Aid Workers Killed
The World Central Kitchen (WCK) said it was “devastated to confirm” that seven members of the organisation had been killed while travelling in a convoy in Deir el-Balah after unloading 100 tonnes of food aid at its central Gaza warehouse.

It said the group was travelling in a “deconflicted zone” in two armoured vehicles that were branded with the WCK logo and that it had coordinated their movements with the Israeli military.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war,” WCK CEO Erin Gore said in a statement. “This is unforgivable.”

WCK was involved in the distribution of some 200 tonnes of food aid that was brought to Gaza via a sea corridor from Cyprus in March.

WCK said it would pause its Gaza operations immediately. “We will be making decisions about the future of our work soon,” it said in the statement.

The UN has issued stark warnings about the dire level of hunger now facing Gaza’s 2.4 million people. In truth famine is already setting in Gaza.

Andres, a Spanish-American chef, set up the NGO WCK after an earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 220,000 people. WCK initially provided emergency food aid to the survivors of the disaster and says it has now served more than 350 million meals in crisis situations around the world.
Al Jazeera

Release all BK Detainees
PUDR expresses relief at the Supreme Court’s granting of bail to Prof ShomaSen on April 5, after nearly six long years of pre-trial incarceration. Charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the infamous BhimaKoregaon (BK) conspiracy case, ShomaSen is the fourth accused to be released on ‘bail on merits’ by the Supreme Court, after AnandTeltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira. Extending the line of reasoning pursued in the granting of bail to other co-accused, the Court ruled that on perusal of the material brought before it, there was no prima facie evidence against Sen for commission or attempt to commit any terrorist act, for lending support to terrorist funding, or for membership of a banned organisation (paras 30, 31, 33). Two others, GautamNavlakha and Mahesh Raut, had also been granted bail on merits by the Bombay High Court which similarly ruled that despite the voluminous nature of the charge sheet, which runs into 20,000 pages, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to suggest their prima facie involvement in any terrorist activities. Significantly, the three Arsenal reports unravelled the planting of evidence through malware in the electronic devices of the accused, leaked databases that showed Pegasus spyware attack on the phone numbers of eight BK accused, and finally a series of bail orders on merits which reiterate that there is no evidentiary basis to the charges framed against the accused, point to the fabricated nature of the conspiracy. The reliefs, however, have been few and far between as bail has been granted to only some after years of custody. Besides the continuing custody of several others who have been implicated in this case, it cannot be forgotten that the octogenarian Stan Swamy died for want of proper medical treatment as a pre-trial detainee.

In a scenario where cases of UAPA are registered routinely and the pendency rate of disposal of cases is increasingly high – 1005 new cases registered in 2022, 80% pendency rate of police disposal, and 89% pendency rate of court disposal, as per the latest NCRB statistics – the current judgment granting bail to ShomaSen makes two important points. First, it reiterates that courts must guarantee constitutional protections to the accused. The delay in framing of charges and trial, and consequent period of pre-trial detention are grounds that courts cannot ignore. Second, it specifies that for an offense of terrorist activity under UAPA, there must be cogent material to connect the accused to acts committed with the intent to strike terror in people, individually or via terrorist associations. Mere meeting with “accused individuals or being connected with them through any medium” cannot be read as an offence under UAPA (para 35). This is an important reminder to the executive entrusted with the use of law.

At present, six of the BK accused have been released on bail while nine others continue to be in custody since the first round of arrests carried out in June 2018. Of these, the release of GautamNavlakha and Mahesh Raut stayed despite the grant of bail by Bombay HC till the NIA’s appeal against the grant was disposed of by the Supreme Court.
Joseph Mathai and
Paramjeet Singh
Secretaries, PUDR

