Aditya Kalra http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra Aditya Kalra's Profile Fri, 06 Nov 2015 05:45:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 Condom shortage hampers India’s AIDS fight http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/06/india-aids-condoms-idUSKCN0SV0FB20151106?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/11/06/condom-shortage-hampers-indias-aids-fight/#comments Fri, 06 Nov 2015 05:34:15 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=777 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Sex worker Shaalu is using fewer condoms when she meets her clients in New Delhi – not out of choice, but because a funding crunch and procurement delays in the state-run HIV/AIDS programme have disrupted supplies of free condoms.

“I am more scared of HIV now,” said Shaalu, 32, who often resorts to unsafe sex as free condoms are scarce and she is hard pressed for funds to repay a debt of $4,500.

India provides free condoms under its community-based AIDS prevention programme that targets high-risk groups like sex workers. That strategy, the World Bank estimates, helped avert 3 million HIV infections between 1995 and 2015.

But government data released last week showed about two-thirds of India’s 31 state AIDS units had less than a month’s supply of condoms. Some states only have enough for a few days.

Reliable supplies are key – experts fear that the shortage could lead to more unsafe sex and increased infections, especially among the poor.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS can be transmitted via blood, breast milk or unprotected sex. The incurable infection killed 130,000 people in India and 1.5 million globally in 2013, the World Health Organisation says.

“Not having the only barrier method at the doors of those who need it is catastrophic,” said Mona Mishra, an activist who runs a national AIDS Momentum campaign.

The shortages come after Prime Minister Narendra Modi slashed federal AIDS funding in February by a fifth. Modi hoped states would fill the gap, but the cut came as regional AIDS units faced bureaucratic payment delays.

An official at India’s National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), which runs the programme, blamed the condom shortage on the federal cuts and a delayed procurement tender that was recalled due to technical discrepancies.

NATIONAL WOES

Condoms in the open market are cheap, but female sex workers often hesitate to buy them from a medical store due to social taboos.

Mostly from poor families, these women were under pressure to have unsafe sex if clients didn’t carry their own condoms, said Kusum, head of the All India Network of Sex Workers that represents 200,000 women.

In the western state of Maharashtra, the stock of free condoms was one-eighth of its monthly requirement of 3.3 million condoms on Oct. 17.

Despite recent hiccups, India’s AIDS programme has won praise globally – HIV prevalence among female sex workers almost halved to 2.67 percent during 2007-2011 and new infections have fallen in recent years.

The NACO official in New Delhi said free condom supplies should improve in the next 15-20 days.

But for Shaalu, who only gave her working name, AIDS budget cuts and condom shortages are a double shock – she last received her 3,000 rupees ($46) monthly salary for promoting safe sex as a “peer educator” in April.

“The government should at least give us condoms so that we can earn money,” she said. “If we get infected, we will die.”

GRAPHIC: Condom shortage in India Douglas Busvine)

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Uber driver gets life sentence for rape in Delhi http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/03/india-uber-rape-delhi-court-idUSKCN0SS11L20151103?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/11/03/uber-driver-gets-life-sentence-for-rape-in-delhi/#comments Tue, 03 Nov 2015 11:30:04 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=773 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A Delhi court on Tuesday jailed a driver of U.S.-based ride-hailing company Uber for life for raping a passenger, in a case that highlighted the dangers faced by women from violent sex attackers.

Driver Shiv Kumar Yadav received the maximum sentence after he was found guilty last month of the rape, kidnapping and criminal intimidation of the woman, who had hailed a ride home from a party in Delhi last December.

Yadav got his job with Uber with fake references, enabling him to hide his criminal record. The firm, valued at $50 billion this year, was banned in Delhi as a result and has only recently regained the right to operate after tightening driver checks.

“Keeping in view the facts and evidences in the case, I sentence Shiv Kumar Yadav, to rigorous life imprisonment,” Additional Sessions Judge Kaveri Baweja told the court.

