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Connecting the dots: Contraband gold and terror funding

It was widely reported by the media from UP on 27 January that ED had submitted a report to Ministry of Home Affairs on Kerala-centred Popular Front of India mobilising funds to finance the cost of demonstrations and gherao against the CAA Bill till 6 January 2020.

Vinod Mathew



Kerala has had a long history of gold smuggling, going back decades. Over the years, the carriers coming from all walks of life have improvised their skill sets, finding stunningly original ways to bring in the contraband, in all shapes and forms, hidden in the most intriguing places including various parts of their body.

Though not claiming that long a history, a few pockets in Kerala, especially the Kannur-Kozhikode-Malappuram region and certain parts of Ernakulam and adjoining Idukki districts had spawned terror since the 1990s.

The early days saw Abdul Nasser Madani’s brand of radicalism that included planning and pulling off terror strikes like the Coimbatore blasts played hide-and-seek with political aspirations through his People’s Democratic Party. His camp follower Thadiyantavide Naseer never hid his true intent, forging ties with the dreaded Lashkare-Taiba. Since then, there have been numerous terror cases such as the infamous palm chopping case of 2010 that had NIA looking closely at Kerala.

But the tide really began to turn in mid-2016 when Kerala had to take cognisance of the tentacles of ISIS terror having reached the nooks and crannies of the state. From Padna and Trikkaripur in Kasargod, Yakkara in Palakkad, Thammanam in Ernakulam and Attukal in Thiruvananthapuram, the intelligence agencies traced 15 educated youth, including four Christian converts and one Hindu among the team of 15 who went to Syria to engage in jihad. Their route of travel to Syria was traced via Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Many of them are reported to have been killed.

That was not the end as in 2017 a number of youngsters from Valapattanam in Kannur were found getting recruited by IS in Syria. Then again in 2018, the state woke up to another bout of IS recruitment from Wandoor in Malappuram. A year later came investigations into terror footprints linking the state and Easter church blasts in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka.

So far, the investigating agencies have failed to connect these two strands of anti-national activities – gold smuggling and terror links – in a significant way.

That is precisely what the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has set out to do from Day 1 of its engagement in the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling through diplomatic channel case that was officially busted on July 5.

 The Customs Department, that apprehended the contraband and followed up with a series of arrests, has been elusive about the source of their alert that culminated in the bust. Meanwhile, the state police have started claiming as to how the whole case began unravelling after their periodic input to the central agencies such as the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) about money trail leading to possible terror funding.

 It was widely reported by the media from UP on January 27 that ED had submitted a report to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Kerala-centred Popular of India (PFI) mobilising funds to finance the cost of demonstrations and gherao against the CAA Bill till 6 January, 2020. ED is understood to have come across the information while investigating PFI’s role in an earlier case registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. PFI had come out with a detailed rebuttal of ED’s charges which it said was false.

The ED had claimed to have found details of Rs 120.5 crore credited to accounts related to PFI, suggesting there was direct correlation between the dates of deposits and withdrawals from these accounts vis-à-vis the anti-CAA demonstrations in different parts of the country. One such payment found its way to an accused in a terror case, Abdul Samad, with roots in Mumbai who was arrested from Uttarakhand and taken into custody by NIA in February 2018 for his role in wide-reaching hawala operations and links to LeT.

“There are a number of instances with men from Kerala involved in cases like recruitment to IS, those with established links with LeT and many accused in terror cases across India. Apart from recruitment, their ground-level operations require serious money. Kerala police have cracked two IS recruitment-radicalisation cases and five cases are under investigation. And there have been a number of smuggled gold seizures we have done outside airports,” DGP-Kerala Loknath Behera told this correspondent.

Therefore, when the case of gold smuggling through the diplomatic route was busted on July 5, it appears the theory of the yellow metal being the new instrument of terror funding had already some traction among the intelligence agencies. This gives credence to the inference that the customs department was tipped off about the contraband gold coming in from Dubai. Sources say this gang had already smuggled in over 200 kg when the bust took place. Some say the gang led by Ramees KT (also arrested) was the man controlling the show and had access to Sarith PS and Swapna Suresh through Sandeep Nair. And the Dubai side of activities were handled by Faisal Fareed and Rabins Hameed, also from Kerala. Officers familiar with the probe fear 500-700 kg contraband gold would have been brought in by these players in the past one year.

In August 2019, the DRI arrested Rahul Pandit, inspector in the customs preventive division at Kannur airport for his involvement in gold smuggling at Kannur airport. Three other officers who assisted him too were held. Pandit was suspended from service, probe against others initiated. In November, 2019 the DRI arrested B Radhakrishnan, senior customs officer and former superintendent, Customs Air Intelligence Unit, Thiruvananthapuram on the charge of aiding and abetting import of large quantities of contraband gold through the international airport while manning the X-ray scanning machine. Again the volume of gold smuggled is put in excess of 500 kg before they were caught.

The sleuths are trying to separate the grains from the chaff – the large volume operations held together by operatives owing allegiance to organisations known to engage in anti-national activities and the regular carriers bringing in the contraband for shady jewellers. It is also suspected that all big operations had the same set of key players in the background.

