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World needs more ‘no-meat’ days

Around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year. And to keep this savage business running, most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry.

Amita Singh

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On reading my friend’s latest article in a leading national newspaper, ‘Food Choice in Crisis: Forced Vegetarianism in Gurugram’, I felt a bit sympathetic towards people demanding access to whatever they wish to eat. The argument given against a Tuesday ban on meat supply to markets was that a religious argument should not be pushed to obstruct choice of those who wish to consume meat. Fair enough, if religion comes to the rescue of animals even if it is for a day. Enlightened people exposed to global discourses on slaughterhouse cruelties and climate change imperatives should welcome this move and not refurbish their armoury unnecessarily. The better side of all religions is to gradually do away with all forms of cruelties on the weak and create an Arcadian Bliss where all species are able to live in harmony with nature.

An insistence on ‘food choice’ comes from an overfed population controlling markets of opulence. Growing up in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where denying a culinary star meat dish was almost heretical in the early decades, most meat eaters would mock such intruders to a dining table as ‘grass-eating people’. My father, on an official tour with Jawaharlal Nehru to China and Burma, had to live on a potato diet for almost a month or more. He was often mocked by his fellow officials on his irrelevance for these tours, but Nehru was relatively respectful and would never forget to sympathetically ask him if he got something to eat. It was in 1971 when the book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé first appeared to answer many such arguments on food choice. By this time almost 15% of the Amazon forest had already been replaced by pastures for cattle which had prodigiously increased from 5 million to 80 million in factory farming for British and American food companies such as McDonald and Big Boy companies. The rare Andean Amazonian rainforest ecosystems from eastern to southern Brazilian Amazon covering its key states of Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Rondônia including the high value rainforest ecosystems of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were bulldozed for meat industry. This area gradually acquired the title of the dreadful ‘Arc of deforestation’ ready to push the planet into many improbable disasters. However, these countries supplied meat to foreign markets but back home witnessed the worst hunger as the food animals munched all their grains.

I must confess that many of us are encumbered by the power of endurance of so many animals, minced and grilled in the food industry where technical advancement for meat shredding and de-robing pretty birds goes on without guilt just to serve their bodies on plates as this is considered progressive. Ecology offers us a new way of thinking. Most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry. Almost 70% of human consumption of water takes place in the global agriculture sector including the agri-meat industry. To produce one kg of wheat only 1,500 litres of water is consumed, while it takes ten times more to produce the same amount of beef. For making 20-30 chapatis or a kilogramme of rice only 2,497 litres or less of water is used but for producing the same amount of beef 15,415 litres and for chicken meat 4,500 litres of water is used. One hamburger alone sucks 212 litres of water and by that standard an average American who consumes around 280 lbs of meat in a year may require 232,000 litres of water per year just to eat a hamburger.

The land statistics of meat consumption may also be disconcerting to many. It takes 1.8 acres to feed a cow for a year. The size of an average landholding in India is 3.7 acre per family which suggests that their inclination for rearing animals for the meat market may divert food and water from family members to the animal. Yet, there is another argument on slaughterhouse animals as sentient beings. As Peter Singer the legendary author on planetary ethics, questions, ‘Why the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests be arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species?’ It has been a powerful world of meat eaters since meat was power, sophistication and opulence. In 1990, I was exposed to a new direction of arguments from Carol J. Adams whom I met at a women’s conference at Hunter College of New York. She had already gained a huge following from students and intellectuals from many countries and most people were walking around with her much in demand book The Sexual Politics of Meat. During those five days of this global meet I was introduced to a male language of meat eating in which vegetable becomes a symbol of feminine passivity and meat of patriarchy. Her provocative feminist-vegetarian critical theory found ‘the rape of animals and the butchering of women’ synonymous with crimes as products of power hierarchies. In India an ideal subservient vegetarian wife would still be expected to cook, serve and feed meat to her husband and son to increase their masculine sturdiness and she in turn expects the same from her son’s wife.

Lately, Indian television media is going berserk on advertisements from meat companies. These ads get on to prime time popular slots to show disturbing images of animal bodies as delicious food products. For this reprehensible display which blatantly disparages smaller species is aggressively splashed through popular Bollywood stars. These advertising companies hurt sentiments of animal respecting people with brazen thoughtlessness as if the world was all theirs and a rampant demonstration of animal bodies carelessly put on fire was an ideal planetary ethics with men in driving seats. In reality, it is this brute force of a callous Anthropocene which has disturbed the balance of life on our planet.

Who are these animal respecting people (ARP)? Adams’ curt response that the world is divided into intellectually superior meat eaters and inferior plant eaters account for conquering other cultures such as the rice-eating Hindu and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish peasant by a well-fed beef eating English. Russell Baker’s account of the second World War highlights what he calls the ‘beef madness’ when American soldiers were force fed richly fatted beef to win the war. The result is everyone’s knowledge. This has also been a pet argument to promote meat by markets across the benign plant-based agrarian communities. The decades of 1960s and 1970s had shown animal respecting people as aggressive animal liberators who would break through laboratory cages or slaughterhouses to liberate suffering animals and that’s when in 1975 Peter Singer’s formidable Animal Liberation, a true story of slaughterhouses, was published. This book had many editions but in 2009 the author was still found face to face with the untold cruelties in slaughterhouses. He begins the new edition with the story of an undercover video on evening news reported from the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in California that shocked Americans. The world watched in horror as cattle too sick to even walk were being kicked, shocked with electric prods, jabbed in the eye with a baton and pushed around with a forklift all so that they could be driven near enough to the ‘kill box’ to be slaughtered and processed into meat. Yet, people can still cry for their right to eat Kebabs from their choice shops.

