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India slashes health budget & HIV/AIDS funds, already world’s lowest

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A paramedic distributes free medicine provided by the government to patients inside a ward at RGGGH in Chennai

A paramedic distributes free medicine provided by the government to patients inside a ward at RGGGH in Chennai


In addition to the healthcare budget, the finance ministry has also ordered a spending cut for India’s HIV/AIDS programme by about 30 percent to 13 billion rupees ($205.4 million). India had the third-largest number of people living with HIV in the world at the end of 2013.

The government has ordered a cut of nearly 20 percent in its 2014/15 healthcare budget due to fiscal strains, putting at risk key disease control initiatives in a country whose public spending on health is already among the lowest in the world.

Two health ministry officials stated on Tuesday that more than 60 billion rupees, or $948 million, has been slashed from their budget allocation of around $5 billion for the financial year ending on March 31.

Despite rapid economic growth over the past two decades, successive governments have kept a tight rein on healthcare expenditure. India spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public health, compared to 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States.

But hopes were high that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected in May, would upgrade basic health infrastructure and make medical services more affordable for the poor.

The United Nations estimates about one third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India.

“We were not expecting (budget cuts) this time because of the commitments they made in the manifesto,” one of the health ministry officials said, referring to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “No reason was given … but there is shortage of funds. It is not rocket science.”

The officials requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The finance ministry, which ordered the spending reduction and overruled objections from the health ministry at a recent meeting, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The move reflects the government’s struggle to achieve its 2014/15 fiscal deficit target of 4.1 percent of GDP.

Dominated by private players, India’s healthcare industry is growing at an annual clip of around 15 percent, but public spending has remained low and resulted in a dilapidated network of government hospitals and clinics, especially in rural areas.

One of the health ministry officials said the cut could crimp efforts to control the spread of diseases. More newborns die in India than in poorer neighbours such as Bangladesh, and preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea kill more than a million children every year.

The retrenchment could also derail an ambitious universal healthcare programme that Modi wants to launch in April. The plan aims to provide all citizens with free drugs and diagnostic treatments, as well as insurance benefits.

The cost of that programme over the next four years had been estimated at 1.6 trillion rupees ($25 billion). The health ministry officials had been expecting a jump in their budget for the coming year, in part to pay for this extra cost.

“Even next year we don’t think we’ll get a huge amount of money,” said one official, adding that it was now unclear how the new programme would be funded.

HIV/AIDS FUNDS SLASHED

In addition to the healthcare budget, the finance ministry has also ordered a spending cut for India’s HIV/AIDS programme by about 30 percent to 13 billion rupees ($205.4 million).

India had the third-largest number of people living with HIV in the world at the end of 2013, according to the U.N. AIDS programme, and it accounts for more than half of all AIDS-related deaths in the Asia-Pacific.

In October, India was on the brink of running out of a critical medicine in its free HIV/AIDS drugs programme due to bureaucratic delays. A crisis was averted with the assistance of pharmaceutical companies and global health organisations.

Still, health activists complain about dire shortages of several HIV/AIDS diagnostic kits.

“We are all in shock. That shows the kind of importance the government attaches to public health,” said Leena Menghaney, a New Delhi-based public health activist. “This will undermine the HIV programme in the long run.”

Credit: Reuters

Public Opinion

HP Polls 2017: Shimla Urban may decide flow of wind

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Candidates for Shimla Urban seat in hp polls 2017

Harish is his limited area from Sanjauli to Mall Road. Whereas Harbhajan Singh Bhajji has a considerable clout in all areas of the constituency,

Shimla:
The elections to the Legislative Assembly of Himachal Pradesh are inching closer with each passing day and it’s only two days for the fate of all political parties to be sealed in the electronic voting machines.

In this elections, Shimla Urban is a seat that none of the political parties – be it Congress or BJP would like to lose. The major fight remains between Suresh Bhardwaj of BJP and Harbhajan Singh Bhajji of Congress.

Just wait, let me correct as there are two more faces that are influential and will be vying for the seat on November 9, 2017: Sanjay Chauhan and Harish Janartha. However, what impact would they have on the political calculations for this most coveted assembly seat remains to be seen.

As Suresh Bhardwaj is struggling hard with the anti-incumbency factor owing to demonetization and GST implementation, Harbhajan Singh Bhajji can score higher here.

Suresh Bhardwaj is the sitting MLA and aims to win Shimla Urban third time in a row. He has already defeated Harbhajan Singh Bhajji in 1990 elections.

Whereas Harbhajan Singh Bhajji, who had represented Shimla Urban two times, wouldn’t leave anything on fate to prove his metal and make the most out of the opportunity.

As already said, two more candidates are in the fray who have a considerable chunk of the vote bank, but are marred by their own undoing.

Whereas, Sanjay Chauhan’s term as the mayor of Shimla MC was engulfed with major issues like the water shortage, jaundice and garbage collection problem, Harish Janartha is expelled from the party and is questioned for not being loyal to the party that included him in the government even when he lost the last election.