 In retrospect, it was no surprise that the MHA showed no hesitation in asking the NIA to investigate the gold smuggling case. Naturally, the inference can only be that NIA is working the case backwards towards funding of anti-national activities by connecting the dots. And hence its confident assertion in its remand petition filed before the special court in Kochi that the accused in the gold smuggling case were using the proceeds for terror funding. The state police brass admits the gold-terror nexus theory announced by the NIA was not implausible.

 “Most terror outfits have sleeper modules in Kerala. This was the purpose behind reviving the Kerala Anti-Terrorism Squad last year, exactly along the lines of the NIA. That is why we have a dedicated unit within the ATS to track fund flow, mainly connected with gold and real estate. But we have limitations of jurisdiction and often need the help of central agencies. We already have shared a lot of data with NIA,” Behera said, adding there was a good likelihood that gold smuggling in Kerala has links with the sleeper cells of radical outfits with pan-India, even international footprint. And it is not surprising that links are emerging connecting terror funding with gold smuggling, as the yellow metal has always been a source for mobilising money, along with drugs and counterfeit notes. Clearly, those agencies involved in terror activities need funds to fight their court cases and other activities which cannot be raised only through donations, he said.

As per records available from sources in the Customs Department, the figures for gold seized in Kerala clearly indicate a rise in smuggling of gold. One of the reasons cited is the rise in import duty on gold from an already high 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent in 2019, apart from 3 per cent GST. The tax on gold in UAE at 5 per cent is perhaps the lowest in the world.

2019-20 – 540 kg (4 airports)

2018-19 – 251 kg (4 airports, Kannur started function in December 2018)

2017-18 – 103 kg (3 airports)

It has been the contention of some of the investigating agencies that smuggling cannot happen without the support officers in the Customs Department.

 The state government has come under considerable heat because of the alleged involvement of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s former principal secretary and top bureaucrat M Sivasankar with some of the accused in the gold smuggling case. Quick to distance itself from the likely political fallout, the state government suspended the officer. The NIA has got the custody of many suspects arrested by the customs department for gold smuggling. The agency also grilled Sivasankar for two full days this week.

Now, as the NIA tightens the screws and builds a watertight case by connecting the dots between gold smuggling and terror funding, there will be many casualties. Sure, the central agency sleuths are working the case backward, but there is nothing untoward in that as long as the basic premise is on solid ground. It may be a matter of time before it emerges that gold is the new instrument of transaction for terror, especially given the backdrop of meagre liquidity in the postdemonetisation days.

The big question is whether there will be a more comprehensive investigation that covers aspects that do not fall under the purview of the NIA. Because, the smuggled gold could also have gone as payment to officers and politicians for favours rented. Then, the investigation should bring under its purview corrupt practices allegedly followed in awarding lucrative contracts, loss to the state exchequer by way of appointing big consultants and the connection between these two strands.

Just as the NIA strives to link gold smuggling with terror funding, it will take the involvement of another agency like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to connect the dots. Because, there seems to be a lot of dubious looking dots that appear all over the place and this simply cannot be coincidental.

Kerala’s terror cases and NIA

Kerala has had a long tryst with the NIA right from the days of its inception following the 2008 Mumbai terror attack to combat terror in India. Founding Director General Radha Vinod Raju, though from the J&K cadre, hailed from Kochi. In that team, heading the terror financing and fake currency cell was another officer from Kerala cadre Loknath Behera, now DGP-Kerala.

NIA turned its lens on Kerala when Thadiyantavide Naseer with his LeT connections was found scouting for wannabe jihadis to fight wars in Iraq and Syria. It was NIA that busted terror camps in Vagamon, Narath and Kanakamala. By unravelling the deep-rooted terror links involving young couples getting converted the terror way to turn jihadis in distant lands, NIA ruffled the feathers of quite a few mainstream politicians in the state.  

The special court for NIA cases convicted 13 of the 31 accused in the infamous `palm chopping case’ of July 2010 (members of the Popular Front of India had attacked T J Joseph, then professor at Newman College, Thodupuzha, and chopped off his palm for compiling a question paper that contained material insulting the Prophet). It was widely discussed as to how the masterminds walked free. 

In  November 2019, the NIA court in Ernakulam awarded 14 years› RI to the first accused in the Kanakamala IS case – for hatching a conspiracy, including through social media platforms and later meeting at Kanakamala in Kannur on October 2, 2016, to plan terror attacks in Tamil Nadu and Kerala against Jews, RSS leaders, BJP leaders, judges and police officers.

The Gold Trail

According to World Gold Council statistics, demand for gold in India declined from 760.4 tonnes in 2018 to 690.4 tonnes in 2019, though in value terms it was up three per cent, from Rs 211,860 crore to Rs 217,770 crore respectively. But gold imports, that account for the entire requirement, apart from smuggled gold, as per the Ministry of Commerce and Industry data, gold imports in June 2020, were down 77.42 per cent against a year ago. And things were no better in the preceding months, mainly on account of Covid-19.

However, much of the gold that comes into India finds no place in official records. IMPACT, a Canadian agency that tracks worldwide movement of contraband gold, says in its November 2019 report titled ‘Golden Web: How India became one of the world’s largest gold smuggling hubs’ that India meets 25 per cent of its annual requirement of 1,000 tonnes via the smuggled route and cautions that the leading global gold manufacturing centre must take action to address the weakness in its supply chain. The report acknowledges that refined gold is being smuggled into India primarily from the UAE. ‘’India is at the heart of a web of illicit trade of gold, with threads spanning the gold and almost certainly financing conflict and corruption,’’ highlights the report.

