Get Wired 3/6: Dodgy Pilots, Patent Refugees, E-visa Data Fudge and More

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All you need to know to get up to speed.

1. Pilots flying after 35 minutes of training

Over-logging of training hours in flight schools has been taken to new extremes, with a pilot claiming that in flight school, they were given certificates showing they had flown an aircraft for 360 hours, immediately after a 35-minute ‘air experience’ flight on his first day at the school. Concerns about the quality of pilots – who are in huge demand for pilots thanks to the arrival of budget airlines – have been rising after information emerged in recent years regarding over-logging of hours and even the use of fake certificates for flying.

2. Hep C ‘patent’ refugees swell medical tourism

norovirusThe Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi costs about $84,000 in the United States, while it costs about 1 per cent of that price in India. US drug importation laws limit the value of drugs that can be brought into the country to $1,500 – the price of one and half tablets of Sovaldi. This has led to a massive increase in the number of Americans travelling to India to get Hepatitis C treatment, while others are trying to figure out more innovative ways with which to make the generic Indian drug available in the United States.

3. NGOs beware, FCRA’s coming to get you

Acting on the recommendation of the PMO, the Home Ministry is stepping up scrutiny of funds received by NGOs. The move comes after the government has already proceeded to take stringent action against the Ford Foundation and Greenpeace, and is based on a set of recommendations the Intelligence Bureau forwarded. The debates on oversight over NGOs aside, concerns are being raised about the arbitrary manner in which government powers may be used, effectively curtailing dissenting voices.

4. E-visas, good for business, but how good?

wpid-2015-03-05-03.14.25.jpg-800x639The Modi government eased visa norms last November, making tourists from 46 countries eligible for electronic visas in an effort to boost tourism and generate foreign exchange. The number of countries has since grown to 76. But though the Tourism ministry claims the scheme has led to a “1,000 per cent increase” in tourist arrivals, this “specious growth” is based on “a comparison between tourist arrivals from the 12 countries that had a visa-on-arrival system till November 2014 with those from 46 countries for which e-visa has been allowed subsequently.” Comparing like-with-like produces an impact that is far more modest; in the case of some countries – eg. Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Indonesia – the number of tourists arriving from actually dropped when compared to the last two years.

5. Let’s settle food stocks issue, India tells WTO

India is looking to push for a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of food grains, an issue that has divided developed and developing nations in the WTO. While the developed nations argue that government subsidies in the procurement of food from farmers ends up distorting global food prices, developing nations see this as a food security issue. An interim solution is in place, whereby developed nations have pledged not to file a dispute against developing nations if they breach the stockpiling levels, but it has been diluted by strict disclosure norms and a provision that disallows launching of new food programs.

6. Testing times continue for Maggi

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has stepped up its investigation of Maggi noodles, and is expecting to receive test reports from at least 20 states by the end of this week. The findings of the 20 states would be considered pan-India, FSSAI Chief Executive Yudhir Singh Malik said, and action would be taken against Maggi accordingly. Meanwhile, Kerala has already banned sale of Maggi through the state supply stores, the Delhi government has declared the product unsafe, and Haryana and West Bengal are in the process of testing the noodle brand.

7. Send us your minority report, ministries told

Only 12,731 of the 1.72 lakh new government employees were from the minority community in the year 2012-13. The numbers for this last year are unavailable due to the departments not having submitted the data, in spite of the PM-led Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) setting an April 30 deadline for the same. The DoPT has now written to the secretaries of all ministries asking that this information be submitted immediately. Government departments are also being asked to explain reasons for any drop in minority recruitment compared to the last year.

8. Ambala mom first to be jailed for sex determination test

Bikaner: School children take part in an awareness campaign on National Girl Child Day in Bikaner on Saturday.(PTI1_24_2015_000054B)

File photo of campaign on the rights of girls. PTI.

In a historic judgement, an Ambala court has become the first to sentence a mother to two years imprisonment for the crime of going in for a sex determination test while pregnant, Amar Ujala reports from Chandigarh. The woman along with her doctor and an accomplice were caught red handed in the act using a portable machine for the purpose at the latter’s residence by the health division of the state in 2012. The judgement also sends a message that pregnant women will no longer be spared from the full force of the PNDT Act, which was brought in to prevent female foeticide. But the judgment may dismay many feminists who have been struggling against the PNDT’s discriminatory stance towards women because it fails to account for the confluence of patriarchal social forces that compel a woman to “choose” sex determination.

