04 May 2021

Modi wants NGOs to help fight Covid-19. But their hands are tied by rules his government introduced

The law that regulates foreign contributions to the non-profit sector was amended in the middle of the pandemic.

In September, when India was in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centre amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which governs the use of foreign donations received by non-governmental organisations in the country.

At that time, the Voluntary Action Network India, a group of Indian non-profit organisations, said in a statement that the stringent restrictions brought in through the amendments would deliver a death blow to them.

Eight months later, India is going through a more severe second wave of Covid-19, with daily infection numbers touching almost 4 lakh per day and the country registering a record number of daily deaths.

On April 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a review meeting with officials discussed how NGO should help maintain lines of communication between patients, their dependents and healthcare personnel.

But those in the NGO sector say the September amendments introduced by the Modi government have crippled them, limiting their ability to access and distribute crucial foreign aid at a time when India is looking for every bit of help to fight the crisis.

There are hundreds of NGOs across the country with health as their primary area of focus. These organisations want the government to put the implementation of the amendments in abeyance to allow them to effectively use their networks in the fight against Covid-19. In particular, the organisations want the government to allow the larger NGOs to distribute funds they receive to the smaller ones, something that has been prohibited by the new changes to the law.

Sub-granting aid

Before the amendments were passed in September, larger NGOs which are registered under the FCRA would receive donations from outside India and redistribute the funds to smaller NGOs with whom they work in the country. To illustrate, an NGO working in Delhi could sub-grant the money to a smaller NGO working in Bihar or Kerala to implement a certain program in the field.

But the amendments put an end to this practice.

According to Biraj Patnaik, executive director of the National Foundation of India, smaller NGOs working in remote areas do not usually get direct access to foreign funding. They depend on the larger NGOs to sub-grant funds for their work. “A small NGO may not even have a functioning website. But they could be doing excellent work on the ground,” he said.

The larger NGOs act as a bridge between the donors and the smaller organisations. “By disallowing sub-granting of funds, the whole stream of funding has dried up,” he added.

This becomes even more important in times like a pandemic.

Patnaik said FCRA covers both money and material donations. Without powers to sub-grant, the reach of the larger NGOs is also restricted. For example, an NGO may receive oxygen concentrators from a donor abroad. “For instance, if my organisation which is based in Delhi gets a large supply of oxygen concentrators from abroad as a donation, we can no longer send it to organisations working in Nagaland or Arunachal Pradesh, or indeed in rural Uttar Pradesh.”

29 April 2021

Mizoram plans to become ‘Har Ghar Jal’ State by 2022-23

NEW DELHI: The State of Mizoram presented their Jal Jeevan Mission Annual Action Plan via video conference with details of the saturation plan for the financial year 2021-22, thereby ensuring that every rural household in the State gets tap water connection. Working along with the mission objective ‘HarGharJal’, Mizoram proposes 100% tap connections in rural homes of the State by 2022-23. Out of 1.27 lakh rural households in the State, 59 thousand (46%) rural households have tap water supply. The State has planned to provide 40 thousand tap connections in 2021-2022.  Total 34 thousand tap connections were provided by the State during 2020-2021.

The extensive exercise of taking up the Annual Action Plan (AAP) of States/UTs under Jal Jeevan Mission, is done by a national committee chaired by the Secretary, Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation and members from different ministries/ departments as well as NITI Aayog. Thereafter, funds are released throughout the year based on quarterly progress and expenditure incurred from time to time. The detailed planning exercise is undertaken to help the State achieve the goal of ‘HarGharJal’.

Under Jal Jeevan Mission, efforts are made to dovetail all available resources by the convergence of different programmes viz. MGNREGS, SBM, 15th Finance Commission Grants to PRIs, CAMPA funds, Local Area Development Funds, etc. The committee suggested that the Mizoram must utilize its funds for Water Quality Monitoring & Surveillance testing of drinking water sources and at delivery points. It was highlighted to involve the local village community/Gram Panchayats and or user groups in planning, implementation, management, operation and maintenance of water supply systems in villages to ensure long-term sustainability, thereby help achieve drinking water security.

Mizoram was urged to focus on support activities and mobilisation of community contribution. The committee also emphasized the preparation of Village Action Plans and the constitution of Village Water and Sanitation Committee/Pani Samiti as a sub-committee of Gram Panchayat with a minimum of 50% of women members. This committee will be responsible for planning, designing, implementing and operating & maintaining in-village water supply infrastructure. In all villages, the IEC campaign along with community mobilization to be taken up to make Jal Jeevan Mission, truly a people’s movement.

Tripura DM apologises for disrupting wedding ceremony that continued into curfew hours

In a video that went viral on social media, the District Magistrate was seen stopping a wedding ceremony at Manikya Court, a marriage hall at North Gate of the Palace Compound, supposedly after the 10 pm cutoff time for Covid-19 night curfew to come into force in the Agartala Municipal Council (AMC) areas.