Ironically, the liberation movement for animals did not come from religious communities across the world spread around the Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist terrains but from the Western educated scientifically trained professional communities in the Western world. A realisation was writ large on the rising new generation that compassion cannot be left to the mercy of scientists in labs or those high tech 40 categories of butcher knives to dig out intestines of a dying animal in slaughterhouses. The meat eaters were now restraining themselves from mocking plant eaters at least in public. The KFC and McDonald ads on American TV showing a meek half-starved vegetarian playing his sad violin in the midst of energetic, smart and happy meat eating youngsters were being withdrawn silently. This movement was led by the People for Animals group of Maneka Gandhi in India. It picked up intimidating personalities such as former Chief Election Commissioner late T.N. Sheshan for his tough and straightforward administrative leadership reflecting high integrity. Sheshan would brutally cut a carrot between his teeth to say he does the same to the corrupt, was an act which brought a brilliant change of image for vegetarians who could come out from their self-proclaimed guilt of not being the mainstream people. I was also handed over a stupefying video film by animal activist Camelia Satija in 1992, shot by much driven braveheart animal activists in India›s best known slaughterhouses. This film was then shown in an exhibition organised at Kamala Nehru College and animal activists from St Stephens in Delhi, titled by students as ‘Leave Meat, Be Compassionate to Animals’. The impact was a series of street plays and a massive number of students taking public pledge to follow a vegetarian path.

The word vegetarian is a bit out of place as a visibly different lot of people. This word did not even exist till 1847 when the English Vegetarian Society was inducing moral and philosophical arguments to life. The Oxford English Dictionary was comfortable with the idea that the word represented centuries of protest against the killing of animals. The world currently has around two billion vegetarians by choice, a number that is growing gradually with increasing affluence combined with education and realisation. The other 1.5 billion are vegetarians of necessity. They will start to eat meat as soon as they can afford it or if health permits. Rising incomes in this latter group which lacks appropriate exposure to global environmental or political discourses adds numbers to meat eaters. India tops the number of vegetarians by choice to be around 40% or more, with Mexico following it with 20%. It is interesting to note that the percentage of vegetarians in UK, Brazil, Israel and Australia is fast rising to go beyond 15% but to add to this, countries which knew little beyond meat in their food like Scandinavian countries, Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan and Germany also show a rising graph of people with complete ‘no meat food’ simply as a response to anti-cruelty movements.

This meat industry as any other market encounters problems of demand and supply management. While around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year, almost 30% of them are wasted for lack of demand. This suggests that like any other capitalistic market the cumulative surplus comes from animals’ lives butchered unnecessarily. Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology scholar, had indicated in her 2009 writings that those who work in slaughterhouses are much more vulnerable to violent crimes, arrests for rape and other sex offenses in comparison with other industries. Mind is dreadfully affected as workers are hired to kill animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs and cows that are largely tender and gentle creatures. A disconnect with suffering and with pleading eyes of a helpless creature deadens their behaviour as they become numb towards  domestic violence, rape, killing on trifling incidents, alcohol abuse and are easily pushed sometimes to devilish outbursts.

It’s our moving away from plant-based diets that a bowl of food today needs ten times more energy for its production than it did in the 1960s. As India moves towards the 2030 deadline for achieving sustainable development goals and also commitments made under the Paris Pact for energy sustainability, governments may have to inspire, encourage and motivate populations to reduce consumption of animal-based diets. It is not the right time for aggressive advertising of meat products as above arguments establish that a ‘food choice’ is not absolute as it is limited by the carrying capacity of planet earth and the rights of animal respecting people.

So what is the harm if the much sullied side of human life, as described by Tillie Olsen in Yonnondio, ‘Geared, meshed: the kill room: knockers, shakles, pritcher-uppers, stickers, headers, rippers, leg breakers, breast and aitch sawyers, caul pullers, fell cutters, rumpers, splitters, vat dippers, skinners, gutters, pluckers’, are all sent on a one-day holiday to rest so that vibrations on the earth’s atmosphere are not disrupted by the loud and deafening screams of animals from slaughterhouses. Hope environmentalists and animal-respecting people should demand more ‘no-meat’ days in cities.

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

MOHAMMAD RAFI LIVES ON AND REMAINS THE VOICE OF INDIA

Pankaj Vohra

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There has perhaps been no singer anywhere in the world whose songs, even 41 years after his passing away, continue to feature prominently in all radio shows of that particular country. Mohammad Rafi breathed his last on July 31, 1980, and his immortal renderings dominate virtually every station presenting Hindi melodies. In a way, he continues to be the voice of India, having done playback singing for almost every top hero of his time. His versatility was such that he could bring to life any song, happy or sad, romantic or patriotic that he was asked to sing. In other words, the reason for his immense popularity was the range of music that he could easily adjust to. Along with Lata Mangeshkar, he symbolised the best in Hindi film music in particular.