Besides this, what confines Harish is his limited area from Sanjauli to Mall Road. Whereas Harbhajan Singh Bhajji has a considerable clout in all areas of the constituency, which could be a determining factor.

By Vinod Sharma

Disclaimer: Views expressed in the article are entirely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect opinion of Himachal Watcher

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Whose Development Is It, Anyway?

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developmental hidtory of himachal

The development that the people of the state know of has eschewed exploitation and annihilation at almost every level with the final consequence being the destruction of Himachal ecology.

This article is an effort to explore the many meanings which have sedimented around the key motif of Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election – the development.

It highlights the ignorance of the local and lived histories of the development entailed in the developmental discourse by the Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party and reiterated by the commercial mass media.

Himachal will go to polls on November 9, 2017. As the state gears up with massive rallies and prospective designs, one finds a key motif being reiterated throughout development.

No wonder that has been so and it would remain. What strikes out however, is the discursive and rhetorical unity that the politicians and mass media reporting share.

When Modi centralizes development as the main poll plank and his party implies the corrupt Congress government in the state by their ‘Hisaab Maange Himachal’ campaign, the constituency watch segments in the Tribune highlight how Prem Kumar Dhumal had laid the foundation stone for a water channel but no single brick was added during the Congress regime.

The problem between the big talk of the political elites, media that corroborates with them for stories of developmental projects, national parties and national interests is that the people, their lived experiences and the locality is ignored.

It is precisely with this concern that this article is written. The article tries to juxtapose the idea of development articulated by the politicians during the Himachal Pradesh election 2017 and reiterated by the mass media as against the local historical experience of development in the state of Himachal Pradesh.

If one goes beyond the binaries of Cong/BJP and development/under-development which is upheld in their political action and the columns of the news articles reporting on the H.P. elections, one sees a unified notion of ‘development’.

This notion is disseminated and ignores the local historical experience with ‘development’.

Himachal Pradesh has almost 90% of its population living in the rural areas. Out if which, 62% are employed in agriculture or horticulture which is responsible for generation of 16% of the total G.S.D.P.

It is also the home to many scheduled communities like the Gaddis, Gujjars, Bhots, and Lahaulas etc.These aberrational figures.

However, it does not capture the local historical experience of development. Rather it is a consequence of it.

The local history has not been pleasant as the media and the political elites imply, almost being antithetical to all the fervor and enthusiasm with which these projects are announced.

The development that the people of the state know of has eschewed exploitation and annihilation at almost every level with the final consequence being the destruction of Himachal ecology.

A recent study by Himdhara concluded how the developmental activities in the state have adversely hit the river basins of Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab and Yamuna.

However, this is not all. From the first stages till the last, development means struggles and problems for the people of the state.

The forceful eviction and anti-encroachment drives by the Congress government last year, the delayed implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 after a long drawn struggle, and the stunted rate of settling F.R.C.’s claims to lands remain in the local memory.

The late implementation was at the cost of diversion of lands for developmental projects against the interests of the locals.

In doing so, many provisions were bypassed. The Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. had even appealed in the court saying,

The Gram Sabha is the deciding body/ authority to comply with the direction of the learned National Green Tribunal, Delhi but the Gram Sabha consists of unskilled local persons/ local residents.

On November 5, 2016, in a case where the N.G.T. had ordered the state government to comply and implement the F.R.A., 2006.

The locals were not only barred from their own homelands, but it also directly hit their livelihood and subsistence activities in the form of repression by the forest department by felling of trees, dismantling the houses and water/electricity connections along with inaccessibility to forest products.

In the local history, the denial of ancestral home and material basis of culture is one of the first meanings of development.

And that’s not all. With the construction of these projects comes the plight of unemployment. Companies prefer migrant workers in the construction of these projects as they are more skilled, less paid and have a lower tendency to unite and resist the unfair and exploitative terms.

Along with these migrant workers come further destruction of the natural habitat with clearing of forests and felling of trees. It leads to the detribalization in tribal areas.

As these projects go underway, some people find employment in the mines, factories and hydel project. However, the experience of unpaid labour, low wages, improper conditions of work and repression of resistance has further sedimented upon development.

Instances like the alleged murder of three workers during their struggle against the N.H.P.C. and Hindustan Construction Company in Chamba, Karcham-Wangtoo and Shongtong-Karcham also added up to the local experience which lead to construction of development as an anti-people agenda.

The image of the development in the local history is one which is informed by exploitation in the present and annihilation of the past.

The local historical conception of development is, thus, antithetical to the national conception of the development, which the companies and the politicians want to inject into the scene.

Here, the discursive and conceptual unity of the media and the political elites of the state in terms of their conception of ‘development’ is quite striking.

The promises of development by Cong and B.J.P. and the accusations against each other are something that the media has vowed to investigate with token representation of the locals only as corroborators.

They fit only as long as they can serve as the ‘proofs’ to the stories of development where the political elites are represented as the protagonists.

Reading the news articles ‘against the grain’ helps us in bringing out those voices in their own context. We will find many instances where the voices of the locals, their frustration against the Cong-B.J.P. governments, unifying them as two sides of the same coin, highlight the cronyism prevalent and have the full consciousness of their local historical conception of development.

