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Requirements for admissibility of electronic evidence

The IT Act is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law and the Model Law on
Electronic Commerce. The primary purpose of the Information Technology Act 2000 is to provide legal
recognition to electronic commerce and to facilitate filing of electronic records with the government.

Siddhant Mishra

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INTRODUCTION

The advancement of computers, the social influence of information technology and the ability to store information in digital form have all required Indian law to be amended to include provisions on the appreciation of digital evidence. In 2000 Parliament enacted the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000, which amended the existing Indian statutes to allow for the admissibility of digital evidence. The IT Act is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Model Law on Electronic Commerce. The primary purpose of the Information Technology Act 2000 is to provide legal recognition to electronic commerce and to facilitate filing of electronic records with the Government. The IT Act also penalizes various cyber-crimes and provides strict punishments (imprisonment terms up to 10 years and compensation up to Rs 1 crore). The IT Act was amended by the Negotiable Instruments (Amendments and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2002. This introduced the concept of electronic cheques and truncated cheques.

ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE IN THE INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT 1872, INDIAN PENAL CODE 1860

Changes Incorporated to the Evidence Act 1872 Although the Evidence Act has been in force for many years, it has often been amended to acknowledge important developments. Amendments have been made to the Evidence Act 1872 to introduce the admissibility of both electronic records and paper-based documents.

DEFINITION OF EVIDENCE

The definition of ‘evidence’ has been amended to include electronic records. Evidence can be in oral or documentary form. The definition of ‘documentary evidence’ has been amended to include all documents, including electronic records produced for inspection by the court. The term ‘electronic records’ has been given the same meaning as that assigned to it under the IT Act, which provides for “data, record or data generated, image or sound stored, received or sent in an electronic form or microfilm or computer-generated microfiche”.

ADMISSIONS

The definition of admission has been changed to include a statement in oral, documentary or electronic form which suggests an inference to any fact at issue or of relevance. Section 22A has been inserted into the Evidence Act which provides for the relevancy of oral evidence regarding the contents of electronic records. It provides that oral admissions regarding the contents of electronic records are not relevant unless the genuineness of the electronic records produced is in question.

STATEMENT AS A PART OF ELECTRONIC RECORD When any statement is part of an electronic record, the evidence of the electronic record must be given as the court considers it necessary in that particular case to understand fully the nature and effect of the statement and the circumstances under which it was made. Section 39 deals with statements that form part of a longer statement, a conversation or part of an isolated document, or statements that are contained in a document that forms part of a book or series of letters or papers. Admissibility of the Electronic Evidence New Sections 65A and 65B are introduced to the Evidence Act under the Second Schedule to the IT Act, 2000. Section 5 of the Evidence Act provides that evidence can be given regarding only facts that are at issue or of relevance. Section 136 empowers a judge to decide on the admissibility of the evidence. Section 65A provides that the contents of electronic records may be proved in accordance with the provisions of Section 65B. Section 65B provides that notwithstanding anything contained in the Evidence Act, any information contained in an electronic record (i.e., the contents of a document or communication printed on paper that has been stored, recorded and copied in optical or magnetic media produced by a computer (‘computer output’)), is deemed to be a document and is admissible in evidence without further proof of the original’s production, provided that the conditions set out in Section 65B(2) to (5) are satisfied. These provisions shall be analysed further in detail.

PRESUMPTIONS REGARDING ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE

A fact which is relevant and admissible need not be construed as a proven fact. The judge must appreciate the fact in order to conclude that it is a proven fact. The exception to this general rule is the existence of certain facts specified in the Evidence Act that can be presumed by the court. The Evidence Act has been amended to introduce various presumptions regarding digital evidence under Sections 81A, 85A, 85B, 85C, 88A and 90A.

CHANGES INCORPORATED IN THE INDIAN PENAL CODE 1860

A number of offences were introduced under the provisions of the First Schedule of the IT Act, which amended the Penal Code with respect to offences for the production of documents that have been amended to include electronic records. The range of additional includes: Section 172, Indian Penal Code: Absconding to avoid the production of a document or electronic record in, a court. Section 173, Indian Penal Code: Intentionally preventing the service of summons, notice or proclamation to produce a document or electronic record in a court Section 175, Indian Penal Code: Intentionally omitting to produce or deliver up the document or electronic record to any public servant Sections 192 and 193, Indian Penal Code: Fabricating false evidence by making a false entry in an electronic record or making any electronic record containing a false statement, and intending the false entry or statement to appear in evidence in judicial proceedings Section 204, Indian Penal Code: The destruction of an electronic record where a person hides or destroys an electronic record or obliterates or renders illegible the whole or part of an electronic record with the intention of preventing the record from being produced or used as evidence Sections 463 and 465, Indian Penal Code- Making any false electronic record.

ADMISSIBILITY OF THE ELECTRONIC RECORDS IN THE INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT

Among all the changes made in the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 thus recognizing the electronic records as a document u/s. 3 and electronic signatures under, the most important provisions are sections 65A and 65B of the Act. Section 65A lays down the special provisions as to the evidence relating to electronic record and Section 65B deals with the admissibility thereof. Section 65A provides that the contents of an electronic record may be proved in accordance with the provisions in section 65B.

ADMISSIBILITY OF ELECTRONIC RECORDS Section 65B.

Admissibility of electronic records:

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, any information contained in an electronic record which is printed on a paper, stored, recorded or copied in optical or magnetic media produced by a computer (hereinafter referred to as the computer output) shall be deemed to be also a document, if the conditions mentioned in this section are satisfied in relation to the information and computer in question and shall be admissible in any proceedings, without further proof or production of the original, as evidence of any contents of the original or of any fact stated therein of which direct evidence would be admissible.

(2) The conditions referred to in sub-section (1) in respect of a computer output shall be the following, namely: the computer output containing the information was produced by the computer during the period over which the computer was used regularly to store or process information for the purposes of any activities regularly carried on over that period by the person having lawful control over the use of the computer; during the said period, information of the kind contained in the electronic record or of the kind from which the information so contained is derived was regularly fed into the computer in the ordinary course of the said activities; throughout the material part of the said period, the computer was operating properly or, if not, then in respect of any period in which it was not operating properly or was out of operation during that part of the period, was not such as to affect the electronic record or the accuracy of its contents; and the information contained in the electronic record reproduces or is derived from such information fed into the computer in the ordinary course of the said activities.

