Human Rights Group: Delhi Police Violated Human Rights

Human Rights Group: Delhi Police Violated Human Rights

NEW DELHI — Indian authorities are not investigating the “grave human rights violations” allegedly committed by the police during February riots in New Delhi, human rights group Amnesty International India claimed.

“Delhi police personnel were complicit and an active participant in the violence,” Amnesty said in an investigative briefing released Aug. 28.

The organization’s investigation is based on conversations with 50 riots survivors, eyewitnesses, lawyers, doctors, human rights activists and retired police officers, as well as several videos of the violence.

The Delhi police force has denied any wrongdoing and did not respond to a Zenger News request for comment about the Amnesty report.

President Donald Trump was in New Delhi as part of his first state visit to India when violence roiled the northeastern parts of India’s capital, in which 53 people — mostly Muslim, India’s largest religious minority — were killed.

A parking lot in Northeast Delhi which was burnt down during the riots. An intelligence bureau staffer Ankit Sharma was killed near this parking lot on March 16, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Amnesty’s report documents a timeline of alleged violations by Delhi police, starting from the pan-Indian protests against a new citizenship law in late December 2019. It claims to have found a “disturbing pattern of grave human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the riots.”

“Six months on, there has not been even a single investigation into the role of the Delhi police,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.

During the six days of rioting, a video surfaced of police personnel kicking five men and forcing them to sing India’s national anthem. One of them, known as Faizan, later died of his injuries.

Amnesty said the video was among those analyzed by its crisis evidence laboratory, and the team interviewed Faizan’s mother. After the incident, Faizan was detained by the police for close to 36 hours without any charge. He was handed over to his mother at 1 a.m. on Feb. 26 after his condition had deteriorated.

Mohammad Rafiq, a 27-year-old tailor, was also among the five men who can be seen being assaulted in the video.

Mohammad Rafiq shows his injuries on March 14, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

He said the group was kept in police lockup until late on the night of Feb. 25. Rafiq had been picked up by the police when he had stepped out to look for his mother on Feb. 24.

“The policemen first dragged me to the government-run clinic in the area and beat me up,” he said. “Four people were already lying on the ground there. I lost all hope and thought, ‘I won’t survive this.’”

The police took them to the local hospital for first aid and then moved them to the lockup at the police station.

“We asked them to release us,” Rafiq said. “But they said the situation outside the police station was bad.”

“The ruthless treatment of the heavily injured men by the Delhi police officers violates the international human rights standard,” Amnesty said in its statement.

The police force has said previously its investigations were fair.

“Delhi police would like to assure you that it is has the capability and the resolve to bring all those responsible for the riots to justice – and nothing bears out this intention more than the fact that over 750 cases have been registered and more than 1,500 persons have already been arrested in connection with the riots,” Eish Singhal, a Delhi police spokesperson, wrote in a statement on Aug. 7.

In another response on June 26, Singhal had written that more than 400 First Information Reports, or official written complaints, have been registered from the minority community.

“No discrimination has been made on grounds of community, caste or color,” he said.

Tall iron gates come up in neighborhoods of Northeast Delhi after the riots on March 13, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Violence in northeast Delhi followed two months of protests against the new citizenship law. The law, passed by the Indian parliament in December 2019, fast-tracks the citizenship process for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In New Delhi, one such protest in the northeastern parts of the city had snowballed into riots.

Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, had threatened to forcibly remove the protesters. Amnesty said the police did not act against Mishra, even when his speech was immediately followed by large-scale violence.

Delhi police and Mishra did not respond to the allegation. 

“Amnesty International is bereft of any credibility,” said Sudhanshu Mittal, a senior party leader.

“The leadership of Amnesty, the Aakar Patels and Ashwini Kumars have a long history of being anti-Modi,” he said, referring to the former and present chief.

Wall writing calls for a Hindu country in Northeast Delhi on March 14, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

“Sometime back, media was full of stories about a senior police officer writing to his juniors about a large number of complaints received from Hindus alleging bias in the investigations by the police,” Mittal said. “How is it that Amnesty has not chosen to look into any complaint which the Hindus have made against the Delhi police?”