By Debraj DebTripura, Covid-19Tripura West District Magistrate (DM) Dr Shailesh Kumar Yadav orders closure of two marriage halls for violating night curfew order in Agartala. (Photo: Twitter/@Pronamotweets)

Agartala: West Tripura District Magistrate Sailesh Kumar Yadav Tuesday apologised for disrupting a marriage at Manikya Court in Tripura, saying he didn’t intend to “hurt anyone’s sentiments”. Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has asked Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar to submit a report on the events that transpired.

In a video that went viral on social media, the District Magistrate was seen stopping a wedding ceremony at Manikya Court, a marriage hall at North Gate of the Palace Compound, supposedly after the 10 pm cutoff time for Covid-19 night curfew to come into force in the Agartala Municipal Council (AMC) areas. The video showed him shoving out the bridegroom, arresting everyone present including the bride and groom’s family and tearing up a written permission for the wedding signed by himself.

Yadav said everyone who gathered at the site were in direct violation of prohibitory orders under Section 144 of thr CrPC and would be prosecuted. Over 30 people were arrested and released later.

Opposition leader Manik Sarkar and the CPIM termed the incident as ‘undesired’ and unbecoming of the District Magistrate. It sought proper action against the DM for his behavior.

West Tripura MP and BJP leader Pratima Bhowmik said she would visit the bride’s relatives and speak to them over the incident. “The administration is doing what’s needed to break the chain of transmission of coronavirus. But what happened last night is most undesired. It should not have happened,” the MP said.

Tripura royal scion Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma and chief of TIPRA Motha, which recently won the tribal council elections here, is also the owner of Manikya Court, where the incident happened. In a Facebook post, he called for a complete investigation of the incident and said he will close down the marriage hall “as per the VERBAL direction of Honourable DM Sahib”.

Ruling BJP MLAs including Sudip Roy Barman, Ashish Kumar Saha and Sushanta Choudhury have written to Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar seeking removal of the DM.

After a day of severe criticism on social media, the DM apologised for what happened on Monday night. “All I did was done during the night curfew period last night and was for the benefit and wellbeing of the people. My intention was not to hurt or humiliate the sentiments of anyone,” Yadav told reporters.

Tripura imposed night curfew in Agartala municipal areas on April 22 with a new surge in Covid-19 cases. The state now has 793 active coronavirus patients and two deaths in the last 24 hours.

Meghalaya COVID-19: No gatherings; institutes, pvt offices to remain shut from May 1 in Shillong, 2 more towns

During the 10-day period, all political, public and religious gatherings and sporting activities will be banned in Shillong, Jowai and Tura.

COVID 19 vaccination
COVID-19 vaccination (Representational photo)  |  Photo Credit: AP

Shillong: Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma on Wednesday said the state government will impose containment measures, including banning of all political, public and religious gatherings, in the city and two towns - Jowai and Tura - for 10 days from May 1, amid a raging second wave of COVID-19.

All educational institutes and private offices will remain shut in these areas during the period.

"Containment measures will be effective from 5 am of May 1 till 5 am of May 10. These steps are being put in place to ensure the spread of COVID-19 is contained," the chief minister said on Twitter.
Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong said the government has taken the decision after reviewing all the inputs sent by the district authorities.

"There will be no lockdown but containment measures will be enforced in places that have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. Restrictions will be in place in Shillong city, Jowai and Tura," he said.

During the 10-day period, all political, public and religious gatherings and sporting activities will be banned in these areas, he said, adding that weddings and funerals have not been included in the containment measures.

Non-essential government institutions will be asked to allow its staffers to work from home, and all emergency services will be exempted from the restrictions, he said.

The district administrations and the transport offices have been directed to chalk out plans to reduce public vehicular movement, Tynsong said.

Meghalaya's COVID-19 tally rose to 16,271 as 147 more people tested positive for the disease on Tuesday, Health Services Director Aman War said.

The death toll reached 165 as four patients succumbed to the disease during the day, he added.

Nagaland: Partial lockdown from April 30. What is allowed, what's not

People wear face masks and stand in front of a shop in Kohima, (AP)
People wear face masks and stand in front of a shop in Kohima

Nagaland on Tuesday reported 207 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day spike in the year so far

Kohima: Amid, the surge in Covid cases across the country, Nagaland cabinet Tuesday decided to impose partial lockdown with stricter rules in the state from April 30 to May 14, news agency PTI reported. "Fresh guidelines for the lockdown will be issued on April 29," the advisor for IT, science and technology, Mmhonlumo Kikon said.