Gaza in Ruins
As the Gaza war enters its seventh month, EL PAÍS used satellite imagery and damage assessment data to document the devastation in the Strip caused by the Israeli offensive. Up to 57% of buildings in the enclave have been damaged or destroyed, according to analysis carried out at the University of Oregon, but that figure rises to 75% in the capital, Gaza City. Khan Younis, from which Israeli troops withdrew last weekend, has been razed to the ground, according to returning residents. In total, one million people have lost their homes, and two out of three have been displaced, according to a report by the U N and the World Bank. EL PAÍS also spoke to Palestinian journalist WaelDahdouh, who has lost his wife and three of his children in the war. “Israel is deliberately killing journalists in Gaza,” said the bureau chief of Al Jazeera television in the Strip. “They do not want us to continue documenting what is happening.” Nearly six in 10 buildings in the Strip have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli attacks and its largest medical complex is an ‘empty shell’, according to the WHO.
EL PAIS English

‘Disaster Capitalism’

The Great Nicobar Betrayal
Edited by PankajSekhsaria
pg xii+100+12 colour plates; Price: Rs. 499.
A Frontline Publication
Scheduled release: end April 2024

Dreams of mega development herald disaster for a highly vulnerable island. Great Nicobar Island is the southernmost and largest landmass in the chain that makes up the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. ARs 72,000 crore project that is planned for the development of this island will result in ultimately destroying both the island’s delicate rainforest ecosystem and its indigenous people. In The Great Nicobar Betrayal, PankajSekhsaria, one of the best known chroniclers of contemporary issues in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has compiled articles written by various experts across publications that examine the proposed project from every angle—environmental, geological, impact on local communities, law, due process, and ecology. These pieces together shed light on the magnitude of the disaster that will be unleashed on this pristine place if the project comes through. The book is a warning and a catalogue of the manmade catastrophe that lurks on the horizon, one that will destroy more than the tsunami of December 2004 ever did. What Amitav Ghosh, author of international repute has said about the book is self-revealing:

"Even at a time of accelerating environmental vandalism around the world, what the Indian government is planning in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands stands out for its sheer folly and short-sightedness. As this excellent collection of essays shows in painful detail, these plans are a perfect example of ‘disaster capitalism’, in which the government is taking advantage of the displacement of the native Nicobarese by the tsunami of 2004 to make a massive land grab for a completely senseless plan of ‘development’.”

Gautam Navlakha’s ‘House Arrest’
On April 9, 2024, the Supreme Court bench of Justices M MSundresh and S V N Bhatti told BhimaKoregaon-accused GautamNavlakha’s advocate, ShadanFarasat, that Navlakha has the “liability” to bear the expenses for availing himself of ‘house arrest’. The Bench said: “If you have sought for it (house arrest), you have to pay. The liability you know you cannot escape because you asked for it.” (Quoted in The Telegraph, April 10, 2024) The National Investigation Agency (NIA), represented by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG), S V Raju, told the Bench that Navlakha is required to make a payment of Rs 1.64 crore towards expenses for security provided during his house arrest. On March 7, 2024, Navlakha’s lawyer had disputed the figure in the apex court and accused the Agency of “extortion”. (See The Indian Express, April, 10, 2024). In the hearing on April 9, Navlakha’s advocate, Farasat, submitted that paying the expenses was of no difficulty and that the issue is about calculating such expenses. (

It may be mentioned in this connection that an earlier Supreme Court bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy had granted Navlakha’s appeal for ‘house arrest’ in November 2022. To put it in the words of The Wire: “The apex court had on November 10 allowed Navlakha to be placed under house arrest on account of his health, against a payment of Rs 2.4 lakh to cover the expenses of security while under house arrest.” (The Wire, November 20, 2022)

However, the Supreme Court bench of Justices M MSundresh and J B Pardiwala doubted in September 2023 its November 2022 order allowing human rights activist and BhimaKoregaon-accused GautamNavlakha to be released from detention and placed under house arrest on grounds of his deteriorating health. The Bench orally observed that such an order might set the ‘wrong precedent.’(

GautamNavlakha case has two serious and alarming implications. One serious implication is that the notion of ‘justice’ varies from bench to bench in the apex court, depending on its composition. The other implication is really alarming: One may avail the Supreme Court-ordered right of ‘house arrest’ and be released from detention in the prison provided he/she can afford the ‘high’ cost of state security associated with it. These developments do not speak well for the health of democracy.
Arup Kumar Sen, Kolkata

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Vol 56, No. 44, Apr 28 - May 4, 2024