But victims of the violence agree with Amnesty’s report.

“Had the police acted properly we would not have faced this situation,” said Babu Khan, whose two sons, Amir Khan, 30, and Asim Ali, 19, were waylaid by a mob, killed and thrown into a drain on Feb. 26.

Babu Khan outside his residence in Mustafabad in Northeast Delhi on March 13, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Amnesty also claims the police selectively targeted anti-citizenship law protestors. A lawyer who is representing many accused of rioting said the situation was grim.

“Not only are victims being attacked, but also lawyers are being threatened and journalists are being assaulted,” said Mahmood Pracha, whom Delhi police have accused of forging documents and instigating a man to depose falsely.  

Delhi Police’s Special Cell, its anti-terror wing, is probing the riot. Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, police have arrested several students, activists and politicians who were protesting against the new law.

Amnesty has demanded a prompt investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by the police.

“This ongoing state-sponsored impunity sends the message that the law enforcement officials can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability,” Amnesty’s Kumar said.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Natalie Gross.)



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Critics Take Aim at India’s Unemployment Benefit for 4 Million Workers

Critics Take Aim at India’s Unemployment Benefit for 4 Million Workers

MUGHALSARAI, India—Some 4 million workers stand to benefit from a recent move by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that recently relaxed eligibility criteria and enhanced payments for those who have lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the scheme is not without its critics.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment announced on Aug. 20 that workers covered under the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation  scheme will get 50 percent of 90 days’ wages if they have lost or will lose their jobs between March 24 and Dec. 31 this year. This could benefit 4.1 million industrial workers, the government claims. Previously, the wage benefit was marked at 25 percent.

The country went into lockdown on March 25 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As per labor laws, businesses with 10 or more employees must register with the ESIC. This allows their employees to get INR 21,000 ($281) a month, or $335 if they are disabled, to avail them of primary or tertiary healthcare benefits.

“We have updated the ESIC database with the latest employee records,” said P. K. Singh, assistant director (general), subregional ESIC office in Pandeypur, Varanasi. “Once we receive a formal notice, we will start releasing funds to the eligible people.

 

“This will help provide relief to the huge number of workers who have been rendered jobless by the pandemic,” he said.

Since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was elected in May 2019, the opposition has been attacking it on rising unemployment in the country.

India follows an April-March financial year, and in 2017-18 the country’s unemployment rate soared to a 45-year high of 6.1 percent from 2.2 percent in 2011-12. In April 2019, unemployment rose to 7 percent, increasing to 7.76 percent in February 2020.

The two main reasons cited for this are the government’s decision to demonetize high-value currency notes (INR 500 and INR 1,000) in November 2016 and the introduction of a new indirect tax (the goods and services) in July 2017.

The currency measure severely hit demand in the cash-dependent country, resulting in the withdrawal of 86 percent of the money in circulation. The introduction of the goods and services tax was marred by many teething troubles and affected the small and medium-size enterprises in that are the major employers. When the Covid-19 crisis hit, the economy has not recovered from these twin shocks. The lockdown has resulted in businesses closing and more people losing their jobs.

A migrant family travels inside a tempo stopped by Mumbai Police on the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai, India on May 21, 2020. They were later provided a state transport bus. (Courtesy: Emmanual Yogini)

The unemployment rate dropped dramatically from 23.5 percent in April to 7.43 percent in July, but there is still a lot of distress.

“Had the Modi-led government taken enough measures to address India’s unemployment problem in time, the country could have avoided the failure of its economic machinery,” said Ashok Singh, president of the Indian National Trade Union Congress in Uttar Pradesh.

“Despite the unemployment rate shooting up in December 2019, the lawmakers didn’t deem it necessary to include a section on unemployment insurance and assistance in the Social Security Code Bill submitted to the parliament the same month,” said K R Shyam Sundar, professor of human resource management at the XLRI -Xavier School of Managementin Jamshedpur.

“The government is always trying to avoid the financial burden of providing unemployment assistance,” said Sundar, an industrial relations expert and columnist.   “And this fiscal mathematics is preventing policymakers from designing, even after the pandemic, a comprehensive unemployment insurance and assistance scheme. Such is the poverty of labor legislation in a neoliberal India.”