Excerpts from the remand petition filed by NIA’s chief investigating officer on 21 July

‘’It is submitted that Swapna Prabha Suresh (A-2), Sandeep Nair (A-4) and other accused had conspired together and separately at various places in Kerala to damage the monetary stability of India by destabilising the economy by smuggling large quantities of gold from abroad and it is suspected that they had used this proceeds of smuggling for financing terrorism through various means. These deliberate acts of using the diplomatic baggage of UAE as a cover to transact illegal business may have serious repercussions in the diplomatic relations with the government of UAE and it is prejudicial to the monetary and economic security of India as well. Further, the involvement of other people in to this crime as well as the end users and beneficiaries need to be ascertained.

 It is further submitted that during the custodial interrogation the role played by other associates came in to light including one Ramees KT who is one of the kingpin in this case. Sandeep Nair (A-4) stated that Ramees KT insisted for smuggling gold in large quantity and maximum numbers during the lock down period as the financial position of the country is weak etc. A-4 also stated that KT Ramees commands and always moved with a group of persons and have contacts abroad. Steps are under progress to join the said KT Ramees in the investigation of this case.’’ (sic)

Timeline of the diplomatic channel gold smuggling saga

June 30: Diplomatic baggage consignment containing 30 kg of gold from Dubai, addressed to the UAE Consulate (Thiruvananthapuram) Charge D’ Affaires Rashed Khamis al Shameli, reaches Trivandrum International Airport. Customs Department refuses clearance based on alert.

July 5: Consignment opened, after getting necessary MHA, UAE Consulate clearance, 30.25 kg of gold found hidden along with plumbing materials.

July 6: Sarith PS, former PRO of UAE Consulate who had turned up to get consignment released, taken to Customs Office, Kochi for questioning, arrested. Co-accused Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair found absconding.

July 10: NIA files case to investigate terror finance behind gold smuggling case.

July 11: NIA takes into custody Swapna, Sandeep from Bengaluru.

 July 13: NIA probe team gets Swapna, Sandeep in custody for 8 days till July 21. Customs team arrests known offender Ramees K T, said to be the brain behind the smuggling racket and one who was pushing large volumes of gold during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

July 14-18: Customs pick up a number of suspects, many of them known gold smugglers.

 July 19: News break of Faisal Fareed arrest in Dubai police on Friday. Allegations made about his involvement with known names in Malayalam film industry.

July 20: The name of yet another link surfaces – Rabbins from Muvattupuzha, said to be the man sent to Dubai by the hawala dealers in Kerala to supervise Fareed,

July 21: NIA gets custody of Swapna, Sandeep extended till July 24. Stage set for DRI to enter fray as records emerge of illegal holdings in land, deposits in bank lockers.

July 23: NIA questions senior bureaucrat M Sivasankar about his relationship with the main accused in the case, Swapna, Sarith and Sandeep, seeks CCTV footage of his office adjoining the CM›s office in the Secretariat.

 July 27/28: Sivasankar questioned by NIA in Kochi; no clean chit even after 25 hours of grilling over three days.

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Policy & Politics

Pradhan flags off used cooking oil-based biodiesel from Indian Oil’s Tikrikalan terminal

Tarun Nangia



Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel, Dharmendra Pradhan, remotely flagged off the first supply of UCO (Used Cooking Oil) based Biodiesel blended Diesel under the EOI Scheme from IndianOil’s Tikrikalan Terminal. Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas Tarun Kapoor and Chairman, IndianOil S M Vaidya, were also present on the occasion.

To create an eco-system for collection and conversion of UCO into Biodiesel and developing entrepreneurship opportunities, Hon’ble Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Steel, along with Hon’ble Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, had initiated Expressions of Interest (EoIs) for “Procurement of Bio-diesel produced from Used Cooking Oil (UCO)” on the occasion of World Biofuel Day on 10th August 2019. And such “Expression of Interest” is being periodically released by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs). In the first phase, 11 EoIs were floated between 10.08.2019 to 09.11.2020 for 200 locations. Publication of EoIs has been extended for one more year up to 31.12.2021, for 300 locations across the country.

Under this initiative, OMCs offer periodically incremental price guarantees for five years and extend off-take guarantees for ten years to prospective entrepreneurs. So far, IndianOil has also issued 23 LOIs for Biodiesel plants with a total capacity of 22.95 Cr Litres (557.57 TPD). Under this initiative, IndianOil has received 51KL of UCO-Biodiesel at its Tikrikalan terminal in Delhi as of 31.3.2021.

Speaking on the occasion, Dharmendra Pradhan complimented the Oil industry on the stellar role they have played to keep the fuel lines running despite the stiff challenges of the pandemic. He also lauded the OMCs for going beyond the usual business imperatives by extending support for medical oxygen supply to the nation in this crisis. Mr Pradhan also appreciated IndianOil’s leadership role in smoothening the Liquid oxygen logistics in the country through various initiatives.

Referring to the flag-off of the first supply of UCO-based Biodiesel from IndianOil’s Tikrikalan Terminal, Mr Pradhan said, “This is a landmark in India’s pursuance of Biofuels and will have a positive impact on the environment. This initiative will garner substantial economic benefits for the nation by shoring up indigenous Biodiesel supply, reducing import dependence, and generating rural employment”. He appreciated the proactive role played by OMCs in this direction and shared that 30 LOIs have already been issued.

Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Tarun Kapoor, while delivering his address, said, “With this flag off, a new era of Bioenergy has been ushered in that will revolutionize the Indian petroleum sector. Feedstock availability in Biodiesel is a challenge, and leveraging UCO can be a major breakthrough that will enable us to reach the target of 5% Biodiesel blending. It will also help divert the unhealthy used oil from the food chain to a more productive purpose”. Mr Kapoor also complimented IndianOil for their focused drive on UCO based Biodiesel and for the concerted efforts undertaken to promote the benefits of Biodiesel.

Earlier, Chairman IndianOil S M Vaidya, while welcoming the gathering, said, “IndianOil is committed to contributing to this remarkable drive to retrieve the unhealthy Used Cooking Oil and usher in a revolution through “Randhan se Indhan”. We aspire to trace even the last drop of UCO and ensure its conversion to Biodiesel, thereby contributing to a more energy secure, greener and healthier India. This event is yet another significant step towards a Swachh and Aatmanirbhar Bharat”. He also shared that IndianOil has started constructing eight Biodiesels plants across Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional or ‘fossil’ diesel. It can be produced from vegetable oil, animal fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. A significant advantage of Biodiesel is its carbon-neutrality, i.e. the oilseed absorbs the same amount of CO2 as is released when the fuel is combusted in a vehicle. Also, Biodiesel is rapidly biodegradable and completely non-toxic.

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Policy & Politics


Tarun Nangia



In a major boost to organic products exports from the country, first consignment of millets grown in Himalayas from snow-melt water of Ganges in Dev Bhoomi (Land of the God), Uttarakhand would be exported to Denmark.

APEDA, in collaboration with Uttarakhand Agriculture Produce Marketing Board (UKAPMB) & Just Organik, an exporter, has sourced & processed ragi (finger millet), and jhingora(barnyard millet) from farmers in Uttarakhand for exports, which meets the organic certification standards of the European Union.

UKAPMB procured millets directly from these farmers which have been processed in the state-of-art processing unit built by mandi board and operated by Just Organik.

“Millets are unique agricultural products from India which have significant demand in the global market. We will continue to carry out export promotion for the millets with a special focus on products sourced from Himalayas,” said by Dr M Angamuthu, Chairman, APEDA. He stated that Indian organic products, nutraceuticals and health food are gaining more demand in overseas market

In Uttarakhand, many of the common varieties of millets are the staple foods in the hills. The Uttarakhand government has been supporting organic farming. UKAPMB, through a unique initiative has been supporting thousands of farmers for organic certification. These farmers produce mainly millets such as ragi, barnyard millet, amaranthus etc.

The exports of millets to Denmark would expand exports opportunities in European countries. The exports would also support thousands of farmers that are getting into organic farming. Millets are gaining a lot of popularity globally because of high nutritive values and being gluten free also.

Meanwhile, India’s export of organic food products rose by more than 51% to Rs 7078 crore ($ 1040 million) during April-February (2020-21) compared to the same period in the previous fiscal (2019-20).

In terms of quantity, the exports of organic food products grew by 39% to 888,179 metric tonne (MT) during April-February (2020-21) compared to 638,998 MT shipped in April- February (2020-21). The growth in organic products have been achieved despite logistical and operational challenges posed by the COVID19 pandemic.

Oil cake meal is a major commodity of the organic product exports from the country followed by oil seeds, fruit pulps and purees, cereals & millets, spices, tea, medicinal plant products, dry fruits, sugar, pulses, coffee, essential oil etc. India’s organic products have been exported to 58 countries including USA, European Union, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Switzerland, Israel and South Korea.

At present, organic products are exported provided they are produced, processed, packed and labelled as per the requirements of the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). The NPOP has been implemented by APEDA since its inception in 2001 as notified under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulations) Act, 1992.

The NPOP certification has been recognized by the European Union and Switzerland which enables India to export unprocessed plant products to these countries without the requirement of additional certification. NPOP also facilitates export of Indian organic products to the United Kingdom even in the post Brexit phase.

In order to facilitate the trade between major importing countries, negotiations are underway with Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia, UAE, New Zealand for achieving Mutual Recognition Agreements for exports of organic products from India.

NPOP has also been recognized by the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) for trade of organic products in the domestic market. Organic products covered under the bilateral agreement with NPOP need not to be recertified for import in India.

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Policy & Politics





A bad bank is generally a financial entity set up to buy a non-performing asset (NPAs) or bad loan from the bank which eases the burden of the bank in its core functioning, also known as ARC (Asset Reconstruction Company). After acquiring a bad loan from the bank, a bad bank commissions some amount to the bank, and the rest may share with the investor who is interested to purchase. The idea of the bad bank was pioneered in the US in 1988 by the Mellon bank which was further fostered amid the financial crisis of 2007-08. The bank transferred $1billion of its bad loans to a newly created subsidiary and the subsidiary was resolved in 1995 after meeting all its objectives. However other experiments in Indonesia and Japan have shown that the government might have to do some hand-holding.

Initially, the idea of the bad bank in India was floated in January 2017 when the economic survey of India proposed the introduction of PARA (Public Sector Asset Rehabilitation Agency) and the central bank also suggested forming entities PAMC (Private Asset Management Company) and NAMC (National Asset Management Company) in tackling the problem of bad loan concerning the public sector bank.

