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Joe Biden & Kamala Harris: History in the making

In November 2020, it will be clear if the Biden-Harris team will succeed or not, but for now Kamala Harris has already created history by becoming the first biracial woman with Indian and Jamaican parentage to run for vice presidency.

Bhuvan Lall

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In the summer of 1958 Shyamala Gopalan, a young graduate in Home Science from Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi, received an offer to pursue a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology at the world-famous University of California at Berkeley. Accepting the admission offer was a huge decision for her family. Her father P.V. Gopalan, a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Rehabilitation, had a civil service background and limited funds at his disposal. Nevertheless he pulled out his savings for his daughter’s higher education and a few months later the eldest of four siblings took the flight for a country she had never visited before to pursue her dreams.

 Just two years before Shyamala’s arrival in the US, the 1956 election involved an unprecedented incident in the nation’s history. For the first time a person of Asian birth, ineligible a decade before even to become an American citizen, was elected to Congress. His name was Dalip Singh Saund. He had arrived in 1919 from Amritsar, India, in the post-Ghadar Party era for his doctorate in mathematics at Berkeley. He overcame prejudice by his hard work, honesty, and fortitude that made him a prosperous agriculturist in the Imperial Valley. Saund with other American-Indians had fought hard to make the US a permanent home for the Indian community. In 1942 as president of the India Association of America he petitioned Washington to allow Indians to become citizens. The idea of conferring the right of citizenship on the natives of India was supported by W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, Pearl S. Buck, and Upton Sinclair. Finally, on 3 July 1946, a year ahead of India’s Independence, President Harry Truman in the presence of Saund and important Indians enacted the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 that eliminated the restrictions on Indians and allowed citizenship. This day is considered the Independence Day for the Indian community. With the opening of the door in the US, there was no looking back for the Indians.

Saund, who lived in Hollywood with his wife and two children, positioned America as a land of opportunity as his election campaign theme in 1956. A year later in December 1957 Saund returned to India after a gap of 37 years and was commemorated across the nation. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress, the man known for his Lincolnesque riposte addressed the Indian Parliament. For the first time, the members of Parliament in India heard the viewpoint of the US administration from an Indian perspective. Saund clarified, “Americans sincerely desired to promote the closest relationship with India”. In his autobiography, Congressman from India, published in 1960, Saund observed: “There is no need for the people of the United States or their Government to instruct Asians in the meaning and value of democracy. In their hearts, they already know. But there is one burning question uppermost in their minds: Are the American people willing to accept them as their equals in every respect? If we are ready to answer that question in the affirmative, we have nothing to fear?”

At Berkeley in the early 1960s, Shyamala, now well adjusted to California, during a political protest met another graduate student, Donald Harris, who was studying for his PhD in economics and was an immigrant from Jamaica. After getting her degree, she was supposed to return to India for an arranged marriage but instead, she married the man she loved, Donald Harris. On 20 October 1964, Shyamala had her first child. She was named Kamala Devi and from the very beginning, she was taught to have pride in her parent’s immigrant roots. Three years later a little sister Maya joined Kamala and both the kids were introduced to social activism of the 1960s.

After their parents divorced in 1971, the family moved around the US as Shyamala, now a prominent breast-cancer researcher, raised her girls primarily as a single mother. She took a post at McGill University in Montreal and Kamala graduated from Westmount High. There were regular trips back to Shyamala’s home in Madras (Chennai now) to visit grandparents and family. In an interview years later, Kamala revealed she was raised eating Indian food, “lots of rice and yogurt, potato curry, dal, idli”. On finishing law school at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, Kamala began her illustrious career in 1990 at the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in Oakland.

Kamala made a name for herself in San Francisco for her work as a prosecutor. Inspired by her mother, Shyamala, who passed away in February 2009, she jumped into politics as a career move when she became the city’s District Attorney and then became California’s Attorney General. The media in the US noted: “She is the first woman, first AfricanAmerican and first Asian Attorney General of California.” The India Abroad newspaper after an interview with her named her, “The Female Obama”. Then in 2019, she moved on to the United States Senate.

On Martin Luther King Jr Day, 21 January 2019, Kamala Harris, now a junior senator from California honoured both her African-American and IndianAmerican roots by declaring that she would run for President in 2020. When questioned at the Howard University press conference whether she identifies as an Indian-American or an African-American, she candidly retorted that she identifies as “a proud American”. At the kickoff rally in her hometown of Oakland she launched her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by stating, “My whole life, I’ve only had one client: The people.” Over 20,000 supporters cheered wildly as she decided to take on President Donald Trump. With her sister Maya, a Stanford Law School graduate serving as her campaign chairwoman, her campaign looked like a battle between David and Goliath. But their mother Shyamala remained the role model.