In the early 1990s, India moved away from a Soviet-inspired planned economy to a more free-market economy, with mixed results. Despite rapid economic growth, economic inequality is stark.

The top 10 percent of the Indian population holds 77 percent of national wealth, according to an Oxfam report. Many Indians are unable to access health care and 63 million are pushed into poverty because of this every year, the report states.

The government’s unemployment policies have been criticized as political gestures. The relaxation in the ESIC scheme is also being viewed with skepticism.

“The law neglects a large sector of the work force — those employed in organizations with less than 10 people,” said Devesh Tripathi a lawyer from Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh who specializes in the ESIC.

“There is a lack of clarity on how this new ESIC modification will define unemployment,” he said. “Claims of employment will also be difficult to authenticate.”

The scheme allows a worker to declare himself as unemployed. To receive unemployment relief, the insured person should have been employed for at least two years and have contributed to the scheme a minimum of 78 days prior to losing their job.

Critics say that more people could have been brought into the scheme and a greater allowance would have been possible if the government in July 2019 had note allowed the contribution to the scheme to be cut. Employers now contribute 3.25 percent, down from the earlier 4.75 percent, and employees contribute 1.75 percent, down from 0.75 percent, of monthly salaries.

Migrants from Uttar Pradesh rest along the Mumbai Nashik Highway in Mumbai, India on May 21, 2020. (Courtesy: Emmanual Yogini)

Liberalization of the economy has meant a large influx of foreign funds and privatization of major government-owned companies. The United States invested $45.88 billion in India in 2019. The government has also set itself a disinvestment target of INR 21 trillion ($284 billion) in financial year 2020-21.

But this has come at a cost to laborers.

“The public sector is the backbone of a country,” said Ashok Singh. “But the government wants to privatize it. It could have helped solve the unemployment crisis to a great extent.”

Sundar believes the country will face a bigger unemployment problem before long.

“The manufacturing and services sector will introduce technology-related unemployment in a few years,” he said. “The government must prepare a strong social security system.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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India Charges Pakistan-Based Terrorist Suicide Bombing

India Charges Pakistan-Based Terrorist Suicide Bombing

NEW DELHI —Pakistan-based Maulana Masood Azhar, designated a terrorist by the United Nations, has been charged in India for the February 2019 suicide bombing in Pulwama, Kashmir, that left 40 Indian paramilitary personnel dead and brought the two nuclear-armed nations to the brink of war.

A 13,800-page charge sheet against Azhar, his brothers Rauf Asghar and Ammar Alvi, and 16 others has been filed at a special court in Jammu in north India by the National Investigation Agency. The 19 have been charged under various provisions of Indian laws, including the principle counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967,and are also charged with murder. The special court is likely to hear the matter in September.

While Azhar, who is reported to be in Pakistan, and five others continue to be out of India’s reach, seven others have been arrested and six have been killed, the investigation agency said in a statement on Aug. 25 after it filed the charge sheet.

“The investigation has revealed that Pulwama attack was a result of a well-planned criminal conspiracy hatched by the Pakistan-based leadership of terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM),” the agency stated.

After the suicide bombing, the JeM released a video to claim responsibility for the attack in Kashmir, a contested territory between Pakistan and India. The countries have been at war over Kashmir several times since they both became independent from British rule in 1947.

 

Indian investigators now claim to have cracked the timeline of the planning and execution of the Feb. 14, 2019 attack, when a car laden with explosives rammed into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel as it made its way to Srinagar in the Kashmir valley.

The investigators claim that JeM operative Mohammad Umar Farooq, a Pakistani who illegally crossed into India in April 2018, planned the attack with three Pakistanis and two Kashmiris. The group was aided by several others who are named in the charge sheet.

Investigators said the car used to carry out the attack was packed with nearly 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of explosives such as calcium ammonium nitrate, RDX, gelatin sticks and aluminium powder. Investigators say the explosives were ready in January 2019, but snowfall prevented the operations until mid-February.