(3) Where over any period, the function of storing or processing information for the purposes of any activities regularly carried on over that period as mentioned in clause (a) of sub-section (2) was regularly performed by computers, whether— by a combination of computers operating over that period; or by different computers operating in succession over that period; or by different combinations of computers operating in succession over that period; or in any other manner involving the successive operation over that period, in whatever order, of one or more computers and one or more combinations of computers, all the computers used for that purpose during that period shall be treated for the purposes of this section as constituting a single computer; and references in this section to a computer shall be construed accordingly.

(4) In any proceedings where it is desired to give a statement in evidence by virtue of this section, a certificate doing any of the following things, that is to say,— identifying the electronic record containing the statement and describing the manner in which it was produced; giving such particulars of any device involved in the production of that electronic record as may be appropriate for the purpose of showing that the electronic record was produced by a computer; dealing with any of the matters to which the conditions mentioned in sub-section (2) relate, and purporting to be signed by a person occupying a responsible official position in relation to the operation of the relevant device or the management of the relevant activities (whichever is appropriate) shall be evidence of any matter stated in the certificate; and for the purposes of this sub-section it shall be sufficient for a matter to be stated to the best of the knowledge and belief of the person stating it.

(5) For the purposes of this section: information shall be taken to be supplied to a computer if it is supplied thereto in any appropriate form and whether it is so supplied directly or (with or without human intervention) by means of any appropriate equipment; whether in the course of activities carried on by any official information is supplied with a view to its being stored or processed for the purposes of those activities by a computer operated otherwise than in the course of those activities, that information, if duly supplied to that computer, shall be taken to be supplied to it in the course of those activities; a computer output shall be taken to have been produced by a computer whether it was produced by it directly or (with or without human intervention) by means of any appropriate equipment. Explanation- For the purposes of this section any reference to information being derived from other information shall be a reference to its being derived therefrom by calculation, comparison or any other process.

JUDICIAL DICTA ON THE ADMISSIBILITY OF ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE

In Jagjit Singh v State of Haryana the speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Haryana disqualified a member for defection. While hearing the matter the Supreme Court considered the appreciation of digital evidence in the form of interview transcripts from the Zee News television channel, the Aaj Tak television channel and the Haryana News of Punjab Today television channel. The court determined that the electronic evidence placed on record was admissible and upheld the reliance placed by the speaker on the recorded interview when reaching the conclusion that the voices recorded on the CD were those of the persons taking action.

In the case of State (NCT of Delhi) v Navjot Sandhu an appeal was preferred against conviction following the attack on Parliament on December 13 2001, in which five heavily armed persons entered the Parliament House Complex and killed nine people, including eight security personnel and one gardener, and injured 16 people, including 13 security men. This case dealt with the proof and admissibility of mobile telephone call records. While considering the appeal against the accused for attacking Parliament, a submission was made on behalf of the accused that no reliance could be placed on the mobile telephone call records, because the prosecution had failed to produce the relevant certificate under Section 65B(4) of the Evidence Act. The Supreme Court concluded that a crossexamination of the competent witness acquainted with the functioning of the computer during the relevant time and the manner in which the printouts of the call records were taken was sufficient to prove the call records.

The Court observed that: “According to Section 63, secondary evidence means and includes, among other things, “copies made from the original by mechanical processes which in themselves ensure the accuracy of the copy, and copies compared with such copies”. Section 65 enables secondary evidence of the contents of a document to be adduced if the original is of such a nature as not to be easily movable. It is not in dispute that the information contained in the call records is stored in huge servers which cannot be easily moved and produced in the Court. Hence, printouts taken from the computers/servers by mechanical process and certified by a responsible official of the service providing Company can be led into evidence through a witness who can identify the signatures of the certifying officer or otherwise speak to the facts based on his personal knowledge. Irrespective of the compliance of the requirements of Section 65B which is a provision dealing with admissibility of electronic records, there is no bar to adducing secondary evidence under the other provisions of the Evidence Act, namely Sections 63 & 65. It may be that the certificate containing the details in sub-Section (4) of Section 65B is not filed in the instant case, but that does not mean that secondary evidence cannot be given even if the law permits such evidence to be given in the circumstances mentioned in the relevant provisions, namely Sections 63 & 65.”

 Thus the Supreme Court made a remarkable observation when it held that although the requirements of Section 65B cannot be fulfilled, but then secondary evidence can always be given under Section 63 and 65 of the Evidence Act.

State of Maharashtra v Dr Praful B Desai involved the question of whether a witness can be examined by means of a video conference. The Supreme Court observed that video conferencing is an advancement of science and technology which permits seeing, hearing and talking with someone who is not physically present with the same facility and ease as if they were physically present. The legal requirement for the presence of the witness does not mean actual physical presence. The court allowed the examination of a witness through video conferencing and concluded that there is no reason why the examination of a witness by video conferencing should not be an essential part of electronic evidence.

In Dharambir vs. Central Bureau of Investigation, The court arrived at the conclusion that when Section 65-B talks of an electronic record produced by a computer referred to as the computer output, it would also include a hard disc in which information was stored or was earlier stored or continues to be stored. It distinguished as there being two levels of an electronic record. One is the hard disc which once used itself becomes an electronic record in relation to the information regarding the changes the hard disc has been subject to and which information is retrievable from the hard disc by using a software program. The other level of electronic record is the active accessible information recorded in the hard disc in the form of a text file, or sound file or a video file etc. Such information that is accessible can be converted or copied as such to another magnetic or electronic device like a CD, pen drive etc. Even a blank hard disc which contains no information but was once used for recording information can also be copied by producing a cloned had or a mirror image.

Supreme Court in S. Ravindra Bhat and V. Ramasubramanian, vide judgment dated July 14, 2020, overruled the Shafhi Mohammad case for being in teeth of the judgment in Anvar P. V. Further, judgment in Tomaso Bruno was declared per incuriam, for not laying down the law correctly and the legal position was clarified as under:

The certificate required under Section 65B(4) of the Act is a condition precedent to admissibility of evidence by way of electronic record. Oral evidence in place of such certificate cannot possibly suffice as Section 65B(4) of the Act is a mandatory requirement of the law.

The non-obstante provision of Section 65B(1) of the Act makes it clear that when it comes to information contained in an electronic record, admissibility and proof thereof must follow the drill of Section 65B, which is a special provision in this regard, Sections 62 to 65 being irrelevant for this purpose.

