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Policy & Politics

Kerala watches political battles with a sense of déjà vu

Vinod Mathew

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They say politics is about swings and roundabouts. They also say what goes around, comes around. Both sayings hold good for what is happening in the Kerala political spectrum these days.  In the run-up to the 2016 Assembly elections, the last Left front had gone all out with a barrage of corruption allegations against the UDF government, leading the charge with a slew of controversial decisions taken by the UDF government, for which they coined a term from rubber cultivation. It was “kadum vettu” or slaughter tapping, the objective being harvesting as much latex as possible with least concern for the longevity of the rubber tree. An apt paradigm, as this mode of tapping is taken up when the time has come for replantation.

The UDF, led by Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, did not quite have to wait for the slaughter tapping period or the last year of its governance to mount counter attacks against the LDF. The Opposition leader in particular has been leading his typical brand of crusade against a series of misguided decisions by the CPM-led government. Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has made a point to ridicule Chennithala and get applause from his fans by dismissing outright allegations, a closer look reveals remedial measures being taken as well.  

 The recent personal attack on Chennithala by CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan immediately after a party state secretariat meeting late last month suggests worry lines have emerged in the party about its government’s image taking a beating. He said Chennithala wears the RSS hat and that he was the RSS sarsanghchalak in Congress. Following media reports about CPI(M) politburo member S Ramachandran Pillai’s dalliance with the RSS during his high school days, SRP came out with the clarification that he was indeed with the RSS till he was 15 years old but became a Communist party member when he turned 18. Chennithala’s response was that his four decades in public life was an open book and he did not require a certificate from the CPI(M) secretary regarding his DNA.

 It is yet another matter that any RSS link is still seen as a political liability in Kerala at a time when the BJP has a near-total sway over most of the country. Yet, both UDF and LDF trade charges against each other for maintaining a secret electoral alliance with the BJP. Even as the state political architecture continues to be governed by these boundaries, there seems to be no dearth of scams that keep popping with predictable frequency.

 Therefore, it was with a clear plan that Chennithala began picking on the LDF government’s misdemeanours, one after the other. While it has always been the chief minister’s position that these salvos from the Opposition were of no consequence, that is getting to be a zero sum game as the corrective measures being taken are getting noticed by the public. So much so that even staunch Left supporters are finding it difficult to turn a blind eye to these setbacks. Result: Pinarayi Vijayan is finding it increasingly difficult to dismiss allegations raised against his government by the Opposition leader.

The most recent issue raised by the Opposition leader is the unilateral manner in which the Chief Minister has granted special favours to PwC allowing to set up a backdoor office in the state secretariat, based on the recommendation of the State Transport Secretary. Chennithala kept volleying questions at CM, pressuring him to come clean on why the state government was sold on having PwC Private Ltd as a smokescreen and sign up Hess AG Switzerland as technology partner with a majority stake to build electric buses jointly with Kerala Automobiles Ltd.  

It was a meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary on February 17, with five PwC representatives in attendance against three from the state government and two from Hess, apart from a Swiss national of Kerala origin who brought together the potential partners to the negotiating table that gave an inkling on what was being planned.  

 Excerpts from the minutes of the meeting:

The project envisages the exports of electric buses/ cars to Australia and other overseas destinations through Cochin and Vizhinjam ports, thus making Kerala an electric vehicle hub.

After detailed deliberations, and presentations, the meeting directed the PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) to submit the Detailed Project Report (DPR) by the end of March 2020. In the meantime, Kerala Automobiles Ltd. (KAL) can import chassis and start homologation works for approval of Automotive Research Association Of India (ARAI) to avoid delay. It was also proposed to sign MoU by the end of April 2020 after following all the required formalities.

 Following the ruckus raised by the Opposition, the state government said it had discontinued the services of PwC from the E-mobility project on July 18. But no such decision has been taken on Hess.  

