UNIQUE: The place of Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister who was to be the chief guest at the Republic Day function, may be taken by the agitating farmers who will be celebrating their own Republic Day tractor rally in the national capital.


AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when there were serious concerns about whether the remedy is worse than the disease. For a Saturday following the week when the Prime Minister of United Kingdom Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to India to be the chief guest for the Indian Republic Day parade. For a Saturday following the week when among the most honourable guest who were in Goa to celebrate the new year was Gopal Kanda, the owner of Big Daddy casino, who secured parole from jail on grounds of poor health. For a Saturday following the week when the Education department has decided that 10th to 12th standards students will answer the exams offline. For a Saturday following the week when we were honoured by the visit to the Goan Observer office by Secretary of Legal Aid Society of Mumbai High Court Sayonara Telles-Laad.


AND a few stray thoughts on the remedy being worse than the disease. On the eve of the launch of the two vaccines approved by the Food & Drug Authority (FDA) namely Covishield and Covaxin there was a huge controversy. Chairman & Managing Director of The Serum Institute of India Cyrus Poonawalla insisted that the rival vaccine made by Bharat Biotech was no better than plain water! This was in the basis of the fact that the key efficiency test on human beings have not being completed yet.
On the other hand Covishield, the vaccine being manufactured the Serum Institute, a private limited company, is marketing a vaccine developed by the Oxford University. Many virologists have also questioned the rushing through of the vaccines without completing the testing process.
The vice chairperson of the board of Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) Dr Gangadeep Kang has pointed out that there is being no transparency over the manner in which the vaccine was developed and the test conducted. The Health Authorities further confused potential consumers by saying that Covaxin is still under clinical trial. If it is a clinical trial it cannot be administered universally to the entire population.
Dr Kang has pointed out that other companies like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca which is collaborated by Oxford University, have at least published the data in peer reviewed publications. Talking of Covishield, she has pointed out that though it is labelled as in Phase II study, it does not qualify for Phase III study as it does not satisfy the criteria of clinical efficacy. Kang points out that if there have been reports of adverse reaction, it would be disastrous. “Essentially you are handling people who are anti-vaccine, anti-sciences. This is a weapon that the anti-vaccine lobby can use.”
Indeed, Sourav Ganguly, the president of the Goa Cricket Control Board of India, who suffered a heart attack recently, apparently did not do any tests earlier because he is afraid of injections. The Director General of the Indian Council for Medical Research, Balram Bhargava, has however defended the Covaxin. Presumably, after a warning by Narendra Modi, the two companies Serum Institute and Biotech Corporation (a public sector company) decided to call of the war realising that it might affect both of them.
Incidentally, the World Health Organisation which is the supreme body, has not given its approval for mass vaccination in India. The vaccination roll out is expected to start next week probably from January 14, 2021. There will be four primary vaccine depots based in Karnal in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Initially, three crore people will receive the vaccine.
The government is setting up 37 state vaccine stores. They are also in the process of creating 29,000 cold chain points as the vaccine has to be kept at a temperature of minus 2-8 degree celsius. The aam aadmi or the aam Goan is unlikely to receive the vaccine before March or April. The first priority will be the health worker followed by the senior citizens. You have to register your name with a CoWIN app which has been developed for the distribution of the vaccine. The enormity of the task can be imagined as 1.3 billion people or 130 crore Indians have to be vaccinated.
Relatively, polio which was a much simpler vaccine project as they only had to immunise children and not the entire population.


AND a few stray thoughts on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has decided to cancel his visit to India to be chief guest for the Republic Day parade. The chief guest on this Republic Day will be the protesting farmers who have threatened to have a parallel Republic Day celebration with their tractors. This is following the spread of the new mutant virus to over 27 lakh residents of UK.
Unlike Covid-19 the mutant variety spreads very fast and targets the young. Unlike the original Covid-19, the new variant has spread throughout UK within two weeks.
The contagion has also spread to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Unlike Goa and India a most severe lockdown has been imposed in the UK. Even over Christmas and New Year no one was permitted to leave their homes. Only one member of the family could step out for buying essential commodities. All the great shopping malls of London like Harrods and Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, have remained closed during the peak of the peak season. I have had the good fortune of having visited all these super malls, at Harrods for instance you can get anything from a pin to an elephant. Marks and Spencer is a favourite of India’s bold and beautiful, rich and powerful, for buying the best innerwear in the world.
The greatest disappointment for residents of London is that there were no Boxing Day discount sales. The day after Christmas is traditionally referred to as Boxing Day as they give you an extra cake if you order a dozen. The department stores offer the entire stock at huge discounts on Boxing Day, an event everyone looks forwards to. This time the great stores were all under lockdown. Ironically, many of the biggest super stores in London are owned by the Sheikhs of the Gulf. The boyfriend Dodi Fayed (Hasnat Ahmed Khan) of Princess Diana who was with her in the car when she had the fatal accident in Paris, was the son of owner of Harrods. Both the UK and the US have been taking lockdowns very seriously, unlike in India wear we do not even wear our masks properly.
It was only recently that I learnt from someone working in a pharmacy that good masks have a nose clip and this is where the mask has to be positioned. Most Indian and Goan mask users pull down their mask down when they meet a friend and often it turns into a scarf around their neck. In fact, it is when you are meeting somebody, that it is vital you have your mask in place.