On 1st February, FM minister Nirmala Sitharaman revived the idea of a bad bank in India in her budget proposing to set up an asset reconstruction company to tackle the increasing hazard of bad loans in the banking sector. COVID-19 has further impacted the asset quality of Banks and this proposal can act as a potential catalyst that the sector badly needs and IBA (Indian Bank Association) also endorsed the FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s idea of creation of ‘bad bank’ during the pandemic when the banking sector was expecting a hike in bad debts.


The issue of bad loans is a perpetual one in the Indian banking sector which has been worsened by the impact of COVID-induced measures on the economy. According to the figures by the Reserve Bank of India the size of the bad loan in the Indian banks was around 9 lakh crores as of March 31, 2020, which in contrast to the figure of two years ago, the size of the bad loan was decreased significantly because of the larger write-offs by Indian to the bad bank. Furthermore, due to the lockdown, the non-performing asset of the bank as per the Financial Stability Report of RBI 2021 is going to rise sharply from 7.5% of gross advances in September 2020 to at least 31.5% of gross advances in September 2021 under the baseline scenario which indicates a need to take more proactive steps to ameliorate the deteriorating assets crisis.

Last year, IBA presented a proposal for the establishment of a composite or hybrid type of bad bank comprising stake from government and bank in dealing with the issue of a non-performing asset but the same was rejected by the government which prefers the market-oriented process but now due to the lockdown Indian banks are vouching for the concept of the bad bank to tackle the rising crisis of NPAs.


The issue of bad loans is prevalent in the Indian banking sector especially triggered to rise during the lockdown. The setting up of the bad bank entity comprising the experts dealing with non-performing assets can help in countering the problem of bad loans by creating a single entity to deal with the matters which will ease the burden of the banks. Besides this, it helps in cleaning the balance sheet of the bank and making them financially healthy, and aids them in focusing more on their core function of lending, and also have a positive impact on the bank history

Two important instruments currently in use for dealing with NPAs are the SARFAESI Act 2002 and the IBC 2016, both of which provide a framework for various stakeholders to deal with such assets. The SARFAESI Act was enacted by the parliament after the recommendations of the Umerjeee Committee for countering the rising NPAs and improving the financial health of the banks but now in these extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic, there is a need to amend the act as recently on April 2021, the Monetary Policy Committee of RBI constituted a committee to review the working of the ARCs and pointed out that the true potential of the ARCs is yet not realized and which is not sufficient enough to counter the deteriorating financial health amid the pandemic in the Indian banking sector. So, the committee should not turn a blind eye on a bad bank which is a viable option amid a pandemic to counter a sharp rise in NPAs.

However, the mere transfer of bad assets from one entity to another will not resolve the perennial problem of NPA’s. This requires long-term reforms in the Banking industry, especially in the public sector banks. This may also lead to the creation of a moral hazard as it enables banks to continue their current reckless lending practices and might hamper accountability within the system. The ARC might also have to be further financed by the government which will further create pressure on the government treasury.


While COVID continues to threaten the financial growth of developing countries like India, this is perhaps the opportune time for a hard reset on certain corporate practices. The idea of Bad Banks provides the government, the banking sector, and the business community a way out in these tumultuous times. However, the measure must be backed by reforming the sector and bringing more accountability and transparency. The structure and financing of such an entity remain unclear and both the public and the government must proceed with caution. The creation of a Bad Bank opens up more questions for the banking industry as bankruptcy cases rise and new bad assets are discovered, and it is important to remember the fundamentals while applying this much-needed idea.

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Policy & Politics




Major Bikramjeet Kanwarpal succumbed to COVID-19 on May 1

After retiring from the Indian Army, the major became a successful actor in films and television.

An old friend salutes a wonderful human being.

Some people never go.

They live with you even after death has unkindly taken them away from you.

Major Bikramjeet Kanwarpal – more than a good friend, a lighting guide, and known to the world as a famous Bollywood actor – was one of them.

An ex-army major and son of an army officer, his friends, colleagues and seniors dearly called him Bizzu.

He did his schooling from the prestigious boarding school in Kasauli, Lawrence School, Sanawar, and from those days itself, the brilliant student was loved by his teachers and classmates.

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Bizz was passionate about acting since his childhood and used to participate in school plays and drama.

Though a ‘brat’, a term used for the children of army officers, Bizz never took academics lightly.

After completing his education, Bizz joined the Indian Army.

He was commissioned as an officer in Hodson’s Horse, (also called the 4th Horse) a prestigious regiment of the Armoured Corps raised in the British era.

As a second generation soldier, 4th Horse was another home for Major Bikramjeet since the very inception of his career.

Soon after joining the regiment at Nabha, Punjab, Bizz became the blue-eyed boy of not only of his regiment. But of the entire brigade.

And this is where I met him for the first time.

After migrating from Woodstock Mussoorie, I was studying at the Punjab Public School Nabha as my father Colonel A S Ghumman was the BSTO 1 Armoured Brigade.

I remember how was handsome, stunning, well-read and jovial Bizz was.

He loved listening to country and soft music. Elton John and Bryan Adams were his favourites. We would often exchange music CDs with each other.

The officers would finish their work during the day and we kids our school, and in the evenings, we would all meet at the officers’ club which hosted many indoor activities like billiards, badminton and table tennis. It had a library with books on the Indian Army as well as fiction. Most importantly, it had a bar which had premium liquor and the world’s best nimbu pani made by its bartender, ‘Pie’, as we called him.

