The NEET Drama claims its first victim

Headline- The Tamil Nadu girl who spearheaded the battle against the applicability of NEET for UG Medical admissions in the state commits suicide today. 

Opinion– Thus ended a precious life. A life that could have been anything huge. It has fallen prey to probably the nastiest political games in recent times in Tamil Nadu. The news came as a shocker to me, since I had presumed that the chapter was closed for this academic year at the least.

The NEET conundrum has been going on for a while, with the Honourable Supreme Court ruling that no exemption shall be provided to Tamil Nadu and that the state must conduct medical admissions based on NEET scores. This ended the confusion regarding the ever-delaying admissions to the Government Medical Colleges in the state, or that is what I thought. It was just the beginning, it seems.

Anitha, who had a board exam score of 1178/1200 in her class 12 had a lower NEET score, making her ineligible for the Merit seats in Government medical colleges in the state. She was the petitioner in the Supreme Court case above. She lost the case and with that, her dreams.

I try and think about this from an objective point of view. I shut my ears and eyes to the uproar caused by political parties in the social media, all of which, I am damn sure, is for the screen time and political mileage. I shall not be influenced by any of those, I decide.

The main aspect of today’s news was that she was a Dalit girl. Somehow, this point seems to be highlighted everywhere. I for one do not understand that if it was a Backward community or a general category student, who had exhausted all the options and committed suicide, would it have been highlighted the same way too? I doubt it. Moving on. People talk about how Dalits are oppressed in our country and how the oppression still continues etc. I agree with all of it. Let us take the case of Anitha, in Tamil Nadu.

There are about 45 seats reserved for candidates from Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribes in the Tamil Nadu assembly. No other candidates are allowed to contest from those seats. That is around 19% representation in the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu, over the years, for SC and ST. Still, it is a fact that the conditions of the people belonging to SC and ST have not improved on the ground. Apparently, there is a gap somewhere between the representatives and the people, which is being overlooked here. Have we held those people responsible for the pathetic state of affairs now? It is still the story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

That being said, the game of NEET was purely a political one played by the politicians in the lives of the unassuming students. Students as always, are taught to chase marks by rote learning. Most students who pass their class 12 exams would not be thorough with the concepts or the applications of a particular idea given in their textbooks. This is a fact. I studied in the same board and I felt the pinch when I came to Chennai to prepare for CA-intermediate. I had felt intimidated in a class of 200 when everybody other than me seemed to know the correct answer to a basic question in accounts when I was gawking at them with disbelief. These were not CBSE students. These were students from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, who had studied in their respective state boards and completed class 12. That low was our standards of the higher secondary syllabus. It still is.

NEET is an exam conducted by the CBSE for admission into Government Medical colleges and Government seats in private medical colleges. The question paper for NEET is set by the CBSE, which obviously will rely on its own NCERT text books to pick questions for the exam. This gives an undue advantage to the CBSE students who use NCERT books for their higher secondary exams. Would it be that tough to ask for a separate body to conduct exams for medical admissions in the country? Anyway, we have gazillion schemes and committees decorating New Delhi, why not have one for something reasonable? Or are we ready to implement CBSE as uniform syllabus through out the country with the same books and the same quality of education as provided in say a Delhi Public School or a Kendriya Vidyalaya? How about focussing on tightening up the state education departments to comply with some set standards as the bare minimum to print text books?

I was hence thinking what might have caused our own education ministers and the relevant authorities to not initiate a syllabus revamp? Then I thought about various lobbies that bat for this ‘mark-centric’ and ‘rote learning’ ideas that would keep filling their coffers year after year. Also, the state government had earlier put an upper ceiling on the fees collected by private schools in Tamil Nadu. But I know of certain cases where the schools collect double the stipulated amount (half via Instruments and the other half strictly by cash, for which no receipts would be given). This is very common in Tamil Nadu and the state government seems oblivious to these on purpose.

Also, the quality of education that is under fire includes the values that are taught to children. Are we cornering them into pursuing one particular stream and not helping them realise that life is beyond these? Are we being lax on the emotional well being of students and fail to spot patterns in student behaviour? In a way, are we inculcating to the student that if he or she doesn’t get her first step right, there is nothing more to it? Are we raising a weaker generation, which is ignorant about the trials and tribulations of life? These are all open ended questions that we need to ask ourselves as a society.

