Just recently on December 4, 2020, the Delhi High Court in a latest judgement titled Rajeev Sharma vs State (NCT) of Delhi [CRL. REV.P. 363/2020] while ruling explicitly that an accused is entitled to default bail if the chargesheet is not filed within 60 days in offences where no minimum sentence is prescribed granted default bail to journalist Rajeev Sharma who is facing accusation of espionage and leaking sensitive information to Chinese intelligence under the Official Secrets Act. He was booked under Section 3/4/6 of Official Secrets Act and arrested on September 14. The order passed by the lower court was challenged before the Delhi High Court by Rajeev. Rajeev Sharma thereby getting default bail from the Delhi High Court.
To start with, Justice Yogesh Khanna who heard the case through video conferencing sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 2: “Before adverting to the issue involved, let me state the brief facts as alleged in the petition:-
a) a secret input from Indian intelligence Agency was received that Mr. Rajeev Sharma R/o SG-2, St. Xavier Apartment, Pitampura, New Delhi, is having links with Foreign Intelligence Officers and he has been receiving funds from his handler through illegal means & Western Union Money Transfers platform, for conveying sensitive information (having bearing on National Security & Foreign relations), to his handler based abroad, through electronic means. A case Vide FIR No.230/2020, dated 13.09.2020, u/s 3/4/5 Official Secrets Act, PS Special Cell, Delhi was registered and investigation was taken up;
b) During the investigation, Rajeev Sharma s/o Lt Sh.Rattan Lal Sharma r/o SG-2, Pitampura, New Delhi, was arrested on 14.09.2020 from Main Mathura Road, near Pillar No 172, Near Patel Nagar Metro Station, the arrest of accused Rajeev Sharma all the guidelines of Hon’ble Supreme Court of India were followed and the information of his was passed on to his wife Mrs. Pratima Vyas, though mobile phone call. Mobile phone of accused Rajeev Sharma was also seized. Further during the search of the house of the accused Rajeev Sharma, several articles and some sensitive/confidential documents related to Indian Defence department were recovered at the instance of accused Rajeev Sharma. The same were seized;
c) During further investigation, it was revealed that accused Rajeev Sharma has been indulged in procurement secret/confidential/sensitive documents/material information and rather conveying the same to his handlers (Chinese Intelligence officers) based in China. In lieu of that he was getting remuneration/money through illegal means i.e. hawala transactions/funds routed through shell companies being run/operated by Chinese nationals, in Delhi, India;.
d) During further investigation it was that accused Rajeev Sharma was in contact with these officers namely Michael, Xou and George through emails platforms i.e. Telegram, Whatsapp etc. Accused Rajeev Sharma was conveying the information to these Chinese intelligence Officers and was receiving the illegal funds through illegal means/shell companies being operated in Mahipalpur, Delhi by the Chinese nationals on the direction of Chinese intelligence officers;
e) Letter was moved to Military Intelligence, to verify and report regarding the recovered during search of house of accused Rajeev Sharma. in this regard from Director General Military Intelligence has As per the report-The documents are CLASSIF! vide Para 9 of Classification & handling of classified documents (CHCD)-2001 issued vide Military Intelligence -11 letter Number A/38020/MI-11 dated July 2001, and the person i.e. accused Rajeev Sharma was having the unauthorized possession of the said documents. Further it was also mentioned by the DGMI that any unauthorized disclosure of content of these documents could be expected to cause damage to National Security or could be prejudicial to the National Interests or would embarrass the Government in its functioning and the contents contained in documents are directly or indirectly connected with security matters country;”
More revealingly, it is then most convincingly observed in simple and straight language in para 3 that, “Accused Rajeev Sharma on 14.11,2020 had moved a petition under Section 167(2) Cr.P.C in the Court of learned CMM/Ld Duty Magistrate to release him, on the ground that 60 days period having expired since his arrest and charge sheet not been filed by the State, thus, relying upon the judgment of Supreme Court of India, in the case of “Rakesh Kumar Paul vs. State of Assam”. The said petition was dismissed by the Court saying the limit of 60 days period has not yet expired.”
To put things in perspective, it is then stated in para 4 that, “The State had filed a revision before learned ASJ, Patiala House Court, on 15.11.2020 against order dated 14.11.2020 of Ld. CMM and the same is pending for hearing for dated 07.01.2021. In the meantime, on 15.11.2020, accused Rajeev Sharma filed a petition under Section 167(2) Cr.P.C. (on similar grounds) in the court of Duty MM, Patiala House Court, wherein Ld Duty MM after perusing the matter dismissed the said petition on 16.11.2020 and ordered the time period of filing the charge sheet in this offence would be 90 days.”
To be sure, it is then aptly observed in para 6 that, “Against the said order dated 16.11.2020 of learned MM, Patiala House Courts, accused Rajeev Sharma has moved the present petition.” Para 7 then discloses that, “The dispute involves interpretation of Section 167 Cr.P.C.”
To put it succinctly, it is then stated in para 9 that, “It is argued by the learned Standing Counsel for the State that Rakesh Kumar Paul (supra) takes care of only the situation where minimum punishment is prescribed but what would happen if there is no minimum punishment prescribed. Thus the main argument of the learned Standing Counsel for the State is since the offence is punishable with a maximum of fourteen years viz. a period beyond ten years and without prescribing any minimum punishment, Section 167(2)(a)(i) Cr.P.C. shall be applicable and chargesheet can be filed within 90 days and thus petitioner shall not be entitled to default bail.”