“The cost that the state exchequer, struggling each month to pay it salaries and pensions, is phenomenal, as the CM keeps bringing in one international consultancy after the other. The `back-door’ office of PwC is being run by four `specialists’ and each one of them is being given a monthly remuneration in excess of Rs 3 lakh per month, more than what the Chief Secretary of the state is paid. All this cost is being borne to sanctify the entry of the Swiss electric vehicle manufacturer without a global tendering. It is clear there has been an underhand deal, giving rise to natural questions regarding kickbacks in the Rs 4,500-crore deal for 3,000 buses. Pinarayi Vijayan cannot keep saying I should not raise such corruption charges during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Chennithala.

Chennithala has also been leveraging charges regarding the absence of transparency and propriety in the PwC-Hess deal to keep raising the lack of veracity and logic behind the LDF signing a two-year, Rs 8 crore consultancy deal in the second half of 2020 with KPMG for Rebuild Kerala, a project envisaged almost two years ago after the first floods ravaged the state in August 2018. It was first claimed KPMG was rendering its services free of charge but somehow all that changed and the CM had no qualms about hiring the MNC at a hefty fee when the LDF government had less than a year to complete its term.

Chennithala has also been voluble in non-stop demand for the resignation of Vijayan, right from the days he caught the government between a rock and a hard place on the unauthorised transfer of personal health data of thousands of unsuspecting citizens of the state to the New York-based data analytics company Sprinklr, with Keralite Ragy Thomas, its founder and CEO.

The state government defended the decision to rope in Sprinklr when a specific study on Kerala by John Hopkins University, Princeton University painted a scary picture of 80 lakh Covid-19 infections in April and data needed to be generated. But the Centre was severely critical of the state government, citing breach of the citizen’s basic right to privacy. It was a huge win for Chennithala as the issue also began shedding light on many such forays by the state IT department and IT secretary M Sivasankar.

 Later, when Sivasankar get embroiled in the gold smuggling case due to his difficult-to-explain links primarily with second accused Swapna Prabha Suresh and by extension with first accused Sarith P S and fourth accused Sandeep Nair, it gave credence to Chennitala’s allegations about the CM going out of the way to protect the proactive role played his principal private secretary in the Sprinklr issue.

 Chennithala says the Pinarayi government is aiming to execute its version of slaughter tapping with the Dream Kerala project, pegged to be LDF›s development plank for the 2021 Assembly elections. One sure fire candidate would be the Rs 63,941-crore Silverline project connecting Thiruvananthapuram and Kasargod with a 532-km high speed rail corridor. Yet another one likely to be featured alongside would be the Rs 1,548-crore K-FON (Kerala fibre optic network) project. This is apart from the controversial E-mobility project that plans to manufacture 3,000 electric buses for the state transport at a cost of Rs 4,500 crore with Hess AG as majority partner. And Chennithala has started picking holes in each one.

Consider some of the controversies flagged by Chennithala, which have got the LDF government backtracking:

October 2018: The LDF government, facing heat from Chennithala-led opposition or its decision to issue licences to private companies to set up distilleries and breweries in Kannur, Palakkad and Ernakulam, calls off the plan.

November, 2019: College students Alan Shuhaib and Thaha Fasal were booked under UAPA by Kerala police for alleged Maoist links. Following persistent criticism by the Opposition, spearheaded by Chennithala, the CM in February 2020 requested MHA to refer back the case from NIA to Kerala police. In retrospect, the state police had better things to do like tracking terror links flourishing on huge volumes of contraband gold smuggled in most of 2019 and early part of 2020.

June 2020:  People of the state were jolted out of their April-May lockdown inactivity with astronomical electricity bills from the state utility. The CM initially chose to ignore the public outcry justifying the bill. Once the Opposition started raising the decibel level about a cashless government looting the public, it was forced to climb down on June 18, the CM said up to said up to 50 per cent of the additional charge would be underwritten.

It is in this backdrop, the persistent line of questioning by Chennithala gains credibility, going beyond Vijayan’s initially successful strategy of belittling and thus diminishing the gravitas of issues raised by labelling him politically naive and harbouring ambitions of grabbing the chief minister’s chair.  It is this game plan belittling the persona of the one bearing news that is backfiring now, almost like a jammed gun with the used shell not ejecting properly.