Anitha is gone today. Her dream unfulfilled. She fell prey to the petty politics played by the Centre and the State. I am sure now multiple politicians will tread the soil of Ariyalur for photo-ops and gimmicks. Do they care about her? I am not sure. Today she fell victim to failures at multiple levels over the years. Let her demise be a lesson to all of us.

A soul that held the lamp of a promising future is gone, to never be back. May She Rest In Peace.

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Why Gorakhpur Is A Lesson To Be Remembered For A Lifetime

We were left stunned on hearing the news about the death of children in a Government hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. We had too many people to blame, especially since it was the constituency of the Chief Minister of the state, Shri.Yogi Adityanath. Some said it was due to the lack of Oxygen cylinders caused due to unpaid bills that caused these deaths. Somebody else noted that children dying were not something out of the ordinary and that deaths due to Encephalitis are very common phenomenon out there for many years now. The Press worked overtime in exposing the various visible shortcomings of the place and of the system, which is alleged to have led to the fiasco. Sad indeed.

A cursory reading of the Union Budget for the year 2017–18 gives us an idea about the importance given to health spending. The amount allocated to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for the year 2017–18 is Rs.47,352.51 crores. This is a mere 2.2% of the overall expenditure budget of our country for this year. Of this amount, the allocation for Swachchta Action Plan is Rs.133 crores, which is about Rs.4.58 crores for each state ( which has numerous government hospitals based on the size of the state) per year. Having done audits of companies and banks in India, I know how less an amount this is, especially for a hospital.

Keeping this in mind, I happened to engage one of my friends, who is a doctor in a Government Hospital. I asked him about the specific incident in Gorakhpur and he opined that the children should have been referred to other places when the authorities knew that shit was going to hit the fan. He also added that it is easier said than done because more often than not, the doctors are required to record the reason for the transfer of any case to another hospital. They are supposed to specify what lacked causing such transfer. On prodding further, it came to light that the funds that were allocated to buy equipment and medicines are not used for it. They get gobbled up by the rampant corruption in the hierarchy, leading to buying of substandard equipment, which conks off at the earliest instance. So doctors hesitate to refer fearing their superiors and their power.

He also mentions that cleanliness, apart from being the duty of the hospital, is equally the duty of the people accompanying the patient. “Nurses and Wardboys don’t spit in the corridors nor do they spill food items on the floor inside the hospital building”, he said. Many a time, it is also the relatives of the patient in a critical care unit, who create issues when asked to transfer the patient to another better hospital. “They are more concerned about the why’s and the how’s than actually saving time and in consequence the patient”, he said.

The allegations of sitting on the bills, delaying the payment also seem authentic. A surgeon working in the Rajiv Gandhi Government general hospital said,” Even life-saving instruments and drugs are not available because the company knows that after supplying them they have to pay to move their bill from table to table. It is a long line of people from the Junior clerk, senior clerk, section officer, administrative officer, vice principal up until the Dean of the medical college hospital. Every single representative of surgical instruments will tell you that they supply at a markup price of 30% to 40% of the actual cost because of these bribes having to be factored in,” strengthening the possibilities of such incidents happening. When enquired if it was legally allowed for an agency that supplies life-saving drugs and equipment to suspend its sales due to non-payment, he replied, “Absolutely. If they are giving repeated legal notices about unpaid bills, it’s the duty of the person-in-charge to make sure that the supply is restored somehow. Even the vendor would have known the consequences of the action they have taken. Despite that, if they still did it, it means something is rotten somewhere and it’s not all cut and dry as the story has come out in the public”. Also, there is this point of having a stock of supplies so that they could act as a buffer when things do not go as planned. It is a mystery as to how things went unnoticed till the very end, especially when the buffer stock is being used as the regular stock.

“We have excellent doctors in government hospitals, but our hands are tied with all this red-tapism, multiple levels of documentation and second guessing after emergency decisions are made. Most of the times we practice with half-assed instruments way beyond expiry date.For example, my surgical kit is almost exclusively of instruments from my clinic. I don’t want to use the government supplied instruments either because they are not sharp enough and will slow me down or they are not small enough for fine work. So I bring all my own instruments (which are expensive) for doing free surgeries in the government hospital and I am not alone in doing this. Almost every other surgeon does this as they can’t depend on the quality of the instruments supplied by the government. Ultimately if anything goes wrong, it is the doctors’ responsibility,” he says.