In the video released by JeM claiming responsibility for the attack, one man is seen with at least four guns and grenades, exhorting Kashmiris to join the militant outfit. Investigators say the video was recorded in January 2019.

Azhar formed the JeM in 2000, a year after he was released by Indian authorities in exchange for 155 hostages on board an Indian Airlines plane that had been hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.  The JeM was sanctioned by the UN Security Council in 2001 for its association with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and Azhar was blacklisted by the Security Council’s ISIL and Al Qaeda sanctions committee and designated a global terrorist in 2019 after a sustained campaign by Indian diplomats.

Azhar and his outfit have been blamed for orchestrating other high-profile attacks on Indian soil, including the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament in New Delhi and the strike on a frontline Indian Air Force base in Pathankot near the border with Pakistan in 2016.

“The JeM emerged very rapidly after the release of Masood Azhar in January 2000,” said Syed Ata Hasnain, a former Indian Army commander in Kashmir and now the chancellor of Central University of Kashmir.

An ambulance waits at the scene of the suicide bombing in Lethpora in Kashmir on February 14, 2019. (Courtesy: Mohammad Tahir)

Two weeks after the attack in February 2019, India claimed to have bombed JeM’s training camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A day later, as Pakistan retaliated, a dog fight between Indian and Pakistani fighters led to the downing of an Indian jet and the capture of its pilot in Pakistan. India also claimed to have downed a Pakistani F-16 fighter.

As the hostile neighbors came to the brink of war, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called for restraint, and President Donald Trump said his administration was trying to prevent further escalation.

“They’ve been going at it, and we’ve been involved in trying to have them stop,” Trump said in Hanoi on Feb. 28, 2019. An independence movement has roiled Kashmir since the early 1990s.

In its case against the terrorists, the investigation agency says it has “a lot of digital, forensic, documentary and oral evidence establishing a foolproof case,” and has information not only from Indian agencies, but also from foreign law enforcement agencies.

Experts say the charge sheet is significant, and once it is accepted by the court, it could put further pressure on Pakistan for its alleged inaction against terrorist groups.

“The significance of the charge sheet lies in the weight it carries as a legal document which contains evidence of the terrorist networks in Pakistan conspiring and sponsoring terrorist acts on Indian territory,” said Vivek Katju, a former diplomat who served as secretary in India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“The organization and its leadership is in Pakistan. It is regrettable that MasoodAzhar, the first accused in the charge sheet continues to find shelter in Pakistan,” said Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said while addressing reporters in New Delhi on Aug. 27. “Enough evidence has been shared with Pakistan but it continues to evade responsibility.”

Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.



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Leadership Crisis Rocks India’s Main Opposition Party

Leadership Crisis Rocks India’s Main Opposition Party

NEW DELHI—An explosive letter leaked by the Indian Express has set political circles in New Delhi’s power corridors abuzz about the fate of the Indian National Congress—India’s oldest party and the single largest opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As prominent senior leaders call for a complete restructuring of the party, a burgeoning split between older and younger members has been revealed.

The crisis has been brewing for the past five to six years, said Zoya Hasan, professor emerita at the Centre for Political Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“It is an unprecedented crisis in Congress’s history,” she said.

The party has been working without a full-time president since Rahul Gandhi resigned in July 2019, after Modi’s was reelected in a landslide for a second consecutive term three months earlier. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul’s mother who was the president of the party from 1998 to 2017, has been serving as interim president.

The party held a seven-hour meeting on Aug. 24 to try and resolve the leadership crisis. However, a day earlier, a letter was made public from 23 senior leaders, including former chief ministers and former cabinet members, to Sonia Gandhi seeking sweeping changes and acknowledging that the youth of the country had backed Modi.

Former Union minister Kapil Sibal and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, both of whom were reportedly among those who signed the letter, did not respond to questions sent by Zenger News.

 

“If 23 senior leaders send a letter to a party’s president asking for complete restructuring, that itself indicates a serious crisis,” said political scientist Sanjay Kumar, who heads the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based research institute.

Kumar said the letter laid bare the divide within the party.

“Younger leaders may still support Rahul Gandhi, some loyalists may also like him,” he said. “But events suggest there is a clear divide between the younger and older generations.”