The case revived memories of the horrific rape and murder on a moving bus of a young physiotherapist in Delhi in 2012, which became the subject of a BBC documentary that was banned by the Indian government this year.

The authorities fast-tracked Yadav’s trial to meet the public’s demand for swift justice.

“We are happy that justice has been delivered and that the process didn’t take that long,” said Madhur Verma, deputy commissioner with the Delhi police.

The victim, a woman working for an international consulting firm, fell asleep on the way home. Yadav then drove to a secluded place and raped her.

Yadav’s lawyer, D.K. Mishra, said he would appeal against the sentence in a higher court. “My client is innocent,” he told reporters after the sentence was passed.

The passenger also sued Uber in a U.S. federal court in January, but later withdrew her suit.

Indian authorities face sustained criticism for not doing enough to address a weak system of law enforcement and policing that leaves women vulnerable to sex crimes.

Politicians often blame rape victims for the crime committed against them in comments that reflect entrenched patriarchal attitudes in India.

In 2014, 36,735 rapes were committed and nearly 338,000 crimes against women were reported, according to data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau.

After the December incident, Uber introduced safety measures and tightened driver checks. A court recently revoked the ban on the company’s services in Delhi.

Last month, the federal government released guidelines to regulate online taxi companies, saying they should do stringent security checks and not contract anyone convicted of a “cognizable offence” under India’s criminal laws.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Robert Birsel)

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Uber driver gets life sentence for rape in Indian capital http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/03/us-india-uber-delhi-idUSKCN0SS11G20151103?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/11/03/uber-driver-gets-life-sentence-for-rape-in-indian-capital/#comments Tue, 03 Nov 2015 11:27:27 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=775 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An Indian court on Tuesday jailed a driver of U.S.-based ride-hailing company Uber [UBER.UL] for life for raping a passenger, in a case that highlighted the dangers faced by women from violent sex attackers.

Driver Shiv Kumar Yadav received the maximum sentence after he was found guilty last month of the rape, kidnapping and criminal intimidation of the woman, who had hailed a ride home from a party in Delhi last December.

Yadav got his job with Uber with fake references, enabling him to hide his criminal record. The firm, valued at $50 billion this year, was banned in Delhi as a result and has only recently regained the right to operate after tightening driver checks.

“Keeping in view the facts and evidences in the case, I sentence Shiv Kumar Yadav, to rigorous life imprisonment,” Additional Sessions Judge Kaveri Baweja told the court.

The case revived memories of the horrific rape and murder on a moving bus of a young physiotherapist in Delhi in 2012, which became the subject of a BBC documentary that was banned by the Indian government this year.

The authorities fast-tracked Yadav’s trial to meet the public’s demand for swift justice.

“We are happy that justice has been delivered and that the process didn’t take that long,” said Madhur Verma, deputy commissioner with the Delhi police.

The victim, a woman working for an international consulting firm, fell asleep on the way home. Yadav then drove to a secluded place and raped her.

Yadav’s lawyer, D.K. Mishra, said he would appeal against the sentence in a higher court. “My client is innocent,” he told reporters after the sentence was passed.

The passenger also sued Uber in a U.S. federal court in January, but later withdrew her suit.

Indian authorities face sustained criticism for not doing enough to address a weak system of law enforcement and policing that leaves women vulnerable to sex crimes.

Politicians often blame rape victims for the crime committed against them in comments that reflect entrenched patriarchal attitudes in India.

In 2014, 36,735 rapes were committed and nearly 338,000 crimes against women were reported, according to data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau.

After the December incident, Uber introduced safety measures and tightened driver checks. A court recently revoked the ban on the company’s services in Delhi.

Last month, the federal government released guidelines to regulate online taxi companies, saying they should do stringent security checks and not contract anyone convicted of a “cognizable offense” under India’s criminal laws.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Robert Birsel)

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Exclusive: India battles big pharma over cough syrup abuse, reducing supplies http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/27/india-pharma-codeine-exclusive-idUSKCN0S72RL20151027?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/27/exclusive-india-battles-big-pharma-over-cough-syrup-abuse-reducing-supplies-2/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2015 12:24:23 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=771 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian regulators are privately pressuring major drug firms to better police how they sell popular codeine-based cough syrups to tackle smuggling and addiction, a move that is reducing supplies of a medicine doctors say is an effective treatment.