Rafi was generally the first choice of every leading composer purely because he could put his soul into any kind of composition he was asked to sing. Having made his debut in a Punjabi film in the early 1940s, this gifted crooner graduated into the top league after Kundan Lal Saigal’s era ended. Incidentally, Saigal had identified Rafi as a singer with immense talent, when he heard him for the first time in Lahore, and predicted a great future for him. After Saigal’s death, there was a void in the music world. Music lovers had heard off Rafi but he came on to the centre-stage after he sang the tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, “Suno Suno ae duniya walo, Bapu ki yeh amar kahani”, shortly after the Father of the Nation was assassinated. Rafi’s next two most popular numbers were, “Yeh zindagi ke mele” under Naushad’s baton and “Mein zindagi mein hardam rota hi raha hoon”, composed by Shankar Jaikishen in their debut making film, Barsaat. At that point of time, both Talat Mehmood and Mukesh were also very popular, with the former occupying the number one slot. It so happened that Talat decided to go for Haj pilgrimage which used to take three months at that time. In his absence, Rafi became the preferred singer of virtually all composers and also became the voice of Dilip Kumar. Thus, he was the number one male singer.

Dev Anand had once told me that so far as rendering of ghazals was concerned, no one could match Rafi but for romantic songs, Kishore Kumar was also his favourite. Not many are aware that Rafi also did playback singing for Kishore Kumar for at least four songs, and amongst them were “Ajab Hai Dastaan teri hai zindagi’’ composed by Shankar Jaikishen and “Man Mora Bawara’’, by O.P. Nayyar. In the early sixties, a feud over royalty broke out between Rafi and Lata. Both of them stopped singing together and the consequence was that for many duets, music directors roped in Suman Kalyanpur and Mubarak Begum in place of Lata since Rafi was indispensable and was the voice of all top heroes.

Over the years, many young singers have tried to emulate his style and voice but none has succeeded. He is perhaps also the only singer whose clones cannot come up to his exacting standards when the pitch gets higher. Rafi shall be always remembered as a versatile and gifted singer who was also a great human being. He died too young but his voice lives on forever. 

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Opinion

Covid pandemic and the failed Kerala model

Kerala, with a population of less than 3.5 crore, not only accounts for 51% of India’s fresh cases, but also has a positivity rate of over 13.52%, compared to the national average of just 2.4%.

Sanju Verma

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Has the Kerala model failed? The answer is a vehement yes, with no ifs or buts whatsoever. Kerala has been reporting more than half of the country’s total Covid-19 cases for the past few days, kicking up a heated exchange between the state’s ruling CPI(M) and other stakeholders. While health experts and policymakers in the state, including former Finance Minister of Kerala, Thomas Isaac, cited the state’s low seroprevalence of 44.4%, to mask the failures arising from spike in daily cases, Isaac and the Leftist lobby cannot mask the hard truth. And the hard truth is this—Kerala, with a population of less than 3.5 crore, not only accounts for over 51% of India’s fresh cases, but also has a positivity rate of over 13.52%, compared to the national average of just 2.4%. Again, compared to India’s active caseload of merely 1.2%, Kerala’s active caseload is abnormally high at 1.50 lakh cases, with Kerala now accounting for 38% of the country’s overall active cases. In the last three days alone, Kerala has reported 66,000 new cases, with bulk of those cases coming from Muslim-dominated areas like Malappuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad. Needless to add, there is a clear and direct correlation between the Bakrid celebrations, which were held by flouting social distancing norms with impunity, and the sharp rise in Covid cases in Kerala.

Uttar Pradesh, more than seven times bigger than Kerala, with a population of 24 crore, in sharp contrast, has a positivity rate of just 0.02% and has done an outstanding job in reining in Covid, with the average daily new cases at barely 42. The uncalled for and “unscientific” relaxations during Bakrid, by the Leftist, Pinarayi Vijayan government, in a clear bid to appease Muslims, for political gains, has been the single biggest reason for the huge surge in coronavirus cases in Kerala. Leftist lobby in denial has been claiming that the rise in cases in Kerala is only because it is testing more, which is again a lie. In the first week of June this year, Kerala was testing 1.1 lakh people on an average, but that number now has fallen by 13.5%, to below 96,000 people. In the last eight weeks, despite a minuscule population, Kerala has been reporting between 150 to 227 deaths, on a daily basis, much higher than Uttar Pradesh. Again, in UP, out of 75 districts, 37 have been reporting no fresh cases and another 37 districts are reporting cases only in single digits. Only one district is reporting cases in double digits in UP.

In Kerala, at least 10 districts have a positivity rate in excess of 10%, with some reporting a positivity rate of as high as 14.8%! Kerala on an average has been reporting anywhere between 17,743 and 22,456 fresh Covid cases, on a daily basis, with the 15-day moving average in excess of 30,000. The number of daily cases in Kerala was 43,000 on an average in mid-May 2021 and then it declined. However, from mid-June, cases started rising again in Kerala and despite this, the Pinarayi Vijayan government eased lockdown restrictions during Bakrid, in July 2021, in a classic display of criminal apathy and appeasement-based politics. With cases continuing to soar in Kerala, especially the Delta-variant, the neighbouring states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are also now at risk of an onslaught of another wave of the pandemic, thanks only to the incompetence and criminal negligence of a failed “Kerala Model”, practised by the utterly incompetent and insensitive Left government that is ruling Kerala currently.