In short, para 10 then states that, “The crux of his arguments is where there is no minimum punishment prescribed and the maximum punishment is more than 10 years then the chargesheet can be filed beyond 60 days but before 90 days from the date of arrest.”
As a corollary, it is then made clear in para 11 that, “The Court thus is required to see if in the present case the chargesheet is to be filed within 90 days or was required to be filed within 60 days from the date of arrest of the accused.”
As it turned out, para 12 then brings out that, “The learned Standing Counsel for the State referred to Vignesh vs. State of Tamil Nadu in CRL.O.P.(MD)2263/2012 decided on 30.03.2012 wherein the decision of Delhi High Court reported in 2001 CLJ 2023 was relied upon. The Court opined the expression “imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years” used in clause (i) of proviso (a) to Sub Section (2) of Section 167 includes imprisonment for a term of 10 years as well as imprisonment of more than 10 years. In other words, clause (i) of proviso (a) to Sub Section (2) of Section 167 will be applicable where the investigation relates to an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term of 10 years or more. The crucial test is whether the offence is one for which the punishment of imprisonment for a term of 10 years or more can be awarded. It is immaterial that the Court may have also the discretion to award the punishment for a term of less than 10 years. In the case of particular offence even though the Court may have a discretion to award the punishment of imprisonment for a term less than 10 years the above clause (i) will apply, if the accused can be punished with imprisonment for a term of 10 years.”
As we see, it is then observed in para 13 that, “In this case the Court held that since the offence under Section 3(1), first part of Official Secrets Act, 1923, being punishable with imprisonment which may extend to 14 years was covered by clause (i) of proviso (a) to Sub Section (2) of Section 167 Cr.P.C. and consequently, the applicant were not entitled to bail as of right since the report under Section 173 Cr.P.C. had been filed within 90 days of their arrest.”
Needless to say, para 14 then brings out that, “The learned Standing Counsel for the State also refers to Omprakash vs. State of Delhi 121 (2005) DLT 686 which also declared the same law.”
As against this, it is then stated in para 15 that, “However in Vinu vs. State of Kerala and Others, BAIL APPLN.8049/2011 decided on 08.12.2011 the Court held in cases where offence is punishable with imprisonment of 10 years or more the accused can be detained upto 90 days. In this context, the expression not less than would mean imprisonment should be 10 years or more and would cover only those offences for which the punishment could be imprisonment for a clear period of 10 years or more.”
To state the obvious, it is then stated in para 16 that, “A bare perusal of the Vinu (supra) above would say the expression not less than 10 years would cover the offence which is punishable with imprisonment for 10 years or more but per Vignesh (supra) and Omprakash (supra) it may even cover the discretion to award the punishment of imprisonment for a term of less than 10 years.”
Without mincing any words, it is then observed in para 17 that, “I’m afraid the contention raised by the learned Standing Counsel for the State does not hold good in view of Rakesh Kumar Paul vs State of Mysore, SLP(C) 2009/2017 where also the Supreme Court was concerned with interpretation of the words “imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years” appearing in clause (i) of proviso (a) to Sub Section (2) of Section 167 Cr.P.C. 1973, as amended in 1978. The Supreme Court went in great detail analyzing the purpose of amendment since 1898 which contained Section 167 laying down the procedure to be followed in the event the investigation to the offence is not completed within 24 hours. The Court observed that the legislative expectation was the investigation would ordinarily be completed within 24 hours. Section 167 Cr.P.C. was thus enacted with the recommended time limit and again regardless of the nature of offence of the punishment.”
Truth be told, it is then laid bare in para 18 that, “The Supreme Court went on to say that in 1978 a need was felt to amend Section 167 Cr.P.C. by not only extending the period for completinginvestigation but also relating that period to the offence. Therefore a shift was proposed to grant an aggregate period of 90 days for completing the investigation in cases relating to offences punishable to death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for not less than 10 years or more, as stated in the Notes on clauses accompanying the Statement of Objects and Reasons dated 09.05.1978 for amending the Statute. The Court said that in its opinion the use of words “or more” gives a clear indication that the period of 90 days was relatable to an offence punishable with minimum imprisonment for a period of not less than 10 years, if not more. The words or more were deleted when Section 167 Cr.P.C. was enacted, perhaps felt to be superfluous in the context of the words “not less than”.”
As anticipated, it is then elucidated in para 19 that, “This gives an answer to the issues raised in this petition that the offence must have the imprisonment for a clear period of 10 years or more only then Section 167(2)(a)(i) Cr.P.C. would be applicable. This view also find favour in Rajeev Choudhary vs. State of NCT of Delhi 2001(5)SCC 34 wherein it was held the words “not less than” would mean that the imprisonment should be of 10 years or more and would cover only those cases for which the punishment and imprisonment would be for a clear period of 10 years or more.”
Be it noted, para 20 then brings out that, “In Rakesh Kumar Paul (supra) the Court observed that the undoubtedly the legislature can bind the sentencing Court while laying down the minimum sentence (not less than) and it can also lay down the maximum sentence. If the minimum is laid down the sentencing Judge has no option but to give a sentence period not less than that sentence provided for. Therefore the words “not less than” occurring in clause (i) of proviso (a) to Sub Section (2) of Section 167 of Cr.P.C. must be given their natural and obvious meaning which is to say, not below the minimum threshold and in case of Section 167 Cr.P.C. these words must relate to the offence punishable with a minimum imprisonment of 10 years.”