All this would not have been a walk in the park as there have always been many voices trying to drown out each other from the Congress camp.

Evidently, Pinarayi Vijayan was trying to leverage this inherent party weakness while brushing aside the Opposition leader›s charges in the early days. Clearly, Chennithala has been mindful of this all along.

 In sum, there could not have been a more ill-advised move than the attack mounted by CPI(M) state secretary against Chennithala. Not only did it boomerang, forcing senior politburo member SRP to clarify his foray into the RSS before seeing light, in this case red, it gave the Opposition a moral victory. Because, the message that came across loud and clear was that Chennithala had managed to rattle the comrades with his dogged single-mindedness. And that is almost as bad as showing your hand to the opponent a game of poker.

Vinod Mathew is a senior journalist based in Kochi.

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Policy & Politics

Partnerships, technology and behaviour change key for agriculture growth, said Union Agriculture Minister

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Partnerships, technology and behaviour change key for agriculture growth, said Union Agriculture Minister

India has the potential to become “aatmnirbhar” in agriculture and also meet the food requirement of the world, said Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare.
Speaking during the session, Food for All: From Farm to Fork, during the 3rd edition of LEADS 2022—— a global thought leadership initiative of the industry chamber FICCI, the minister said the country is steadfastly moving ahead in the direction. However, everyone must work together for the goal. “We would like to collaborate. I use this opportunity to invite the international community to join hands with us for the benefit of coming generations,” he said.
He noted that country’s agri exports had crossed the milestone of ₹4 lakh crores. “We are working to increase it further,” he said.
Minister Tomar said that the government is constantly working to make the country “aatmnirbhar”. As a result, Indian agriculture recorded a robust growth of 3.9% despite the pandemic. In addition, the minister reiterated that the government aims to make Indian agriculture internationally competitive by aiding the small farmers in the country. He alluded to several government programmes to reduce farming-related challenges. “Due to increase in investment in basic infrastructures like irrigation system, storage, warehousing, and cold storage, the Indian agriculture is expected to record robust growth in the coming years,” he added.
On occasion, H.E. Mr Damien O’Connor, Hon’ble Minister for Trade & Export Growth; Agriculture; Biosecurity; Land Information & Rural Communities, New Zealand, alluded to the challenge emanating from climate change. “agricultural emissions from livestock are a real challenge for New Zealand and food systems around the world. It contributes 35% to the global greenhouse gas emissions and 48% to New Zealand’s emission profile.”
He also alluded to Global Research Alliance and encouraged Indian parliamentarians “to look at investigating partnering up with a Global Research Alliance” to gather global technologies “in a way that is not seeking to maximise commercial benefit but to maximise the climate change benefit from this collaboration.”
Sanjiv Mehta, President, FICCI and CEO & Managing Director, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), said achieving food and nutrition security is a multifaceted challenge. “Food systems can play a big role in protecting food security and nutrition if careful attention is paid to targeting the poor, reducing inequalities, including gender inequality and incorporating nutrition goals and actions were relevant.”
Dr Anish Shah, Vice President, FICCI and Managing Director and CEO, Mahindra & Mahindra, said the world will have 10 billion people by 2050. “Today, we do not have enough food to provide for everyone, so we have to do a number of things to feed everyone.” He pointed to three themes that can help address the challenge. The first is partnerships to reduce carbon footprint and improve productivity. Second, adopting technology to transform agriculture and thirdly, inducing behaviour change.
Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder and Group CEO, Olam International, said, the biggest priority is to help decarbonise.