Here, Bizz, Colonel Vivek, a very dear friend and three months senior to Major Bikramjeet, and Colonel Feroze Khan, who was a national squash player, used to get together with the officers.

They used to play tug-of-war on the badminton court and Major Bikramjeet was undoubtedly our leader.

One could witness the best Queen’s English between Bizz and and Colonel Vivek whereas Colonel Feroze used to onslaught all the officers with his power game.

We kids would pick up the key to Bizz’s bike and take it for a spin, only to come back after two hours and give the keys to the bachelor’s room, called the Stallion Den. It accommodated all the bachelor officers of the regiment.

After the fun days at Nabha, my father got posted as camp commandant Babina, Uttar Pradesh.

As luck would have it, 4th Horse was also posted at Babina within months, and we were together again.

My brother Captain Ruminder Singh Ghumman and Major Bikramjeet became best buddies as they were gym partners too.

In the evenings, all of us would gather at Major Bikramjeet’s room to listen to music, chat and play the guitar.

Country Roads Take Me Home was our favourite song.

Bizz was instrumental in teaching us how to dance, including jive. He was always full of life.

I remember putting on his favourite perfume before going to a party and he would guide me by saying, ‘Buddy, put on this one for occasions.’

Then came a time when we parted ways to set out for a new journey to fulfill our dreams.

Major Bikramjeet resigned from the Indian Army and went to Bollywood where he worked in films like Paap, Platoon, Ghazi Attack.

He was a part of popular television serials and became a loved celebrity in Bollywood.

I declined to join the army and became a lawyer instead.

My brother Captain Ruminder would be in regular touch with Bizz when he was in Bombay.

It was through him that I got in touch with Bizz again, and we relived our childhood memories.

Bizz loved his brother Mr Vishwajeet Kanwarpal a lot.

We often used to talk about his brother and parents, who would spend their holidays at their summer cottage in Solon.

The last time I spoke to Bizz was when he was shooting for a film in Lucknow. It was just a few days ago.

Never in my worst nightmare did I realise that would be my last conversation with him.

He was in the midst of writing a movie script based on the Indian Army.

When Colonel Feroze Khan informed me about Bizz’s sad demise, my world was shaken to its core.

A feeling of emptiness crept inside me.

Bizz was the most free-spirited, lively gentleman I knew and he left us too soon.

He was a man of his word, someone who lived life on his terms.

He knew how to live life not only on the big screen, but also in real life, with the same passion.

Will miss you a lot Bizz, you will always be with us.

Your memories are gold to us and even God can’t take them away, forget Death.

Adv. Rubinder Ghumman practices at Delhi High Court

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Policy & Politics


Tamanna Chandan Chachlani



Being in a patriarchal setup, women have been the subject of various laws in our country and on the sidelined watch of the society. Law and society are inseparable in more ways than one, they work together to create harmony and ensure a co existence between various elements. However, the dichotomy is evident when it comes to Women. One of the primary reasons for the same is that the position of women has been unstable in the patriarchal setup. Beginning from the role of being the “supporter” and moving towards the “provider” in today’s time presents a remarkable shift, both in ideation and structuring of the society.

But, has this shift created a change in outlook, both in terms of law and society? It’s debatable. I say this because, despite being 48.04% of the current population, having so many laws to “protect” us, seems like we still have a long road which is rather less travelled. The pandemic has been a testing time for the entire nation, but more so for the women of this country.


Law aims at providing a workable solution to the perils of the society. Domestic violence is one such by product of peril created by the setup we live in. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is a legislation that aims at providing effective protection to women who are victims of violence. However, the lockdown saw an increase in domestic violence cases by a significant number. The National Commission of Women reported an increase by twofold in the lockdown period of 2020. The Commission received almost 23,722 cases from March to September, 2020. These numbers are those which have been reported, most of the go rather unreported due to fear, not wanting to destroy the family structure, the social and economic status, financial dependency and a lot more social stigmas. However, with rise in awareness through social media, women have actively started to report these cases. The NCW also launched a WhatsApp helpline for women. Apart from this, various NGOs, Organizations helped women to get the necessary help.

The lockdown also created a loophole in the system with most police officers being busy as frontline workers in maintaining law and order, women were left further helpless. Since, most women in our country especially from the unorganized sector remain unaware about the law that exists to protect them, a last resort is reporting to a nearby police officer or their employer but both of these havens were non-existent or barely existent during the lockdown period.

However, the various High Courts took suo motu cognizance of the rising crisis and asked the State as well as Central Government to make effective guidelines and help the victims at the earliest.

The United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres called for a global “ceasefire” against the increasing numbers of domestic violence cases across the world. UN Women termed it as the “shadow” pandemic. According to the report by UN Women, 1 in 3 women faced either sexual or physical violence mostly by their partner.

In India, the Delhi State Legal Services Authority announced specific measures such as collaboration with Mother Dairy booths (Milk Booths), pharmacists and chemists for information on survivors of violence and also launched an app to deliver legal aid to these individual

The Government also shared National Legal Aid Services Authority’s (NALSA) directory of Legal Service Institutions functional across the country along with NALSA Legal Aid Helpline and online portal with all the One Stop Centers and Women Helplines to facilitate legal aid and counselling to women facing violence.The State of Odisha came out with an initiative through which police officers will contact women who had earlier reported domestic violence to enquire about their condition over phone during the ongoing lockdown.