 Kamala was viewed as an articulate candidate who used facts as ammunition. But after less than twelve months, by the end of 2019, Kamala’s race for the White House had run out of steam and more importantly the critical campaign funding. In a tweet, she announced, “To my supporters, it is with deep regret — but also with deep gratitude — that I am today suspending my campaign”, and later in a video she explained: “I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign.” As a final parting shot she added, “I want to be clear. Although I am no longer running for President, I will do everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump and fight for the future of our country and the best of who we are. I know you will too. So let’s do that together.”

 The US changed on 25 May 2020 after a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes. The death of Floyd brought race conflicts to the foreground and front pages of the country. The subsequent nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations demanded transformation.

These are not ordinary times in the US and all political observers know that 2020 is not going to be an ordinary election with Covid-19 deaths, economy, foreign affairs, and race relations dominating the debates. A lot depended on the presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s crucial first decision that could serve as a powerful counter-narrative to President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. It was proposed that a strong female candidate as vice presidential candidate could do wonders for his campaign. The former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Harvard Professor Senator Elizabeth Warren, and several other prominent women were contenders for the number two spot. Then on 11 August 2020, Biden who had vowed to name a woman as his running mate named Senator Kamala Harris. Besides her parents, Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris who fought for civil rights in the 1960s, her nomination would have made Dalip Singh Saund, the three-time Congressman from California, extremely proud as an American-Indian.

The Biden-Harris 2020 ticket could be a gamechanger in what is perceived as of now as a close contest. Many feel Biden’s choice of Kamala “makes America look more like America again” and she is better placed than anyone to be the first female President. Last fall at an event in North Charleston, Kamala Harris speaking about the element of personal risk in politics had quoted Robert Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

In early November 2020, the decision of America’s swing votes will determine if Biden-Harris team will be sworn in as the President and Vice President or will be history, but for now Kamala Harris has already created history by becoming the first biracial woman with Indian and Jamaican parentage to run for the office of the Vice President of the United States.

This is history in the making.

Bhuvan Lall is the author of ‘The Man India Missed The Most Subhas Chandra Bose’ and ‘The Great Indian Genius Har Dayal’. He can be reached at writerlall@gmail.com.

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Vehicle scrappage scheme: A much-needed policy for auto sector

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The long-awaited draft policy on vehicle scrappage is now  accessible. The proposal specifies the guidelines for identifying and scrapping end-of-life vehicles. It also has directives for scrapping facilities for sustainable waste recycling and material recovery. This is a significant move in the development of infrastructure for the organised and scientific scrapping of old automobiles. It also has far-reaching implications for emissions/pollution reduction in India. There was a dire need for such a policy in India’s automobile system. According to the statistics , about 51 lakh LMVs are exceeding an age of 20 years in India, around 34 lakh LMVs exceeding 15 years, and about 17 lakh medium/heavy commercial vehicles exceeding 15 years. 

THE SCRAPPAGE ECOSYSTEM 

According to the released draft of the policy, passenger vehicles ageing over 20 years and commercial vehicles ageing over 15 years fall under the bracket of scrutiny. These vehicles would have to undertake a fitness and emission test covering a variety of parameters, failing which they would be mandatorily scrapped.

SETTING UP SCRAP YARDS AND FITNESS CENTRES 

Automobile manufacturers such as Maruti Suzuki, Toyota, and Mahindra and Mahindra have announced their investments in setting up vehicle dismantling centres in the country, with the expectation that these centres produce substantial revenue in the coming years until vehicle scrapping becomes prevalent. Other automobile makers are expected to do the same.

CONTRIBUTION OF THE GOVERNMENT 

The government has shown its commitment to investments of about Rs 10,000 crore both from the government and private sector enterprises for the establishment of these centres. 

COMPLIANCE

Certain deadlines would have to be kept in mind by all industry stakeholders. These are to ensure an expedited result of the scheme on the ground. The rules will be effective from 1 October 2021. The time bar on the government’s unfit vehicles is 1 April 2021 while all the heavy and other vehicles have a mandate of getting their fitness tested by 1 April 2023 and 1 June 2024 respectively. The government also plans to levy an extra green cess on such passenger and commercial fleet owners which would eventually push them to comply with the policy and phase out their old vehicles.

Non-compliance with the policy would warrant a mandatory de-registration after 20 years if the vehicles are found to be unfit or have failed to renew registration. From the 15th year of initial/original registration, private cars may be eligible for enhanced re-registration.

INCENTIVES OFFERED BY THE POLICY TO VEHICLE OWNERS

Vehicle owners who voluntarily scrap their cars can get a road tax rebate ranging from 15% to 25% and a full waiver of registration fees for their next new vehicle purchase. Automobile dealers would now be required to have a 5% discount in consideration for a car scrapping certificate. Also, car owners can get a value for their old cars from scrap yards that are about 4% to 6% of the price of a new vehicle. 

OVERALL MACRO-BENEFITS

These scrap yards would act as a source for generating employment for the local people and the steel made out of the scrapping process would be supplied to the automobile industry and other industries at a cheaper rate than the market ensuring availability of low-cost raw materials to a variety of industries. This would help in triggering economic growth for the automobile industry. 