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Policy & Politics

Digital Agriculture Mission to digitalise the farmer: Manoj Ahuja, Secretary, Agriculture

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Digital Agriculture Mission to digitalise the farmer: Manoj Ahuja, Secretary, Agriculture

Contextual and correct information to anybody associated with agriculture has the potential to unlock a lot of value, said Manoj Ahuja, Secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, at the Release Ceremony of the FICCI compendium on “Enhancing Farmers’ Income”.
In this regard, Ahuja alluded to the Digital Agriculture Mission, which essentially tries to digitalise the farmer in terms of identity, linking up the farmers’ land and geo-referencing it, and crops grown. “These are some of the basic things we are trying to put in the agristack,” he said. “We have made some headway; hopefully, next year, we should show substantial results,” he added.
Ahuja said, “I’m seeing the benefits information contextualised to the various partners in the agricultural ecosystem can bring”.
On occasion, Samuel Praveen Kumar, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, spoke on backstopping agriculture startups that are coming up with innovative technologies and solutions to enhance farm incomes. In this regard, Mr Kumar alluded to the three C’s— convergence, capacity building, and collectives like (FPOs and cooperatives) as the vital elements.
Elaborating on convergence, Kumar said, “if the government can package the schemes in such a manner that you give more benefits, in a unified manner to the businesses or startups, I think they will be able to sustain their business.” Similarly, on capacity building, he noted, “when we talk about capacity building for farmers or extension workers, it’s not like that. It is for everybody in the ecosystem.” Mr Kumar also alluded to developing climate-resistant crops, reducing carbon footprints using technology, and developing infrastructure.
Elaborating on the compendium, TR Kesavan, Chairman, FICCI National Agriculture Committee & Group President, TAFE, noted the need to document the best practices and give them to people so that “people can touch, feel, do and understand the practices.” He added, “small and marginal farmers are going to be one of the greatest strengths of the country. Some of the case studies in the compendium tell how they are changing.”
The FICCI compendium of guidelines presents select case studies, and successful projects and interventions rolled out by various organisations in achieving higher crop connectivity, resource use efficiency, cropping intensity and diversification towards high-value agriculture.

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Policy & Politics

Supreme Court: An Order Is In Given Factual Circumstances; Judgement Lays Down Principles Of Law

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Supreme Court

The Supreme Court in the case Akil Valibhai Piplodwala observed and has issued a notice on a petition filed by a man seeking a direction that he should not be deported to Pakistan until his claim to be an Indian citizen is decided as per Section 9(2) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
The bench comprising of Justice Surya Kant and the Justice J. B. Pardiwala observed and has also issued status quo in the matter. Thus, the notice on the plea has been issued to the District Superintendent of Police (Godhra), State of Gujarat and the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India.
According to the plea, the was born at Godhra, Gujarat in 1962 and had completed his education in India. The petitioner moved to Pakistan in 1976 but in 1983 he returned to India and got married at Godhra to an Indian woman on 2nd March 1984 and had three children from the wedlock. Thus, the petitioner again went away and finally returned to India in 1991 after obtaining all the requisite permits including a residential permit and continued to reside in India with his family.
However, out of fear of getting deported, the petitioner moved a regular civil suit before the Court of Civil Judge praying to declare him a citizen of India under Section5(1)(C) of the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 since he was married to an Indian citizen. It is also prayed by him to restrict authorities from deporting him till his application under Section 9(2) of the Act is decided by the Union of India. In 1999, it was held by the Civil Judge that the Court did not have jurisdiction to decide the citizenship of the Petitioner. However, the decree was allowed by the Civil Judge partly to direct that he should not be deported back until his application under the Citizenship Act is decided.
Further, after the period of 4 years, the Union of India preferred a delayed appeal under Section 96 of CrPC against the order of the Civil Judge before the Principal District Judge. On 12.07.2022, the District Judge set aside the decree passed by the Civil Judge.
The petitioner being aggrieved by the order of the District Judge, moved the High Court of Gujarat. On 02.08.2022, the High Court dismissed his appeal holding that no substantial question of law arose.
Senior Advocate IH Sayed, appearing for the petitioner submitted that the High Court disregarded the fact that the Petitioner has been rendered vulnerable to deportation and if he is not protected till his application is adjudicated upon it would be violation of the procedure established by the principle of law.
The present petition was filed through Advocate Taruna Singh Gohil.