Coming to the aspect of access,The Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2020 of Groupe Speciale Mobile Association states that only 21% of women in India have access to the Internet. Moreover, a study conducted by John F Kennedy School highlighted that only 38% women in India own a mobile phone as compared to 71% men. Another recent study conducted by the University of Oxford concluded that women are 25% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. A study conducted by Mohan Diwakar also highlights that marginalized women have the least mobile phone access. These studies also liked the access of mobile phones to the health of women. With the second round of lockdown being imposed in cartons states across the country, the reality seems to be more grim for many women who have been in abusive Joel’s for too long, feeling trapped and unable to seek help.

With this being a reality, it is important to strengthen other measures apart from helplines, social media outreach. We need to act like an active community, develop a mechanism which allows women to seek help from their surroundings in case of lack of access to technology, internet and/or mobile phones.

We need a stronger nationwide policy especially addressing issues like domestic violence during a pandemic. For instance, Europe declared domestic violence assistance as an “essential service”. In Argentina, France and Spain, chemists are helping women report domestic violence cases with the codeword “Mask 19”. Canada and Australia also announced special funds for violence against women as a part of their action plan against the pandemic. These are measures that go beyond technology and assist women at ground zero.


The CARE report on menstrual hygiene states that the availability of menstrual care products ha seven severely affected by lockdowns across the globe. 1.8 billion of the global population are menstruators but this could not garner the attention of lawmakers globally. Menstrual hygiene products were deemed nonessential and were absent from most hospitals. A report by FSG released in 2020 reveals that 500 million women worldwide lacked the essential resources to go through menstruation. More importantly, 70% of the global healthcare workforce are women and the pandemic has been an especially tough time for them while fighting Covid as well as catering to their own menstrual needs.

In India, 366 million women excluding gender non binary persons menstruate. The pandemic put the menstrual health and hygiene on a stand by. Firstly, because the Government of India didn’t include the production of menstrual products in the essential category leading to stall age in production, which was later rectified after public outcry. India has a Menstrual Hygiene Scheme, which allows rural adolescent girls to access sanitary napkins at a subsidized rate.

However, a scheme that has taken a big hit is the Kishori Shakti Yojna, as the scheme allows for distribution of sanitary napkins to adolescent girls via government schools. Due to the consistent spread of virus pan India, these schools have remained shut hence cutting off one crucial source of accessing these products. Various newspapers like The Hindu, Wire also reported on these aspects and how the young girls have been left with no recourse in sight. More importantly, this has further widened the gap between social stratas of the society, with women from the less privileged backgrounds suffering more than ever.

In a study conducted by SWACH organization, it was revealed that 23 million women drop out of schools annually once they start menstruating. Legally speaking, the Constitution of India has guaranteed the right to health, the right to equal treatment for everyone irrespective of their gender,the right to education, the Government has been encouraging education of the girl child by introducing various incentivizing schemes. But, the problem lies in implementation, in harmonizing these schemes and laws with the society and most importantly the lack of awareness amongst people of the society. Most people still consider “Menstruation” as a taboo topic and it goes undiscussed in most households and institutions like schools.

The pandemic has made it further difficult to bridge the gender gap especially in the semi urban and rural settings of India. There were various NGOs and organizations that distributed sanitary napkins in the lesser privileged areas, but these measures are only temporary and most importantly they are not run nationwide.

The Right to Education Forum in its 2020 policy report stated that around 10 million girls in India are on the verge of dropping out of schools due to the pandemic. While the report has a detailed portrayal of how schools are not inclusive enough, it also sheds light on the fact that patriarchal setup encourages gender discrimination, leading to discrimination right inside the schools. One of the core reasons for girls dropping out is poverty, which evidently has increased during the pandemic. Girls are being trafficked or they are being married off at a young age creating a further vicious loop of problems associated with female health altogether, which cannot be addressed by law alone.


Although, the Government has taken various measures, we still have a long way to go. These issues cannot be looked at in isolation, they are a part of the larger patriarchal setup and hence the society. This is one area where we require harmonization of law as well as ideologies which is very difficult to achieve but never impossible. There are some measures that can be taken:

● Although schools cannot be opened for providing sanitary napkins, the Government can allocate certain funds for setting up distribution of sanitary napkins under the schemes, for effective realization of the same. Recently, the Karnataka High Court also asked the State Government to allocate proper funds to the Shuchi scheme for providing sanitary napkins.

● Actively educating and spreading awareness to chemists, grocers who can act as a source point for these women to report domestic violence.

● The UNICEF report on Gender Based Violence Service provision during pandemic specifically outlines the various measures that can be taken when the women do not have access to mobile phones. The report suggests that there should be installation of phone booths at various places to facilitate connection in times of need, creation of “safe spots” for women and an alert system with the help of local community.

● Citizens can help by being a part of the alert system and reporting cases.

Spreading awareness and working towards the goal of increasing education for girls more so after the pandemic. The Government and variousNGOs are working in this direction, but the gap will increase significantly once the country recovers from the virus.