The law laid down in Anvar P. V. does not need to be revisited. However, last sentence in Anvar P.V. (supra) which reads as “…if an electronic record as such is used as primary evidence under Section 62 of the Evidence Act…” is to be read without the words “under Section 62 of the Evidence Act…”

The required certificate under Section 65B(4) of the Act is unnecessary if the original document itself is produced. This can be done by the owner of a laptop computer, computer tablet or even a mobile phone, by stepping into the witness box and proving that the concerned device, on which the original information is first stored, is owned and/or operated by him. Such proof however, cannot be adduced if the device cannot be physically brought to court in cases where the computer happens to be a part of a “computer system” or “computer network”. In such case, the only means of providing information contained in such electronic record can be in accordance with Section 65B(1), together with the requisite certificate under Section 65B(4) of the Act.

Where the requisite certificate has been sought from the person or the authority concerned, and the person or authority either refuses to give such certificate, or does not reply to such demand, the party asking for such certificate can apply to the court for its production under Section 165 of the Evidence Act, Order XVI of the Code of Civil Procedure or Section 91 and 349 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Once such an application is made to the court, and the court directs that the requisite certificate be produced by the person to whom it sends a summons in this regard, the party asking for the certificate has done all that he can possibly do to obtain the requisite certificate.

The court observed that Section 65B is silent with regard to the stage at which such certificate is be furnished to the court. It was observed in  Anvar’s case  that such certificate must accompany the electronic record when the same is produced in evidence. This is when such certificate could be procured by the person seeking to rely upon an electronic record. In cases where either a defective certificate is given, or in cases where such certificate has been demanded and is not given by the concerned person, the judge conducting the trial must summon the person(s) under Section 65B(4) and require that such certificate be given by such person(s) exercising discretion depending upon facts of each case. This ought to be done when the electronic record is produced in evidence without the requisite certificate. In so far as criminal trials are concerned, the requisite certificate can be directed to be produced by the court at any stage, so that information contained in electronic form can be relied upon in evidence.

Furthermore, the court issued general directions to cellular companies and internet service providers to maintain CDRs and other relevant records for the concerned period in a segregated and secure manner if a particular CDR or other record is seized during investigation in the said period. Concerned parties can then summon such records at the stage of defense evidence, or in the event such data is required to cross-examine a particular witness.

Lastly, Supreme Court was of the view that suitable rules and directions should be framed in exercise of the Information Technology Act, 2000, for the retention of data involved in trial of offences, their segregation, rules of chain of custody, stamping and record maintenance, for the entire duration of trials and appeals, and also in regard to preservation of the meta data to avoid corruption.

Likewise, appropriate rules for preservation, retrieval and production of electronic record, should be framed after considering the report of the committee constituted by the Chief Justice›s Conference in April 2016.

Siddhant Mishra – Advocate at Lucknow High Court

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Opinion

SASIKALA’S QUITTING RAISES SEVERAL QUESTIONS

Pankaj Vohra

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A majority of political analysts were of a considered view that V.K. Sasikala, a close aide of former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa would be the “X” factor in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections which are barely a month away. However, the lady who was recently released from the prison on Wednesday took everyone by surprise by declaring that she was quitting politics. In fact, her decision has put a huge question mark over the outcome of the polls with many believing that she had withdrawn herself from the political arena either under some pressure or realising that AIADMK would find it very difficult to win, and it was pointless to contribute to the defeat. By choosing to stay away, Sasikala seems aware that Amma’s followers would rally around her subsequently, thereby decimating the current party leadership which in any case has betrayed her repeatedly. The reverse side of her decision is that DMK, which is the arch enemy of AIADMK, would have a better chance at forming the next government though in her statement, Sasikala claimed that she would want the DMK to be totally routed.

In the first election being held after the demise of both Jayalaithaa and M.K. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu politics could throw a few surprises. With M.K. Stalin being considered as a possible Chief Minister, the AIADMK and the BJP may find it extremely hard to galvanise the party workers, who in any case are disillusioned because of acute factionalism within the AIADMK. Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who had after winning the R.K. Nagar by-election, formed the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), is equally baffled by her decision. He was banking on her to bring Amma’s legacy to the newly formed political outfit whose aim was to both expose the AIADMK and contain the DMK. He is very disappointed and has now vowed to form a third front to offer a renewed challenge to the two established Dravidian parties in the state.

So far as Sasiskala is concerned, it is evident, she realises that with Amma gone, and after the death of her husband, it was pointless to pursue a career in politics. She has no children and therefore may have thought that she should be in politics for whom? The riddle is not as simple as it appears. Many of Sasikala’s supporters continue to wonder why she was jailed in the first place under the Prevention of Corruption Act since she had never held any public office. They attribute various kinds of motives behind her arrest. Now that she has voluntarily thought of saying goodbye to active politics, these same supporters may come up with some other theories as well. There is no doubt that Sasikala could have been a game changer in these elections and could have either helped the AIADMK or assisted her nephew’s party to become a dominant force. She would be the last person who would wish the DMK to be back in the saddle.

Tamil Nadu politics has its own complexities and so far as the lady is concerned, the last word on her is yet to be heard. Even by withdrawing, she would be a factor.

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Opinion

Communism in China: A hundred years later

As China prepares to celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party, the world must remember the massacres which Communist regimes have unleashed throughout history and question why Xi Jinping’s march towards the ‘New Era’ is marked by such aggression directed at neighbouring countries.

Claude Arpi

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The year 2021 is supremely important for the Middle Kingdom and its Emperor: Not only will it bring the occasion to unveil the 14th Five-year Plan and China’s 2035 Vision, but, more importantly, Beijing will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China.

Already, in January, President Xi Jinping declared that “the party and country are on the right track… time and momentum are on our side”, and even though the country faced “unprecedented challenges and opportunities,” he urged his Politburo colleagues to “create favourable social conditions” for the important anniversary.

On 1 March, Xi spoke at the opening ceremony of the training class for young and middle-aged cadres at the Central Party School in Beijing. He told the young cadres that they were the successors of the old comrades, “the glory of the party is in your hands”, and exhorted them to be the “faithful successor of the tradition and fine work-style of the Communist Party, constantly enhancing willpower, perseverance and self-control and making contributions in the new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country in the New Era while striving to create a worthy party, worthy of the Chinese people!”

