia Chemicals, with an initial payment of Rs 40 lakh to Prashant. The negotiations for the bribe payments with Prashant were reportedly recorded on a smartwatch camera by the businessman to prove that it was a genuine case of corruption.The Lokayukta police laid a trap on the basis of the businessman’s complaint and Prashant, who is a Karnataka Administrative Services official and the chief accounts officer of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board, was allegedly caught red-handed by the police on March 2 while accepting an initial bribe amount of Rs 40 lakh.A total amount of Rs 2.02 crore of bribes from KSDL suppliers was found in the possession of Prashant when he was caught at his private office in central Bengaluru while an amount of Rs 6.10 crore was seized from the residence of Virupakshappa, a close associate of former Karnataka BJP CM B S Yediyurappa.The Lokayukta police investigation has found that KSDL awarded contracts for the supply of raw materials at over 50 per cent profit margins to firms run by friends of Prashant.The Lokayukta police have also accused officials of a firm identified as Karnataka Aromas Ltd of paying bribes to the tune of Rs 90 to be given supply contracts by KSDL. Two field employees of Karnataka Aromas Company, Albert Nicola and Gangadhar, are among the six people named in the bribery case against Virupakshappa and Prashant.