In addition, para 21 then envisages that, “Here I would also refer to para 84 of Rakesh Kumar Paul vs. State of Assam 2017 (15) SCC 67, wherein the conclusions are noted, more specifically paras 84.2 and 84.3 would clinch the issue. The said paras are:
“84.2. Section 167(2)(a)(i) of the Code is applicable only in cases where the accused is charged with (a) offences punishable with death and any lower sentence; (b) offences punishable with life imprisonment and any lower sentence; and (c) offences punishable with minimum sentence of 10 years.
84.3. In all cases where the minimum sentence is less than 10 years but the maximum sentence is not death or life imprisonment then Section 167(2)(a)(ii) will apply and the accused will be entitled to grant of “default bail” after 60 days in case charge-sheet is not filed.”
Interestingly enough, it is then mentioned in para 22 that, “Rakesh Kumar Paul (supra) was relied upon in M.Ravindran vs. The Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence Crl.A.No.699/2020 decided on 26.10.2020 to say where the offence is punishable with minimum sentence of 10 years, the period of challan shall be 90 days.”
Most significantly, it is then pointed out in para 23 that, “Thus under the Official Secret Acts for which the petitioner is being tried, though entail punishment which may extend to 14 years but the Section does not talk of minimum period of sentence and thus does not pass the test of clear period of 10 years or more, per Rajeev Choudhary (supra) and Rakesh Paul (supra) and as such the period of challan in this case would be 60 days and thus the impugned order passed by the learned MM being illegal is set aside and the petition is allowed. The petitioner is thus entitled to default bail; the challan having not been filed within 60 days.”
As a consequence, it is then held in para 24 that, “The applicant herein is thus admitted on bail on his executing a personal bond of Rs.1,00,000/- to the satisfaction of the Jail Superintendent/Duty MM. The surety of the like amount shall be furnished by the petitioner within a week once the learned Trial Court resuming its normal functioning. The petitioner is directed to provide his contact number/address to the SHO concerned as also he shall keep open his location app in his mobile at all time and shall not leave the NCR of Delhi without seeking permission of the learned Trial Court.”
Now coming to the concluding paras. Para 25 holds that, “The petition stands disposed of in above terms. Pending application(s) if any, also stands disposed of.” Finally, it is then held in the last para 26 that, “Copy of this order be sent electronically to the learned Trial Court / Jail Superintendent for information and compliance.”
No doubt, this latest, learned and laudable ruling by the Delhi High Court makes it amply clear that if chargesheet is not filed within 60 days as is mandated in Section 167 (2) of CrPC when the investigating agency fails to complete the probe in cases where the minimum punishment is less than 10 years then the accused becomes entitled to default bail on expiry of a period of 60 days. Justice Yogesh Khanna has explained in detail the legal position on this as stated above. Very rightly so! Nothing more now remains to be said on this!
The Delhi High Court in its judgement, while ruling explicitly that an accused is entitled to default bail if the chargesheet is not filed within 60 days in offences where no minimum sentence is prescribed, granted default bail to journalist Rajeev Sharma who is facing accusation of espionage and leaking sensitive information to Chinese intelligence under the Official Secrets Act.
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PRIYANKA GANDHI’S ROLE IN UTTAR PRADESH POLLS
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is certainly busy making up for lost time as she bombards the people of Uttar Pradesh with a headline a day. If she is not taking on the cause of the farmers versus the Central and State Government on the Lakhimpuri Kheri murders, she is courting arrest trying to visit the family of a man who allegedly died in police custody. In between, she managed to evade the local police by smuggling herself out of her house in her car trunk and visited a Dalit colony where she visited a temple and swept the floor. A few days later she announced 40 per cent reservation for women in ticket distribution by the Congress, told the media that she was also working on a women’s manifesto that will include e-cycles and smartphones for college girls— and also happened to bump into her ally turned rival Akhilesh Yadav on a Lucknow flight where she congratulated him for taking all the `cowards’ away from the Congress— a reference to all the local Congress leaders who were leaving the party having lost faith in the Congress ticket.
The meeting with Akhilesh may have been by chance but she made the most of it by revealing to the media what she had told the SP leader (the line about cowards) and managed to make the most of the opportunity. While the SP camp is yet to comment on it, Congress sources also informed us as to how Priyanka sat in the economy while the socialist leader sat in business class. Later on Priyanka herself dwelt on this during her interviews with the media. Without attacking the SP leader directly she managed to convey two messages. One that he is taking turncoats whom the Congress had no use for and second, that she travelled economy class. (While Priyanka has started her media interactions, Akhilesh is yet to begin his apart from a few soundbites and appearances at conclaves.)
This running away with the message is a leaf that Priyanka has clearly taken out of Narendra Modi’s book. ( I know that neither will thank me for this comparision). Even on the day that the PM himself was at Varanasi to launch the Ayushman Bharat Infra Health Mission in his constituency, Priyanka Gandhi chose that same day to make her own announcement on health care. She tweeted that if voted to power the Congress would provide free treatment and healthcare up to Rs 10 Lakh. Taking a dig at the Yogi government she tweeted that: “Everyone saw the dilapidated condition of the health system in UP during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a result of the apathy and neglect of the current government. With the consent of the Manifesto Committee, the UP Congress has decided that when it forms the government in UP, any disease will be treated free of cost. The government will bear expenses up to Rs 10 lakh.”