The “Hathras Lobby”, which was vocal in its protest against the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Uttarakhand in April 2021, fell completely silent when it came to the Eid-Ul-Fitr celebrations in May 2021, which were celebrated by flouting every Covid protocol in the rulebook. While most of the “shahi snans” were cancelled by the Uttarakhand government and the Kumbh Mela was truncated amidst huge outcry by the Leftist lobby, the deafening silence of the “Left-liberals”, who chose to not condemn, either the Eid Ul Fitr celebrations in Hyderabad in May this year, or the Bakrid festivities in Kerala in July this year, has raised many questions. Is Kumbh Covid-unfriendly but Eid-Ul-Fitr Covid-friendly? Is Kanwar Yatra Covid unfriendly, but Bakrid Covid friendly? Are large namaaz gatherings every Friday outside the Mahim Dargah in Mumbai Covid friendly, but Holi celebrations that were cancelled Covid unfriendly? Why did the “Khan Market Gang” choose to clap, abet and encourage the thousands who gathered at the Charminar in Hyderabad during the Eid-Ul-Fitr festivities in May this year, rather than reprimanding them?

The “Lutyens Lashkar” lobby that condemned the Kanwar Yatra even before it began, has been left completely exposed. The Kanwars or devout Shiv bhakts, who wait for an entire year, for the Kanwar yatra, which is the only source of livelihood for scores of people, cooperated and collaborated with the UP and Uttarakhand governments, in a remarkable display of “life over livelihood”, by calling off the yatra. In sharp contrast, with every caution thrown to the wind, Muslim-dominated districts of Kerala like Malappuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad saw a massive surge in Covid cases, immediately after the Bakrid celebrations, with Muslim-centric Malappuram seeing a massive 93% rise in infections. Some of the worst affected districts in Kerala are Malappuram (3,931 daily average cases), Thrissur (3,005), Kozhikode (2,400), Ernakulam (2,397), Palakkad (1,649), Kollam (1,462), Alappuzha (1,461), Kannur (1,179), Thiruvananthapuram (1,101) and Kottayam (1,067).

Attempts to deflect attention from the criminal apathy and gross mismanagement of the Covid pandemic in Kerala by the Left government there, is akin to adding salt to the injury of Kerala’s hapless citizens. The fifteen-day moving average of fresh cases in Kerala is over 30,000 cases, in contrast to a tiny number in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Over 45.60 crore vaccine doses have been administered cumulatively so far by the Modi government under the world’s fastest and biggest vaccination drive. More than 41 lakh vaccine doses have been administered in the last 24 hours. Testing capacity has been substantially ramped up, with 46.46 crore tests totally conducted, till date, nationally. India has vaccinated with the first dose, a population equal to roughly 92 New Zealands put together, and this has been made possible only due to the visionary prowess and foresight of Prime Minister Modi, besides of course our medical fraternity that has been toiling day and night. India’s low fatality rate at 1.1% and high recovery rate at 97.4%,are commendable indeed.

More than 47.48 crore vaccine doses have been provided to states/UTs. Further, 53.05 lakh doses are in the pipeline. More than 2.88 crore balance and unutilised doses are still available with states/UTs and private hospitals. Hence flimsy and baseless allegations by the Left dispensation of Pinarayi Vijayan that enough vaccines were not being supplied by the Centre, leading to a slowing down of the vaccination process in Kerala and thereby a rise in fresh cases, are just a bunch of vicious lies. Kerala, the “Hathras Lobby” claims, is recording the sharpest rise in cases in the country, fuelled by the Delta variant, only because it has a seroprevalence of merely 44%, thereby implying that 56% lacked antibodies and consequently remained vulnerable to the infection. However, this reasoning is weak. For instance, Assam with a low seroprevalence rate of 50.3% is doing a pretty good job and a far better job than Kerala. Also, the antibody levels reported state-wise as part of the ICMR survey do not distinguish between those in response to a natural infection or through vaccination.

Clearly, God’s own country has become the epicentre of India’s fresh Covid surge. In sharp contrast, with fresh daily cases at merely 42, positivity rate of 2.6%, total active cases at just 729 and a recovery rate of 98.6%, Uttar Pradesh has done a phenomenal job in reining in Covid. Undoubtedly, the command-and-control model adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, which is now being replicated elsewhere in UP, has been a resounding success and is a textbook case of how to manage a global pandemic.

Since the onslaught of Covid-19 pandemic in the country last year, Kerala has remained one of the two biggest epicentres of Covid-19 infections in the country, along with Maharashtra. Maharashtra has, at any given point, accounted for over 30% of the total Covid fatalities in India and is yet another classic example of how a Congress-centric alliance wreaked havoc with the so-called “Mumbai Model” falling apart; Maharashtra reported over 1.32 lakh Covid deaths thus far. Despite raging infections in Kerala and the state government’s inability to manage the pandemic, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government gave in to the pressures of the Muslim community and lifted lockdown restrictions for three days to celebrate Bakrid from July 18 to July 21. Interestingly, the Supreme Court, which had ruled against conducting Hindu religious events such as Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh, stepped in pretty late when it came to issuing similar directions to the Kerala government and by the time the apex court stepped in, enough damage had been done, with things in Kerala spiralling out of control.