The history of the party sheds some light on the situation it finds itself in today.

The Congress was founded in 1885 in Bombay (now Mumbai), comprising notable Indians and some Englishmen. Allan Octavian Hume, a retired English civil servant and one of the founding members, described it as a “safety valve” that would inform the colonial administration of the grievances of Indians.

Soon, however, the party became the principal organ of the independence movement and was transformed by Mahatma Gandhi into a formidable political force. After India gained independence from British rule in 1947, the Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, was elected to power and continued to rule without interruption until 1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother—was voted out of office.

She had declared a state of emergency in 1975, allowing her to rule by decree. During the 21-month period, the press was gagged and opposition leaders were jailed.

Indira Gandhi was returned to power in 1980 and served as prime minister until 1984, when she was assassinated by her bodyguards recruited by the Sikh separatist Khalistani movement. Her son (and Rahul Gandhi’s father), Rajiv Gandhi took office after his mother’s death until his assassination in 1991.

During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister, some reforms were initiated in transforming the country from a Soviet-inspired closed economy to a more liberal one, but the complete liberalization agenda was taken up by Rajiv Gandhi’s successor, Congress party member P.V. Narasimha Rao, who served as prime minister from 1991-1996.

Rahul Gandhi, then-Vice President of the Indian National Congress party participates in a “Sadhbhawana Yatra” in Barpeta district, on December 12, 2015. (Courtesy: Biju Boro)

Rajiv’s wife, Sonia Gandhi, was elected president of the party in 1998, leading the party to electoral victory in 2004. The party remained in power, with economist Manmohan Singh as prime minister until  2014, when his tenure ended after a series of corruption scandals and the election of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since then, the Congress party has found it difficult to stage a comeback.

“The opposition has been weakened because the Congress is deeply enmeshed in a leadership crisis,” said Hasan, of the Centre for Political Leadership.

Many believe that the Congress is the only party that can challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hegemony at the national level. The party has an absolute majority of 303 among 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

“There can be no serious opposition to the BJP without the Congress,” said Hasan. “The regional parties cannot stand up to it.”

“This has long-term impacts on how democracy will function,” said Kumar.

While Rahul Gandhi’s performance as leader in elections has been patchy, many in the party still seem to support him and his family. At the Aug. 24 meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s decision-making organ, it was decided that Sonia Gandhi would continue as interim president. It also authorized her to make organizational changes.

The election of a new party president is scheduled to take place in six months.

Priyanka Gandhi campaigning for Lok Sabha elections in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh on April 9, 2019 (Courtesy: Roshan Abbas Naqvi)

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties have often attacked the Congress for perpetuating family rule.

“The media wants a non-Gandhi (leader for the Congress), the BJP wants a non-Gandhi, but the Congress doesn’t want a non-Gandhi,” said Hasan.

The party may be headed to a split when it elects a new leader.

“Eventually, when the party comes to electing a president formally, I think that is the time when Congress would face a bigger crisis,” said Kumar.  “A split is imminent.”

Some of the parties born out of these splits have become regional behemoths.

“They may not help the party win elections, but the Gandhi surname has kept the flock together,” said Kumar.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index released in January, India dropped 10 places, to 51st out of 165 independent states and two territories. The report cited “erosion of civil liberties” in the country as among the main reason for the downturn.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Stalled Life-Saving Transplant Ops Begin Again After COVID-19 Lockdown in India

Stalled Life-Saving Transplant Ops Begin Again After COVID-19 Lockdown in India

The coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown that followed brought organ transplants in India to a complete standstill.

But as cities begin to unlock in phases and hospitals gradually steer the focus to other chronic ailments and lifesaving procedures undermined by Covid-19, organ donations and transplants are slowly resuming.

On Aug. 17, the family of a 31-year-old man from Kolkata in West Bengal consented to donate his organs after he was declared brain dead as a result of severe injuries he suffered in a road accident. The noble gesture marked Kolkata’s first organ donation  during the pandemic and third this year. The two others occurred in January.