It would ensure achieving of an aim of cutting 25% to 30% air pollution caused by vehicles and also result in economic fuel efficiency and better vehicular safety.

WHAT INDUSTRY EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY

According to the statement of Satyakam Arya, MD and Chief, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles, “We have long advocated for a well-designed, incentivised ‘end of life’ policy that boosts demand, improves safety, and supports the environment by encouraging commercial vehicle owners to exchange their older vehicles for new ones, meeting current emissions norms. Only a joint effort by government, industry and the customer can result in a scrappage policy that offers true safety, economic and environmental benefits.” The question of whether or not the introduced draft of the policy serves its purpose as a well-thought and deliberated executive framework is not up for debate. But the draft policy overlooks an incentive to plan the policy as an important support program for green recovery in the industry, resulting in broader and faster air quality benefits. This program has only ‘advised’ state governments and the auto industry to provide voluntary discounts to owners of old cars. 

The Central government has not committed to making it a fiscal stimulus policy in the post-Covid-19 era to replace ageing heavy-duty vehicle fleets with Bharat Stage VI vehicles or to connect other segments with aggressive electrification.

Miheer Jain is a research assistant at Infinite Sum Modelling Inc, while pursuing legal studies at NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai. Dr Badri Narayanan is the founding director of Infinite Sum Modelling (ISM), Seattle and a senior economist with University of Washington, Seattle.

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LET’S STOP THE BLAME GAME AND FIGHT THE PANDEMIC

We have suffered enough in the second Covid-19 wave. It is high time we come together and fight this menace with coordination, discipline and mutual care. The Centre, state governments and people should work in cohesion to ensure a brighter tomorrow.

SANKALP MISHRA

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Ever since India started the largest vaccination drive in the world with an aim to vaccinate close to 30 crore people in the first phase, there were many voices in the political, journalist, and activist circles against the efficacy of the vaccines and the harm it may cause. This caused doubts and fear among the masses leading to vaccine hesitancy. There were many politicians, activists and even journalists spreading fear about vaccination.

Also, there was a lot of misinformation being spread around the vaccines at the same time. The most common misinformation were vaccination causing impotence, having a chip, and containing pork among many others. The misinformation ranged from affecting the religious belief to the personal well-being of an individual. Owing to the vaccine naysayers and the resultant fear many people decided against taking the vaccine. This led to a massive problem of vaccine wastage. In April, India wasted over 4.4 million vaccine doses. This is a huge number. Vaccine hesitancy led to a lesser number of people taking the jab which led to vaccine wastage due to contamination issues. This is because a vial of Covid-19 vaccine generally consists of 10 doses. These doses have to be used within a fixed period of about four hours after opening it. If a sufficient number of people are not there to take the vaccine then the leftover doses go to waste due to contamination issues. So, all the political commentators, activists and religious preachers who advised against the vaccine are directly and indirectly responsible for its wastage. Now, when the vaccination drive has been opened for all above 18 years and there is an acute shortage of vaccines, the same people are after the issue of export of Covid vaccines without blinking an eye about the great disservice they have done to the nation by propagating fear leading to vaccine hesitancy and wastage. 

Lack of Decentralisation of Covid Management: Right from May 2020, almost at the start of the first Covid wave in India, the Chief Ministers of various states in many discussions with the Prime Minister demanded decentralisation of Covid resources and autonomy in Covid-related decisions in the state. From June onwards, when the first lockdown started getting relaxed, more and more state governments started having autonomy in Covid-related decision making in the state. We saw many state governments trying to create a balance between economic activities and necessary lockdown while extending it. The governments permitted hotels, food courts, restaurants, and bars to restart at limited capacity even when the lockdown was extended. Different states started following different lockdown strategies that were custom made according to their necessity. Thus, states had more autonomy for lockdown decisions, containment zones, and economic activities. The Central government refrained from interfering in their decisions. Another demand for the decentralisation of resources was met through the PM Cares fund. In the allocation of resources using the fund, state government involvement was vouched for. For example, PM Cares Fund Trust allocated Rs 201.58 crore for the installation of 162 dedicated PSA medical oxygen generation across different states. In that, the different government hospitals where these plants are to be installed would be identified in consultation with the states/UTs concerned. Also, in the second wave, the states were given the monopoly to purchase vaccines directly from the manufacturer. Though the percentage of vaccine supply to the states is still debatable, it was a welcome step towards decentralisation of resources. Hence, the whole narrative was carefully woven to absolve a few of their responsibilities while shifting the blame towards the Centre.

