The Asian Age – Kulbhushan Jadhav case: India in touch with Pakistan on implementation of ICJ verdict

The world court had upheld India’s claim that Pakistan has committed an egregious violation of Vienna Convention on several counts

New Delhi – India, 06 May 2020. India is in contact with Pakistan through diplomatic channels on implementation of International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision in Kulbhushan Jadhav case, sources said.

“Last year the ICJ gave a decision in favor of India. We are in touch with Pakistan through diplomatic channels on implementation of ICJ decision,” sources said.

On 02 September last year, India’s Deputy High Commissioner to Pakistan Gaurav Ahluwalia met Jadhav in Islamabad after Islamabad had granted consular access to the former naval officer.

In July, the ICJ, by a vote of 15-1, had upheld India’s claim that Pakistan has committed an egregious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations on several counts.

The world court had ordered Islamabad to carry out an effective “review and reconsideration” of his conviction.

Jadhav was purportedly “arrested” from Balochistan by Pakistani security forces on 03 March 2016, after he allegedly entered the country from Iran as claimed by Islamabad.

India has rejected Pakistan’s allegations about Jadhav’s involvement in spying and subversive activities and said he was kidnapped from the Iranian port of Chabahar where he was running a business.

The Tribune – 25 % of migrants cancelled travel plan indicating Punjab heading towards normalcy: Mohali DC

1,288 people leave for home town Hardoi in UP on first Shramik Special train from Mohali

Tribune News Service

Mohali – Panjab – India, 07 May 2020. Even as 1,288 people left for their home town Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh around 25 per cent people who had earlier registered themselves with the online portal of the Punjab government later changed their mind and are staying back.

Deputy Commissioner Girish Dayalan said 35 per cent less than those who had registered themselves on the government portal turned up for departure.

He said 1,188 people were contacted a day before for confirmation of departure plan but 25 per cent declined to go while another 10 per cent did not turn up at the railway station even after confirmation. Therefore, the administration mobilised the ones in reserved/waiting list and facilitated their departure, he added.

Dayalan said, “It is a good omen as refusal of people to go back is an indication that we are limping towards normalcy; permission to resume labour-intensive construction work and industrial operations has reduced the threat of losing an earning opportunity and will check mass exodus.”

Dayalan appealed to the migrant workers that since normalcy is being restored gradually, any migrant except those in acute distress, who don’t want to go back, are welcome to stay back in the district.

He said the registration on the portal doesn’t imply that they have to compulsorily leave and added that they can always choose to stay back and work.

Meanwhile, 1,288 workers who had come from Hardoi district of UP, for working in Mohali district, headed for their native district in the non-stop train with no intermittent stoppage before Hardoi.

Dayalan, ADC Ashika Jain, SDMs and other officers gave a send-off to the labourers.

The DC said the 24-coach train left Mohali Railway Station at 10 am running right on schedule and the staff deployed at the railway station ensured that workers adhered to social distancing while boarding the train. The administration ensured drinking water and food for all on board.

He said the workers were screened thoroughly at the designated collection centres before they boarded the train. They were ferried via buses from the eight collection centres to the railway station, he added.

Gentbrugge – Gent: Schelde

24/25 March 2020

Tram tracks – Overhead wires – No trams

Henri Pirennestraat
Tram tracks – Overhead wires – No trams


Bus-stop Tweekapellenstraat
Bus 3 to Gentbrugge Braemkasteel

Gent – De Schelde
25 March 2020

The last section of the tidal river
After the next locks the river becomes more like a canal

Weeping willows along the river

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Caravan – Self-reliant during COVID-19 lockdown, Mazhabi Sikhs say struggle for land rights ensured survival

Paramjeet Kaur, a middle-aged Dalit woman, lost her husband a few years ago and raises two children on her own. Landless and at the mercy of the landlords of Balad Kalan, a village in the Sangrur district of Punjab, Paramjeet struggled to make a living.

Today, Paramjeet is self-reliant after her community fought for their rights over the village-commons land. Consequently, the COVID-19 lockdown, which has compelled millions to survive on meagre government handouts, did not devastate Paramjeet’s community which now farms the panchayat land on a cooperative model.
Sandeep Singh

Prabhjit Singh

Panjab – India, 06 May 2020. As India enters the third phase of a nationwide lock-down to combat the corona-virus pandemic, the true scale of the devastating effect it has had on the livelihoods of millions is yet to be fully computed.

The hardest hit have been the most vulnerable and marginalised sections, migrant workers, landless labourers, daily-wage earners, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

It was in this context that on 23 April, Gurmukh Mann, a social activist from the Sangrur district of Punjab, wrote to me.