And, of course, “loyalty to the party is the primary political quality of Communists,” he added.

The words of the new Great Helmsman sound great, but there is another side to the coin.

In 1997, French scholar Stéphane Courtois, along with other European academics, published Le Livre noir du communisme. It was later translated in several languages, with the title The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression in English.

The Black Book, which sold millions of copies, is still considered by many as one of the most influential publications written about the history of Communism in the 20th century. The authors documented the history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labour camps as well as artificially-created famines.

Though some leftist ‘intellectuals’ objected to the Communist label being put on some of these dark events, the facts are difficult to change.

In the first chapter, The Crimes of Communism, Stéphane Courtois recalls, “Communist regimes turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government …and are responsible for a greater number of deaths than Nazism or any other political system. …Communism predated fascism and Nazism, outlived both, and left its mark on four continents.”

And today, it is still thriving in China and North Korea.

Quoting Plato’s Republic and Thomas More as Communist examples of ‘utopian philosophy’, Courtois explained, “We must make a distinction between the doctrine of communism and its practice. As a political philosophy, communism has existed for centuries, even millennia.”

Courtois gives figures, people killed by Communist governments amount to more than 94 million, including 65 million in the People’s Republic of China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Ethiopia, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam.

In China alone, there is no doubt today that the Great Leap Forward resulted in 40 to 50 million deaths. According to Frank Dikötter in his masterly Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, “45 million people died unnecessarily …6 to 8 percent of the victims were tortured to death or summarily killed—amounting to at least 2.5 million people.” Yang Jisheng in Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962 put the tally between 43 million and 46 million.

We could argue that it was another age, another time. But in this case, why continue to eulogise Communism and the Party?

Of course, Xi Jinping’s Thought is known as Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. A couple of years ago, it was even enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.

But if it is a new era, why arrest all the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong? Recently, pro-China prosecutors argued in court that the defendants were involved in a “massive and well-organised scheme to subvert the Hong Kong government” by organising and participating in an unofficial primary election last July, although CNN commented, “such contests are a normal function in democracies around the world, during which political parties select the strongest candidates for an election.”

Look at the situation in Xinjiang where millions of Uyghur Muslims have been forced to live in ‘reeducation camps’, in Tibet, where the Communist regime wants to impose its own Dalai Lama (over one hundred years, the Party seems to have acquired great knowledge in spiritual matters), in Taiwan, which perpetually lives under Beijing’s invasion threat, or closer to us, India, which during the past nine months was subjected to an uncalled for aggression on its borders. Examples could be multiplied to show that China has not really entered a ‘New Era’.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a Chinese program on Tibet and, to my surprise, spotted an old Maoist figure named Pasang, along with the present Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The old lady served Mao well during the darkest days of the Cultural Revolution. She managed to survive the purges of other leftist officials and even the fall of the Gang of Four in October 1976 to become a vice chairwoman of the TAR Revolutionary Committee in September 1968. In 1971, she was made a deputy party secretary in the TAR Party Committee, a position she held until her retirement in 2002.

The fact that China is ready to use figure-heads of the darkest days of Communism tends to prove that the New Era has not yet landed in the Middle Kingdom.

In the coming months, Chinese propaganda will try to convince us of the contrary.

Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, likes to say, “The original aspiration and the mission of Chinese Communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation… This founding aspiration, this mission, is what inspires the Chinese Communists to advance.”

Today, former Premier Zhou Enlai, who joined the CPC in 1921, the year when the Party was founded, has become a ‘lofty character’ who selflessly pursued a just cause for the common good throughout his life, says Chinese propaganda.

We remember him in India as a Machiavellian politician who took the Nehru government for a ride. The recent happenings in Ladakh have their origin in Zhou’s lofty words—the world’s standard for ‘lofty’ are obviously different than the Chinese’s.

Large-scale massacre may not occur today (mainly due to the information revolution), but has the mindset really changed in Beijing?

It does not seem so, even in the New Era.

The writer is a French-born author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

The Black Book, which sold millions of copies, is still considered by many as one of the most influential publications written about the history of Communism in the 20th century. The authors documented the history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labour camps as well as artificially-created famines.

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Opinion

TIME TO GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE

Priya Sahgal

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This is the one topic that everyone is talking about these days—have you got vaccinated or not as yet. And if so, which one? The vaccine hesitancy that we saw in the early days of the roll out with even health workers hesitant to take the needle is no longer the case. As you can see from the queues of Mercedes, BMWs and Maruti Suzukis parked outside hospitals, everyone who is eligible to take the dose, is lining up for it.

The registration part is simple, however when you reach your designated hospital they will check your papers, give you a token and ask you to wait. This can vary from an hour to longer depending on the queue as most hospitals even have a counter for walk-ins i.e. those who have not been able to register themselves on the Co-WIN website. But don’t let this deter you, because the vaccination is certainly worth the trouble. And this seems to be the general mood. Going for my morning walk in south Delhi, I saw a number of elderly leaving their homes at around 9 am, picnic baskets in tow, ready for a long wait but determined to make the vaccine trek. 

There is some confusion about the gap between the two doses which currently has been set for 28 days. Not for Covaxin but Covishield as there are some reputed studies that state that a longer gap of between 8 to 12 weeks makes the dosage more effective. Since India is sticking to the 28 days gap (other countries like the UK have gone in for the longer one) it is left to the individual’s discretion. Another reason that explains the rush is that the vaccination is an added passport for those wanting to travel. India has been more successful than some other countries in combating the virus. Hence it makes sense to secure yourself before boarding that flight. 

Of course, there are still some who are hesitant to take the vaccine. Some are waiting for the nasal dosage, others for the crowds to thin. But in the end, don’t forget for the vaccination to work it is important that everyone takes it. This is important not just for making the country safe again, but also for each individual for his or her own sake. For as more than one doctor has told me on the NewsX-Sunday Guardian Roundtable, the complications of taking the vaccine are nothing compared to the complications of not taking it. So, go, get that vaccine.

What has helped the optics is that the Prime Minister himself took the vaccination. This was something that needed to be done as the Opposition and other sceptics were raising this issue and wondering about his hesitancy to do something that other world leaders had done in full media glare. Finally, once the vaccine was opened to senior citizens (and not just emergency workers) the PM took the jab—that he opted for the Indian origin Covaxin instead of Covishield was a no brainer as that fits into his narrative of nationalism. But the larger message here was more important as it gave the confidence to others to overcome their hesitancy and take the vaccine.