In my opinion, what we need to do is the abandonment of the developmental discourse and a suspecting eye towards all who reiterate and reify the innocent and progressive idea of development as against the local history of development.

After all, our national movement was against a power which legitimized its exploitation on the basis of ‘civilizing mission, progress and development’!

By Yugank Mishra/A research associate at the Institute of Perception Studies, New Delhi and a research scholar pursuing M.Phil. in History from Ambedkar University, Delhi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in the article are entirely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect opinion of Himachal Watcher

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Kotkhai row: Suspicious of own Police, CBI is no less than godly guardian of law for Himachal people

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Shimla – In the eyes of people of Himachal Pradesh, a peaceful Hill State, the arrival of the Central Bureau of Investigation in Shimla was no less than divine intervention. After all that happened in the gruesome Kotkhai case and the way people lost complete faith in the State Police after mysterious killing of one of the accused, CBI officials are being perceived no less than godly guardians who will rip apart the conspiracy of monsters (real culprits) to deliver justice at every cost, no matter what comes in their way.

It is no co-incident CBI, in its idle form of a law-enforcement agency, is meant to do the same. Moreover, CBI has vowed to crack the case within 10 days, according to a report published in India Today.

But critical, especially journalists point out that CBI officials are human too, and they work under the government. The critics believe they are vulnerable like any other human, but hope it doesn’t turn out to be so in the current case.

There is a reason why CBI officials are being perceived as saviors of justice like incorruptible super cops.

The alleged gang-rape and brutal murder of a 16-years-old school going girl in Shimla’s Kotkhai region is more terrifying than Delhi’s Nirbhaya incident in 2012 if seen from the perspective of delivering justice in its literal sense. Yet, the national media has been discriminate in coverage.

The Police Department in capital Delhi had captured all culprits very swiftly. In Shimla, the police – the law enforcement agency of the State Government – did not work the way it was supposed to, allege family, relatives, and locals in the region.

People are sure the police tried to shield real culprit, who is, they believe, some influential and wealthy person.
In the eyes of common people, the concept of justice was ripped apart with the majority of Himachal alleging Special Investigation Team of HP Police of covering-up real culprits.

It was a huge moral shock for the people of Himachal when they saw pictures of the minor victim’s naked dead body dumped in a pit on social media. The pictures of the girl in the school dress also went viral on social media. In fact, her pictures are still circulating on social media.

But unlike the Delhi’s Nirbhaya case, here people have labeled some other serious allegations. People believe that in order to save the real culprit, the police is trying to sacrifice migrant laborers who have been working in the apple orchards in the same region. This presumption took a concrete form when one of the accused, a Nepalese laborer was killed in the Kothai Police Station in the custody. The police said the accused Raju killed him during a scuffle inside the lock-up of a very small station. The mother of Raju claimed in media statements that Raju and Suraj were like brothers as they lived in the same settlement.

In Kotkhai row, the local police take seven days to arrest six people. In the case of Nirbhaya, the police had convinced, through solid evidences, the entire nation that all arrested men were the real culprits. The police had also managed to keep the identity of the victim undisclosed.

In Shimla, the investigation story isn’t making sense to even uneducated rural population. No men or women with an average level of common sense could find any sense in the investigation and police’s claim that one accused killed another in the security of police.

The wet eyes of victim’s parents, the poverty stricken mother of Raju (accused)left alone after he was arrested in the case, and sobbing wife of another accused Suraj, who was killed in police custody under prototypical circumstances, all have put their faith in the CBI, which is an idle situation.

People believe CBI will unearth the truth and upheld the supremacy of the law. After CBI initiated its probe, the public that had taken to rioting and violence after State government and district administration of Shimla were seen as an accomplice of the alleged real culprit, has calmed down for a while. The anger and distress still exist but CBI has given the public a hope.

The mother of Raju, one of the migrant laborers arrested by the police, appeared on a video clip recorded by a journalist of a Hindi daily. She believes her son was falsely framed. She claimed her son was with her the entire time during which the crime took place as per the police. She is dependent on her son as she is a cancer patient, but now she is left alone, and there is one to take care of her, she says to the journalist.

Similarly, wife of poor Nepalese laborer Suraj appears in videos with two small children. All three were dependent on Suraj.

Now, all desperately wait for CBI to unfold the mystery surrounding the entire case. The justice must be delivered lest people lose faith in the State government and its machinery including law enforcement agencies.

When people no more trust the system and the protection from crimes ensured by it through law, they tend to take the matters into their own hands. People would be running their own trials at their own social and economic levels because they don’t believe the police can get them justice.

No one knows the real story behind the entire crime and investigation is still in progress. The culprits are still to be confirmed, so it would be wrong to draw any conclusion of ours.

But the naked body of the girl dumped in the pit in Kotkhai and the half-naked dead body of the forest guard, Hoshiyar Sing, found hanging upside down from a tree in a forest of Karsog, Mandi, are apt reasons to believe that corruption and prevalence of justice are inversely proportional.

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