AND a few stray thoughts on Gopal Kanda, the owner of Big Daddy casino which is celebrating New Year in Goa. Kanda had no business to be in Goa because he was actually in jail for the rape of one of his employees, a former air hostess. However, Kanda managed to secure parole, which is a temporary break from prison life normally given for reasons of ill health. It is clear that there was nothing wrong with Kanda who misused his parole to visit Big Daddy and celebrate New Year in Goa. Along with Kanda were Abhay Singh Chautala, the notorious politician from Haryana. I would not have been surprised if the entire Chautala khaandan was in Goa for the New Year.
Among others who were in Goa for the New Year were many Bollywood stars, including Alia Bhatt-Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh-Deepika Padukone, Tiger Shroff-Disha Patani, Sonali Bendre-Goldie Behl, and Shehnaaz Gill-Sidharth Shukla , Malaika Arora, Arjun Kapoor, Amrita Arora, Sonali Bendre-Goldie Behl, Ananya Pandey-Ishaan Khattar and Sunny Leone, etc. For some strange reason the whole of India think that Goa is a safest place to celebrate New Year.
Indeed, Goa was the only place in the country, where you could really celebrate the New Year, because the Goa government imposed no restrictions. It did not conduct any test on those who came to Goa by road. It made money by charging as much as Rs 4,000 and more for testing celebrities who came by air. Many of the bold and the beautiful and rich and the powerful came by chartered flights on which we understand that there were no checks.
Unlike Maharashtra and Karnataka which had a curfew between 9pm and 6am on New Year’s eve there were no such restrictions in Goa. Unlike in Mumbai where access to the famous beaches in Juhu and Chowpatty were banned, the beaches of Goa were choked with tourist drinking straight out of the bottle. Those who normally go for morning walks on the beach were shocked by the number of broken bottle lying on the beach. The most irresponsible club was Raul namely after the owner of the O-Heraldo which has been built on mangroves near the backwaters of the St Cruz highway. We do not know if any permission have been taken. The paper shamelessly carry the articles on preserving and protecting mangroves. On the eve of New Year the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant even proposed the legalisation of Ganja or Charas in Goa including growing charas in the state. He is little too late as charas is already being grown by many foreigners and locals in the state. No restrictions were imposed despite the union health ministry and the state health minister Vishwajeet Rane moving a file for the declaration of a lockdown between 9pm and 6am in Goa. This was ignored by the CM Pramod Sawant. IT was the health minister who has to pay the price as both his parents, the veteran six time Minister Pratap Singh Raoji Rane and his wife Vijaya Devi Rane tested positive for covid-19. According to the team Siddharth Bandekar their condition is stable and they are under home isolation.


AND a few stray thoughts on the 10 and 12 standard exam to be held offline. Earlier Students were in panic as it was reported that the exams would be held online. For some reason whether it is students or people who apply for government jobs have a block against online exams. In exams conducted by the Goa Public service commission the success rate in online multiple choice exams has been very poor. Not only SSC and HSSC exams but the final exams even at University level, including professional colleges, will be held offline. The challenge is now is how the government going to manage it. The headmaster of a very popular school has pointed out that their classes have space only for 16 students.
According to Covid-19 norms they can only seat four students in each class. We do not know how the government will conduct offline exams for the thousands of students who appeared for the SSC and the HSSC exam. Unless of course they hold the exams in the Sham Prasad Mukerjee Stadium where enough social distance can be maintained. The HSSC exams are scheduled to be held between April 1 to April 22, 2021. SSC exams will be held after the completion of the HSSC exams from April 26 to May 15, 2021. The University final exams are scheduled for 8 March to 26 March 2021.
Everything, however, depends on the behaviour of the coronavirus. If there is a huge spike in the number of cases by January 15 as expected by Vishawajeet Rane, the exams are likely to be further postponed. Students are still nervous considering that the syllabus has not been completed. Many parts of the syllabus have been dropped to enable teachers to complete the portions. Many students did not follow the lessons online or did not have access to them because of range problems. There is fresh panic following reports that after school opened following the Christmas break, a 10th standard student from an aided school from Valpoi, tested positive of Covid-19. Many teachers have also tested positive of Covid-19. We do not know if the student would be expected to produce a Covid-19 negative certificate to take part in the exam.


AND a last stray thought on Secretary to the Goa State Legal Services Authority Sayonara Telles-Laad visiting our humble office of the Goan Observer. The honourable judge, presiding over the session’s court in Margao till recently, has been deputed as Secretary of the Legal Service Authority which is headed by Administrative Judge to the High Court Justice Mahesh Sharadchandra Sonak. It is not widely known that the Legal Services Authority even exists and what services it offers. Set up at the instance of the Supreme Court to help poor litigants, the authority even offers legal assistance to those who cannot hire lawyers to defend themselves. The legal service that is provided to women is completely free. The authority also tries to promote mediation between parties particularly in civil matters, so that the case can be concluded swiftly. There are instances of civil matters, particularly relating to the division of property, going on for decades.
Judge Sayonara Telles-Laad who continues to retain her status as judge pointed out that the ignorance was so great that people did not understand the difference between mediation and meditation! When she suggested mediation she has been asked what kind of meditation they will give in court? Most people also do not understand that not jail but bail is the norm and securing bail is a fundamental right. The liberty of the person is guaranteed by the Constitution of the country. Regrettably, even the SC seems to be biased as Arnab Goswamy got bail within 24 hours while civil right activist Fr Sten Swamy have been waiting for more than a year.
Sayonara is the right choice for the post of secretary of the legal authority as she has a journalistic background. She used to contribute freelance articles to the OHerald when I was the editor and also worked for the Gomantak Times for some time. She visited our Goan Observer office at our home as she wanted me to release her latest book “Cheers Laugh Out Loud!” It is a compilation of articles published in the various daily newspapers.
We will soon be carrying a detailed feature on services rendered by the legal authority by the secretary herself. She very considerately avoided a public function in view of the Covid-19 situation and has been visiting those releasing her books at their residence. This also shows her sense of humility.

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