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Opinion

India set to make a V-shaped recovery

The sharp improvement in the performance of core sectors and the quick resumption of high activity levels in the economy indicate that India is close to achieving a fast-paced and broad-based V-shaped recovery in the third quarter of FY21.

Sanju Verma

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India’s GDP growth for Q3 FY21 has come in at 0.4%, versus the -7.3% recorded in Q2 of FY21. Earlier, the contraction for Q2 had been estimated at 7.5%, but has now been revised upwards to a decline of only 7.3%. Q1, on the other hand, has been revised from a 23.9% to a 24.4% contraction. The NSO said, “GDP at constant (2011-12) prices in Q3 of 2020-21 is estimated at Rs 36.22 lakh crore, as against Rs 36.08 lakh crore in Q3 of 2019-20, showing a growth of 0.4%.”

Will the Indian economy have a V-shaped recovery, as is now increasingly being touted? The answer, without doubt, is a resounding yes! With a Covid recovery rate of over 97%, a mortality rate of barely 1.4% and an active caseload of only 1.2%, and with over 15 million people vaccinated, the overall economy of the country is rapidly moving back to normalcy and the GDP numbers are only going to get better in Q4. This is evident from the IHS Markit India Manufacturing PMI reading of 57.5 and 57.7, recorded in February and January 2021, respectively. Composite PMI reading rose from 55.8 in January 2021 to 57.3 in February, the highest since October 2020, while Services PMI rose from 52.8 in January to 55.3 in February, the highest in a year. Unified payments interface (UPI) trades hit a new high of 2.3 billion transactions in January 2021, amounting to Rs 4.31 lakh crore in value terms. The blistering pace continued in February 2021, with 2.29 billion transactions, amounting to a value of Rs 4.25 lakh crore, further corroborating the full-fledged V-shaped recovery which is taking shape.

Services growth in Q3 fell by 1%, which is much lower than the 11.3% fall seen in Q2 and the 21.4% fall in Q1. Agriculture growth has come in at a solid 3.9% in Q3, versus 3% in Q2. Manufacturing sector grew by 1.6% in Q3, which is great news as the big decline of 35.9% in Q1 and the 1.5% fall in Q2, at the height of the Covid pandemic, has now turned into a positive number. The industrial sector witnessed a growth of 2.7% versus a -3.03% growth in Q2. This 2.7% growth was supported by a manufacturing growth of 1.6%, electricity, gas, water and utility services growth of 7.3% and a healthy growth in construction at 6.2%. The high traction in the real estate sector was on the back of the reduction in stamp duty and other levies across various states, thereby attracting home buyers to invest in new homes.

The output of eight core infrastructure sectors grew 0.1% in January 2021 as compared to last year. The infrastructure output, which comprises eight core sectors, including coal, crude oil, and electricity, fell by 8.8% during the April-January period in 2020-21, against a growth rate of 0.8% in the corresponding period in 2019-20. However, Q4 should see a turnaround in the infra space. The Modi government’s decision to invite private investment in 400 port and shipping projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore will give a fillip to the infra space. The Modi government is also aiming to attract investment worth Rs 3.39 lakh crore during the Maritime India Summit 2021, that kicked off on March 2, 2021. 

The Indian Railways carried 119.79 million tonnes of freight in January 2021, the highest ever in a month, beating its previous record of 119.74 million tonnes in March 2019, showcasing how the Indian economy’s momentum is gaining rapid traction. In February 2021, the Indian Railways’ loading was 112.25 million tonnes, which is 10% higher compared to February last year, which had been 102.21 million tonnes. On just February 28, 2021, the freight loading of the Indian Railways was 5.23 million tonnes, which is 37% higher compared to last year’s loading for the same date, at 3.83 million tonnes. 

For the December 2020 quarter, cement major ACC saw a solid 73% jump in profit, while cement behemoth Grasim saw profits rise by a massive 107%. Since cement sales are a lead indicator, it should be suffice to say that a core sector bounce is back on the cards. Car sales, another lead indicator, continued to be robust with a 16% growth year on year (YoY) in January 2021, with Toyota, Tata Motors, Honda and Nissan, witnessing a YoY growth of 92%, 94%, 114% and 220%, respectively. In February 2021, while Maruti saw a growth of 11.8% year on year (YoY), tractor major Escorts saw a growth of 30.6%, showing the all-pervasive nature of a demand resurgence that is underway in both rural and urban areas.

The economic growth in the coming year, i.e., 2021-22 (FY22) will be robust, with a broad-based momentum across various sectors. The government’s focus on infrastructure, real estate demand on the back of low-interest rates, recovery in commodity prices and healthy consumption expenditure all point to better times for the GDP trajectory. Private and foreign investment is also on the rise and capex should be higher than in previous years, aiding long-term growth. In the last one year, FPI and FDI inflows put together have been in excess of Rs 2.32 lakh crore, which speaks volumes about India’s attractiveness as an investment destination, all thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s courage of conviction and reformist mindset which is now bearing fruit.

Significant recovery in manufacturing and construction segments also augurs well for the support these sectors are expected to provide to growth in FY 2021-22. Real GVA in manufacturing has improved from a contraction of 35.9% in Q1 to a positive growth of 1.6% in Q3, while in construction the recovery has been from a contraction of 49.4% in Q1 to a positive growth of 6.2% in Q3. Going ahead, only for a quarter at the most, we are likely to see the continuation of a K-shaped recovery, with some sectors growing faster than others. However, beyond Q4 FY21, the K-shaped recovery will soon transform into a sharp V-shaped recovery that will be both fast-paced and broad based in FY22.

