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WB moves SC seeking direction to disband current vaccination policy

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The Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government on Friday moved to the Supreme Court seeking direction to disband the current Covid-19 vaccination policy and bring in uniform vaccination policy by doing away with the differential pricing mechanism. Disband the “Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of Covid-19 Vaccination” policy and adopt and implement a uniform policy of procuring 100 percent doses of Covid-19 which can be equitably distributed to the States and Union Territories for free de-centralized distribution,” the plea said.

Earlier, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting free Covid vaccination for all citizens. “I firmly believe that this battle against Covid will be won with coordinated and collaborative efforts of all stakeholders in augmenting infrastructure and an earnest drive for universal vaccination free of cost. I am looking forward to your kind cooperation in this regard. With regards,” stated Mamata in the letter to the Prime Minister.

She had also slammed the PM for not receiving any reply from him over her letter regarding the free Covid-19 vaccination for all citizens. “I have not got any reply till now from PM Modi over the issue of free vaccination. He must be busy,” Mamata said. The third phase of the vaccination drive commenced on May 1 making everyone above the age of 18 eligible to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The Covid vaccine manufacturing companies are empowered to release up to 50 per cent of their supply to state governments and in the open market at a pre-declared price. The Covid-19 situation in India continues to deteriorate amid the second wave of coronavirus infections.

With a total of 4,14,188 new Covid-19 cases being recorded in the last 24 hours, India again reported its highest single-day spike on the second consecutive day. With this, the cumulative count of cases in the country reached 2,14,91,598, informed Union Health Ministry.

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CORRUPTION CORONATED

When a selfless approach was needed to fight Covid-19, corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. Even a crematorium wasn’t spared.

V K Saxena

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Kautilya sat down to write ‘Arthashastra’, one of the first books of economics in human history, some 2,300 years ago. And he ended up writing a whole chapter on ‘corruption’. He famously said, “Just like it is impossible not to taste a drop of honey that you find at the edge of the tongue, it is impossible for a King’s officer not to eat up a bit of King’s revenue.”  

Essentially, it means that even as long ago as in 300 BC, we were rampantly corrupt and as a society, we exploited whatever individual power we had. Kautilya implied that for Indians, the very human nature itself poses corruption. Time and again it was proved in our history. Kingdoms grew or fell through some strategic corruption of individuals who switched sides at a critical time. Even the British India Company walked over this sub-continent and established the rule of Britain over us because we could be corrupted easily, and it was so effortless to divide us and rule.  

Transparency International, which places us in the list of nations as a very corrupt society, remarked that over 92% Indians have been exposed to and/or indulged in corruption of either giving or receiving or both at some point in their lives. As a society, we indulge in it as a casual act of convenience. And then, we complain about it, make a fuss and cry wolf. 

WHY CAN’T THE GOVERNMENTS ABSOLUTELY WIPE OUT CORRUPTION?

So, whether it is Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ or a review by an international organisation, we have had an indisputable image as a corrupt society that can hardly be changed. In these 2,500 years, we have had several types of governments ruling over us — kingdoms, monarchies, dynasties, Sultanats,foreign colonisation, and democracies. There have been benevolent rulers, autocratic usurpers, people’s leaders, men of the sword, and religious oppressors, you name it and we have had it. But how come any form of government or system of rule could not bring down corruption through force, legislation, counselling, or any other means for thousands of years? Haven’t we punished people enough? Well, the country has historically practised capital punishment, dismemberment of limbs, jailing, public humiliation, seizing of property, and all kinds of punishment for corruption over centuries and millennia. Yet, as a society, we are as corrupt as we have been for thousands of years.

This essentially means that it is not the government or the law which is weak and unimaginative in bringing down corruption. It is just that as people, we are too strong and imaginative to remain corrupt by all means. The people perpetuate corruption as a means of convenience. And morally, we do not attach shame or guilt to being corrupt. Corruption is our blood trait. Corruption is more of people’s character in definition than being social malice that the governance can totally get rid of. What has stayed so for years shall remain the same in the coming years, unless we change at an individual level.

During these testing times, when a selfless and sincere approach was needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, this trait of corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers citing short supply. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. A piece of basic equipment like a pulse oximeter suddenly disappeared from stores and if available, was sold at a much higher price. Black marketing of oxygen cylinders wreaked havoc on several families in dire need of oxygen. Even a taxi driver charged hefty sums from passengers. This shows that we can exploit any opportunity for money or material. And by stooping this low, we have also defeated all the good works of a large section of people during these difficult times. Individuals, organisations, even political parties, in their own capacities, have been providing free food, medicines, ambulances, oxygen, and all possible support to the needy but they were easily eclipsed by the rampant corruption surrounding us.

In the Covid era, we have seen that corruption has reached the zenith. It is not exaggerating to say that during the times of the pandemic, we have ‘corona’ated corruption and installed it on the throne. Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless.