Apart from the excellent job done by UP, which has reined in fatalities, Kerala has seen over 16,585 Covid-related deaths despite a far smaller population. Another state which has shown tremendous maturity and alacrity in dealing with the pandemic is Uttarakhand, where the active caseload is only 672 cases and the recovery rate is pretty high at 95.89%. Unfortunately, recovery rate in Kerala is below that of the national average and also below that of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, clearly showcasing how the vacuous “Kerala Model” has crumbled in the face of a man-made crisis—a crisis made by the incompetent Left government in Kerala, led by the equally inept Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, who is the MP from Wayanad, is also culpable. Apart from taking potshots on Twitter at the Modi government, Rahul has done precious little during the pandemic for either Wayanad or the people of Kerala.

Around 2,000 seers of the Joona, Agni, Avahan, Kinnar, Udasin, Bada and Naya Udasin, Nirmal and Niranjani akhadas and three Bairagi akhadas kept the ‹shahi snan’ on April 27, 2021, only symbolic on Chaitra Purnima, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the seers on April 17, 2021, to refrain from a physical “shahi snan”. “The people of India and their survival is our first priority. In view of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we have duly immersed all the deities invoked on the occasion of Kumbh. This is the formal immersion-conclusion of Kumbh on behalf of Joona Akhara,” Swami Avadheshanand Giri, the ‘mahamandaleshwar’ of the Joona Akhara, said in a tweet in Hindi on the decision to cancel the last “shahi snan”.

From “vaccine hesitancy” propagated by the likes of Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’ Bhupesh Baghel, to “vaccine wastage” encouraged by the utterly inept Congress led Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan, to “vaccine profiteering” by the Congress-led Amarinder Singh regime in Punjab, to the failed “Kerala Model”, thanks to the criminal apathy of the Left government in Kerala, the Covid pandemic has been a revelation. And the biggest revelation is this—if India is progressing rapidly towards vaccinating its entire adult population of 94 crore (940 million) people, it is only due to the tireless efforts of the Modi government, which has repeatedly displayed tremendous courage of conviction in ensuring that the world’s largest vaccination drive proceeds seamlessly and steadfastly.

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

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Opinion

GOVERNMENT MUST MAKE A DEDICATED DECISION ON CRYPTOCURRENCIES

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An NFT or non-fungible token is a one-of-its-kind asset that is not interchangeable in nature. It is essentially a certification of ownership of assets, and like cryptocurrencies operate using the blockchain technology. In lay man’s language, NFTs are digital blockchain tokens that represent ownership of unique items, whether digital or physical. NFTs can represent a wide array of assets such as real estate, art and even music. Since each NFT is unique, they are unlike any fungible assets or currencies (for eg. rupee, dollar and bitcoin), where each unit is interchangeable with another.

NFTs debuted on the Ethereum network in August 2017 and among the first tokens was the digital collectible game called CryptoKitties. Since 2017, NFTs have evolved to include digital real estate, video games, digital art and music. The majority of NFTs function majorly on Ethereum’s blockchain as they create permanent digital records of all transactions using that cryptocurrency. They also create an indisputable ledger of NFT transactions. The creator of the NFT has the right to retain the copyright for it, as well as the right to duplicate it as many times as he/she wants. The creator may produce multiple copies of the original and if the buyer of the NFT wants to make copies, he/she needs to get permission from the creator and each is considered a unique NFT. 

Similar to physical collectibles, replications are not as valuable as the original, and supply and demand impact the NFT’s worth. And in some cases, the creator also receives royalties each time an NFT is sold, though there is currently no universal system in place.

NFTS IN INDIA

India’s cryptocurrency exchange, WazirX, launched India’s first marketplace for NFTs. The platform allows the exchange of digital assets and intellectual properties, including art pieces, audio files, videos, programmes and even tweets alongside other digital goods and services. Indian creators can place their digital assets for auction over the blockchain-based NFT marketplace and earn royalty thereafter.

For transactions, i.e., sale-purchase of the NFTs, the crypto exchange charges a 5% fee to the seller, while no fee is charged at buyer’s end. When the transaction is complete, the NFT investment is credited to the buyer’s wallet.

NFT LAWS IN INDIA

While the government has not expressed clearly about its desire to ban NFTs, quandary over the details of the upcoming cryptocurrency Bill have cast doubt on its potential legality. In the absence of these details, one can look up to the draft of the ‘Banning of cryptocurrency and regulation of official digital currency Bill’ of 2019 to determine the steps that the government is likely to adopt in 2021.

In addition, there have been comments from the RBI and the government, that there is a framework being put up for cryptocurrencies or digital currencies. But there is no general prohibition as of now preventing an Indian resident from buying or selling NFTs. Also, for digital assets, as a whole, there is no framework for taxation, reliance on regular principles of the Indian Contract Act for the sale/purchase of goods is adherable.