She may have come late to the party—though her party workers point to her interventions during the Hathras rape and murder case, rallies against CAG, and her taking on the Yogi government on the issue of buses for the migrants— but she is definitely a major part of the Opposition’s narrative against the BJP. The problem is that the party lacks a ground-level structure and discipline to convert her initiatives into votes and two, her interventions through headline-worthy have been sporadic. Can she restore the faith of the people in her – and the Congress. A lot will depend on whether she chooses to contest the polls or not. Will she be part of the 40 percent women on the Congress ticket? “Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon” (I am a girl, and I can fight) is the Congress slogan. Will Priyanka be an active part of this slogan?
She is not revealing her cards right now but her leading from the front will make all the difference for that will pit her directly against Yogi Adityanath and his main contender Akhilesh Yadav. As far as Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is concerned it will raise her stature from campaigner to contender. Otherwise, she runs the risk of being an Assadduddin Owaisi, who is seen as a spoiler at best. The decision is in her court.
NEP warrants rewriting school syllabus
Of course, we must analyse the past without being its prisoner— in the context of the present to build a resurgent India-the hub of global education, by laying the foundation of a sound, secure and holistic school education system to meet the aspirational needs of the 21st century.
Eyebrows were raised, and speculation spiralled, when a member of the Kasturirangan-led committee, set up recently to revise the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and lay down the broad guidelines for school syllabus and textbooks, said that the existing curriculum in schools dwells “too much on defeats”, and that “in the light of new facts, history should be rewritten”. The member, an ideologue, also remarked that textbooks should talk about the “fighting spirit” of rulers such as Maharana Pratap in battles against foreign invaders. When Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, HRD Minister in Vajpayee government, caused some revision in the school text books, it was considered by the left-wing as saffronisation of the syllabus. The revision of the extant NCF has been necessitated by the National Education Policy, (NEP), 2020. The NCF revision is not new or novel. It was last revised in 2005, and earlier in 1975, 1988 and 2000. The NEP incapsulates and condenses the recommendations of the Committee set up to formulate a Draft National Education Policy. It was a Herculean task to condense over 400 page report of the Kasturirangan Committee into a precise 68 page policy document, that is the NEP, which was approved by the Union Cabinet on 29th July, 2020. As Adviser to the Union Minister for Education, I recollect, the affable but indefatigable Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had a series of mind storming and protracted discussions with senior bureaucrats, academics and scholars, apart from structured inter-ministerial discussions, leading to formulation of multiple drafts and eventual approval of the NEP 2020 by the Cabinet.
The NEP, the first education policy of the 21st century, aims to address the many growing developmental imperatives of India. The NEP envisages revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, including its regulation and governance and to create a new system aligned with the aspirational goals of the 21st century and the SDG4, while building upon India’s great traditions and value systems. The NEP unambiguously says that ‘the pursuit of knowledge (Jnan), wisdom (Pragyaa), and truth (Satya) was always considered in Indian thought and philosophy as the highest human goal. Admittedly, the purpose of education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values. The Policy envisages that the curriculum and pedagogy must foster a sense of respect towards the fundamental duties and constitutional values, bonding with one’s country, and conscious awareness of one’s role and responsibilities.
A host of wide-ranging measures have been taken by the Ministry of Education, the UGC, the NCERT and the CBSE to give effect to the provisions of the NEP as per the timelines stipulated in the Policy itself. The provisions of the NEP relating to Early Childhood Care, that is the foundational literary and numeracy and development of a new National Curriculum Framework for school education is a challenging task. This is so because, according to the empirical studies, and a fact reiterated by the NEP, over 85 percent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6, indicating the critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in early years. The school curriculum and pedagogy are to be restructured in a new 5+3+3+4 and ‘learning is to be made holistic, integrated, enjoyable, and engaging’. The curriculum content would be reduced to make the school bag lighter. However, the core essentials of each subject would be retained to make space for critical thinking based on concepts, ideas, applications and problem-solving. Teaching and learning have to be made interactive, creative, collaborative, experiential with classroom sessions ‘regularly containing more fun’. The NEP speaks of empowerment of students through flexibility in course choices, multilingualism, curricular integration of essential subjects, skills and capacities, with local content and flavour by developing a new and comprehensive NCF for school education based on the principles enshrined in the NEP.
The task belongs to, and stands assigned to the NCERT by the NEP, but, probably conscious of the enormity and the complexity, the GoI has entrusted the task of drafting the NCF to a 12-member National Steering Committee (NSC) headed by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan, who also headed the Committee on the Draft National Education Policy, 2019. Out of the 12 members, apart from Dr Kasturirangan who heads the NSC, two more eminent scholar members of the Committee constituted to Draft the NEP, 2019, namely Prof. Manjul Bhargava and Prof.T V Kattimani, have been retained. Prof. Manjul Bhargava is a professor of Mathematics in the Princeton University, USA- the recipient of Fields Medal. This prestigious award is given to mathematicians under age 40 by the International Mathematical Union, considered as the novel prize of Mathematics. Prof. Kattimani is a former VC of Indira Gandhi National Tribal University and the current VC of the Central Tribal University of Andhra Pradesh. The other members of the NSC comprise of eminent Vice Chancellors, distinguished scholars, renowned academics, domain experts and profound thinkers. The task before them is complex and colossal as they have to develop the new NCF within the framework of the NEP, 2020.