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Policy & Politics

Delhi HC Asks Centre: What Is The Procedure For Undertrial Foreign Nationals’ Visa Renewal?

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Delhi HC Asks Centre: What Is The Procedure For Undertrial Foreign Nationals’ Visa Renewal?

The Delhi High Court in the case Uchenne v. State observed and has directed the Centre to place on record the necessary steps and procedures required to be followed by foreign nationals, who are in the jail as undertrials, for renewal of their visas.
The bench comprising of Justice Jasmeet Singh observed while dealing with a plea filed by a foreign national seeking bail in an NDPS case, said there are many foreign nationals lodged in the national capital’s prisons, whose visa applications have not been processed.
The court stated that he i.e., the Central Govt Counsel shall also place on record necessary steps and procedures so that foreign nationals who are in jail as undertrial know the procedure for renewal of their visas. The Uchenne, accused had moved the High Court last year wherein seeking regular bail in an FIR registered under Section 21 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. Thus, after the completion of investigation, charge-sheet was filed under Section 21 of the NDPS Act as well as Section 14 of the Foreigners Act.
It was observed that Section 21 of the NDPS Act states punishment for contravention in relation to manufactured drugs and preparation, Section 14 of Foreigners Act provides various penalties under the statute, in case of violation of any of the provisions.
The Additional Public Prosecutor on March 30, told the court that before proceeding with the bail matter, accused’s visa needs to be re-validated. The Advocate J.S. Kushwaha appearing for the foreign national submitted before the Court that although his passport was renewed, he is required to be taken to the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for visa renewal on April 29.
Accordingly, it has been directed by the court to Uchenne to complete all procedural formalities and ordered that he be taken to the FRRO in accordance with law and established procedures.
On August 2, over three months, Uchenne’s counsel apprised the Court that despite earlier orders, his visa was neither renewed nor any reasons were given regarding the delay or rejection. Also, the court was informed that Uchenne had applied for visa on January 28, in 2019.
However, during the recent hearing on September 19, it was sought by the Centre’s counsel seeking further time to get instructions in writing from FRRO before the next date of hearing.
Accordingly, the court listed the matter for hearing next on October 10.

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Policy & Politics

“Indian Pharma aspires to reach 400 billion dollars by 2047,” MoS of Chemical and Fertilizer

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“Indian Pharma aspires to reach 400 billion dollars by 2047,” MoS of Chemical and Fertilizer

To commemorate the 100 years of independence, the Central government has begun working on a vision plan for a ‘future-ready India’. In this context Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) organised the 4th Life Sciences Conclave with the theme “Roadmap for Indian Life Sciences @ 2047”. A white paper released by CII on the Way Forward for lifesciences. To achieve the biggest milestones in the lifesciences and Pharmaceutical sectors over the next 25 years, India needs to focus on four strategies; Innovation & Commercialisation, Sustainable Production, Internationalisation and create a Business Environment and develop the lifesciences infrastructure and regulatory frameworks for ease of doing business.
Speaking at the virtual platform, Bhagwanth Khuba, MoS Chemical & Fertiliser and Ministry of New and Renewable energy, said in his message“ The Indian pharmaceuticals market has characteristics that make it unique. . India plays an important role in manufacturing various critical, high‐ quality and low‐cost medicines for Indian and global markets. The industry has contributed immensely not just to Indian but to global healthcare outcomes. The sector forms a major component of the country’s foreign trade as well, with attractive avenues and opportunities for investors. The outbreak of the COVID-19 brought out the risk of disruption of supply chain of critical bulk drugs for the Indian pharmaceutical sector, highlighting the need for India to attain a sufficient degree of self-reliance in bulk drugs. In this regard the Department of Pharmaceuticals prepared two schemes for promoting domestic manufacturing of critical KSMs/ Drug Intermediates and APIs by attracting investments in the sector to ensure their sustainable domestic supply and thereby reduce India’s import dependence on other countries for critical KSMs/Drug Intermediates and APIs.”
S Aparna, Secretary, Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers said, “ Showed three important routes to bring mainstream of lifesciences research that are biosimilars and RNA vaccines, stem cell and gene therapy and ability to bring natural products.