The growth stimuli available from the Union Budget and additional measures, including the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme, will lead to a sturdy growth path over the recovery horizon. The real push will be visible in the Q4 (January-March) 2021 because lockdowns in many sectors, particularly hospitality and travel, have begun to ease substantially. The 1% growth in GVA and 0.7% growth in core GVA (core GVA excludes agriculture and public administration), in particular, marks the end of a contractionary phase. In fact, all the sectors except (a) mining and quarrying, (b) trade, hotels, transport and communication services, and (c) public administration, defence and other services, have recorded positive growth in the third quarter of FY21, which is great news as it vindicates the flurry of GDP upgrades seen in recent times. Even in trade and hotels, the pace of decline has slowed down significantly from a negative growth of 15.3% in Q2 to 7.7% in Q3. In public administration, the pace of fall has been reined in at -1.5% from -9.3% in Q2. The construction sector, which contributes about 9% to India’s GDP, is back with a bang on the back of a strong recovery in execution, registering a 6.2% growth in Q3 from -7.5% in Q2, which is nothing short of outstanding. India is amongst the very few economies which are posting growth for the December 2020 quarter—one amongst 16 major world economies – which shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 30 lakh crore stimulus package has been able to boost both business sentiment and spending via the multiplier effect.

While gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) has improved from a contraction of 46.4% in Q1 to a positive growth of 2.6% in Q3, private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) has recovered from a contraction of 26.2% in Q1 to a much smaller contraction of 2.4% in Q3. The revival of investment demand, triggered by capital spending by the Modi government, has helped in a big way. Besides the overall uptick in the economy, the resurgence of GFCF in Q3 was also triggered by capex by the Central Government, that increased year-on-year by 129% in October, 249% in November and 62% in December 2020. The fiscal multipliers associated with this capex are at least 3-4 times larger than government final consumption expenditure (GFCE), as capex induces much higher consumption spending than normal income transfers.

For the fortnight ending January 8, 2021, credit growth has picked up to 6.6% YoY, while deposit growth is 11.4%. Excellent results by banking sector biggies showcase the ongoing economic momentum. HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank posted profit growth of 18% and 19%, respectively, for the December 2020 quarter, with the retail loan book growing by anywhere between a healthy 13% to 16%. The robust profit growth for these two banking giants came about, despite a high provision coverage ratio (PCR) of 148% for HDFC and 78% for ICICI.

Needless to add, the Indian economy has seen a superb rebound from the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to the Modi government’s relentless war against the Wuhan virus. From being a net importer in March 2020 to becoming the world’s second largest exporter of PPE kits and N95 masks, it is a telling tale of how “Make in India” is about a grand vision and also about the ability to translate that vision into a meaningful end result. India produced more than 60 million personal protection equipment (PPEs) and almost 150 million N-95 masks till October 2020, from almost zero in March 2020. India also exported more than 20 million PPE and over 40 million N-95 masks during this period. Speaking of Covid, the two states that account for over 72% of all the active coronavirus cases in India are Maharashtra and Kerala, one where the Congress in in power with allies and another which is a Left-ruled state. The horrific performance by these two states in reining in Covid is a testimony to all that is woefully wrong with both the politics and economics of the Congress and the CPI(M).

With a pro-growth budget, structural farm and labour market reforms and the Modi government’s bold decision to raise Rs 2.5 lakh crore by monetising 100 sick, loss making and unviable CPSEs, coupled with the RBI’s resolve to support the financial markets and economy, the Indian economy is well poised to ride the long-term structural growth path, despite states like Maharashtra being a drag due to the misgovernance of the Congress-centric Maha Vikas Agadhi (MVA) alliance.

Investments were the primary driver in pushing up Q3 GDP numbers and were up 2.1% YoY, versus a fall of 28.2% in the first half of fiscal year 2020-21 (1HFY21). Consumption was down only 2.2% YoY in Q3, versus a sharp fall of 16.7% in 1HFY21. The 4.9% growth in consumer durables and 2% growth in consumer non-durables in December 2020 are a precursor of demand resurgence. Even two-wheeler major Hero Moto Corp, for the last six months, has been selling over 4.5 lakh units every single month, with more than 14 lakh units sold in just the two months of October and November 2020. Tractor major M&M too has seen utility vehicle sales growing in excess of 20% on an average in the last few months, pointing towards a demand rejuvenation. Nominal GDP grew strongly at 5.3% in Q3, implying that GDP deflator was 4.8% in 3QFY21. While CSO/NSO expect a contraction of 1.1% YoY in 4QFY21, implying an 8% fall in FY21, this is highly unlikely. Many domestic investment banking houses believe Q4 real GDP growth could be as high as 3.5%, leading to a GDP decline of only 6.7% in FY21, versus CSO’s more conservative estimate of an 8% decline in GDP in FY21.

An 8% or 6.7% GDP decline is less relevant. The more relevant part is that growth momentum is picking up pace significantly, with GST collections in January 2021 at Rs 1.19 lakh crore and February collections being equally healthy at Rs 1.13 lakh crore. GST collections have topped the Rs 1 lakh crore mark every single month from October 2020. FASTag collections hit Rs 102 crore last Friday, crossing the earlier high of Rs 80 crore collected by way of toll in a single day. E-way billing is applicable for inter-state sales in excess of Rs 50,000. Rs 6.42 crore E-way invoice reference numbers (IRNs) were generated in January 2021, versus a number of just 26 lakh IRNs that were generated in September 2020, once again vindicating the sharp uptick in routine business activity.

The GVA equivalent of manufacturing companies, arrived at after adding up wages, depreciation, interest and profit before tax (PBT), grew a robust 17% on a yearly basis in Q3 FY21, after a 9% growth in Q2 this fiscal and a 29% contraction in Q1. Since manufacturing GVA is a leading indicator of the manufacturing sector’s performance, the sharp uptick in manufacturing GVA is indeed highly reassuring. In many cases, GVA equivalent is a better predictor of manufacturing sector’s performance than IIP since the latter captures volume of production while the former captures value of production, ICICI Securities argues. Hence, the manufacturing sector is expected to record a healthy growth in the upcoming Q4FY21. The manufacturing GVA currently has a share of 19% in the country’s real gross value added (GVA).

Moody’s has raised India’s growth forecast to 13.7% for FY22, from the earlier 10.8%. For the current FY21 fiscal also, Moody’s revised its prediction of a contraction in real GDP to 7.1%, from the earlier projected contraction of 10.6%. Interestingly, Moody’s has also said that the Modi government’s fiscal deficit for FY21 and FY22 could be much lower than the projected 9.5% and 6.8% of GDP, respectively, supported by stronger revenue generation in the fourth quarter of FY21 and higher nominal GDP growth in 2021-22 (FY22). The big upside to growth projections in FY22 are absolutely realistic and not based on a low base effect. Rather, the massive growth upside in FY22 will be driven by facilitative government measures, including the Modi government’s capital expenditure increases, with the Central Government budgeting an impressive 34.5% rise in capital spending at Rs 5.54 lakh crore in FY22, compared to the revised estimate for FY21.