A member of the NSC, and a right-wing ideologue, has hinted at re-writing history and the textbooks ‘in the light of new facts’ of history. The precise mandate of the steering committee is to develop the NCF within the mandated remit. The NEP speaks, among other things, of incorporating local content and flavour as the students must know about their past, immediate surroundings and topography, India’s civilisational heritage, constitutional values, to develop the spirit of critical thinking and enquiry. The Policy advocates multilingualism, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong opportunities for all by 2030 by incorporating rapid changes in the knowledge landscape in the globalised world. The aim is to promote India as a global study destination by providing premium education at affordable costs so as to help ‘restore its role as a Viswa Guru’. Evidently, the founding fathers of our republic laid the foundation of a civic nation, and not an ethnic nation by crafting a republican democratic Constitution, solemnly affirming to secure to all its citizens: Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity— assuring the dignity of the individual.
When one speaks of India’s civilisational heritage and the need for inculcating the spirit of enquiry and scientific temper, the following Vedic hymn flashes across the mind: ‘Whether God’s will created it (the universe), or … only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows, only He knows, or perhaps He does not know.’ In a steering committee of twelve eminences in diverse fields of knowledge, there may be an initial difference of opinion but when they talk together, deliberate, build consensus and bring unity of purpose having regard to the need to impart quality education and to make India a global hub of education, expectedly, they will surmount parochial considerations and develop the national curricular framework in perfect accord with the hallowed provisions of the NEP2020, staying clear of the potential carping criticism of the extreme left or the radical right, by not harking too much on the past. Of course, we must analyse the past without being its prisoner— in the context of the present to build a resurgent India-the hub of global education, by laying the foundation of a sound, secure and holistic school education system to meet the aspirational needs of the 21st century.
The writer is ex Addl Secretary, Lok Sabha and a member of the Delhi Bar Council. Views expressed are writer’s personal.
A member of the NSC, and a right-wing ideologue, has hinted at re-writing history and the textbooks ‘in the light of new facts’ of history. The precise mandate of the steering committee is to develop the NCF within the mandated remit. The NEP speaks, among other things, of incorporating local content and flavour as the students must know about their past, immediate surroundings and topography, India’s civilisational heritage, constitutional values, to develop the spirit of critical thinking and enquiry. The Policy advocates multilingualism, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong opportunities for all by 2030 .
THE PANDEMIC: US NEEDS TO CLEAN UP ITS OWN HOUSE, COUNTER CHINA
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States has admitted what was being suspected for a long time—that the US has poured money into gain-of-function research in China and that money has funded bat coronavirus research at a Wuhan laboratory. In a letter to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, last week, the NIH admitted that it funded the EcoHealth Alliance, which researched on bat coronavirus in partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to try and see how the virus could be made more infectious than normal. At the same time, NIH claimed that the research being done by the EcoHealth Alliance could not have started the pandemic, because the genetic composition of that virus was different from that of the SARS-CoV-2. But such is the trust deficit resulting from the NIH’s unwillingness to share information, not everyone is ready to buy that argument.
EcoHealth Alliance, a non-governmental organization, is led by the now-infamous British zoologist Dr Peter Daszak, who has been in the forefront of pushing the no-lab-leak theory. He was the one who on 19 February 2020 had written a letter to the medical journal Lancet—co-signed by 26 scientists—saying, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin…and overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The letter also made it clear that the Chinese should not be held accountable for the pandemic. It was again Dr Daszak who was part of the World Health Organisation’s investigation team that “probed” the origin of Covid-19 last year. He was thus responsible for shifting the whole focus of the probe, because of which China got away. In fact, he played a major role in shifting the narrative to such an extent that any question asked about China’s culpability in the spread of the virus got branded as “racism”. Questions are also being raised about how much the powerful Dr Anthony Fauci, who has been in the forefront of US’ fight against the coronavirus and who is currently the Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, knew about this. During a Congressional hearing earlier this year, Fauci had flatly denied that he knew that the NIH, through EcoHealth was funding coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The NIH is now claiming that Dr Fauci did not perjure himself in that hearing. However, according to media reports, EcoHealth Alliance has said that they had made all the research data available to the NIH as far back as 2018, thus raising grievous questions about what Dr Fauci has been hiding.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the NIH’s role in the gain of function research in coronavirus in bats has been problematic, and much of its efforts have been directed towards cover-up, when the need is transparency. As a result, the investigation into the origin of the virus has been compromised right from the beginning. The truth has been a casualty in the process. Considering the difficulties of cornering China over the spread of the virus, it is the US that will have to take the lead in speaking the truth and bringing those guilty of the cover-up to book, even if they are important people who are part of the administration. Until and unless the US leads by example, how can it lead the world in putting pressure on China to confess to its role in the spread of the virus? The investigation ordered by President Joe Biden into the origin of the virus was inconclusive. It could not determine if there was a lab leak or if the virus jumped from animal to human. The report was along expected lines, with China stonewalling any probe. But questions are bound to be raised about the US’ inability—or is it unwillingness?—to come to a definitive conclusion about the origin of the virus.
At this rate, where is the world headed? Millions of people have died from the virus. It has been one of history’s worst genocides and it is ongoing. Billions of people have been financially impacted. Will there be no justice for them? Will China get away with murder? The US is a superpower, it calls itself the world leader. It should live up to that claim and lead from the front in holding China accountable, for which it needs to clean up its own house first.