People of all stature — from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends — had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus. It was widely reported that once you reach the hospitals, in the hope of some relief and cure, corruption widened its wings. Finding a hospital bed for the patient proved to be a Herculean task and in several cases, the hospital beds were hoarded by unscrupulous agents in connivance with the hospitals. Negotiating for an ambulance to take the critical patients to came as another shocker. News reports of ambulance operators charging Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 for ferrying patients to short distances of a few kilometres describe this moral corruption in the most absolute terms. 

In our country, where total private infrastructure accounts for nearly 62% of all of India’s health infrastructure, it is easier for corruption to thrive at every level of the system. Medical staff were found refilling empty Remdesivir bottles with fake drugs and selling them to patients not only at a premium but also risking their lives, remorselessly. Patients and their families were cheated with fire extinguishers in the name of oxygen cylinders just when they needed oxygen to save the lives of their loved ones.

These instances are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The deep-rooted corruption at the health services goes up to kickbacks given to the health workers to please them and secure better services, thefts of medical instruments and medicines from the hospitals that are sold at a premium outside the hospitals. This ethical and moral bankruptcy have even driven them to the extent of recycling and selling bio-medical wastes like used face masks, PPE kits, and gloves for the sake of a few pennies. Hospitals were also found charging exorbitant fees from Covid patients. 

And if one thought this face-off with corruption would end here, a rude shock awaited. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, who would have ever thought of corruption in the cremation grounds. Families of the deceased were charged up to Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 for cremating the bodies that used to be a matter of less than Rs 5,000 on normal days. The cost of woods and ghee spiralled through the sky as bodies queued up at crematoriums.

I began this article by saying that corruption is a blood trait of people. There is very little that anyone can do to remove evil from our surroundings if people act beyond the sanctity of morality. A thing that was never effectively curtailed for centuries will only increase and occupy the centre stage of our lives when people patronise it, benefit from it, and silently subscribe to it. 

The present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effectively shown how a system can be run without corruption. Having served for 20 years as head of the governments — in Gujarat and then at the Centre — without even a charge of corruption, PM Modi has an impeccable, clean character to inspire our generation to adopt honesty as their way of life. Unfortunately, even the high degree of honesty and morality of our Prime Minister failed to influence our society and proved that corruption was indeed our blood trait.  

Governments can only help people’s will to change. But if they don’t want to change, there is no power with anyone anywhere to pull us out of the intricate mess that we have created for ourselves. Let us pledge not to exploit humanity with greed.

The writer is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.

Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And the coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless. People of all stature—from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends—had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus.

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BORIS JOHNSON TO DELAY LIFTING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS IN UK

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday is expected to delay lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on June 21 as planned.

Johnson told British media from the G7 summit in Cornwall on Sunday that the government “is looking at the data”, reported euronews. “The roadmap was always cautious but irreversible and in order to have an irreversible roadmap, we’ve got to be cautious,” he added.

England’s four-step easing programme planned for all remaining restrictions on businesses—including pubs, restaurants and nightclubs—and on large events and performances—including weddings and funerals—is expected to be lifted on June 21.

The UK has experienced a surge of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, blamed on the spread of the Delta variant.

Nearly 7,500 new infections were recorded on Sunday across the UK, bringing the weekly tally to more than 50,000—a near 50 per cent rise on the previous week, reported euronews.

This is despite the country having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 78.9 per cent of the adult population having received at least one dose and more than 56 per cent now fully inoculated.

British health authorities say that the Delta variant is up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the original strain and now represents over 90 per cent of new cases in the UK.

They also stressed last week that although vaccination prevents the risk of severe disease, it does not eliminate it completely or prevent transmission, reported euronews.

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PROTESTS IN BERLIN TO MARK SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HONG KONG UPRISING

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On the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong, scores of people including German citizens and Hongkongers jointly organized a protest in Berlin, Germany.

Nearly 100 protestors including representatives of Tibetans and Uyghurs participated in the protest at Alexanderplatz, a large public square in the capital city, on June 12 against the widespread human rights abuse by the Chinese government. Demonstrations were staged in several cities across the globe on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Since June last year, the sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city is being used to stifle political opposition and anti-government protests.

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Ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi’s trial begins

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More than four months after a military coup took place in Myanmar, the trial of ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi opened on Monday with critics denouncing the move as a bogus exercise.

Suu Kyi, 75, is facing several cases ranging from the illegal possession of walkie-talkie radios to breaking the Official Secrets Act, Euronews reported. The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader will also appear on Tuesday on sedition charges alongside ex-president Win Myint. “We are preparing for the worst,” one of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said, as qouted by Euronews. The lawyer also denounced “absurd” accusations fabricated to “keep her off the country’s (political) stage and sully her image.”

Last week, Myanmar’s military junta levelled new corruption charges against the deposed leader and other former officials from her government.