Drawing Illogical Parallels: A lot of parallels have been drawn during the current second Covid wave between India and the other nations. A segment of the population has demanded a change in regime citing the handling of Covid abroad. People want a different Prime Minister and various international leaders have been chosen for the role. The front runner in this list of future Prime Minister of India was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Not taking anything away from the excellent work she has done in a civilised country like New Zealand but drawing a parallel to a vast country like India makes no sense. Even if we just consider the vaccinated population of India, it is almost 36 times the total population of New Zealand. Also, illogical parallels and analogies are drawn between the health sector of India with the US, Europe, or Scandanavian countries knowing fully well that it is a legacy burden that the country bears due to the successive governments after Independence. The pandemic response of India, irrespective of the lack of infrastructure and the major glitches along the way, has been swift and commendable to a certain degree and the credit for it should go to the healthcare workers, frontline workers, and the governments working in tandem.

FIGHTING COVID-19

• There have been 23,45,99,583 registrations for Covid vaccines and 19,84,03,666 doses have been given to citizens so far

• Out of the 19,84,03,666 doses, 15,61,68,995 have received Dose 1 and 4,22,34,671 have received Dose 2 

• There are 44,319 sites conducting vaccination. Out of which 42,021 are government and 2,298 are private

• India became the second-largest PPE kit manufacturer with over five lakh kits manufactured per day till October 2020.

• The ventilator production was also ramped up to three lakh units per annum.

• India currently has over 2500 testing centres with 33,48,11,496 cumulative total samples tested till now

• The country has two locally manufactured vaccines Covishield and Covaxin

• India now has an oxygen capacity of over 9,524 tons of oxygen per day that was almost equivalent to the demand at the Covid peak

• For India to vaccinate a majority of its population, the plan is to produce/acquire 216 crore vaccine doses in place till December 2021 from different manufacturers.

WHERE WE WENT WRONG

Irrespective of the numerous narratives being spread to shift the blame game, it is crucial to understand the reasons behind the brutal second Covid wave in India. Here are some of the things that were wrong in Covid management:

Government Messaging: Ever since the approval of two vaccines by the Central Drugs and Standards Committee in January, the government has been busy chest-thumping on the phenomenal feet. Also, between January to March 2021, a continuous declaration by various government ministers and party spokespersons that victory against Covid was imminent sent a wrong message to the people against the prevalent risks and future possibilities. The Central government and various state governments relaxed Covid norms on public gatherings and almost no action was taken on those who flouted the rules. All this created a deceptive ambience of premature victory over Covid. This resulted in people becoming careless and a second wave became inevitable.  

Health Infrastructure and monitoring: Though it is wrong to blame the current ruptured health infrastructure on the incumbent Central government, a lot of the blame for oxygen mismanagement has to be shared by the Centre and state governments alike. The Centre through PM Cares fund allocated money for the installation of dedicated PSA medical oxygen generation plants but there was no monitoring after that. The state governments of various states were callous in their approach to oxygen management and woke up at the 11th hour when severe damage had already been done. Also, credible reports state that different state governments were not able to maintain the health infrastructure developed for combating the first wave till the time the second wave hit India. This led to a loss of the great groundwork done earlier in combating the first wave. This is a serious failure of governance that led to acute shortages of oxygen and ICU beds.

Not Curbing Covid Cases in Some States: Maharashtra and Kerala among other states have found it difficult to curb the number of Covid cases even when the number of cases was going down in the rest of India. Even though Kerala has a low mortality rate due to good health infrastructure, curbing cases has been a major issue. When the second wave started, both Maharashtra and Kerala were the first to get severely affected. Maharashtra had to impose restrictions on public movement as early as February end. There was an exponential rise in the number of cases. This sudden rise in cases was then reflected in other states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and then the rest of India. No special consideration was made to curb cases in worst-affected states like Maharashtra and Kerala even when the first wave was dying off in the rest of the country. The consistently high numbers needed special attention and care to prevent future repercussions. The state governments and the Central government should have worked in tandem to control the situation.

Allowing Public Gatherings: Protest sites, religious ceremonies, election rallies, marriage functions, and all public gatherings should have been forcefully stopped once the number of cases started rising by March-end. The state governments are specifically to be blamed for this as they could have directly curbed the number of people in such gatherings. This is more so for the gatherings which were for non-commercial or non-essential services. If public gathering would have been only allowed in commercial public places like hotels, food courts, restaurants, and other similar places with strict implementation of Covid norms, things would have been different at many levels.

Loss of Fear among the citizens: Irrespective of the colossal governance failure in Covid mismanagement, one of the major reasons for the second wave was the utter carelessness on the part of the citizens. This led to an upsurge of cases in the country. It might be said that the carelessness of few led to the loss of thousands. One thing to note here is an inherent loss of fear against Covid in the society at large just before the second wave hit us.

THE WAY FORWARD

Vaccinate Fast and Remove Vaccination Hesitancy: With the plan for 216 crore vaccine doses in place till December 2021, it is crucial to focus on three issues: proper execution of vaccine allotment to states, reduction in vaccine wastage over time, and eliminate vaccine hesitancy among citizens. Vaccine wastage and vaccine hesitancy are interlinked and all necessary measures should be taken to eliminate vaccine hesitancy. Also, those spreading misinformation about vaccines should be booked under appropriate law. Also, states with high vaccine wastage should be highlighted and necessary actions should be taken against government officials responsible for it. Lastly, there has been controversy regarding states not getting their fair share of vaccines in the first phase of vaccination. The Central and state governments should resolve the issue and roll out an efficient robust vaccine allocation plan.