Moreover, from the Indian perspective, the structural situation is unclear. As NFTs function like derivative contracts (contracts which derive their value from underlying assets) as per the Securities Contract Regulation Act. Legally, one can only trade derivatives on authorised exchanges such as for stocks or commodities but, to trade an NFT, there is a need for a decentralised exchange (DEX) which would work only as a matching platform for buyers and sellers. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are high-risk assets and retail investors should not indulge in them.

MONSOON SESSION 2021

The government is expected to present the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 in Parliament during the monsoon session that begins on 19 July. The crypto bill, according to its description on Parliament’s website, aims “to create a facilitative framework for the creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India. The bill also seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India; however, it allows for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses”.

Ultimately, what is apparent is that given the ambiguity within the NFT and overall digital asset space, any future Bill would have to specify the legality of cryptocurrency-related assets. This would require the government to make a dedicated decision on cryptocurrencies.

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Opinion

‘Khela Hobe’ of retributive violence

Mamata Banerjee’s slogan of ‘Khela Hobe’ has been manifested violently in West Bengal in the last two months; this is a model she hopes to replicate across India. It is a retribution-driven dream that ought to be resoundingly rejected.

Anirban Ganguly

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While she chases her pipe dream of heading a ‘Federal Front’ as Prime Minister in 2024, Mamata Banerjee’s newly elected government in West Bengal is beginning to slip on a number of fronts. That she lost in the just concluded Assembly elections in the state and is thus both a ‘non-MLA’ Chief Minister who has also faced defeat, is just one part of the story. The fact that she has lost has jolted and rankled her so badly that she is unwilling to engage with the BJP or the Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari on the floor of the House. A sore loser who has taken defeat personally, Banerjee has displayed her limited or non-existing capacity to face democratic opposition.

To those who have been following Mamata Banerjee’s political trajectory, her political conduct both in the state and in Parliament—in the past—her intolerance to democratic opposition is nothing new. That the BJP could garner the support of a sizeable portion of the electorate and emerge as the single largest Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly has irritated the Trinamool Congress leader and she has, in the last two months, repeatedly displayed a stubborn unwillingness to adhere to legislative norms and engage with the party in the Assembly.

While the state is reeling under a cycle of premeditated post-poll violence unleashed on BJP workers and supporters by her party, while people across the state continue to suffer because of a mismanaged vaccination drive by her government, while higher-secondary students across the state protest against the announced results, while a series of internecine clashes among TMC workers are being reported from across the state, while the National Human Rights Commission’s report on the post-poll violence has severely indicted her government on its atrocious track record of human rights and enforcing rule of law, Mamata Banerjee has suddenly air dashed to Delhi in order to launch herself on the national scene by quite openly declaring her national ambitions of becoming Prime Minister of India.

But that is a proposition which is easier said than done since no one really knows what the West Bengal model is except that the TMC model of ruling West Bengal is propped up on political coercion, intimidation, issuing of doles and patronage and ensuring that a select few belonging to the ruling party or affiliated to it thrive. Surely, this is not a model that anyone, except the extreme purblind, would want to be replicated across the country. So precarious is the law-and-order situation under Mamata Banerjee’s watch that the Members of the NHRC in course of their visit to the affected areas were attacked and nearly assaulted by the ruling party’s supporters.

The NHRC’s recent report submitted to the Calcutta High Court has been a severe indictment of the Mamata Banerjee government’s human rights record. No other state government, perhaps, since Independence, has been so severely called out for its disastrous record of protecting human rights. The NHRC report has starkly brought out the situation in West Bengal and speaks of retributive violence against political opponents especially against workers and supporters of the largest political party, in this case the BJP and speaks of the manifestation in West Bengal of the “Law of Ruler” instead of the prevalence of the “Rule of Law.”

It speaks of the apathy of the state government “towards the plight of victims” and describes the cycle of violence, as “retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main Opposition party.” The TMC unleashed violence has deliberately aimed to economically maim and socially isolate supporters of the BJP and has economically and socially disrupted their lives and means of livelihood of “thousands of people” leading to their “economic strangulation.” Most of the violent incident saw murders, rape, molestation, assault, vandalism, looting, dispossession, arson, extortion, threat and intimidation. A number of TMC leaders at the local level were involved in planning and egging on their supporters to indulge in mayhem. A large number of shops and houses were destroyed and looted and the violence was, as the NHRC report noted, “neither sporadic nor random” and instead “targeted specific persons (those associated with the main Opposition party). The violence was in retaliation “to those who “dared” to vote or support the major Opposition party. An examination of those who were affected by this violence show that members of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste communities were most affected by it, their heads were tonsured in public and many of them were coerced into issuing public apology for having supported the main Opposition party.

The Commission’s report describes how there was palpable fear among those who wanted to depose before it, since they were convinced that they would be victimised later on and many among them had been threatened already asking them not to meet the members of the Commission. Interestingly, those human rights activists who make a living out of selling anti-Modi human right narrative have been silent on this report; in fact, they have made a studied silence on the entire post-violence issue in West Bengal. It ought to shock one no end to know that families—women and children are being victimised for supporting the principal Opposition party in West Bengal by being put through a planned and deliberate social boycott which sees their essentials being cut off. The NHRC report notes that apart from vandalisation and loot, a large number of houses of workers of the main Opposition party across West Bengal, saw their water and electricity connections being severed, “resulting in disruption of life and livelihood”.