One billion doses: PM Modi must get full credit
While addressing the nation on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be given full credit for the feat India has achieved of administering one Billion doses to Indian citizens. Although healthcare workers and the entire administration must get the credit, there was one man behind all of them who believed this was possible despite serious doubts raised by opposition and critics. And this was Narendra Modi. He kept inspiring people amidst chaos and ensured that the administration was totally focused on the target.
While critics kept raising asking how would illiterate population that did not have smart phones register under Co-win App and how could infrastructure be created overnight to administer the vaccine, Modi had immense trust that people would come forward and script India’s success story. While opposition parties were criticizing, he was working with scientists and bureaucrats and trying to tie-up the loose ends, learning from mistakes and applying correctives.
Debates after debates BJP spokespersons would be asked how would the Government achieve this impossible task. They asserted that when the Government had announced the target this would be achieved. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that India would be able to vaccinate citizens only by end of 2024, whereas, the Government asserted it would do so by end of December 2021. Modi always works to a plan and his dateline has been proved to be correct. By 21 October, the One Billion doses mark was already achieved. By end of December the country would add many more millions.
The Prime Minister never takes credit. He has always given credit to citizens for the country’s progress. While addressing the nation on Friday, Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful. He thanked, in particular, the health workers who took extra efforts to achieve the task. This gratitude to them and to people was there even in his mann ki baat on Sunday.
Modi described the vaccination programme as “a journey from anxiety to assurance that has made the country stronger” despite efforts by sections of opinion to create distrust. That this feat was achieved in nine months very few could imagine. But this was made possible because he trusted science and scientist and did not allow politics to deter their approach.
While addressing health workers in January this year in Varanasi, the Lok Sabha seat he represents, Modi had brushed aside criticism over emergency use of Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech. He described the scientists as modern rishis who had worked day and night to devise the elixir for saving lives.
Modi clarified that he was guided completely by advice of scientists and not by what was said by political parties. “And when the go-ahead from the scientists came, we had to decide from where to start. Then we decided to start from health workers who remain in contact with patients constantly,” he told a gathering of health workers. During his address on Friday he said: “It is a matter of pride for us that India’s vaccination programme has been science-born, science-driven and science-based.”
Vaccination drive was launched on 16 January 2021 with target of inoculating three crore health workers and front-line workers. This proved to be a smart move to reduce vaccine hesitancy since people get convinced when doctors and health workers take the vaccine, Modi acknowledged. This helped them save many lives without fearing their own lives while treating patients during the second wave.
Now the task may appear easy, but the context should not be forgotten. It was efforts of these scientists that India developed its own vaccine and also became the centre for manufacturing the other one- Covishield. When more than a hundred countries are awaiting supply of vaccine to them to tide over the crisis, India is on the verge of a recovery that has become a shining example to the world. The WHO has lauded this achievement and given full credit to the political leadership.
When the Union Government had told the Court that it would have enough vaccine to inoculate 93-94 crore adults by the end of the year, the Supreme Court had sought a roadmap. Actually, very few were ready to believe that more than 900 million (90 crore) people would get the vaccine by the year end.
The liberalised vaccination procurement framework issued in April last month was based on scientific analysis of global best practices, SoPs of WHO and recommendations of experts. This allowed larger role for private players and gave operational flexibility to States. Besides procuring vaccine from indigenous manufacturers they could also seek vaccine directly from foreign vendors.
This met demand of various states for more power since Health is a state subject. Some States had promised free vaccines and were trying to project central government in poor light without realising that vaccine was in short supply. When some of the States floated global tenders, they did not get the response due to this very fact. Some vaccine manufacturers told the states that they would deal only with the Federal Government.
Rather than trying to do politics over vaccine they should have merely executed the vaccination drive. If they were sincere in their efforts, they could have remitted to the Centre the expenses for free vaccine promised. Their criticisms and approach demonstrated that they were merely trying to score political point. Their propensity to find fault with every decision taken by the Prime Minister created confusion and panic all around.
Some mavericks said that the Centre should invoke compulsory licensing and allow other players to make vaccine hardly realising that making Covid-19 vaccine required lot of bio-safety measures which others were not equipped with. The solution was to increase capabilities of existing manufacturers which was an easier option.
While explaining this Niti Ayog member VK Paul had cited the example of Moderna, a US pharma giant. Moderna had said (October 2020) that it would not sue company which makes its vaccines but not a single company did this. Vaccine making is not an easy process, he had explained.
Imagine the contradiction between a chief minister sitting in Delhi or Maharashtra talking about vaccine like an expert and the Prime Minister talking to world experts and leader on vaccine availability and administration and trying to devise strategy for the country. Who was better equipped knowledge wise or by the capabilities to decide? The former was only waving swords in the air without any knowledge or competence whereas, the real fire-fighting was done by the latter through cold calculated steps.
It is only after some opposition ruled States raised their hands in sheer desperation and created an impression that the task was impossible that the Prime Minister announced free vaccine for all and allowed private players to cater to those who were willing to pay. The opposition had created a mess of the situation and it was clear that they were not able to rise to the occasion. People were upset and angry and these States were trying to shift the blame to the Centre on one pretext or the other. While opposition attitude reflected contempt and derision of Indian efforts, the Prime Minister’s attitude reflected trust and confidence.
The opposition was found in the race to undermine India’s own vaccine. When Covaxin was declared as India’s answer to search for vaccine, the opposition questioned its efficacy without knowing that this was the amrit that would save people. They questioned emergency use authorisation without realising that these were Indian scientists who had recommended this and not PM Modi.