India’s Cipla stopped making the product last year owing to regulatory demands, and U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories and Pfizer have had to reduce batch sizes by up to half, cutting how much medicine their factories can produce.

But they are pushing back against other demands, a Reuters review of correspondence between companies and regulators showed, including selling one batch to only one buyer and printing labels that specify where the drug would be sold.

Regulators want to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to track cough syrup abuse in the country and bottles smuggled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where it was banned in the 1980s but is still sought by addicts.

Retailers worried about liability from potential abuse by people addicted to the opiate codeine are in some cases refusing to stock the cough syrup, said J.S. Shinde, president of pharmaceutical lobby group All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists.

Sales of the drug in India fell 4 percent to 121 million bottles in the year through August, and 15 percent in the year before, according to IMS Health, a healthcare statistics provider.

For drug regulators, the challenge is to strike a balance.

“Any non-therapeutic usage is a concern, but you have to weigh the risks versus benefits,” said an official at the federal drugs controller in New Delhi.

RISING COSTS

According to an industry executive, the likes of Pfizer and Abbott, who control most of the $103 million market for the drug, face a “significant” increase in costs as plants run well below capacity because of changes demanded of them.

And the regulatory regime could get tougher.

According to minutes of a July meeting of state and federal drug regulators, there was a recommendation to ban the sale of the syrup altogether because of “rampant misuse and its illegal exports to neighbouring countries.”

“A large number of regulators were in favour of strict control,” said Akun Sabharwal, drugs controller for Telangana, who attended the meeting.

The federal drugs official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an outright ban would not be easy to impose, given the medicine’s importance. Abbott estimates roughly 60 million people suffer from regular dry cough in India.

Pfizer’s India unit said in a statement the company takes all steps to maintain the highest standards of regulatory compliance, including supply-chain audits.

Abbott India said they believed existing Indian drug laws were adequate to control the abuse and the company had taken steps to support enforcement agencies.

RUINED LIVES

Last year, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) billed the abuse of medicines containing narcotics and their smuggling from India among the “greatest drug-related challenges” facing South Asia.

About 83,000 bottles of codeine-based cough syrups were seized in India in the six months through March. In meetings with companies, Indian regulators called the “menace of abuse” a “growing concern”.

Abuse is particularly common in Bangladesh. At a treatment centre in the capital Dhaka, tales abound of ruined careers and family struggles.

A 40-year-old former banker at the Bangladesh Rehabilitation and Assistance Center for Addicts said his addiction was so bad he felt he loved cough syrup more than his four-year-old son.

“I felt I must recover from this menace,” he said, requesting anonymity because of the shame associated with addiction.

The regulatory crackdown in recent years appears to have curtailed smuggling. About 750,000 bottles were seized in Bangladesh in 2014, 24 percent lower than 2013, the INCB said.

Still, a fifth of Bangladesh’s estimated 4 million drug users are addicted to such syrups, said Sayedur Rahman, a professor at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.

Inside Bangladesh, the cost of a bottle has more than tripled, indicating scarcity. Still, drug officials say the problem is underreported and more should be done.

Graphic: Codeine seizures in Bangladesh, click link.reuters.com/sad85w

Video: Bangladesh’s codeine cough syrup crisis, click reut.rs/1ZBxqnh

INCREASING PRESSURE

The latest crackdown on companies dates back to at least February 2014, the review shows.

Indian narcotics officials told companies to take several measures, including reducing batch sizes and printing where it would be sold on the label.

They also asked them to sell drugs from one batch to one stockist only, a measure the executive said was impractical.

That summer, regulators temporarily held back Cipla’s allocation of codeine, manufactured solely in government factories, after the company failed to inform the government about steps it had taken to comply with the directive.