Lack of qualified technical staff also adds up to the woes of the hospitals in India. Corruption reigns there as well, so much that one staff is substituted with another, based on whoever is ready to pay a higher amount as bribe. The surgeon agrees to it and adds, “In our hospital, there are two posts for anaesthetists, but because of the bribes, two pathologists were appointed to the anaesthetists’ posts. We only have a single anaesthetist available and if he is not on duty, all surgeries have to be postponed or sent away to Stanley hospital or Govt Royapettah hospital, even if the Patient is in a very critical condition. We can’t do anything because as surgeons we can’t give anaesthetics and anaesthetists are not there to do it either,” thereby conveying the helplessness of the doctors in this regard.

The surgeon also expressed his disgust and helplessness in equal measures. “If you have multiple levels of redundancy at one stage or the other, you are bound to hit a deficiency. How did everyone miss everything?” he exclaimed.

This could be eye-opening to us, but it has killed almost a hundred children and is not ending anytime soon. The inaction by the government in addressing this murder and also in taking punitive action against all those involved is baffling and unbelievable. Suspending the officers does not quite solve the problem. Everyone from the Health Minister is equally responsible for this sorry state of affairs that plague the Government hospitals. The day when people in power are forced to share hospital beds with the common man will help in resolving this. But, will that ever happen?

The scary C-word

The noise around the ban on the movie, “Lipstick Under my Burkha” has died down. The ban was revoked earlier this month and the cast, crew and the public at large cannot stop promoting the movie with various innovative campaigns. This is not the first time that a movie was banned in India. Lipstick under my Burkha (LMB) is just a tiny entry in the lost list of movies that were not fortunate to see the daylight. We have had incidents when the CBFC beeped the word “intercourse” from an upcoming movie since it thought it was inappropriate and offensive to a section of people.

This drives us to the most important question. Is censorship essential in a democracy? Does censoring the content ensure internal security and validating the sentiments of the people at large? I guess not.

India is a country of more than 1.2 billion people. We take pride in calling ourselves multicultural, multilingual and a very tolerant (?) society. In a space like this, it is almost impossible to satisfy and appease all the sections of the society at once. What might offend you might not offend me.

Also, what is the need for such censorship, which is predominantly biased? I take the examples of movies like Grand Masti and Kyaa Kool hai hum (trust me there was nothing cool about it) which were cleared for release, while LMB was banned. Writing off all possible reasons, the remaining one is that the aforementioned movies had a male director and LMB is directed by a female, Alankrita Srivastava. So this implies that the CBFC is scared of letting the country watch and understand a woman’s perspective. This could also raise the question of plausible ‘connections’ of the stakeholders of those movies Grand Masti with the CBFC, which might even open a can of worms if probed. One might never know.

Thirdly, I would like to express my opinion that no art form must be subject to censorship. In a mature democracy, it must be left to the audience to decide what to take and what not to take home. Censorship of creative products like dance, music, books, and movies is definitely a sign of a very immature and idiosyncratic democracy.

Are we, as a society, being regressive? Not really. I think we have started moving towards being liberal and progressive in our thoughts related to a society and morality. We still have a long way to go though. Movies like LMB are a step in the right direction. I fear if this would fizzle out, without being used as a strong foundation to build a massive building which is progressive thoughts. Boards like the CBFC would do better in restricting themselves to just certifying movies and leave it at that. Let the audience do the bidding on the content of the movies.

Does the lipstick start a revolution? Yes, albeit in a very small scale. The summit that it is attempting to tame is huge with lots of layers to it. It needs consistency and sensibility to conquer it. It is going to be time-consuming, yet the effort will be worth it.

 

The GST Joke

Background- Today’s Ayutha Ezhuthu program on Thanthi TV about the decision of the movie theatres across Tamil Nadu to down their shutters. This was opposing the levy of 30% municipality tax in addition to the GST that is already being levied on them.

The program had a decent discussion with various stakeholders contributing their views and reasons for such a drastic measure.