Mann, who works on Dalit rights, said, “There are only two ways to survive: the first is an example shown by the people of Balad Kalan village who fought for their rights over the panchayat land, which today led to their drums full of food grains in this severe crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.

And the second path is to spread out your hands like a beggar standing in a queue that actually suits the interests of the regimes and the landlords.”

Mann has been involved with movements that organise the landless for over a decade. He had also sent a few images of his “comrade land-tillers” standing in the fields of Balad Kalan. Mann and the fellow farmers hail from a community known as Mazhabi Sikhs, comprising Dalits who embraced Sikhism over three centuries ago.

The term was coined by the colonial British administration to categorise them as a separate Scheduled Caste community amongst the Sikhs. One of the men in the images was Avtar Singh, who stood beside a newly bought tractor, holding a red flag that depicted his Dalit community’s belief in Marxist ideology.

“Actually, it is roti that matters for survival, and those who have roti do not die of hunger. We now have cattle and fodder for the cattle as well,” Avtar told me.

In 2014, these landless peasants of Balad Kalan first raised their voice for their statutory right over one-third of the village-panchayat land, derived from the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, 1961.

The legislation was aimed at consolidating and regulating ownership and rights over village-commons lands in the state. A year later, 188 landless families from the Mazhabi Sikh community won the rights to manage 118 acres—one-third of the total 354 acres of the village-panchayat land of Balad Kalan—on lease in a cooperative model.

The families were divided into three groups based on the amount of land allotted and today, each family earns Rs 18,000 biannually, from every crop yield. This is in addition to what the families utilise from each harvest for their consumption.

The model has been so successful that even in the midst of the lockdown, the community hired a fellow landless Dalit man, Madan Singh, to plough the 118 acres after the wheat harvest. Madan is paid Rs 11,000 a month besides five quintals of wheat from the harvest, a monetary share from the paddy crop and rights to procure a fodder for his two cattle heads.

According to Mann, the landless Dalits’ successful struggle for self-reliance is what ensured their survival during the lockdown which has left most of India’s informal workforce destitute.

According to Section 6 (1) (a) of the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Rules, 1964, “one-third of the cultivable land proposed to be leased, shall be reserved for giving on lease by auction to the members of the scheduled caste only.”

Mann told me that till 2014, politically influential landlords in the village used to misuse this provision by forcefully fielding their nominee from amongst the Dalits during the auction.

He said the landlords then practically cultivated the land themselves, “with the poor successful bidder named in papers only.” He told me that year, the landless Dalits objected to the farce of the auction and were lathi charged by the police in response.

“We organised them and posed a heavy resistance to such a superficial auction for the first time in 2014. There was heavy deployment of cops when the dhanaad”, landlords, “with their majority in the panchayat attempted to stage manage the auction for the second time at the premises of the block development and panchayat officer at Bhawanigarh.”

About ten kilometres from Balad Kalan, Bhawanigarh is the seat of the tehsil headquarters. Mann said that “it was our women who were on the forefront to bear the lathi blows.”

One of those women was Paramjeet Kaur, a middle-aged widow with two children. Paramjeet, who is now self-reliant, told me, “It is the fruit of a five-year-long struggle in which our women bore the lathi blows of policemen several times during the agitations.”

She added, “Today, we grow vegetables and fodder for the cattle, besides the wheat as our main crop.” She said that in case she harvests the fodder, she would pay for the same out of her earning of Rs 18,000.

Avtar echoed Paramjeet and said that before the movement of 2014, “several families here in this village were starving, dependent on, and at the mercy of the landlords who exploited the situation.” He added, “Our women also faced sexual harassment during their pursuance to cut fodder from their fields or even from the roadsides.”

But now, he said, he felt pride in being a part of his historically landless peasantry class that is self-reliant in terms of foodgrains for survival. “Foodgrains are essential to survive, and we have enough now,” he said.

He explained that the 118 families are now divided into three different groups, each cultivating 345 bighas, 108 bighas and 117 bighas, respectively, in a cooperative model.

He said the last harvest was of paddy which yielded Rs 18,000 to each family of his group. In addition, the groups collectively managed two lakh rupees in savings, which was used to buy a second-hand tractor, at a cost of Rs 2.6 lakh. “Managing the remaining Rs 60,000 was not a problem, as we all pooled in,” Avtar said.

The story of Balad Kalan is not an outlier. The Mazhabi Sikhs of Balad Kalan and two neighbouring villages, Jhaloor and Jhaneri, organised under the banner of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee, a left-oriented coalition of landless labourers and marginalised farmers, which is active in various districts of Punjab.