Work on War Footing to Curb cases: With the number of cases going down with each passing day, there is some respite for the fragile health ecosystem and various state governments. But the governments should ensure a rapid decline of the number of cases and work on war footings till the numbers reach a bare minimum. Even if one or two states continue to show high numbers then the Central government and the state government should take all possible measures to bring the cases to a minimum number.

Monitoring the Resources from PM Cares Fund:  The fund established with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation has ever since its inception has been in the spotlight. The fund till now has been utilised as:

In May 2020, PM Cares Fund allocated Rs 3100 crore to fight Covid in which Rs 2000 crore was allocated for ventilators, Rs 1000 crore for migrant workers and Rs 100 crore for vaccination

PM Cares Fund Trust allocated Rs 201.58 crore for the installation of 162 dedicated PSA medical oxygen generation plants in public health facilities in January 2021. 

The PM Cares fund contributed over Rs 2,200 crore for the first phase of the vaccination drive.

However, irrespective of the contribution of the PM Cares fund to the Covid relief cause, the main issue around the fund is monitoring the resources for which the funds are allocated. Be it the oxygen plants or the ventilators purchased, the opposition has raised questions about the resources for which the funds are allocated. The government needs to display through the existing portals the fund allocated and the resources purchased per state along with its execution or working status. Through this, a transparent system of fund allocation and monitoring can be ensured. It will also help in restoring the faith of the citizens and allow them to monitor the resources without falling prey to the blame game.

Proper Messaging to the Citizens: Even after vaccination it is necessary to maintain appropriate Covid behaviour to stop the spread of Covid cases. Though the vaccines have shown good numbers against hospitalisation, they do not guarantee against viral contamination. Also, the governments should avoid unnecessary public gatherings to prevent the sporadic surge of cases like in the second Covid wave. With the imminent danger of the third Covid wave and new diseases like black fungus and white fungus taking shape, it is important to communicate to the public about the future dangers and possibilities. Also, a clear message should be given to the citizens to be prepared for the battle against Coronavirus and its future strains for the coming year. Moreover, a lot of impetus needs to be again given to Covid appropriate behaviour just like the beginning of the first wave.       

The scavenging images of funeral pyres do not define our nation. The teary-eyed goodbyes though define our reality but it does not define our future. We have suffered enough in the second Covid wave. It is high time that we come together and fight this menace with coordination, discipline and mutual care. The Central government, the state government and the people should work in cohesion to ensure a brighter tomorrow. In this world of the internet, the different political parties need to understand that weaving narratives won’t save the day for them and it is only the work they do on the ground that will earn them the much-needed goodwill. It is the need of the hour to pull our socks, spring in our warrior spirit and stop the blame game to fight this!

This is the concluding part of the two-part series.

Sankalp Mishra is an engineer, lawyer, entrepreneur and an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus. The views expressed are personal.

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WE MUST RESPOND TO THE NEEDS OF MOST MARGINALISED COMMUNITIES, SAYS POONAM MUTTREJA

In an exclusive conversation, Population Foundation of India’s Executive Director Poonam Muttreja spoke about her relentless efforts towards community building and sensitisation.

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Covid-19 is one the biggest challenges that India has faced in the past two years. From big cities to rural areas, the pandemic has left everyone helpless. Amid these difficult times, organisations like the Population Foundation of India (PFI) have been helping to spread awareness on various key healthcare issues. NewsX recently interacted with PFI’s Executive Director Poonam Muttreja as part of its special series NewsX India A-List, wherein she spoke about PF I’s efforts towards community building and sensitisation in detail.

Speaking about PFI’s efforts towards spreading awareness on key healthcare issues, especially family planning, in the rural sector amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Poonam Muttreja said, “PFI took the responsibility of spreading the Covid-related information, as the government asked us to help develop awareness content when India went into the lockdown. We simultaneously spread the awareness about the family planning and reproductive sexual health issues.”

“We found that reproductive health services were stopped because of the onslaught of the pandemic as the healthcare workers were engaged with fighting the virus on the frontlines. We did a quick field survey and got back to the Government of India, and then we wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, and the Health Minister explaining what was happening on the ground,” Muttreja added.

“Women weren’t getting services during the deliveries, family planning services had stopped too. We used the data and the health ministry took one day to write a letter to every health secretary in every state to start at least minimal services. The ministry emphasized over the issues like family planning, and put them under essential health services.”

Speaking about the modus-operandi of PFI, Muttreja said, “We do policy work and give feedback to the government in a constructive way with evidence. We persuade them to change policies if needed.”