Cipla said it never received the request for information.

A Cipla spokeswoman said the company stopped making the drug last year after “considering the business environment … and the fact that this product was regulated by multiple agencies.”

At another meeting in October, government officials again pressured pharmaceutical companies to comply with their demands.

In August this year, regulators sent a letter asking for updates on further steps they had taken, an industry executive said.

(Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in Dhaka; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Exclusive – Abbott tangles with Indian regulators over cough syrup complaint http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/27/abbott-westbengal-phensedyl-drug-regulat-idUSKCN0RE04C20151027?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/27/exclusive-abbott-tangles-with-indian-regulators-over-cough-syrup-complaint-2/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2015 12:24:23 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=769 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Drugmaker Abbott Healthcare is challenging West Bengal’s accusation that a sample of the company’s cough syrup contained excessive levels of codeine, the second multinational to question India’s regulatory testing regime in recent months.

Whether the sample of Abbott’s popular “Phensedyl” was a genuine product or a fake has not been established, but the suspect batch of 80,000 bottles has not been recalled.

Graphic: Cough syrup complaint in India reut.rs/1UQmUUf

The state laboratory in West Bengal first raised the alarm last November.

The previously unreported case underlines the weakness of India’s unwieldy and poorly resourced drug and food regulatory system, the uncertainty it creates for foreign and domestic companies operating there and the potential risk to consumers.

Abbott Healthcare is a unit of U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories. Abbott Laboratories also has a listed subsidiary in India, Abbott India Ltd.

Three months ago, Nestle was forced to withdraw its Maggi instant noodles from Indian shelves because the food safety authority banned the snack after its tests showed excess lead.

A court later overturned the ban in a partial victory for the Swiss food giant, but the allegations hurt the company’s reputation and that of the country’s regulators, who operate with few staff and poorly equipped facilities.

In the latest dispute, the laboratory found that a sample of Phensedyl contained more than twice the labelled amount of codeine, according to several state drug officials and correspondence between regulators and Abbott seen by Reuters.

Phensedyl sales are estimated to be more than 3 percent of Abbott’s $1 billion India revenue. The sales are dwarfed by Abbott’s global annual sales of over $20 billion, but, as the Nestle case shows, fallout from safety scandals is unpredictable.

The excessive codeine, an opium derivative, would violate Indian drugs law. It triggered a “show cause” notice against Abbott, which was sent in March by the drug regulator in Himachal Pradesh, where Phensedyl is manufactured.

In its response in late April, Abbott denied the allegations and urged regulators to not take any action. Abbott said it had found nothing unusual in its own and third party testing of a retained sample from the same batch of Phensedyl.

The company also asked regulators to give it more information about the source of the suspect sample and the manner in which it was collected, so that it could establish whether it was genuine and proper process was followed.

    “We are awaiting response from the authorities,” the company said in answer to Reuters questions.

DRUG SEIZURE

The original test was carried out by West Bengal after Phensedyl bottles were seized near the border with Bangladesh, said Samit Saha, a state drug inspector involved in the case.

Codeine-based cough syrups are banned in Bangladesh, and smuggling is rife as people profit from higher prices there compared to India.

According to a copy of the inspector’s report, the sample contained 21.37 mg of codeine per 5 ml dosage, instead of 10 mg specified on the label.

Saha said two other samples from different batches, however, showed normal codeine levels.

Excessive consumption of cough syrup with high levels of codeine can lead to health implications such as sedation, behavioral changes and drug dependence, said Amitabh Parti, a doctor at Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

In February, West Bengal listed the potentially tainted batch as “not of standard quality” in a monthly publication.

The bulletin, which is posted on the regulator’s website, is supposed to alert consumers and pharmacies in the state to suspect drugs. But the West Bengal drug controller, C. M. Ghosh, said he does not have the resources to follow it up.

