VICTIMIZED: Un-sporting chief ministers, including Yogi Adityanath of UP and even Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala have been arresting journalists not only for critical Facebook posts, but for even forwarding or sharing critical posts, images, or videos. (In pic, Prashant Kanojia after the Supreme Court ordered his release)
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Supreme Court freed a journalist who was arrested merely for sharing a post against UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. For a Saturday following the week when we discovered that there were a number of schemes targeted at the poorest sections of society of which the beneficiaries were not aware. For a Saturday following the week when we wondered whether the fish being sold is safe to eat.
And a few stray thoughts on the Supreme Court ordering the immediate release of Delhi-based journalist Prashant Kanojia, arrested for allegedly sharing a post critical of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Ironically, even as the Supreme Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to show magnanimity, the state arrested yet another journalist, Anshul Kaushik. Two more journalists of the Hindi channel National Live, including a young lady, Ishika Singh, were denied bail by a local court in UP. Almost simultaneously the Karnataka government ordered the arrest of a journalist for a critical post on former Prime Minister Deve Gawda and his family.
The atmosphere of intolerance has increased after the re-election of the BJP by a huge majority. The BJP has always been hostile to the media except for a few organizations like ‘Republic’, the TV channel run by the former Times TV anchor and ‘Zee News’ run by Shubhash Chandra, the chairperson of Zee and Vishwa Hindu Parijat president. Throughout his tenure, Narendra Modi did not give any interviews to the media until just before the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
The most absurd aspect of his interaction on television was his so-called interview with film star Akshay Kumar, whose wife Twinkle is a strong critic of Modi. Incidentally, Akshay Kumar who has played many hyper-nationalist roles is a citizen of Canada. If it is dangerous for the media to criticise the Modi administration, including BJP-ruled states in print and television, it seems to be even more dangerous to question the BJP government and its ministers in social media.
Among the least tolerant is Smriti Irani who defeated Rahul Gandhi from the Amethi constituency. She took strong objections to someone morphing her face onto a picture of Priyanka Chopra. Fortunately for the media, the judiciary continues to be independent, unlike the Election Commission and other autonomous organisations.
The EC recently refused to give reasons why it rejected complaints against PM Narendra Modi and BJP party president Amit Shah. There have even been attempts to undermine the judiciary by accusing Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of having molested a female employee of his.
The CBI, the Enforcement Directorate, the NIA and the Income Tax Department have been used to harass Opposition politicians at various times. Among the victims of the CBI and the ED are Robert Vadra husband of Priyanka Gandhi and Kartik, son of the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
Even in Goa we have a case against a citizen who posted something against Parrikar on Facebook.
Fortunately in almost every case where the government has filed an FIR and arrested a journalist the higher courts have come to their rescue.
Ordering the release of the Delhi-based journalist Prashant Kanojia the Supreme Court asserted that it was a clear case of infringement of his liberty as the arrest was not needed for the alleged offense. In fact at the very outset the SC expressed surprise as to why the police arrested Kanojia and asked justification from the state “Arrest? Arrest? Liberty has been infringed. We have gone through the record. These things should not have been said (on social media) but arrest?! Under what provision has he been arrested?” the SC asked. Holding the Right to Liberty as sacrosanct and non-negotiable, it said it cannot be trampled on by the government by arresting a citizen without sufficient reason.
Among the biggest targets of the Modi government have been the two most popular online portals — Scroll and Wire. The Wire carried a story on the disproportionate assets of Amit Shah’s son. Arrest warrants were issued against not only the writer of the article, but the publisher, editor and directors of Wire. The Wire demanded that they should be permitted to move the court against the arrest warrant. An independent judiciary granted them their request and squashed the case.
Admittedly social media has become a platform for abusing not only politicians but for settling personal scores. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, has admitted to the abuse of content and has promised to take steps to prevent the spread of false news. However Facebook itself is facing action in the US and Europe for being a party to spreading false news. Facebook has become so powerful that it can not only help provoke revolts, as it did in Islamic countries like Egypt and Qatar, but has even been accused of interfering in the 2016 US elections which brought Trump to power.
Similarly, Google — which is the biggest search engine in the world — has been accused by retailers of favouring certain food delivery websites like Zomato and Swiggy. There is however no justification for arresting individuals unless the posts are proved to inflame hatred towards communities. An example would be a WhatsApp post in some parts of North India which spread the rumour that some people were child kidnappers. Even a respectable family which was passing through a village was stopped and the group badly beaten up because of the Facebook rumours.
POOR IN THE DARK
And a few stray thoughts on the inability of the poor to access the dozens or even hundreds of schemes made available by the state and central governments for the poorest of the poor.
I discovered this when my maid servants told me that her kerosene stove had broken and she wanted to get a gas connection if possible. There was no problem about lending her a gas cylinder but I remembered that the Modi government had introduced a scheme called Ujala, under which people below the poverty line could get gas cylinders free, or at a subsidized rate. Alternately they could get a loan with a token interest rate and get the gas connection in their own name.
The motive behind the idea of providing an universal gas connection was to both conserve wood (the main fuel used) and at the same time protecting the health of women who used sigdis. The poorer classes who used cheap kerosene stoves were at even greater risks. Besides the quantity of kerosene available on rations is not sufficient for use of the kerosene stove.
According to figures supplied by the Modi government several million households has been benefited. One factor common to all social welfare schemes of the Modi government is that all subsidies are deposited directly in the bank and given to the lady of the house.