“We spread the awareness about the methods of contraception. We send the material to states across the country through SMS, WhatsApp messages. For instance, in states like Bihar, where we do a lot of work. We requested the government to distribute condoms to migrants who were arriving in large numbers. We have noticed that the minute migrants go for a holiday during Chatt, Diwali, or any other festivity, that’s when pregnancies happen,” she added.

“We supported adolescent girls. In Bihar, we set up a bank of sanitary pads. Usually, schools distribute sanitary pads. But, with the closure of schools and the primary healthcare centers, the distribution of these goods was hampered. We made sure, that amid the pandemic, things reached the right people at the right time,”

PFI was helping the government in using digital media across the country to spread the awareness about the issues like Covid-protocols, violence against women, and the need for preventing pregnancies. Pandemic had made things difficult.

“It was excruciating because everything was shut,” Muttreja said.

“We made a very encouraging film about the frontline health workers, which millions of people saw. Globally and in India, it went viral. People like Smriti Irani, Minister for Women and Child Development, tweeted about it,” she added.

When asked about how the foundation has been driving attention towards the need for vaccination drive in rural areas, Muttreja said, “We recognise that there is vaccine hesitancy and that people don’t know the positive and preventive aspects of the coronavirus vaccine. We developed behavior-change content and we are using it through our state offices across three states. We have to educate people,”

“Right now, there is a huge need to educate people about the importance of the vaccination and the myths and misconceptions revolving around it,” she added.

“We are in touch with a large number of NGOs, which have set up groups. These groups are going to fieldwork and spread the information about the vacciniton and when the vaccines are available,” Muttreja said while speaking about the importance of vaccine awareness.

Moreover, PFI is translating material about vaccination in Hindi. For instance, the CoWin app is published in English, the language which is not widely spoken as such in India.

“We are translating the app and putting it out in Hindi,” Muttreja said.

Talking about her journey, she said, “Since I was in school, I got sensitised to the fact that, we the middle class people, are immune to poverty and suffering around us. We just think that it happens in the villages. Once, I was exposed through the domestic science lab worker to a lady who earned Rs. 50. She was a widow and her children couldn’t go to school. I gave her my pocket money so that her five kids could go to school. You have no idea what pleasure it gave me and I have never looked back since.”

“I respond to the needs of the most marginalised communities in the institutions I have set up, and the movements I have been involved with. What struck me most was the system of untouchability. I started by designing and working with leather workers on developing products. In villages, I discovered that women had no livelihoods or agency so I started working on women empowerment and I set up an NGO called Dastakaar, which works with artisans, and we brought women in a big way,” she said.

“My thing is to bring people to work with and Dastakaar had a great team of people. I’m still associated with the NGO. When Indira Gandhi was assassinated and there were riots in Delhi against the Sikh community, I jumped in and we started an organisation called Nagre. So, basically, you have to respond to what is the crisis in the community and what the real issues are,” Poonam Muttreja signed off.

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OPPOSITION SHOULD SUPPORT PM MODI IN BATTLE AGAINST COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Rather than resorting to mudslinging and rhetoric to gain political mileage, the Opposition should come forward and support the Prime Minister amid these trying times. The Congress-led Opposition can learn from the West where all political parties come together during crises.

G.V. Anshuman Rao

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In what will go a long way in ridding the country of the menacing second wave of the pandemic, the attempts to earn political brownie points amid the unprecedented times should be shunned. The need of the hour is to put an immediate halt to the ongoing mudslinging and levelling of one allegation after the other against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. So, what is needed is the constructive role of the political parties in the Opposition which can come into play by backing PM Modi to help the government in its efforts aimed at dealing with the pandemic efficiently. Prioritising effective governance and public health over political point-scoring will be laudable at this point.  

This is exactly what we saw in other countries of the world, where concerted efforts, cutting across the party lines, have been made to fight the Covid-19. From the USA, France, Spain to the UK, everywhere, a narrow political agenda was set aside by everyone to strengthen the hands of their respective leaderships in the battle against the Coronavirus.

This is not the right time to point fingers at each other— as has been said repeatedly not only by the political leadership of the country but also by several significant members of the medical fraternity. The message is loud and clear: a bid to derive political mileage—out of whatever is happening in every state of the country— diverts the focus of the frontline warriors from the key task of fighting the pandemic and guarding the people against its havoc. Merely any state has been from the onslaught of the Covid-19. Needless to say that the governments of almost all the political parties are grappling with the corona-induced crises, and there is a possibility of every single party being questioned on the issue of proper strategy and a sufficient healthcare system. Recently, Congress and other parties, complaining about ‘faulty’ ventilators allegedly sent by the Centre to their states, ended up getting embarrassed when it was found that ‘they did not recalibrate settings according to geographical location. So, what does this suggest? Does it not suggest that political parties are deliberately trying to send out a wrong picture about the central government in a bid just to gain their narrow political agenda?

Similarly, a section of media and social media was flooded with the story claiming an RSS leader allegedly being left in the lurch after which he ‘succumbed to corona’. But it came to light that he was helped by the BJP and RSS workers. Was it not an attempt to politicise the matter to project the government and leadership in a poor light?  