STATES OF CONFUSION

Navneet Marwaha, the drug controller in Himachal Pradesh, said in an interview that Phensedyl, which accounts for about a third of the Indian cough syrup market, is often copied by counterfeiters. He said Abbott’s stocks of codeine were accounted for.

“They (Abbott) are saying ‘show us the sample so we can see whether it is genuine.’ They have not been provided with the sample,” Marwaha said.

He added that it was up to West Bengal to provide the information to Abbott.

West Bengal’s Ghosh said it was Himachal Pradesh’s prerogative and the company can only challenge the test’s findings at a central government drug lab with a court’s permission.

Safety breaches and scares are common in India. According to a 2012 parliamentary report, nearly one in 22 locally produced drug samples is of sub-standard quality in India.

India has just 1,500 drug inspectors responsible for more than 10,000 factories, supplying medicines for a population of 1.2 billion and exporting to nearly 200 countries.

Ghosh said he has 140 drug inspectors to monitor more than 50,000 pharmacies in the state.

The central government wants to improve regulation of the key sector, and plans to spend $263 million in the next three years to strengthen the national and state regulatory system with additional equipment and staff and new laboratories.

(Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata and Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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India to press drug firms to tackle cough syrup abuse http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/27/india-pharma-codeine-coug-syrup-idUSKCN0SL1C220151027?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/27/india-to-press-drug-firms-to-tackle-cough-syrup-abuse/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2015 11:27:00 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=767 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India plans to step up pressure on pharmaceutical companies to better police supplies of codeine-based cough syrups, concerned the firms have not yet fully complied with directives more than a year old, a finance ministry official said on Tuesday.

The International Narcotics Control Board ranks the abuse of medicines containing narcotics and their smuggling from India among the “greatest drug-related challenges” facing South Asia.

Codeine is a narcotic used in cough suppressants that are prone to abuse by addicts, especially in neighbouring Bangladesh, where it is banned, though smuggled in from India.

Since last year, Indian regulators have been privately asking drug firms to make it easier for law enforcement officials to trace smuggled cough syrup bottles back to wholesalers, a Reuters review showed this month.

In response, companies have cut the number of bottles produced in a single batch, but have resisted other demands, such as selling a single batch to one buyer and changing labelling procedures, the review showed.

Sales of the drug in India were “unusually” high in some states and companies will again be asked to comply with new norms, said Rashmi Verma, a senior official of the finance ministry, which controls narcotics allocations.

“We are going to put pressure on them,” said Verma, adding that the demand would be made at the ministry’s next meeting with the drug firms, probably before the end of the year.

Verma did not give details of steps the ministry could take to ensure compliance. She said the government had previously reduced companies’ allocation of codeine, distributed only through state-run factories.

U.S.-based Pfizer and Abbott Laboratories are leading players in India’s $103-million market for codeine-based cough syrups. The Indian units of both companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Drug companies say they have taken adequate steps to control the abuse of such syrups.

Industry executives also complain that compliance costs have increased, and the measures demanded will swell costs and make inventory harder to manage.

India seized about 83,000 bottles of codeine-based cough syrup in the six months through March. In Bangladesh, where the drug was banned in the 1980s, about 750,000 bottles were seized last year.

In July, drug regulators also considered a complete ban on such syrups because of “rampant misuse”, the minutes of one meeting of regulators shows.

The government does not want to ban the medicine, however, as there is genuine demand for it, Verma added.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Modi’s budget cuts hurt India’s fight against malnutrition: Gandhi http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/19/us-india-health-malnutrition-idUSKCN0SD1BB20151019?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/19/modis-budget-cuts-hurt-indias-fight-against-malnutrition-gandhi/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 13:24:39 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=764 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main program to fight child malnutrition has been hit by budget cuts that make it difficult to pay wages of millions of health workers, a cabinet minister said on Monday in a rare public criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies.

Modi’s government in February slashed social sector budgets to boost infrastructure spending in a bid to fasten the pace of economic recovery. States were asked to fill the gap from the larger share of federal taxes they receive from New Delhi.