While Indian scientists rejoiced and the country felt proud, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned saying this would be dangerous to use Covaxin. Questioning the Emergency use approval of Covaxin, former Union Minister, Manish Tiwary had said, “if the vaccine is so safe and reliable and efficacy of the vaccine is beyond question then how is it that not a single functionary of the government has stepped forward to get themselves vaccinated as it has happened in other countries around the world?”
One Congress leader from Bihar asked why had the Prime Minister not taken the jab first even when Modi had announced that nobody would jump the queue. The Prime Minister pointed out on Friday that the vaccine driver had kept the VIP culture away. Those who were eligible got the jab first. Others despite their political clout waited in the queue for their turn.
Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has crossed all limits of valid criticisms by terming the vaccine as BJP vaccine and declaring that he would not take the vaccine. This is what he said: “Main toh nahi lagwaunga abhi vaccine. Maine apni baat keh di. Aur woh bhi BJP lagayegi uska bharosa karunga main? Arre, jao bhai. Arre, apni sarkar ayegi, sabko free vaccine lagegi. Hum BJP ka vaccine nahin lagwa sakte (I will not get the vaccine now. I am telling you about myself. Am I going to trust a vaccine given by the BJP? Oh, get lost. When our government comes, everyone will get the vaccine free)”.
How ridiculous one can become was evident when Samajwadi Party MLC Ashutosh Sinha said that people might become impotent after taking Covid vaccine. Rumours were spread that vaccine intended to decrease population of some community.
All these increased vaccine hesitancy so much that people were often seen running away from health-workers deployed to inoculate them. Some delayed taking the jab for the fear that this would harm them. India’s vaccination programme and its success now must be seen in this context. There was one man who has been absolutely sure of science and his people. The world knows who he has been.
But there is no time to relax. One that the drive must be stepped up to bring all under vaccine drive as soon as possible. The festivals season, the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.
The festival season the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.
AMARINDER LIKELY TO HOLD WORKERS’ MEETING IN DELHI
In an obvious attempt to entice Congress activists to join his proposed new political party, former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is likely to convene a workers’ conclave in Delhi in the coming week. The erstwhile soldier is essentially banking on sitting MLAs, who may be denied renomination by Congress to meet him to discuss the current situation in the border state. He appears to be in no tearing hurry to resign from the grand old party while simultaneously working to weaken it from within. The strategy is clear that being a part of the Congress, he can always continue to meet his colleagues and fellow MLAs, and if the High Command was to act against him, the only action possible could be expulsion. This would also suit him since he would continue to be a member of the legislative assembly and can participate in the deliberations of the Assembly whenever it meets. The anticipation is that taking advantage of the intense infighting, the Captain may ask the Charanjit Singh Channi government to take the floor test at an appropriate time. The Workers meet in the national capital is designed to test the loyalty of some of those who benefitted from their association with him in the nine and half years he remained the Chief Minister. It is also to assess his own strengths and weaknesses before he floats his own party, the blueprint of which is ready. The battle-hardened Captain is likely to launch a twin attack on the Congress. The first would be to ensure that it is weakened from within and the second to put his own party on a firm footing. Unconfirmed reports from Punjab suggest that there were as many as 20 MLAs, who were expected to meet him in Delhi this week. Whether this happens or not would depend on how the Central leadership of the Congress is able to rein in various factions, which are working against each other. On Sunday, Pradesh president, Navjot Singh Sidhu lashed out at his own government and reminded the Chief Minister and his Cabinet that the real issues were being swept under the carpet while unimportant matters were getting undue attention. Anandpur Saheb MP, Manish Tewari also referred to the infighting and stated that he had not seen such chaos in the 40 years he has been with the Congress. He questioned the wisdom of those who constituted the three-member committee headed by Malikarjun Kharge to hear out the grievances of the MLAs. The exercise finally resulted in Amarinder being ousted. The Congress versus Congress war is only hurting the party and by introducing the element of personal attacks on the former CM, the political waters have been muddied further. Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu continued her attack on Aroosa Alam, the Captain’s Pakistani companion and stated that she used her proximity with the former Chief Minister to get important postings done after receiving expensive gifts. Aroosa on her part told a news channel on Saturday that the photograph of hers with Sonia Gandhi, released by the Amarinder camp was from 2005, a year before she met the Captain. A lot of stories regarding Aroosa are doing the rounds in political circles and they are not helping anyone. Congress as in other states is totally unprepared to dictate the political agenda and the astute and perceptive Captain is certainly going to take advantage of this vacuum. However, for Amarinder to succeed in his designs, he would have to somehow get the farmers on his side. Without the peasants’ support, his political party would be a non-starter. Therefore, the speculation is that he might meet the Prime Minister before Narendra Modi leaves for Europe by the weekend and discuss the farm laws. Amarinder has to play his cards properly and should remember that actions driven by anger do not necessarily lead to political dividends.
Infrastructure through Gati Shakti will help build the nation
The spirit behind the Gati Shakti initiative by PM Modi will serve two purposes. One, fill the infrastructure gaps in various sectors to serve people’s needs to improve their living standards and second, expected additional growth of the economy of our country for 4% to 5% by 2025 will help the country to become a US$ 5 trillion economy.