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Policy & Politics


Political forces together failed to knock Mamata Didi out… The results of Assembly elections in five states have given several clear indications. Mamata Banerjee’s victory in West Bengal has rekindled a new hope within the Opposition at the national level that the BJP can be challenged provided the strategy is right. So the moot question is: Will Mamata become the face of national politics now? The poll results have given a clear message to Congress to appreciate public sentiment and respect the grassroots leaders.

Vijay Darda



A midst tall claims about the West Bengal Assembly elections, I was constantly telling my BJP friends that Mamata Banerjee will score a hat-trick. BJP will not be able to cross double digits despite all its efforts. I was saying all this not as a politician but as a journalist based on my analysis. I have always analysed Mamata Didi’s politics in depth. She is a grassroots leader and has a first-hand experience of overthrowing the Left from power. She has suffered lathi blows and knows how to break through the opposition’s defense.

The Bharatiya Janata Party was determined to oust the Mamata Banjerjee-led Trinamool Congress out of power in this Assembly election. For that, it had started the groundwork around two-and-a-half years back. All the big-time leaders, all the outfits associated with the BJP and the RSS deployed all the power and resources at their disposal. They polarised the Hindu vote. Star campaigners were fielded and they worked day and night for this purpose. The Sangh undertook a door-to-door contact programme to woo the voters. The ‘Chanakya Neeti’ of ‘Saam-Daam-DandBhed’ was fully utilised. As the election season approached, several political developments took place that took everybody by surprise. Many leaders who had gained political stature, thanks to Didi, crossed over to BJP. An atmosphere was created that indicated that Didi was all set to lose power this time..! But was Didi the one to give up so easily? She responded to each and every attack with her own firebrand counter-attack. She left her constituency and went to Nandigram and contested against her once confidante and now BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari, who had left her and was contesting on a BJP ticket. The BJP’s strategy was successful. Mamata lost the election in Nandigram. Mamata Banerjee met with an accident during the election. Her movement became restricted. But Didi once again proved that she is a grassroots leader in West Bengal. No matter how many allegations of corruption and hooliganism have been levelled against her and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, the people’s mandate went in her favour. Rather, Didi has emerged more powerful than before. Had Didi got the full support of the Congress, the situation would have been even more better. The Congress stopped campaigning in the fifth round, but by then the Congress had inflicted whatever damage it could on Mamata. Due to these initial mistakes, the possibility of division of Muslim votes increased. The BJP got its clear advantage too. The Congress and the Left suffered a humiliating defeat. Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary knew this. But it is clear that people have voted for Mamata to keep the secular forces strong

This election result of West Bengal can prove to be a big game changer in national politics. But before discussing this aspect, let us take a look at what happened in other states. Political analysts say that people have clearly told the Congress to appreciate the public sentiments and treat them accordingly. The Congress should respect the grassroots leaders who are closely connected with the people and let them take over the reins in the party. Kerala is a state where no party came to power for the second time in a row. This is for the first time that the Left retained power. The reason for this is that the Congress replaced those who were grassroots leaders and the high command handed over the leadership to K C Venugopal. Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Kerala. Analysts are saying that the Congress imposed Narayan Sami in Puducherry due to which they lost Puducherry. There was a lot of resentment against Sami due to which they lost power. Despite this, the Congress did not learn any lesson. The BJP’s strategy was successful in that they had already sacked the government of Puducherry.

In Assam, the Congress contested jointly with Badruddin Ajmal’s party All India United Democratic Front, but the strategy the latter had devised failed. Hemant Biswa Sarma was a grassroots leader, but after he joined the BJP, the Congress was in tatters and the result was that despite taking Ajmal along, the Congress could not get the desired results.

As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, I had a conversation with Stalin and also those close to him. When I went there, it was clear to me that Stalin would come to power because he had been working at the ground level for years. After Jayalalithaa’s departure, Palaniswami’s government was facing serious allegations of corruption. Stalin took full advantage of it. Despite the BJP’s help, the AIADMK could not do anything there. As far as the Congress is concerned, it was clearly at Stalin’s mercy. Stalin was not happy with the Congress, but considering Sonia Gandhi, he had allotted 25 seats to the Congress but the party lost the high-stake political battle there too.

Let us now return to West Bengal where Didi has shown amazing power. She has not only retained power in West Bengal, but also ignited a ray of hope in the opposition politics of the country. Now it is to be seen how the secular forces in the country come together and what strategy Soniaji adopts. Will she adopt the strategy like when she went to Mayawati’s house on foot? Will she adopt the same strategy and move forward with the veterans of every state..? Or become a part of UPA-2 in which Sharad Pawar succeeded in bringing everyone under one flag by becoming its convener? It is difficult to say anything right now but it is crystal clear that the fight ahead is not going to be BJP vs Secular Force but Narendra Modi vs all. In this scenario, it will be interesting to watch what Mamata Didi’s stand will be!


Elections are over but what is worrying is how many people might have got infected with the coronavirus as a result of their participation in election gatherings, rallies and congregations and what the virus will do to them. It is reported that coronavirus is most widely spread in Maharashtra, but the data dished out by the Government of India is very shocking. In the states where Assembly elections or panchayat elections were held, Covid-19 cases have increased exponentially due to rallies and meetings. In April, the number of Covid-19 patients increased by 5412 per cent in Assam, 1266 per cent in West Bengal, 1229 per cent in Kerala, 1227 per cent in UP, 563 per cent in Tamil Nadu and 359 per cent in Puducherry. This is something called a gross negligence!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha

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