But the cuts drew criticism for blunting India’s efforts to tackle one of the world’s highest rates of child malnutrition. Four of 10 stunted children in the world are Indian and about 1.5 million children die annually before turning five.

Maneka Gandhi, the women and child welfare minister who oversees a scheme to feed more than 100 million poor people, said the current budget was only enough to pay salaries of her 2.7 million health workers until January.

“We still have problems because our cut has still not been restored. Literally, it’s a month-to-month suspense on whether we can meet wages,” Gandhi told Reuters in an interview.

“It really calls for huge attention.”

She said the February budget cut, which saw her ministry’s budget slashed by half to $1.6 billion, had hit her plans to strengthen the fight against malnutrition.

Gandhi said that even before the cuts the food program was in urgent need of modernization, with lax supervision of health workers using training programs not updated in the last four decades and the food on offer she described as “rubbish.”

She said about half the food was lost due to mismanagement.

Reuters reported in May that Gandhi had privately sought additional funds from the finance minister after the budget cut. She also warned him the reduced funding could backfire politically if focus on her programs is reduced.

The government in July approved an additional $618 million for her ministry. Gandhi indicated that was not enough.

“It’s not a question of giving a little bit back … we actually need every little bit to pay workers and retrain them,” she said.

Modi’s federal budget changes have affected several social sectors in recent months. They have delayed salaries to millions of health workers in the national health scheme and the AIDS control program.

The finance ministry says social budgets have not been squeezed and states will pitch in with the difference. But many states are cash-strapped and cite confusion about new the funding arrangement with New Delhi.

An official at Gandhi’s ministry, who did not wish to be named, said states had cited fiscal strains and conveyed they were not willing to fund salaries.

Gandhi, however, said she was hopeful the program will revive.

“It will come back,” Gandhi said, adding that finance ministry officials had assured her of more funds. “…Nobody can afford to let this program go.”

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Nick Macfie)

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Modi’s budget cuts hurt fight against malnutrition: Maneka Gandhi http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/19/india-health-malnutrition-maneka-gandhi-idUSKCN0SD1AV20151019?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/19/modis-budget-cuts-hurt-fight-against-malnutrition-maneka-gandhi/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2015 11:44:56 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=761 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main programme to fight child malnutrition has been hit by budget cuts that make it difficult to pay wages of millions of health workers, a cabinet minister said on Monday in a rare public criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies.

Modi’s government in February slashed social sector budgets to boost infrastructure spending in a bid to fasten the pace of economic recovery. States were asked to fill the gap from the larger share of federal taxes they receive from New Delhi.

But the cuts drew criticism for blunting India’s efforts to tackle one of the world’s highest rates of child malnutrition. Four of 10 stunted children in the world are Indian and about 1.5 million children die annually before turning five.

Maneka Gandhi, the women and child welfare minister who oversees a scheme to feed more than 100 million poor people, said the current budget was only enough to pay salaries of her 2.7 million health workers until January.

“We still have problems because our cut has still not been restored. Literally, it’s a month-to-month suspense on whether we can meet wages,” Gandhi told Reuters in an interview.

“It really calls for huge attention.”

She said the February budget cut, which saw her ministry’s budget slashed by half to $1.6 billion, had hit her plans to strengthen the fight against malnutrition.

Gandhi said that even before the cuts the food programme was in urgent need of modernization, with lax supervision of health workers using training programmes not updated in the last four decades and the food on offer she described as “rubbish.”

She said about half the food was lost due to mismanagement.

Reuters reported in May that Gandhi had privately sought additional funds from the finance minister after the budget cut. She also warned him the reduced funding could backfire politically if focus on her programmes is reduced.

The government in July approved an additional $618 million for her ministry. Gandhi indicated that was not enough.

“It’s not a question of giving a little bit back … we actually need every little bit to pay workers and retrain them,” she said.

Modi’s federal budget changes have affected several social sectors in recent months. They have delayed salaries to millions of health workers in the national health scheme and the AIDS control programme.