Infrastructure along with good governance creates a conducive atmosphere for investment attraction from global entrepreneurs, which leads to the growth of the nation’s economy in the form of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for better living conditions among the general public in the nation. Here, infrastructure consists of roads and other transport facilities for the best connectivity among affordable clean energy, reliable transmission and distribution, roads, railways, inland waterways, seaports and till end-user of the product and service, irrigation, industrial parks and social infrastructure for enhancing the human living standards in all the required parameters which has been stipulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi under Gati Shakti plan. Whether it is Union or state governments, they should plan and implement accurately the infrastructure requirements in a particular state to connect other destinations across the country meaningfully.
Union government under the leadership of PM Modi has been giving utmost priority to all kinds of physical infrastructure post-2014 with the coordination of state governments for achieving US$5 trillion economy. Though there were infrastructure facilities that evolved gradually after Independence in 1947, those facilities were minimal and inadequate to serve the people of the nation. In these circumstances, PM Modi’s leadership of Bharat had intended for the improvement of all kinds of infrastructure in tandem with a proper blueprint worth around 100 lakh crore, as announced by PM Modi, flag off the Gati Shakti plan under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). Thereafter, PM Modi has insisted it time and again including his recent Independence Day speech from the Red Fort as the need of the hour as already it has been in progress and the present value of the projects have reached to nearly 111 crore to boost our country’s economy for the creation of huge employment-related opportunities for the youth.
The spirit behind the Gati Shakti initiation by PM Modi is to serve two purposes in tandem. One, fill the infrastructure gaps in various sectors to serve people’s needs to improve their living standards, and second, expected additional growth of the economy of our country to 4% to 5% by 2025 that facilitates to become a US$ 5 trillion economy. PM Modi led Union government has included sector-wise projects such as water, sanitation, social infrastructure, power, roads, railways, ports, airports, OFCs, hospitals, agriculture, and other infrastructure projects in the PM Gati Shakti road map. These projects have been in progress under the PPA system, consisting of the Centre share for 39%, the state share for 40%, and the private participation for 21% on 6835 projects and already 42 lakh crore worth of these 100 lakh crore projects are already in various stages in different states. The primary aim of PM Gati Shakti is raising the living standards of the people of the country and turning the country into an “economic force” with the initiation of these 100 lakh crore infrastructure projects.
Already, both Sagaramala and Bharathmala projects are vital in the process of infrastructure creation along with all other sectors to augment the GDP growth of our nation till Bharat reaches close to a manufacturing giant in the world. In this process, Make in India is a key initiative to achieve the ambitious US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025 for better living standards and infrastructure pipeline India provides. The bilateral trade between India and the US has grown from US$ 16 billion to US$ 149 billion in the last two decades and it has projected to reach over US$ 500 billion by 2025 with Greenfield or Brownfield projects. Already Vizag and Chennai Industrial Corridor (VCIC), Bangalore and Chennai Industrial Corridor (BCIC) are under progress and those are playing a prominent strategic role for the sea-based industrial infrastructure in South India under Sagarmala project for the estimated augment of GDP around 4%. Also, there is expressway road connectivity, railways connectivity, and air connectivity to the seaports and industrial parks and cities around it under Bharathmala projects.
The prestigious Delhi – Mumbai Expressway for 1350 km distance comprises various industrial parks with 92,000 crore project cost has almost completed and getting ready for service within a year with the estimated earnings Rs 1200 crore to 1500 crore per month. One more New 8 line Expressway has been announced by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari to connect North to South of Bharath between Pune and Bangalore covering Surat – Nashik – Ahmednagar – Solapur – Akkalkot – Gulbarga – Yadgir – Kurnool – Chennai with an estimated cost of 40,000 crore with various industrial clusters with an aim to complete the project for service by 2024.
NHAI is playing the key role under Bharatmala project initiation to connect roads with railways, airports, and seaports for faster transportation connectivity to reduce the time log of the goods and travellers transport from one place to another part of our nation. In this process, where the National Highways around 90000 km were constructed prior to 2014 since Independence, it has reached more than 1,36,000 km till now by laying more than 46,000 km by NHAI for seven years of PM Modi led Union government. Further, NHAI is working with an aim to complete 2 lakh km roads as National Highways by 2025. The role of the Bharatmala project is vital for the connectivity of transportation in the Gati Shakti initiation of 100 lakh crore infrastructure projects.
How the funds are available for the PM Gati Shakti projects for 100 lakh crore is the big question raised by the critics. But the sector-wise projects and cost structure thereof planned beautifully and the same was announced in 2019 itself as NIP with a professional task force and already 42 lakh crore worth projects of various sectors under progress across the country with Centre, state, and private participation. Funds were planned by the Central government sector-wise through budget allocations, toll, and other revenues, National Monetisation Policy (NMP), disinvestments, and sources from financial institutions and similarly, state governments should have their plans for their projects approved under NIP and rest of 60 lakh crore to 70 lakh crore worth projects shall be completed in the next three years to gear up the economic activity with a sharp rise in the growth rate to reach the PM Modi’s ambitious US$ 5 trillion economy by 2025.
The writer holds a degree in commerce and works as an FCA. The views expressed are personal.
Union government has included sector-wise projects such as water, sanitation, social infrastructure, power, roads, railways, ports, airports, OFCs, hospitals, agriculture, and other infrastructure projects in the PM Gati Shakti road map. These projects have been in progress under the PPA system, consisting of Central share for 39%, the state share for 40%, and the private participation for 21% on 6,835 projects and already Rs 42 lakh crore worth of these Rs 100 lakh crore projects are already in various stages in different states.
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