Exports which were lagging too have begun to pick up, with a 6% YoY growth in January 2021, and February seeing only a minor fall of 0.25%. Imports also grew by 7% in February, versus a 2.03% growth in January 2021. Interestingly, in February, while oil imports fell by 16.63% YoY, non-oil imports rose by 16.37%, suggesting both an economic revival and improving terms of trade.

The initial policy choice of “lives over livelihoods” succeeded by “lives as well as livelihoods” is now bearing excellent results, converging with the foresight the Modi government had about an imminent V-shaped recovery when it entered the war against the pandemic. The sharp V-shaped recovery is being driven by rebounds in both private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) and gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) as a combination of the astute handling of the lockdown and a calibrated fiscal stimulus that has allowed strong economic fundamentals to trigger quick resumption of high activity levels in the economy. It would be apt to sum up India’s swift economic recovery with a brilliant quote from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech last year, where he emphasised the relevance of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, when he said, “It is now time for India to move forward with new policies and new customs. Now simple and ordinary will not work. Our policies, our processes, our products, everything should be the best.”

The author is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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NO, MINISTER

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Even teams led by experienced and expert captains suffer from occasional self-goals. These are usually a consequence of the best of intentions, but end up as embarrassments. There was in the recent past a stray statement by a Union Minister that the gallant soldiers of the Indian Army had moved several more times in the direction of the PRC than PLA forces moving in the other direction. The movement of Indian troops, who are and have always been seeking only to safeguard or to re-occupy territory that belongs to India, cannot be compared to the transgressions of the PLA, which is seeking to expand through military means the territory controlled by them, every bit at the expense of India. That remark of a minister, possibly reported out of context, was swiftly used by PRC spin masters to try and spread the falsehood internationally that it was Indian forces and not the PLA who were theaggressors on the LAC.

Fortunately, the world knows the truth, and such deception was not believed except by the usual suspects, such as Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is swift to repeat as gospel whatever gets conveyed from Beijing. The minister who made the earlier (possibly misquoted) remark has distinguished himself for his service both before and after joining the Council of Ministers at the Centre, and has not repeated the earlier remark attributed to him. The movement of Indian troops is to safeguard existing control over land and to recover territory that has been snatched in the past. This can never be compared with the transgressions of the PLA, which has joined hands with GHQ Rawalpindi in the errand of seeking to constrain and damage the growth and stability of India. These need to fail repeatedly, an outcome that can be made possible through strong will and capability on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues. Care needs to be taken to avoid statements that can be used by the other side to obscure facts and to discredit the factual narrative that has been disseminated by India about the situation on the borders.

The armed forces defend the territory of India with zeal when given full support by the government. In several statements and through many actions, Prime Minister Modi has shown his commitment to stand by the courageous men and women in uniform who are tasked with defending the borders of the Republic of India, the most populous democracy on the face of the planet. Moreover, ours is a country that alone in its neighbourhood has remained a democracy and not fallen victim to authoritarian rule of any form, save a brief period of quasi-authoritarian rule during 1975-77 that was swiftly replaced with the holding of elections that led to the replacement of the existing government through the ballot box and to a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai in the PrimeMinister’s Office.

Now another self-goal has been scored, in the form of the remarks of a Union Minister that the power outage in Mumbai was not the consequence of a cyberattack executed by elements in the PRC but was the consequence of “human error”. The statement is reminiscent of several made by other policymakers in the past, when unexplained misfortunes afflicted some of the most potent weapons platforms of different wings of the armed forces. In some cases, entire platforms were rendered inoperable, to great human and material cost, besides causing gaps in defence preparedness. Very quickly, unnamed sources rushed to pin the blame on “human error”, whether these relate to naval personnel or air force pilots. Both risk their lives in defence of the country and have shown an exceptional degree of competence in handling the weapons given to them to operate. The possibility seems to have been ignored of malfunctioning of equipment as a consequence of glitches introduced clandestinely, and which have had the effect of so damaging operational capability that nothing the pilot or seaman did could have rescued the situation.

In the past, there were serial deaths of those associated with the nuclear and missile programme, and the dots were first connected by the Sunday Guardian after having been in the open for several years, in each of which those connected with these key programmes had their number reduced through “accidental” deaths or “suicides”. Circumstances indicated that such hastily reached conclusions were far from accurate. That there was a cyberattack is not a reflection on the Power Ministry but a warning that this is a threat needing much more attention than shown in the past. There are powerful lobbies involved in the import of critical infrastructure equipment from countries that have a record of hostility to India expressed in a kinetic way. Such lobbies should not be given a handle to continue to keep the country vulnerable through dependence on equipment or other services from companies deeply involved with strengthening the offensive capabilities of at least two foreign militaries that have attacked India in the past, and are expected to do so again. There must not be a rush to hasty conclusions and the giving of clean chits to those companies and entities who are transparent in their linkages to enemy forces, including in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, territory that belongs to India and where no other country has a right.

Prime Minister Modi has spoken firmly and often about the dangers facing the country. Among the reasons why the PM is popular is the trust voters have in his ability to defend the nation. That same strength of purpose and determination should be present in each of the members of the government. The country is facing a grave threat, and action is needed to reduce vulnerabilities and to expand capabilities. In such a task, it is all hands-on deck, and an end to remarks by policymakers that may be used by foes of India to paint themselves as innocent of the wrongs that they have flagrantly committed.

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Embedded patriarchy in science must end

History and research have shown proof of how few women in science have received their due, despite making discoveries and providing services which have led to the progress of modern science and civilisation. Decision makers must find a way to put an end to the gender bias.

Amita Singh

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Albert Einstein with his wife Mileva Marić.

Two years of #MeToo have changed little in the world of scientific research, according to most women in science across the world. India has 43% of women as science graduates—the highest number in the world—but a mere 14% in science-related jobs. Despite the additional push the present government has provided since 2017, in which the Department of Science and Technology was provided Rs 2,000 crore to encourage more girls into science-related careers, the picture remains grim. Gender inequity, subtle discrimination, indifference, workplace derision and isolation have kept women in India out of the job market that matches their science training. This has serious challenges for the country’s developmental ambitions. As a McKinsey research report of 2020 emphasised, narrowing gender gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can lead to an increase of $12 trillion to $28 trillion in the global economy. Does this sound an alert for decision making bodies of science and the NITI Aayog?