This applies not only to free or subsidised gas connection under the Ujwala scheme but even other subsidies like old age pension, etc. The Modi government also takes pride in the fact that it has opened millions of zero balance accounts for the poorer section of the society. With everyone having a bank account under the Jan Dhan scheme the hope was that all subsidies could be transferred directly to the beneficiary.
Even the subsidies which I get whenever I book a gas cylinder are deposited directly in my bank account. Despite all these precautions you can still get a gas cylinder in the black market for
1,500 or more, as against the normal price of800.
The most useful scheme started by the Modi government was to promote the development of skills. The major problem in the country is not unemployment, but the lack of skills to get a job. Part of the reason why the skill development programme has not been very popular in Goa is because the training is mostly for blue collar jobs like plumbers, electricians, mechanics and even drivers.
There are of course driving schools which may or may not teach you any driving, but will guarantee that you get a license even if you can’t drive. But there are other skills that Goans should be happy to enrol for. For example under the Skill Development Programme, three and six month courses are being offered for those aspiring to be beauticians. I am sure a large number of Goan girls, if not boys, who may not pass their 10th standard could acquire a skill which will fetch a reasonable income.
Ayush is also introducing free short-term courses in learning how to give Ayurvedic massages. Surely Goans boys and girls can replace all the girls from the Northeast who dominate the spas and massage parlours in Goa. In fact even in a 5-star hotel to which I went for a small break, both the male and female masseurs were from the Northeast, although they were giving a traditional Goan massage which included a prayer in Sanskrit.
The Central government has also introduced a national health scheme where the premiums are lower or comparable than that of the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana. The problem is that most hospitals refused to enrol as the rate fixed for various procedures is considered inadequate. I do not know what prevents the central government from creating ‘Mohalla Clinics’ as AAP has successfully done.
The Goa Government also has introduced several schemes. These include the Ladli Laxmi scheme, whereby a lakh is deposited in the account of the girl child which she can use for education or marriage. There is also the Griha Aadhar scheme which gives housewives
1,500 to buy essential commodities.
The state government also has pension schemes not only for the old but also for the disabled. The problem is that there is so much cheating, that a large chunk of the funds get diverted. Survey showed that a large number of government servants who were not eligible had applied for Ladli Laxmi and the Griha Aadhar scheme.
A large number of people who had died were still receiving pensions which were taken by relatives.
The schemes are excellent. The problem is that there is very little awareness of the schemes among the sections of the people they are intended to be benefit. There is too much paperwork involved. Even I found it difficult to fill the form for the Ujala scheme for gas connections.
It is like the chicken and the egg. For most of the schemes you need an Aadhaar card, a ration card and address proof. Since a lot of the BPL families are migrants they do not have the documents necessary.
As Arvind Kejriwal often pointed out it is not necessary to introduce new schemes. Even if the existing schemes are implemented efficiently and honestly, the poor would have no problems. Just to give an example, are any poor families are aware that the Electricity Department has the scheme called ‘right to the poor’ under which you can get an electric connection for50 only? The annual amount you have to pay is even less than that.
But most schemes are kept secret so that the money can be diverted by crooked officials and politicians. We would strongly recommend that Babush should form a team so that the poor people in Panjim can take advantage of various Central government schemes, including the bio-toilet scheme, which will make at least Panjim free from open defecation.
And a last stray thought on the whether the fish that is now being exported into Goa from other states is safe to eat.
Since the state government has imposed a ban on fishing from June 1 to September 1 obviously you cannot expect to get the usual mackerels and pomfrets and most of all prawns, in Goa.
The ban is to allow the fish to breed so that at the end of the fishing ban there will be adequate fish for the rest of the year. The problem is that though Goa has been faithfully implementing the ban for over two decades, the neighbouring states have not been enforcing it.
So till last year hundreds of trucks used to come to Goa from Karwar and Tamil Nadu and even Orissa to meet the demand for fish in Goa. An accidental examination of the imported fish by an honest inspector of the Food and Drugs Administration revealed that there were large quantities of formalin in the imported fish. Since the fish was coming from long distances in unrefrigerated vans and trucks they had to be preserved with formalin. Incidentally it is formalin which is used for preserving dead bodies in the morgue till the barrel of it.
In a knee jerk reaction the Goa government decided to ban all import of fish till adequate testing facilities were available. Unfortunately, even a year later there are no proper testing facilities to ensure that the fish that comes from outside is not contaminated. So Goans even during the season are very suspicious of the fish they get in the market, except for water fish which are harvested locally.
Most of the year Goans have been going directly to the jetties to buy fish from the fishing boats when they dock at the jetty. Since fish is the staple food of the Goans it has become vital to check the quality of fish.
For the benefit of our leaders the FDAs has still not cleared imported fish of the charge of being contaminated with formalin. If there is formalin in your fish it can cause cancer.
All that the ban on import of fish has done is to encourage corruption at the check posts and black marketing of imported fish. The simple solution of making it mandatory for all imports to be made in refrigerated vehicles has not been enforced that the Goa government. This may be because deputy CM Vijai Sardesai is a close friend of the president of the Fish Importers Association, Ibrahim Shaikh.
Insufficient fish supply is not the only problem that Goans are facing. The Goa Meat Complex has been closed down on the demand of some fundamentalist organisation so all the beef that Goa requires has to come from Belgaum. Because of the opposition from RSS the availability of cattle for slaughter has declined sharply. Correspondingly supplies to Goa have also fallen. So there is no fish and no beef for Goans this monsoon.