In a similar gesture on Aug. 15, the family of a deceased 39-year-old woman from Pune saved the lives of five patients suffering from end-stage organ failure. The donor had suffered a brain hemorrhage and her family consented to donating her heart, liver, lungs, kidney and cornea after doctors declared her brain death. Two of her organs were flown to south India; the heart was sent to MGM Healthcare in Chennai; and the lungs were sent to KIMS Heart and Lung Transplant Institute in Hyderabad. The remaining organs were transplanted to patients in Pune.

“This was only the second heart transplant that we carried out in our center since the country went under lockdown,” said cardiac anesthesiologist and critical care specialist Dr. Suresh Rao.

 

Rao was part of the heart transplant team in Chennai’s MGM Healthcare. “Usually, we carry out anywhere between eight to 10 heart transplants in a month. But since the lockdown in mid-March, we have carried out only two,” he said.

Before Covid-19, the number of transplants done annually in India was about 5,ooo kidneys, 1,000 livers and 50 hearts, according to the Journal of the Practice of Cardiovascular Sciences.

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in India on Jan. 30. A nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 24 as the number of cases began to soar. The country has now crossed 2.7 million cases and recorded more than 50000 deaths.

“The state governments advised to stop the transplant procedures due to the concern about the outcome if patients get infected with Covid-19,” said Rao. “The Tamil Nadu government lifted this clause last month and allowed hospitals to restart transplants if organs were available within their centers. Now the government has allowed inter-city transplants too, thus enabling us to fly the organs from other states.”

However, the process remains challenging due to the low number of domestic commercial flights operating in the country.

“We had to arrange a chartered flight with help from a charitable trust to bring the heart from Pune to Chennai,” Rao said, referring to the organ donation on Aug. 15.

In Western India, the State of Maharashtra recorded 160 organ donations in 2019. So far this year, the state has recorded 50. Maharashtra currently has over 5,500 patients waiting for kidney transplants, nearly 1,100 waiting for liver transplants, 74 waiting for heart transplants, and 16 in line for lung transplants. While patients with kidney failure are sustained on dialysis, those in need of other organs have little interventions other than transplants.

The living donor organ transplants, where a close relative is allowed to donate the organ, also took a back seat during the pandemic. In some cases, organ donors and recipients feared contracting the infection and delayed the procedure, while in other cases hospitals they had registered with had halted the program.

“It is logical to presume that patients on the waiting list who did not get transplants in time may have succumbed. But we currently don’t have any data on this,” said Dr. Vasanthi Ramesh, director of the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation. “Hospitals are still busy with Covid-19 and the health systems are stretched. We will collate the data from centers in the coming days”.

Some transplant centers have calculated the mortality based on their own waiting list. Chennai’s MGM Healthcare has lost nearly 30 percent of its patients on the waiting list for heart transplants.

“Patients in need of heart transplants have to wait anywhere between one to three months to get the organ. However, this year, the waiting period had crossed six months for most patients,” said Rao.

Doctors say that ensuring a COVID-free pathway before and after the transplant is most challenging. This fear is probably keeping most hospitals away from restarting their transplant programs, even as it is not economically viable for them to sustain.

“In Mumbai, we have 39 recognized transplant centers but only one-third have agreed to restart the procedures,” said Dr. SK Mathur, president of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre, Mumbai. A similar trend in reduction in the number of transplant procedures has been recorded in the United States and France.

Gradually though, states have devised standard operating procedures to minimize the risk of infection. Tamil Nadu government, for instance, has insisted that not just the donor and the recipient, but also close family members of the recipient be tested for Covid-19. In Maharashtra, patients and healthcare workers must be screened and followed up for up to 28 days.

Doctors believe the number of transplants will increase in coming days after speedier test results for Covid-19 tests and increased public awareness of safety measures to control spread of the virus.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Burning Fuse on India’s Devastating Smoking Cancer Time Bomb

Burning Fuse on India’s Devastating Smoking Cancer Time Bomb

With tobacco consumption contributing significantly to the rising number of cancer cases in India, doctors and others are urging the government to step up its tobacco control measures.