Inclusion, Innovation and Integration are the key words
Dr V.K Saraswat, Member, NITI, Aayog said, that the emerging important areas are genome sequencing, DNA splicing, CRISPR CRAS are the fastest growing domains. With development of nano robotics, transgenic free varieties of GM food will be common entity in future. Agriculture scientists will develop edible vaccines. Precision agriculture, genome engineering will help in innovative technology. Early intervention and better prognosis of diseases will drive the lifesciences sector. Another field emerging is tissue engineering in generating artificial organs. India needs to secure rich biological wealth. Lifesciences is an important part of healthcare and projected to touch 150 billion dollar by 2025. Some of the initiatives have taken place in the last decade has broadened the scope. Investment is key. Private equity firms are going to bolster new areas. Sustaining position in novel vaccine, reducing morbidity and mortality. Ethical policy development and venture technologies are important areas
Vivek Kamath, Co-Chairman CII National Committee on Pharmaceuticals & Managing Director Abbott India Ltd, said, “ Healthcare is one of the priority sectors for 2047. Government through various policies and schemes are encouraging of an efficient lifesciences sector. The covid affected the healthcare sector but gave opportunity for the industry to transform. One key word that came up during the pandemic was ‘collaboration’ that helped in combatting the pandemic. Collaboration can become a burning desire
Satish Reddy, Chairman, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, mentioned, “ We are in the 75th year of independence and the theme of the conclave resonates very well with what the industry has to achieve. All around the globe 20% of generic medicines are made in India. Aspiration is to reach 400 billion dollars by 2047. One area where we are aspiring to be demonstrating capability is in innovation. Need to disrupt existing ways. There is immense opportunity in expanding the entire lifesciences biosimilars innovation. Success eludes us. We have the ability for new drug discovery as well as achieve discovery of newer molecules. For this adequate funding and investments are required as well as tax rebates for R&D. Also there is a need for industry academia collaboration for translational research.
Dr Renu Swarup said “Moving to the next 25 years we need to leverage on the opportunities we have built for ourselves but cannot be based on an incremental increase of what we have done. We have to keep up with the pace of technology. Collaborations are the key to success and there need to be convergence in research.”
At the platform CII and Cadila Pharma launch joint national campaign for rabies-free India by 2030. As a part of the campaign to make India rabies-free by 2030, several activities for awareness and prevention of rabies will be undertaken at the national and state level under the aegis of the government of India.
By 2047 we will see the beginning of a demographic, epidemiological and environmental shifts so we should be ready with Lifecourse immunisation.- UNICEF.

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Nation

Top opposition leaders gather at INLD rally to challenge ‘Delhi Sultanate’

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Sharad Pawar, the head of the NCP, Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, Sitaram Yechury, and Sukhbir Singh Badal, the leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, were among the prominent opposition figures that attended the INLD’s large gathering on Sunday in Fatehabad, Haryana.

JDU leader KC Tyagi addressed the crowd and claimed that the Bihar CM has come from Patna to challenge the Delhi Sultanate at a time when eight former Congress CMs had switched to the BJP. He claimed that Kumar has no fear of the ED, the income tax, or any other organisations.

To commemorate the birth anniversary of Devi Lal, the founder of the INLD and a former deputy prime minister, a rally is being conducted.

Tejashwi Yadav, the deputy chief minister of Bihar and the head of the RJD, as well as Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena, also showed up at the gathering to demonstrate the unity of the opposition.

The coming together of so many regional satraps is seen as part of efforts to forge opposition unity. Kumar and RJD president Lalu Prasad are likely to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi after the rally to take the process forward.

Veteran socialist leader Tyagi had already declared that the gathering would be historic because it would unite like-minded forces against the BJP in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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