In 2016, a 72-year-old Dalit woman of Jhaloor died after she was attacked by the landlords of the village during a protest against a similar dummy auction. The landlords were upper caste Jatt Sikhs, historically a land-owning caste that maintains a stronghold over majority of the farm land in Punjab.

The Dalits of Jhaloor had objected to the auction of cultivable panchayat land in the village, 16.5 acres, one-third of the total 49 acres.

“It was only after we raised a revolt under the ZPSC that we got these 16.5 acres in 2018,” Gurdas, one of the members of the committee from Jhaloor, told me. “We 15-20 families do farming on a cooperative model on this 16.5 acres now, on which we grow haraa”, fodder for the cattle, “with wheat as our main crop over 15 acres,” he said.

Gurdas told me that during the lockdown “we all have sufficient grains to survive, because we do farming on our own land now.” He added, “The government is already exposed” because of the state’s inability to ensure efficient delivery of essentials, “but we have enough of our own.”

Mukesh Maloud, from Maloud village in the adjoining Ludhiana district, is the president of the zonal committee of the ZPSC, which now has a one-room office in Sangrur. “Our movement has so far been successful in 55 villages now, in Sangrur and Patiala district, where the Dalits get their share in land through genuine auctions,” Mukesh said.

He said that there were 55 such villages, “each is a success story of the class struggle—Bharo, Bhattiwala, Gharancho, Tolewal, Mudowal, Dhandiwal, Rangia, Badrukha, Kalara, Ghawda, Harigarh, Khori Kalan, Kheri Baba Dalersingh Wala, Wadera, Baura and Deh Kalan.”

Paramjit Kaur Longowal, the secretary of the ZPSC, told me about Badrukha village where around forty Dalit families began cultivating eight acres last year, after they won the rights to the land in an auction. Longowal said that their “democratic struggle” lasted five years but now the families were self-reliant.

“We can say that the landless Dalit families in eight to ten villages are totally self-reliant to an extent that they were capable of sharing their stores with a few poor migratory families from other states during the lockdown,” she said. These villages included Jhaneri, Balad Kalan, Balad Khurd, Gharancho, Badrukha and Mander Khurd.

The Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union is another organisation like the ZPSC that works for the rights of landless peasants in the state. Tarsem Khunde Halal is a district chief of the union’s chapter in Mukstar district. Halal, however, was not very optimistic about the movement’s spread.

“A majority of the villages in the southern most districts, like Bathinda, Muktsar and Mansa have very less panchayat land as of today,” he said. He told me that the big zamindars had encroached upon the huge pastures of village-commons lands, “leaving not even two acres as a one-third share for the Dalits.”

Mann had a different take on Halal’s assertion. “This is a fight for the dignity, not only for the land, but a class struggle,” he said. He narrated the example of Tolewal, another village in Sangrur. He told me that in Tolewal, the landless Dalits were agitating for a mere “24 bighas, not even 5 acres, but they are fighting for their rights.”

“Even two acres are sufficient to begin leading a dignified life, as the haraa on this much small piece of land can liberate the Dalit women from being dependent on the landlords for the fodder,” Mann said. He added, “The question is not of faring alone but of a class-struggle for a dignified life as a whole.”

Prabhjit Singh is a freelance journalist.

The Print – Shashi Tharoor: Aarogya Setu fits right in with Modi government’s push for greater state control

The Aarogya Setu app became the Modi government’s weapon of choice overnight to fight Covid-19. But it can very well outlive the crisis.

Shashi Tharoor

New Delhi – India, 07 May 2020. The announcements have come thick and fast. On 14 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged citizens to download the Aarogya Setu app, a tracing app that lets you know if you have been in proximity with anyone who is Covid-19-positive.

Last week, on 29 April, the government issued a circular stating that it would be compulsory for all government employees to do so. On Wednesday, India’s 48.34 lakh government employees were instructed to download the mobile app “immediately” and commute to their offices only when it showed “safe” status.

And on Friday, the Modi government suddenly decreed that the app was now mandatory for all employees, public or private. On what basis it could issue such an instruction to non-government employees was far from clear.

Others started leaping on the bandwagon. Local authorities have been instructed that all residents in a containment zone are obliged to download the app.

Many Residents’ Welfare Associations have started imposing the same requirement. Noida went one step further and ordered that anyone in that city caught without the app would be liable to arrest and a fine.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has told schools that students’ parents should download the app. Zomato, Swiggy and Urban Company announced that their employees have to download the app.