In developed countries such as Sweden, women science graduates are much less than India, at 35% only, but 34 % of them get placements in STEM jobs. The lack of women in these jobs reflects gravely on India’s science policy as only one woman out of 41 men has been able to reach the position of an office bearer in 86 years of the existence of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA). This marginalization further unfolds in the shortlist for the INSA awards, which have so far gone to only 14 women as compared to 501 men. The situation is appallingly unfavourable towards women in other top science awards too, such as the Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award which has been bestowed on only 16 women against 500 men beneficiaries. It appears that patriarchy rules most science academies across the world even if women are fortunate to obtain a STEM job, since globally only 12% women are represented in 69 science academies across the world.

India’s developmental dreams may have to crash land over an utterly deficient terrain if women in engineering and technology, despite holding a 50% share of undergraduate degrees, fail to get absorbed into appropriate jobs. As a consequence, many switch to non-science jobs or become homemakers—recent situations show that more than 49% women in science are ready to switch to other jobs which they would have otherwise rejected. The irony of the STEM job market is that it has the potential of creating 10.5 million additional jobs, if countries can promote gender equality, as was suggested by a report by the European Union. Most new fields in science such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are currently completely male-dominated with a pathetic 10-15% jobs going to women in top companies like Google and Facebook.

Science, to be appropriate, should be able to absorb dynamic social relationships from the living and non-living or everything around it. Women have proved to be more perceptible and transdisciplinary in their approach than men with similar training. Traditional societies which were hierarchical, orthodox, fatalistic and believed in supernatural forces offered little space for modern science to flourish. Yet when modern science came, it also became a source of immense power which was soon captured by men. Modern science advanced through state power and started distancing itself from a holistic social relevance, inadvertently falling into a trap of increased productivity and control which the industrial revolution brought about.

Minnie Vaid’s book on the role of women space scientists in the Mangalyaan mission exposes an embedded gender bias that pushes women out of key positions where they can perform better than their fellow men. Nonetheless, this bias can also help analyse an unanswered question that most students in social science classrooms are perplexed about: why did Einstein win the Nobel Prize when his invention destroyed the world? Did Einstein know what could happen when his invented genie would be released from the laboratory to a wider and ever-advancing world of power aggrandizement?

The nature of science is founded on a matrix of human disconnect, and after reading an interesting Paul Halpern’s science narrative from 2015, titled Einstein’s Dice and Schrodinger’s Cat: How the Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics,the fact reveals, to our dismay, that scientists give much greater priority to winning the right scientific algorithm than the world around them. These power pathways of science have ignored many achievements by women who fed and fuelled these discoveries within the fortresses of labs. This was a terrain where questions on social conscience were never ever asked.

This does not mean that all scientists are directly influenced by dominant interests as many are also instructed by their own or their society’s cultural framework which is embedded in their individual morality, values, beliefs and community ethics. An example is the case of Joseph Rotblat who withdrew from the Manhattan Project in 1939 for he firmly believed that such weapons of mass destruction should be avoided due to their catastrophic impact upon humanity. He preferred to receive a Nobel Prize for Peace rather than for Physics which was awarded to his number two scientist, Einstein. However, the most astounding is the revelation about Einstein’s wife, Mileva Marić, who, despite being a classmate of Einstein with an equal or even stronger disciplinary training in physics, was not acknowledged for her influence and contribution to Einstein’s achievement. A 2019 book Einstein’s Wife, written by Allen Esterson and David C. Cassidy, with Ruth Lewin Sime, presents an evidence-based history of Marić’s life with Einstein. Science historians have repeatedly established that Marićs ideas were central to Einstein’s science but while her pregnancy, childbirths and divorce gradually weakened her relationship with science, Einstein marched ahead to the Nobel Prize. 

Another astounding case is that of Henrietta Leavitt who in 1900 joined the Harvard College Observatory as an assistant for Edward Pickering. There were some far-reaching astronomical revelations which were observed and discovered by her. One such observation was that slower-moving stars were more luminous through which the size of the galaxy and much more on the study of variable stars could have been discovered. She paved the way for modern astronomy. enabling scientists to measure the universe. Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer, became famous by using Leavitt’s ground-breaking research and he also admitted that it was she who deserved the Nobel Prize. But Levitt watched all this as a silent worker at the laboratory, where she was paid half of what her fellow men researchers got ($10.5 a week) and did not raise an alarm when Pickering published her findings without giving her due credit.

The laboratory’s new director Harlow Shapely also used her work without acknowledging her phenomenal contribution. The patriarchal culture in science of keeping women out of mainstream publications and awards has been so strong that the world has wasted many years seeing men scientists reach milestones which had already been achieved by women much earlier. Leavitt’s work was interrupted by her family obligations and her early death by stomach cancer ended the tragic and continuous marginalisation she suffered because of her powerful male colleagues.

The world of science has not changed much. Most laboratories belong to men scientists who continue to control them even after they are transferred, retire or are thrown into disrepute through charges of corruption or sexual harassment. Women scientists, on the other hand, are made to leave their laboratories immediately when they retire or are transferred, notwithstanding that their ongoing research might prove a great contribution to society. From life sciences to physical, environmental and geophysical sciences, a woman’s journey is gripped by obstructions and gendered ostracism. From Muthuswamy to Swaminathan, some leading women scientists—the ones who led the ICMR towards an accountable bioethical journey or silently brought out key cancer research findings in the biochemistry lab at AIIMS while taking care of her ailing father or dedicated herself to set up the Brain Research Institute at Manesar—have definitely not received their due despite their services being of utmost importance to the progress of India. The country needs to look for more of them in the IITs, CSIR, INSA, ICMR, AIIMS and other science institutes for more holistic progress of science. Why should one hear science policy talk only from male scientists, who are now also controlling NITI Aayog as well as the TV channels?

Unless the needs, capacities and acceptability patterns for women are absorbed in the behaviour of decision makers, the road to gender equity in science would remain bumpy and hazardous. Science shapes society and women in science break stereotypical frames of research, bringing acceptable solutions to the problems of development and acting as catalysts for change and progress.

The writer is president, NAPSIPAG Disaster Research Group, and former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

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