For those of us who saw it on the ground, not alone workers of the main Opposition party, even the ordinary voter, the ordinary citizens who had exercised their democratic right and voted and voted in favour of the BJP were victimised. How? Many ask who have not seen or been exposed to such debasing levels of politics: wards, panchayats, or localities in which the TMC lost have seen their water and electricity connections disrupted for having not voted for the TMC.

The NHRC team noted how “many victims were also asked to cough up large sums of money as a precondition to their return to their homes. Many have not yet returned. Several victims complained about their identity cards, like ration cards, Aadhaar cards, Swastha Sathi cards (health cards) being snatched and destroyed by goons of the ruling party”; this prevented them from the benefits of various schemes. Reports have also come in, and it has also been corroborated by the NHRC report, of discrimination against administering vaccines to supporters of the main Opposition party. The message was to fall in line or leave the state.

The report also indicted the state police for being apathetic, partial, inactive or at times to be colluding with the perpetrator of violence and failed to take confidence building measures. The poor and marginalised, especially, the report noted, have lost faith in the police. On the Mamata Banerjee administration, the state administration, the report minced no words when it noted that it had no empathy, did not condemn the violence, provided no relief and most of its officers and leaders were inactive. The most alarming aspect of the report was its flagging a “pernicious politico-bureaucratic-criminal nexus”, it spoke of how “criminals indulged in violence against political rivals while the bureaucratic edifice was complicit in various degrees”.

This is how Mamata Banerjee’s slogan of “Khela Hobe” manifested in West Bengal in the last two months, this is a model she hopes to replicate across India, this hope propels her to fly to Delhi after long years. It is a retribution driven dream that ought to be resoundingly rejected.

Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

The NHRC’s recent report submitted to the Calcutta High Court has been a severe indictment of the Mamata Banerjee government’s human rights record. No other state government, perhaps, since Independence, has been so severely called out for its disastrous record of protecting human rights. The NHRC report has starkly brought out the situation in West Bengal and speaks of retributive violence against political opponents especially against workers and supporters of the largest political party, in this case the BJP and speaks of the manifestation in West Bengal of the “Law of Ruler” instead of the prevalence of the “Rule of Law.”

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Direct Selling Rules: The return of the inspector raj?

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The one in a century catastrophe, the Covid-19 pandemic, has been a disruptor of businesses and a fuel to social imbalances. The Covid crisis has put a dent on the growth delta and has caused a tectonic shift in the fundamental functioning of the economic ecosystem. Priority consumer spending during the pandemic was a boon for the IT and pharma sector, however, it devastated the most labour intensive and consumer discretionary product industries, which together make up 30% of the total population and majority of the lower middle class. Worsening the fact is that 81% of the workforce in these industries are in the informal structure, often on daily wage with no job security. In the past few months, as the local brick and mortar businesses struggled to stay afloat, global e-commerce giants spread their reach across the urban & rural areas. As a result, over 7.4 million livelihoods are on a brink of a fallout.

The Direct Selling industry (where products reach consumers from their friends, neighbours of family-members who are direct sellers) offers livelihoods to millions, with no investment but time and effort, this is an industry that is now part of the socio-economic landscape of the country. According to the annual survey of IDSA, this industry is part of the global $180 billion industry, that has heavyweights like Amway, Herbalife and Oriflame from overseas, as well as Indian companies like Medicare etc. Pegged at a Rs 16,772 crore annual turnover in 2019-20, this industry has been struggling to find its place in the sun, due to the baggage of perception, when they are unfairly mistaken with Ponzi schemes. To be sure, it is a disruptive form of selling daily-use products, that has come under flak in many countries for the aggressive recruitment and sales pitch.

The industry which has been seeking regulatory clarity for over a decade, may finally see light at the end of the tunnel, as and when the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) notifies Direct Selling Rules under the Consumer Protection Act 2019. 

In end-2016, the DoCA notified Guidelines for the Direct Selling industry, which were the result of an Inter-Ministerial Committee comprising Consumer Affairs, Finance, Commerce, Law, IT as well as Chief Secretaries of three States. Sixteen States notified these guidelines and Direct Selling found mention in the Consumer Protection Act 2019, along with e-commerce. These Rules are expected to strengthen consumers› interest, as well as to bring about regulatory clarity for the Direct Selling business in the country. On 30 June this year, DoCA put up the Draft Rules for Direct Selling on their website, giving until 21 July for stakeholders to send in their comments.

What’s interesting is that precise a decade since the first regulatory action threatened the very existence of this industry. In July 2011, the Oomen Chandy-led government in Kerala, was on the verge of shutting this industry down, as a few Ponzi scheme operators vanished overnight. In a classic case of let’s-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater, there was a move to shut down this industry, till intense industry interactions spread over three months, saw the State issue guidelines in September 2011. 

A perusal of the recently proposed Rules indicates that the industry will finally get what it has sought—total and complete legitimacy, but may push the industry toward a licence raj. If the Rules come out the way they are, each and every of the 7.4 million Indians will have to register themselves with the Department for the Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. Industry associations representing this industry are of the view that this goes against the fundamentals of Ease of doing business, as this unprecedented step, will take this fledgling industry, back into the licence raj days.