As evacuations of Indian nationals from foreign countries began Thursday, passengers were told that they would have to download the Aarogya Setu app upon arrival.

This little app, using GPS location services, cell-tower proximity, and Bluetooth, has become, overnight, the government’s weapon of choice for combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Close to nine crore Indians have obediently downloaded the app. There are a few vital problems, however: it is not voluntary, there are inadequate data protections built in and the government can use it to trace all your movements, and not just near Covid-19 patients.

And to make matters worse, the famous French “ethical hacker” who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson tweeted Tuesday that the app is not safe: he had identified a security flaw that he would reveal to the government. (Alderson did so 45 minutes later; let’s hope the authorities deploy an effective fix.)

The app, which asks for a user’s age, address, travel history, smoking history, symptoms and location, calculates the risk of contact with an infected person on the basis of Bluetooth proximity.

It continuously checks if other people who have downloaded the app are in your proximity, tells the user how many people have tested positive in the vicinity and how many in range have flagged themselves unwell.

There are no global standards for such apps, but China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and several European countries have deployed comparable apps for corona-virus contact tracing. Unlike India, however, using them is entirely voluntary in most countries.

Aarogya Setu is not just obligatory but far more invasive, using Bluetooth, GPS and cellphone tower information in tandem and relaying data to an external server.

There are few explicit safeguards. There’s also the great danger that the app will be seen as a “magic bullet” when it is no substitute for a comprehensive testing strategy, which India is yet to implement.

There are obvious flaws in any such app, many flagged by the independent journal Nature, which points out that “there is scant published evidence on how effective these apps will be”. Questions abound about accuracy, risks of hacking, and Bluetooth-related security breaches.

It omits those possibly afflicted persons who don’t have a smartphone, of course, which excludes people of economically weaker communities.

It also risks being misled by some self-declarations, by confusion if a family member borrows your phone, or the opposite problem, going the other way and overwhelming the public health system with false alarms.

And, says Nature, one of the deepest flaws in digital contract-tracing apps anywhere is “the fact that only a fraction of any population is likely to have the app at all”.

The democratic solution to that problem is to develop public trust in the app, rooted in transparency, but India hopes to overcome the challenge by obliging everyone to use its app. Indications are that all future smartphones in the country will have Aarogya Setu pre-installed.

You may soon not be able to leave home to use the Delhi Metro or get on public transport without showing you have the app.

Combined with existing government databases, the app will have a synoptic view of its users’ movements and activities. This is why the biggest concerns relate to privacy and the risk of enhanced, and conceivably permanent surveillance of Indian citizens.

We still don’t have a data protection law in the country, though I personally (and many others) have repeatedly called for one in Parliament.

The government has denied the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, which I chair, the opportunity to review a law that falls squarely within its mandate, by sending it instead to a select committee chaired by an MP of the ruling party.

Our country has no meaningful anti-surveillance laws, intrusive interceptions are still conducted under the 1885 Telegraph Act, and many have expressed the fear that the war against corona-virus is being used as a pretext to erode the privacy of Indian citizens and keep tabs on their freedom of movement.

“The corona-virus is a gift to authoritarian states including India,” author Arundhati Roy told The Guardian. “Pre-corona, if we were sleepwalking into the surveillance state, now we are panic-running into a super-surveillance state.”

The web watchdog NGO, the Internet Freedom Foundation, has cautioned that the app could create a permanent surveillance architecture, and that, since the government has a blanket liability limitation in its service agreements and privacy policies, citizens cannot hold the government accountable or seek judicial remedy.

Aarogya Setu’s user agreement states that the data can be used in the future for purposes other than epidemic control and shared with government agencies.

The algorithm and source code used by the app are neither transparent nor auditable; there is little transparency around how the data will be handled, what will be the nodal department empowered to share the data with other agencies, which government departments will have access to the Aarogya Setu database, and how effective the promised “data anonymisation” will be.

It is well established that it is not difficult to identify individuals from anonymised data sets.

At a time when the Narendra Modi government has seized powers to enforce the ongoing lockdown, charged journalists, arrested student protesters, banned gatherings and severely restricted the functioning of courts, denying bail to many, there are genuine concerns that the Aarogya Setu app will play into an unfolding narrative of greater government control.

Failure to install the Aarogya Setu app is punishable under Section 188 of the IPC (disobedience of an order by a public servant) and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act (disobedience of an order by an official relating to a disaster). There have been no prosecutions yet. But we have been warned.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 19 books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Follow him on Twitter

Views are personal.

Shashi Tharoor: Aarogya Setu fits right in with Modi govt’s push for greater state control