Let me begin this piece by saying that the GST, in fact, should have the long-term effect of reducing the cost of production and consequently the price of the product for the ultimate consumer. This is due to the overall reduction in the cost at the various stages that the goods or services pass through. Since the middlemen at each level are allowed to take input credit for the tax they paid, there is no cascading effect. GST, therefore, collects tax only at a single point.

So as the cost price reduces, keeping the other variables constant, the selling price also should decrease proportionately. This is simple mathematics and logic, right? Wrong.

This is where the mind of the businessmen come into play. They being profit oriented, would not prefer to reduce their list price, because according to them, there are consumers who are capable of buying their products at the older, higher price. Hence they will take full advantage of reduced taxes and increased profit margins.

Next, let us look into the demands of the theatre owners. They are demanding an increase in the ticket rates, which in Tamil Nadu, are capped at Rs.120/-. While this is a reasonable demand from their side, we must also pay attention to the other expenditure we incur when on a movie outing, as a consumer. We spend exorbitant money on food and beverages and a considerable sum on parking tickets. When asked about this, apparently the guest had no convincing answer.

Third, the prices of the water cans sold in Chennai have also increased. When questioned, the representative of the traders cited the increase in transport costs and water scarcity as reasons for such increase and not GST.

Fourth, I have been noticing a lot of complaints regarding GST and how it is so high and people posting a picture of their restaurant bills on social media. Funnily, these same people had no issues, when they were paying a VAT of 14.5% and around 5.6% as service tax for the same food. Increased transparency apparently has caused a gaping hole in their pockets.

Fifth, I also encountered a group which was comparing how sanitary pads were taxed and items like kumkum, sindoor etc were kept out of tax ambit. While I do not know the exact reason for this, I might as well place on record my observations and guesses for this. Items like sindoor are predominantly manufactured by cottage industries. Not many mainstream MNCs manufacture these products. Imposing a compliance concept like GST on such cottage industries would be unfair. Sanitary napkins, on the other hand, are marketed under the brand names of MNCs who earn a lot from them. Hence they are being taxed.

I am all up for making sanitary napkins available through the country, but not at such high prices. If noticed, it is evident that it is possible to provide sanitary pads at affordable rates to people. Quite a few NGOs are doing that as far as I know. But to say that the high prices of pads are only due to the levy of GST is absurd and ignorant.

GST is a good concept, to be honest. It prevents tax evasion and compliance glitches. Like any other law of such magnitude, confusion and mess is expected and normal in the first few months. Like any other law of such magnitude, this will settle down and people will start seeing sense. It is all a matter of time.

 

UPA finds it tough to look beyond Nepotism

Headline- The UPA announced Smt. Meira Kumar as its Presidential candidate.

The plot thickens and now there seems to be a level playing field in respect of the caste politics involved is concerned. The UPA, headed by the Indian National Congress, announced Smt. Meira Kumar, the former Lok Sabha Speaker and a five-time Lok Sabha MP and an out and out Lutyen’s politician, who is also the daughter of the prominent Dalit Leader, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Freedom Fighter Shri.Jagjivan Ram, as its candidate for the Presidential Elections to be held soon.

Meira Kumar is also a seasoned politician who has proved her mettle by being a part of the Union Cabinet for quite a while. Pitting her against Shri. Ramnath Kovind has made the job of the allies tough since they will now go into a frenzy as to whom to extend their support to, which would also be presumed as a signal in the political arena.

Opinion

This is a cunning move by the UPA which symbolically begins the tug of war as to which Dalit is bigger. This is also a move to make the UPA allies reconsider their support to the presidential candidate. We could expect a few change of minds as a result of this nomination.

As for Smt.Meira Kumar is concerned, she does not seem to be an equal match for the NDA’s candidate, especially when it comes to her privileged upbringing and Lutyen’s loyalty.

Also, the inability and reluctance of the UPA to look beyond Dynasty politics are becoming loud and clear, given the other name under consideration was Shri.Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The Gandhi surname bodes well with the sentiment of the party.

Smt. Meira Kumar seems to have earned this nomination as a prize for her unswerving loyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi family. Also, it would be possible for her to claim the ‘Woman’ card and the ‘Dalit’ card together and stir up the support of the allies of the UPA.

But, in all honesty, the possibility of her getting elected looks bleak, now that most parties have vowed their allegiance to Shri.Kovind and have got into the good books of the ruling alliance, the NDA. Nobody would want to lose that advantage now, would they?