9. Indians alarmingly deficient of protein

According to the ‘Protein Consumption in the Diet of Adult Indians Survey’, 91% vegetarians and 85% of non vegetarians in India are deficient in protein, which is considered the body’s basic building block and repair agent. According to the report, Delhi had the highest gap, 99%, between consumption and requirement of protein, while Mumbai was ‘best’ at 68%. Some of the common symptoms of inadequate protein intake are fatigue, hair fall, delayed recovery time from injuries etc. The report sounds even more alarming in the light of the FAO recently finding that India and its neighbourhood accounted for more than half of the world’s undernourished. Whether its the urban metros or the rural hinterlands, most Indians don’t seem to be getting the ‘right’ food.

10. Come to me even at midnight, Modi tells Muslims…

Modi meets Muslim delegation. PTI photo.

Modi meets Muslim delegation. PTI photo.

arendra Modi is on a Muslim outreach spree. A day after his implied warning to Sangh Parivar extremists who are spreading communal hatred, the PM met a delegation of Muslim leaders, promising to serve them “even at midnight if need be”. The 30-member delegation  voiced their concerns about the paradox of some people talking about destroying India, while the PM was promising ‘Make in India’ in Germany. They said they had rejected divisive politics and wanted a partnership in development. The delegation congratulated him for getting the UN to adopt the International Day of Yoga. However, the Indian Express also reports that some Muslim bodies in Mumbai have objected to the Maharashtra government passing a diktat to keep schools open on the 21 June, Yoga Day, which falls on a Sunday this year, saying that the Surya Namaskar requires a person to bow before the sun god and was detrimental to their religious freedom as Muslims cannot bow before anyone but Allah.

11. … as BJP MP warns Hindus “can become volcanoes”

Vinay Katiyar, MP and one of many BJP leaders accused of demolishing the historic Babri Masjid in 1992,  has said the Ram Temple issue should not be ignored and is as important as the country’s economic development. If ignored, “the anger of Ram Bhakts may erupt as a volcano”. Reminded that the issue is pending with the Supreme court, he said the BJP, with a full majority, should pass a law declaring the disputed spot in Ayodhya as the birthplace of Lord Rama. Katiyar’s statement comes soon BJP chief Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on separate occasions that the BJP does not have adequate support in Parliament to address ‘core issues’ like the Ram Temple. Shyamlal Yadav from the Indian Express reports the interview.

12. In Delhi, ‘the jung‘ continues

Another round of acrimony has begun over the Arvind Kejriwal government’s decision to borrow as many as 15 police officers from Bihar and 25 from Maharashtra for its Anti Corruption Branch(ACB). This has become a bone of contention between the LG and Delhi Police on one side and the Delhi state government on the other, and signals a further escalation of the conflict between the Centre and the AAP.

13. Relief for TISS, others but UGC adds rider

af785d62f2a349009070740bcd823393The University Grants Commission will restore grants, cancelled in recent months  to 21 deemed universities such as TISS Mumbai, Jamia Hamdard in Delhi and Banasthali Vidyapeeth in Rajasthan, ending the financial crisis that was staring these institutions in the face. However, there is a caveat. Except for the three deemed universities where the HRD ministry is the sponsoring authority, others will have to live with a 5% cut in funding because the UGC’s original vision of making them self financing remains. Hence there will be a gradual tapering of funds, perhaps even to 50% by the end of the next five years.

14. Bhushan warns of ‘tainted’ CVC

Expelled Aam Aadmi Party leader Prashant Bhushan has objected to KV Choudhry being made Central Vigilance Commissioner even before the announcement has been made official, writing to the PMOs office in this regard. Bhushan claims the government is trying to weaken the CVC by appointing Choudhry. He has urged the government to not appoint a man whose name appeared several times in the former CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s visitor diary, and is linked with the ‘stock guru scam’.

15. Asif Ibrahim to be PM’s special envoy for W Asia, Af-Pak

File photo of Asif Ibrahim

Asif Ibrahim

Syed Asif Ibrahim who retired as IB chief in 2014 has been appointed Prime Minister Modi’s special envoy to West Asia and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Ibrahim will be a part of National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and will report to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

A highly regarded intelligence officer with wide contacts in the region, Ibrahim’s responsibilities will include fashioning India’s response to the ongoing ferment in West Asia. He is credited with having virtually wiped out the top leadership of the terror group Indian Mujahideen.

16. Death threats prompt Taslima’s move to US

IANS writes that ‘The Centre for Inquiry’, a New York based think tank has relocated the celebrated Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen to “safety” in the US after she was named as a target by the same extremists responsible for the murders of Bangladeshi bloggers Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das, the NGO said. The threats came in the light of Nasreen’s blog post on May 30 in which she castigates “the politics of religion”.

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