In 2020, India jumped 14 ranks to 68th position in the World Bank›s annual report on the Ease of Doing Business (EODB). This was owed to an increased penetration of digitalisation, simplified IBC norms and narrowing of the registration windows. However, in reality, these advances are limited to medium and large enterprises and often does not touch the small business who are majorly unorganised but employees the maximum unskilled workers. India can achieve true ease of doing business only when a person, even with no formal education, can ideate and execute a business within a viable period of time. However, the recently passed Direct Selling Rules can act as a major deterrent in achieving this goal.

Even though the Indian government was finally able to recognise the industry, but the strict norms of registration may demolish the flexibility of the system, which gives the industry a major leverage. Our neighbouring countries, although were before the time in their regulations, however, they maintained the sanctity of the industry functioning. The Direct Sales and Direct Marketing Act 2002 of Thailand, the Multi-Level-Marketing Supervision Act 2014 of Taiwan, the Door-to-Door Sales Act of South Korea not only recognised the industry but also allowed generous slack in the system.

The implementation of the Direct Selling Rules will act as an inflection point in the growth trend of the industry. However, If the government wants to promote entrepreneurship at the grassroots level, the current norms of direct selling need to be amended and the direct selling business should be made reachable to the lowest income strata and women, which currently constitutes 74% of the total people involved in the industry. We hope with dialogue and actions we can resolve the only point in this revolutionising regulation.

Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant & columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy. Uddeshya Goel is a financial researcher with specific interests in international business and capital markets. The views expressed are personal.

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SECRETARY BLINKEN HAS A GOOD VISIT TO INDIA

Joyeeta Basu

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would have won many admirers for himself and his administration in India for the sincerity and seriousness with which he handled the question on the state of India’s democracy during the press conference he addressed in New Delhi on Wednesday, along with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. In a ringing endorsement of Indian democracy, he described it as “a force for good”, while pointing out “that every democracy, starting with our own (the United States), is a work in progress”. He said when he discusses these issues, he does it with “humility” and added that “as friends (India and the US), we talk about these issues, we talk about challenges we face in renewing and strengthening our democracies. Humbly we can learn from each other. No democracy regardless of how old or large has it all figured out.” This is exactly what India has been saying—that no democracy is perfect, that they are a work in progress, but it’s ultimately the people of a democracy who make it great and there is no dearth of that “quality” in this country. Or as Secretary Blinken put it, “Like our own, India’s democracy is powered by its free thinking citizens.” That there was not even a whiff of “lecture” in his statements would have reassured many observers of India-US relations, who were worried that Blinken would give legitimacy to the spurious narrative of “backsliding of India’s democracy” being peddled by the mainstream western media, and a section of activists and analysts. During the press meet, Dr S. Jaishankar made it clear that India’s policies of the past few years came in the category of righting historical wrongs and that freedoms did not mean non governance and lack of governance. It appeared from Secretary Blinken’s statements that there was a realization of India’s position. Hence, his statements will go a long way in building trust between the two countries. It is also hoped that this will force the woke-Wahhabi public pushing the concocted narrative, to fall silent and concentrate on a matter that is of actual concern—how to prevent the takeover of the civilized world by a malign power.

As EAM Jaishankar pointed out, India-US relations have undergone major transformation—for the better—in recent years and have advanced to a level that enables them “to deal collaboratively with the larger issues” of Indo-Pacific, the Quad, climate change, tackling Covid-19, as well as regional problems such as the Af-Pak. The centrality of China in all these spheres cannot be ignored, not even in climate change—it emits nearly 28% of the world’s greenhouses—and now increasingly in Afghanistan. The day Blinken was in India, the Chinese were hosting the radical extremists of Taliban in Beijing. China hopes to extend its sphere of influence in Afghanistan by facilitating an armed takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. In such an eventuality, Afghanistan will descend into chaos and slide back into the medieval ages, with all gains made in the last 20 years lost. The human cost will be too high, apart from the strategic and economic costs for both US and India. Afghanistan does not have any option but to continue with a democratically elected government in Kabul. As EAM Jaishankar pointed out, peace was a priority in Afghanistan and there was more convergence than divergence between India and US on this issue. But peace is one commodity that the Taliban cannot guarantee and in this context Secretary Blinken’s clear condemnation of the Taliban was important, especially when Washington has allowed itself to believe that the Taliban will keep its end of the peace-bargain and not aim for a hostile takeover of Afghanistan. Blinken was categorical that taking Afghanistan by force was not the path that the Taliban should pursue and that the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. However, this is easier said than done, and now that China is joining hands with these dangerous extremists and terrorists, it will have to be seen whether US action will go beyond lip service and what role India can play to bring peace in Afghanistan.

On the Quad, Blinken pointed out that it was not a “military alliance” but was meant to work on regional challenges, including vaccine production. It seems that both India and US are wary of antagonizing China, knowing its sensitivities about the Quad, which is perceived to be an anti China grouping. But if it is not a military alliance, in which category do the military exercises of the Quad countries come? Given China’s aggressive nature and its dream of world domination as an imperialist power, sooner or later the Quad will have to develop into a security alliance. And in this, US and India will have to work hand in hand. After all, one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century—India-US—also has a well-defined enemy

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