Cancer cases in the country are likely to jump from 1.39 million in 2020 to 1.57 million, or 12.9 percent, in 2025, according to a recent report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The report was based on information collated from 28 population-based and 58 hospital-based cancer registries across the country. It states that nearly 370,000 cancer cases this year alone will be caused by tobacco consumption, including cancer of the lip, tongue, mouth, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, lungs and  bladder.

While India is reported to have a very high level of tobacco use in both smokeless and smoking forms, it also has measures in place to help curb use, according to the World Health Organization.

“The MPOWER measure that India is implementing at the highest level of achievement is conducting national mass-media campaigns to warn people about the dangers of tobacco use,” the WHO report states. MPOWER is the organization’s tobacco-free initiative.

 

Still the numbers continue to rise.

The study found that East Khasi Hills in the northeastern state of Meghalaya had the highest relative proportion of cancers associated with the use of tobacco — 70.4 percent in males and 46.5 percent in females.  Among men, lung cancer was most common in eastern India, while cancer of the mouth was highest in the central part of the country.

In women, mouth cancer was high in central states, while esophageal cancer was common in northern India.

“Nearly half of the cancers in men are tobacco-related,” said Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial Centre hospital in Mumbai, India’s largest cancer center.

Chaturvedi, one of the most prominent anti-tobacco crusaders in the country, said, “The government has initiated many measures over the past several years, including pictorial warnings on cigarette packets, display of warnings in films and television serials, advertisements in cinemas, starting a quit-line for people who want to fight the habit, and most recently banning e-cigarettes. All of these measures tackle the demand side. But what is being ignored is the supply side of the massive tobacco industry.”

A 2019 study by Thought Arbitrage, an independent think tank,  and ASSOCHAM, an organization affiliated with chambers of commerce, said nearly 45.7 million people in India depend on the tobacco sector for their livelihood. This includes 6 million farmers; 20 million farm laborers; 4 million leaf-pluckers; 8.5 million working in processing, manufacturing and exports; and 7.2 million workings in retailing and trading.

“There is enough data that India is a leading tobacco exporter with exports of leaf tobacco and tobacco products contributing around INR 6,000 crore ($808 million) annually in terms of foreign exchange to the government,” the study said.  “Of the total net exports, the un-manufactured tobacco has a significant share amounting to INR 4,173 crore ($562 million). The rest includes tobacco products such as cigars, cheroots, cigarillos and cigarettes.”

The report also said India produces tobaccos of different grades and types for various users, providing a one-stop-shop for different styles, qualities and price ranges. Flue-Cured Virginia tobacco is the main exportable tobacco produced in India, with around 70 percent of that crop being exported.

“India has a 5 percent value share of the $12 billion global tobacco leaf export trade.  The diversity of Indian tobacco has enabled the country to export tobacco to over 100 countries across the globe,” the study said.

“To deal with this supply of tobacco, the Indian government has to show commitment by stopping tobacco cultivation and offering alternative crops and income sources to the farmers and other workers deeply rooted in the industry,” said Chaturvedi. “The government should also withdraw its share from the country’s leading cigarette company. Controlling tobacco is the responsibility of multiple ministries such as Home, Health, Education, Labor, Finance, Women and Child, Agriculture, Environment, Commerce and Industry, etc., and it has been a challenge to get them all on the same table. It is crucial for these ministries to work together.”

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey shows that consumption of tobacco in India dropped from 34 percent to 28 percent between 2010 and 2016. However, experts said the growth in population during that period has not been accounted for.

“The recent projections made by the Indian Council of Medical Research are alarming,” said Dr. A C Kataki, director of the Dr. B Borooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati, in the northeastern state of Assam. “The government has to give a strong push to tobacco control if it intends to reduce the cancer burden in the country. It is also the responsibility of the society and citizens to demand such laws and ensure that they are stringently implemented.”

Experts said that the smokeless form of tobacco is more common in rural India.

“The raw, chewable form of tobacco is easily available and culturally accepted in rural India,” said Rajashree Kadam, vice-president of the nonprofit Salaam Bombay Foundation that works in this sector. “There is little awareness of its harmful effects.

“Tobacco companies typically target youth with surrogate advertisements. Their lobby is very strong in the country and it is time the government stands up against it.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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