The cases are the latest of a series brought against the elected leader, who was overthrown by the army on February 1 in a coup that has plunged the Southeast Asian country into chaos.

The months-long military crackdown on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar has so far taken over 840 lives, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The army overthrew Suu Kyi, saying her party had cheated in November elections, an accusation rejected by the previous election commission and international monitors.

Since then, the army has failed to establish control. It faces daily protests, strikes that have paralysed the economy, assassinations and bomb attacks and a resurgence of conflicts in Myanmar’s borderlands.

Escalating violence across Myanmar including attacks on civilians must be halted to prevent even greater loss of life and a deepening humanitarian emergency, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last Friday.

Bachelet’s appeal follows reports of a continuing military build-up in various parts of the country including Kayah State in the east – where more than 108,000 people have fled their homes in the last three weeks – and in Chin State in the west.

This runs contrary to commitments made in April by Myanmar’s military leaders to regional powers ASEAN, to cease brutal violence against civilians which has followed the 1 February coup.

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Pakistan continues assault on civil liberties by attacking press

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As Pakistan continues to stifle freedom of speech, the country is pursuing an unrelenting assault on journalism as scribes are fired, harassed and assaulted for their critical reporting.

Umer Ali writes for DW news agency that the military and its intelligence services are among the more “sensitive” entities in Pakistan and so they don’t like being named. Due to that, the journalists use a range of phrases, such as ‘the establishment’ for the military, the ‘agriculture department’ for the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and ‘trips for northern areas’ for enforced disappearances. Highlighting the brutal assault on Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor and the shooting of Absar Alam outside his home for criticising the military, Ali noted that no progress has been made to arrest the culprits despite Islamabad being known for its extensive surveillance camera system.

In July 2020, another prominent journalist, Matiullah Jan, was abducted from outside his wife’s school. However, his kidnapping was caught on camera and he was released later after a severe backlash.

The attacks on journalists are part of a broader assault on civil liberties in Pakistan, as several human rights activists and opposition politicians face arrests and ‘treason’ charges, Ali wrote for DW.

Moreover, the Imran Khan-led government has continued a policy of gaslighting the journalists, which was noticeable when during an interview, Pakistan’s minister for information bragged about taking notice of the latest attack on Toor. He also alleged that it’s “fashionable” in the western media to accuse the ISI and that individuals about Pakistan’s intelligence agencies “lie” to “get immigration”. According to Umer Ali, Khan’s government is pursuing a journalist protection bill, in a similar duplicitous fashion, as well as an ordinance to establish a “media development authority”, which has been unanimously condemned by journalist and rights bodies as “draconian in scope and devastating in its impact.”

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CHINA CHALLENGES U.S. POSITION AS THE VITAL PARTNER FOR MIDDLE EAST COUNTRIES

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Following the US policy shift to disengage from the Middle East region, which started under President Barack Obama and continued and accelerated under Donald Trump, China stepped in to fill the vacuum created and now plays a wider role in the region. China’s growing influence in the Middle East is a real challenge to US dominance in the region. With the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, the Chinese government decided to expand its influence in the Middle East and the world in general and to provide an alternative source of financial assistance to some cash-strapped governments, helping them develop their infrastructure.

China is now the primary buyer of Middle Eastern oil, as about 72 percent of oil consumed in this vast country comes from overseas imports. As oil consumption in the rest of the world is declining and may decline further, China’s oil imports are becoming increasingly significant for Middle Eastern oil producers and so China’s geopolitical importance is growing fast.

Already China has developed comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, while its influence in Iran has increased significantly, following the signing of a 25-year cooperation plan with Tehran.

In the wake of the “Arab Spring”, China gradually expanded its engagement in the Middle East and has become the largest investor in the region and the most significant trading partner with the Arab League.

Chinese tech-companies are involved in the most important technological projects in the region such as Smart Dubai 2012 and Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program 2030.

As Beijing is becoming increasingly alienated by Western countries, which are trying hard to agree on a policy to halt China’s global expansion and prevent its domination of world trade, it has turned its attention to the Middle East, a region that has been neglected by Washington in the past decade.

Jonathan Fulton, assistant professor of political science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, writes: “China has established comprehensive strategic partnerships with Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as strategic partnerships with Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Turkey. Coinciding with the expansion of the BRI, this flurry of diplomatic activity indicates that Chinese leaders increasingly perceive the Middle East as important to their political and strategic goals.”

Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a more assertive Beijing seeks to put China at the center of global trade and at the same time place the Digital Silk Road in the leading position of technological innovation, helping jumpstart digital development in the region. Telecommunication companies in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have all partnered with Huawei to build 5G networks.

The Belt and Road Initiative envisages the creation of a vast network of railways, highways, energy pipelines and the building of 50 special economic zones. More than 60 countries have signed on BRI projects.

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