Likewise, if one goes by a report, then the AAP leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s demand— to give what he called vaccine formula to all the companies in India to prepare vaccines— seems to be a statement aimed at scoring political points only. A report appearing in the media says, “Firstly, in the process of vaccine production, there is no formula. It’s a process that involves enough R&D. Even if someone acquires the information, it will take nearly a year to start producing the vaccine in the BSL-3 facility.” Now, how can one not describe Kejriwal’s statement as a political one?   

One can recall how SP leader and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav refused to get inoculated, saying that it is for the BJP. His statement was an outright attempt to send out a message to the minority community, obviously out of political desire.

With the political parties in the opposition apparently seeing political opportunity in crisis, who is going to be hit the most? It is the common people. There is no denying that this kind of political opportunism in myriad ways, at some level, hinders the ongoing battle which has been launched by the Modi government to eliminate the coronavirus and put the economy back on track. Many believe that political parties are duty-bound to back the Prime Minister and his government for his ‘efforts on war-footing’.   

But the question is whether any kind of finger-pointing is going to solve the problem? Will the trading of charges not defeat the real purpose? All this kind of political agenda should be immediately stopped. Analysts and political observers firmly believe that the political moves and messages targeting the Modi government either on social media or elsewhere are detrimental to the objective of defeating the pandemic.

It is undeniably difficult to lead in a crisis, and leading the political opposition is not easier either. But it is the responsibility of the opposition parties to be supportive of the leadership of the government of the day. Many European countries witnessed how the major opposition parties supported governments’ calls for unity and backed most of the decisions in what was called the unprecedented time of crisis.   

The whole world saw how opposition in France and Germany cooperated with their respective governments during the pandemic. Similarly, coordination was exercised between the opposition and government in Italy.

Another European nation Poland was a glaring example where the opposition stood away from the exercise of punching holes in the government’s decisions. The government and the opposition in Poland were on the right foot. The government’s tight and strict restrictions met with support from all the sides.  Spain was among the worst-affected countries by the coronavirus pandemic, and most of the opposition leaders in the parliament supported the government’s bid to tackle the exigencies posed by the Covid-19 virus. In the USA and the UK too, the governments received relentless freedom and support.

With all this in view, the opposition in India should also go by what the world has depicted so far. However, the respective situation in India so far is not encouraging.  The political faultlines over the Covid second surge have sharpened. A dozen of major opposition leaders wrote a joint letter to PM Modi asking the Centre to procure vaccines centrally from the global and domestic sources to ‘begin’ a free, universal mass vaccination campaign across the country. Ironically, these parties have made such demands at a time when the global tenders have already been sent by the different states for procuring vaccines from abroad. Political observers and crisis managers do not see such moves as a positive development that could do any service to the people of the nation. What they need to do is come out with constructive and enriching suggestions, sans politics.

 Anshuman Rao is a political analyst and former Chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Electronics Development Corporation. Views expressed are personal.

With the Opposition trying to take a political mileage out of the ongoing crisis, the common man is going to be hit the most. There is no denying that this kind of political opportunism is going to hinder the ongoing battle which has been launched by the Narendra Modi government to eliminate coronavirus, and put the economy back on track. It’s the duty of each political party to back the Prime Minister and his government in these Covid times.

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At Tekie, the entire learning plan has been gamified: Anand Verma

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Anand Verma, Co-founder, Tekie, recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List, wherein he spoke exclusively about the platform, it’s USP and entrepreneurial journey. Tekie, founded by Naman and Anand Verma in 2017, is a platform to teach programming for the students above 12 years. The platform went live in July, 2020.

Recognised for excellence in business leadership, Anand spoke about what makes Tekie different from its competitors and said, “Other platforms are more focused on block used coding, which is more suited for kids between the age of 6 to 10. When kids go above 10, they start to develop an appetite and aptitude to learn more text-based coding. That’s where Tekie differentiates. It has a story-telling way of teaching the students where we rolled out a long format movie like series. On top of it, we have multiple other gamified content. Using all this blended content, we’re able to make learning more interesting and thus we’re able to bring text-based coding to classic students.”

When asked the USP of their platform, Anand expressed, “Essentially, we spent the first two years doing a pilot with lots of students on ground to understand what kind of learning outcome we’ve been able to get. One of our students whom we prepared for two years, we made him participate in a global coding competition organised with Google and he became globally second. The entire product is more of an analogy as to how we help prepare these students. We, as a company, are able to give tangible learning outcomes instead of having some marketing gimmicks. We are focusing on communicating and articulating the students and coding is something which commands a lot of patience. You’ll have a lot of instances where you’ll have a lot of demotivation and that’s where the entire learning plan has been gamified in a way that we’re able to focus on tangible learning outcomes, instead of just a plain market.”

