News Wrap


While a food festival was inaugurated with huge fan fare in the third week of November 2018, in New Town (Kolkata) seven members of the Sabar Community in West Midnapore (West Bengal) died of starvation. Mamata Banerji, chief minister West Bengal has not denied the death of the Tribal/Sabar community in the Junglemahal region, despite the availability of rice at Rs 2 a kg. Questions are arising on the pattern of food distribution, quantity of susidised food grains and other assistance the state government has provided to the people of Junglemahal. There were food riots in the area in 2007. The state chief minister has contended that the deaths of November 2018 were owing to age-related and alcohol problems. The Left-Front had drawn a fine distinction between starvation and malnutrition in the aftermath of the reported deaths in Amlasole (West Midnapore) in 2004. In the recent tragedy at Lalgarh in the same district, the Trinamul Congress has attributed the deaths to "age related diseases and alcoholism". Both the Left and the Trinamul are dodging the central issue of hunger in the tragic deaths of seven members of the Sabar community, in the Junglemahal region recently, in a span of fifteen days. There are allegations that subsidised food grains are being diverted to the open market, to be sold at inflated commercial rates.

Unregulated Pathology
From unregulated pathology laboratories to some of the super speciality hospital chains, it is estimated that 50 to 70% of medical equipments in use in India, are pre-owned. Third party traders, ill-equipped to provide reliable maintenance services, sell on-line the bulk of these second-hand equipments, from flexible endoscopes to MRI machines. No regulator ever checks these pre-owned machines, before or after sale, in the big unregulated medical bazar. For most tests and procedures, patients have no means to varify if the equipment is hazardous, faulty, or if the test results are inaccurate. Accreditation in the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories is voluntary. Not even 2% of India's 1 lac diagnostic laboratories have opted for it. So far the Medical Device Rules 2017 is silent on pre-owned machines, which are 35% to 50% cheaper than new products. A "policy gap exists" on the use of pre-owned and refurbished medical equipment. The Bureau of Indian Standards has set a benchmark for 1000 medical devices. Only 20% of India's labs are registered in the organised sector, and many of them use second-hand units. What the other 80% are using, is open to guess. Only 1038 medical labs out of an estimated one lac were accredidated to NABL, as of August 2018. Under Foreign Trade Rules, import of second-hand machines and used capital goods need a valuation centificate from a chartered engineer, primarily to determine duty fees. Machines need clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, to safe-guard against radiation, equipments such as X-ray and CT scan. Any other medical equipment, new or pre-owned, can be imported and sold in India, without any safety check.

Scavenging Deaths
In a majority of cases no first information report was filed nor was the mandatory compensation given, as revealed in a study in India, on 51 cases involving the deaths of 97 manual scavengers. No prosecution was carried out in a single case. Not one child from these families has received the government's pre-matric scholarships meant for them. The study was carried out in 11 states by Rastriya Garima Abhijan, the coalition of civil society organisaions working towards eradication of manual scavenging. In 51 cases of septic tank and sewer cleaning fatalities, 97 sanitation workers died and left behind 70 survivors, with minor to serious injuries. FIR was filed in only 35% of the cases, i.e. in 18 cases, where FIR was applied under Indian Penal Code 304A (death caused due to negligence) against individuals or municipal officials, who engaged the workers. No arrests were made except for one case in Bengaluru. The mandotory post-death compensation of Rs 10 lac, was awarded in one case in Bengaluru. Many affected families were forced to go in for compromise, or threatened to keep silent. 94% of families of the deceased belong to the Scheduled Caste category (mostly Valmikis) while the remaining 4% and 2% are from other backward classes and scheduled tribes respectively. Under reporting of these cases, as well as non-payment of compensation, are all part of attempts to not acknowledge prevalence of  the practice, which was outlawed in 1993. 37% of those who died were in the age group of 15 to 25 years, another 35% were between 25 and 35 years, while 23% was in the age group of 35 to 45 years. Dalits continue to be pushed to practise caste-based occupations, such as manual scavenging.

OBC Quota
97% of Union Government of India's Other Backward Castes (OBC) quota benefits are going to just under 25% of its castes. As many as 983 OBC communities, i.e. 37% of the total, have zero representation, which means not a single job, not a single seat. Just 10 communities of OBCs have availed 24.95% of jobs and admissions. The groups that are among the prime beneficiaries include Yadav, Jat (Jats of Rajasthan, except those of Bharatpur and Dholpur district, are in central (OBC) list, Saini, Thevar, Ezhava and Vokkaliga. The Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of OBCs analysed data of 1.3 lac central jobs given under OBC quota over the last five years, and OBC admissions to central highest education institutions, including universities, IITs, NITs, IIMs and AIIMs, over the last three years. The share of several states in OBC quotas is much higher than  their share in the population of India. There are many states with much lower share in benefits, than their share in population. The iniquity across the states and Union Territories is almost as acute, as across different castes and communities, when it comes to OBC quota benefits. None of the available sources on data of recruitment provide a reliable estimate of the population of individual castes and communities, include in the central list. When 10 States/UTs have adopted some kind of sub-categorisation for their OBC lists, none of those states/UTs seem to have proposed any clearly articulated criterion for placing a community in one category or the other. The Commission has proposed to "sub-categorise" the OBCs, by dividing the central quota among different sub-categories, on the basis of their relative all-India population of the castes and communities.

Armistice day
On Armistice Day, 11 November 2018, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, took a tour of battle sites, in the Aisne, scene of some of the fiercest fighting of World War I. Corporal Henri Floch, then aged 33, was one of the six soldiers executed on 4 December 1914, during the first chaotic months of the war. Their crime was to have abandoned their trench after a surprise night-time German attack, and retreated to another just 50 yards away, for a few minutes, before they managed to retake their position. Their convictions were squashed posthumously in 1921, after a campaign by their comrades and families. They are described as the "Martyrs of Vingre", the village in the Aisne region, 75 miles northeast of Paris, near where they fought and died. The status of hundreds of others shot "as an example" is unresolved, and cast a shadow over events in November 2018, to mark the centenary of the end of the war. Campaigners have been fighting for decades for a mass rehabilitation. As expert report commissioned by the French government in 2013 advised against mass rehabilitation. The French military is also hostile. 2500 French soldiers were condemned to death, 639 of whoms were shot. Sentences were passed by special military councils. The accused had no proper defence or right of appeal, and were shot by a firing squad composed of their comrades, with others required to look on. Men confronted with the horrors of trench warfare retreated, deserted or deliberately mutilated themselves.

Vol. 51, No.33, Feb 17 - 23, 2019