The finance ministry says social budgets have not been squeezed and states will pitch in with the difference. But many states are cash-strapped and cite confusion about new the funding arrangement with New Delhi.

An official at Gandhi’s ministry, who did not wish to be named, said states had cited fiscal strains and conveyed they were not willing to fund salaries.

Gandhi, however, said she was hopeful the programme will revive.

“It will come back,” Gandhi said, adding that finance ministry officials had assured her of more funds. “…Nobody can afford to let this programme go.”

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Nick Macfie)

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India’s top court scuttles Modi’s judicial reform move http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/16/us-india-law-idUSKCN0SA12U20151016?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/16/indias-top-court-scuttles-modis-judicial-reform-move/#comments Fri, 16 Oct 2015 10:31:02 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=757 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top court on Friday struck down a law giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government a bigger say in the appointment of top judges, calling the new system harmful to judicial independence in the world’s largest democracy.

India’s Supreme Court has a history of judicial activism that can prove disconcerting for governments, who say courts often exceed their powers in announcing decisions.

The Supreme Court took the previous administration to task over issues such as corruption and human rights, for instance.

A new system introduced by Modi’s government last year included the federal law minister on a panel that appoints senior judges. The old system had vested those powers in a group of India’s top judges.

“The court said it (the panel) will obstruct judicial independence that is the backbone of the constitution,” said Prashant Bhushan, one of the lawyers who challenged the new law.

Modi faced accusations of interfering with the judiciary after coming to power last year, when a candidate for a Supreme Court appointment accused the government of running a campaign to block it.

Critics say the government should have no role in selecting judges and the new panel could lead to politicization of appointments, but the government says the old system needed to be revamped as it was not transparent.

Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the government’s action, saying several of India’s law commissions, charged with considering legal reform, had recommended changes to the old system, which had also worried some top judges.

“There was complete political unanimity,” Prasad, a former law minister, said on Friday, adding that the new panel had been formed after “deep consideration” over 20 years.

Some lawyers, however, say both the old and new systems of appointing judges are not ideal.

“A system of judges appointing themselves is imperfect,” said Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer, who does not back the new system because she fears it gives the government the power to influence decisions.

“Let’s not forget that the government of India is the largest litigant before the courts,” she said.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Supreme Court scuttles Modi’s judicial reform move http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/16/india-supreme-court-judicialreforms-idUSKCN0SA12I20151016?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/2015/10/16/supreme-court-scuttles-modis-judicial-reform-move/#comments Fri, 16 Oct 2015 10:29:27 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/aditya-kalra/?p=759 NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a law giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government a bigger say in the appointment of top judges, calling the new system harmful to judicial independence in the world’s largest democracy.

The top court has a history of judicial activism that can prove disconcerting for governments, who say courts often exceed their powers in announcing decisions.

The Supreme Court took the previous administration to task over issues such as corruption and human rights, for instance.

A new system introduced by Modi’s government last year included the union law minister on a panel that appoints senior judges. The old system had vested those powers in a group of India’s top judges.

“The court said it (the panel) will obstruct judicial independence that is the backbone of the constitution,” said Prashant Bhushan, one of the lawyers who challenged the new law.

Modi faced accusations of interfering with the judiciary after coming to power last year, when a candidate for a Supreme Court appointment accused the government of running a campaign to block it.

Critics say the government should have no role in selecting judges and the new panel could lead to politicisation of appointments, but the government says the old system needed to be revamped as it was not transparent.

Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the government’s action, saying several of India’s law commissions, charged with considering legal reform, had recommended changes to the old system, which had also worried some top judges.

“There was complete political unanimity,” Prasad, a former law minister, said on Friday, adding that the new panel had been formed after “deep consideration” over 20 years.

Some lawyers, however, say both the old and new systems of appointing judges are not ideal.

“A system of judges appointing themselves is imperfect,” said Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer, who does not back the new system because she fears it gives the government the power to influence decisions.

“Let’s not forget that the government of India is the largest litigant before the courts,” she said.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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