Speaking about the design and courses offered on their platform, Anand shared, “We have a concept of internal, which we call coder’s journey from zero to ten. Zero is a point where students are absolute beginners, who are just trying to get a flavour of what coding is all about and 10 is the point where the students have developed tangible skill sets. In this entire journey of zero to ten, we have multiple programs. The initial program gives them foundational knowledge around all the basic concepts of coding and then we have a second program that focuses on specialisation, which is built on the foundational course, where we again depending on which direction the student wants to grow. We help them grow in that direction. The last program is apprenticeships. Like college internships, we have brought about the format in the form of apprenticeships for school students, where they were able to work on real projects in a real atmosphere and are available to develop job-related skills.”

Sharing light on his entrepreneurial journey, Anand said, “In initial days, it was definitely a struggle. We took an unconventional path with Tekie because when we started off, coding was a fairly new concept for the schools back in 2017. The reason why we spent four years is simply because of the opposition we carried for building good products and that’s where we saw a lot of non-linear things happening. linear things happening, in the journey because we were bootstrapped. We grew to a team of 50 plus today and most of the people haven’t drawn any kind of salary from the last three years. We decided to bootstrap because we didn’t want to go for any kind of investments. We felt investors would have apprehensions because they’re always worried about their underrate and all those things. We wanted to have some flexibility in terms of how we approach the product so that is the reason why we decided to bootstrap. Though in initial days, it was tough, now we have millions of funds.”

Finally, speaking about the launch of Beta version, especially in a year when the country was hit by Covid-19 second wave , Anand acknowledged that there were difficulties but also pointed out at the brighter side, with him launching the beta version of Tekie as a good sign for Edtech. He further mentioned how experts from the institutes like IITs, IIMs are now associated with their platform Tekie and thanked them for their contribution in the entire journey. 

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‘Trust the process, big things will happen’: Pratik Gauri

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Pratik Gauri

Business is a cocktail of vision, belief, and execution. A balanced mixture of these three ingredients churns out a perfect blend of a successful business. Mr Pratik Gauri, the president of 5th Element Group, who is also known as the pioneer of 5th industrial revolution, recently joined NewsX’s special series, NewsX India A-List and shared his insights on business leadership.

Speaking about the 5th industrial revolution, Mr Pratik said, “The 5th industrial revolution is all about using the advancements of the 4th industrial revolution such as Artificial Intelligence, 3-D printing, IoT for the betterment of humanity. The 5th industrial revolution is all about working at the intersection of purpose and profit. It means that, even as a fortune 500 company, if you have a purpose, you can maximise profit. If the company is consumer-centric, it gives the company a purpose and subsequently increased profits. Through this revolution, we also aim at using the language of the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 global goals, in our process. The 5th Industrial Revolution agenda is to shift from a for-profit paradigm to a for-benefit paradigm.”

Pratik Gauri wears multiple hats, including that of an entrepreneur and an investor, to achieve his goal. Talking about how he is using it to achieve his vision, he said, “I have founded more than eight companies and have invested in many. I also indulge in public speaking and motivate people from the age of 19 to 30 years to take the initial steps for becoming an entrepreneur in the space of the for-benefit paradigm. At 5th Element Group, we are creating what we call Omni-win solutions. We bring four sectors – Fortune 500 companies, the government, ultra-high net worth individuals and family offices, and social entrepreneurs – that helps us create these Omni-win solutions.”

The model uses the resources of a Fortune 500 company to bring the vision to life, the government’s backing to achieve a national scale, using the social entrepreneurs to get intel on the impact scale, and the high net-worth individual for the capital. This model helps in creating omni-win solutions (everybody wins). Pratik gave the example of such a model in progress. He told NewsX, “Mission Paani by Harpic is one such project. We brought the fortune 500 company Reckitt Benckiser, and not-for-profit organization ‘Water for People’ as execution partners and together took them to World Economic Forum. This initiative will impact millions of people in India by giving them access to clean drinking water, starting from Maharashtra.”

Covid-19 impacted businesses, both big and small, in one way or the other. However, the situation was different for Mr Pratik. “On the personal side, Covid impacted everybody adversely. Although, it has also been a blessing in disguise for the professional work. What I have been trying to promote for decades has amplified due to the pandemic. This is because the consumer has now started believing in the power of health, power of consumer-centric, purpose-driven brands, and they realize that purpose is more important than profit,” he expressed. Talking about the three aspects of capital – Financial, Relational, and Human – Pratik further explained how his capital and his message had found a wider reach than before.

Pratik’s latest project that he is particularly proud of is a charitable sweepstakes platform called ‘Win Together’. It involves micro-donors by allowing them to become a part of these solutions, and the incentives like getting a chance to win a Tesla Cyber truck are given to people. Such projects will impact consumers through SDGs on a big scale in the coming years. Wrapping up the talk with few golden tips for budding entrepreneurs, Pratik said, “One big piece of advice for young entrepreneurs is to trust the process and never lose hope. If you trust the process, big things will happen; it takes time. It is also essential to believe in yourself as much as possible, as people will not believe you until you believe in yourself.”

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