 

GST and Bloggers

Headline- Bloggers also now fall under the ambit of GST. To register, collect and pay tax accordingly.

 

money
Image Credit- http://www.moneycontrol.com

 

Bloggers who have monetised their sites are in for a surprise. As it turns out, bloggers have been covered under the ambit of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which will come into force on the 1st of July, 2017.

People earning through ads in their blogs is no new thing. Some even earn lakhs per month, depending on the clicks on their page. GST aims to bring all these into its coverage and tax them. As a result, any blogger who earns even a paisa from their website, now, has to get themselves registered under GST.

Under the GST law, in a case where the blogger earns any amount from outside their own state or country is liable to pay tax at 18%.

How to register?

Registration under GST is a simple process if we have all the required documents ready to be uploaded into the system. You will be granted registration in three days once you have successfully got your uploaded documents verified by the Verifying Officer. The following is the list of the documents that one must have in hand, before logging into the GST portal.

  1.  Softcopy of the photo of the Authorised person ( you, if you are a sole proprietor, the Managing Director if you operate under the name of a company or the Designated Partner or Managing Partner if you operate as an LLP or a Partnership firm).
  2. Proof of Registration of your entity ( Not Applicable if you are a sole proprietor)
  3. Proof of Principal place of business (Applicable to all- Electricity bill, Property tax receipt, Rent Agreement etc- Any one will do)
  4. Scanned Copy of Bank Statement (including front page) or a Scanned Copy of a canceled cheque with the details of the Account number,  IFSC code, Bank name etc visible.

After having all these ready, log into the GST portal and register.

Pro-tip– Right now, the GST portal is closed for registrations. It has been displayed that it will soon open for fresh registrations. So keep an eye out for that and once it is open, go and register. Until then, get your documents part ready. As of now, GST migration for existing Service Tax and Excise duty assessees have only been done. So do not panic. 

The service category, to choose while registering would be – “Online information and database access or retrieval services”. 

More information on GST can be read here (this is taken from the Official Portal of the GoI. Hence go ahead and click away!)

 

 

 

The Presidential Checkmate

Headline- Ramnath Kovind announced as the Presidential candidate of the BJP.

 

kovind

In what could be termed as a masterstroke, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party announced Shri Ramnath Kovind, the incumbent Governor of Bihar as their candidate for the highest constitutional position of the country, the President.

“He hails from a Dalit family of farmers and has come to this position after facing a lot of struggles. We are sure that he will send a positive signal to the people across the country”, said Amit Shah, the BJP head, in the press conference announcing his candidature.

Ramnath Kovind is a lawyer by profession and an RSS loyalist. He had been a member of the Rajya Sabha twice before and also a practicing advocate in the Supreme Court.

Now why this could sound the death knell for the opposition is because it would practically be difficult for them to announce a candidate at par with Shri.Kovind.

With leaders like Mayawati and Nitish Kumar expressing their solidarity and support to Shri Kovind, it is now a lost cause for the opposition to think of any other person.

Shri Kovind is known for his hard work and his work towards the upliftment of the Dalit community in north India. He is also said to have taken up the cases of SC/ST women, without charging any fee for the work. Him being from the Dalit community, which was emphasised in the press conference, is aimed at appeasing the community in the run-up to the polls of 2019.

This move is also seen as the end for the burning political ambitions of senior BJP leaders like LK Advani and MM Joshi, who have been embroiled in the controversy of Babri Masjid.

Opinion

While this might seem like a move to appease the Dalit community, to consolidate their votes, this is also a welcome move, to be honest. The position of the President of India is one of dignity and influential. Only someone with a proven track record of groundwork could do justice to the prestige and honour associated with the chair. Given that Shri Ramnath Kovind is known for his impartial nature ( tiffs between the CM and the Governor in Bihar are non-existent with the CM himself calling Kovind to be impartial) and he has done a lot for the upliftment of the Dalit women, there could not have been a better choice as far as the BJP is concerned. His caste and RSS loyalty would only be worthwhile add-ons to the already glittery ensemble. If this move would pay off in the long run or not with regards to the polls is something that is to be seen.

For now, it looks like the BJP has gotten its moves right and if things unfold as anticipated, then this would be the checkmate.