Partial lockdown in Nagaland from April 30: What is allowed, what's not

  • During the partial lockdown schools, colleges, educational institutions and hostels will remain closed in the state.
  • Online education will be permitted and encouraged.
  • All cinema halls, swimming pools, gymnasiums, entertainment parks, auditoriums, sports complexes, stadiums and similar places will remain closed throughout the period.
  • Public gatherings will be permitted outside the containment zones, but they will not be more than 30 per cent of the total capacity of the venue or a maximum hundred people, whichever is lower.
  • Places of worship will be permitted to open outside the containment zones, with 30 per cent of the maximum capacity of the venues, he said.
  • Such gatherings should strictly adhere to COVID-19 appropriate behaviour like wearing masks, social distancing, and regular washing of hands.

Nagaland on Tuesday reported 207 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day spike in the year so far, increasing the tally to 13,445, a health official said.

Myanmar Guerrillas Capture Gov’t Base; Airstrikes Follow

In this image made from video by the Transborder News, smoke rises from a Myanmar Army camp near the border of Myanmar and Thailand Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Ethnic Karen guerrillas said they captured a Myanmar army base Tuesday in what represents a morale-boosting action for those opposing the military's takeover of the country's civilian government in February. (Transborder News via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Ethnic Karen guerrillas said they captured a Myanmar army base on Tuesday near the border with Thailand, representing a morale-boosting action for those opposing the military’s takeover of the country’s civilian government in February.

Myanmar’s military staged airstrikes several hours later on villages in territory controlled by the Karen forces, according to a guerrilla spokesman, a senior Thai official and a relief worker.

The fighting took place three days after a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders to try to hammer out a plan to restore peace in Myanmar, where the military government has attempted to suppress widespread opposition to its rule through the use of lethal force. More then 700 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces, according to several detailed estimates. The junta’s figure is about one-third of that.

A spokesman for the Karen National Union, the minority’s main political group seeking greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government, said its armed wing attacked the base at 5 a.m. and burned it down just after dawn.

Casualty figures were not yet known, the KNU’s head of foreign affairs, Padoh Saw Taw Nee, said in a text message. There was no immediate comment from Myanmar’s military government.


The KNU, which controls territory in eastern Myanmar near the Thai border, is a close ally of the resistance movement against the military coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Its armed wing is called the Karen National Liberation Army.

Video shot from the Thai side of the border showed flames rising from the government position on the banks of the Salween River amid the sound of heavy gunfire. The river marks the border with Thailand.

Padoh Man Man of the KNLA’s 5th Brigade, which launched the morning attack, said Myanmar’s military carried out airstrikes in the early afternoon, but he did not know how many casualties there were. He described the air raids as a “heinous war crime” and called for the international community to pressure the junta to stop them.

Sithichai Jindaluang, the governor of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, confirmed at a news conference that Karen guerrillas had overrun the Myanmar base and said a woman on Thai soil was wounded by a stray bullet. He said about 450 villagers have been evacuated from Mae Sam Lap for their own safety.

Sithichai also said a Myanmar military aircraft later bombed a Karen village.

Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian aid group with extensive experience in the area, said he could confirm there had been airstrikes on Karen villages in Papun district. He said five bombs were dropped but caused no casualties. Myanmar’s army was also staging ground attacks in the area, Eubank said.

Fighting between the KNU’s armed wing and Myanmar’s military has been intense since February.

Myanmar jets have bombed and strafed Karen villages since March 27, and its army has deployed new battalions to the area, in possible preparation for a large-scale offensive.

Up to 25,000 villagers have fled their homes and are hiding in jungles and caves, according to Eubank.

In response, the KNLA has kept up guerrilla attacks on Myanmar patrols and bases. The KNU has also given shelter to activists against military rule who have fled the government’s crackdown on the resistance movement in the cities.

There is a similar situation in northern Myanmar, where the Kachin minority says it has captured several government outposts and has been the target of air attacks.

The Karen and the Kachin are two of the bigger minority groups that have been seeking greater autonomy for decades, during which there have been periods of armed conflict punctuated by cease-fires.

The city-based resistance movement against the ruling junta has wooed the ethnic guerrilla groups in hopes that they can form a federal army as a counterweight to the government’s armed forces. A parallel National Unity Government established by elected lawmakers prevented from taking their seats by the army has appointed representatives of several minority groups to ministerial posts.

On Tuesday, a flash mob of anti-military protesters surged through an area of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, for the second successive day to show fleeting but unyielding defiance of the ruling junta.

Such open protests have become less frequent since a brutal crackdown by the security forces began, but activity has picked up following Saturday’s meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, with junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in attendance.

The meeting prompted some guarded optimism after it issued a statement reporting a “five-point consensus” on Myanmar’s crisis. It called for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation of the dialogue process by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels, and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.

However, a statement from the junta about the meeting published in Tuesday’s state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper made no mention of the consensus statement. It emphasized that Myanmar would “give careful consideration to constructive suggestions made by ASEAN Leaders when the situation returns to stability in the country since priorities at the moment were to maintain law and order and to restore community peace and tranquility.”

Sri Lanka cabinet approves proposed ban on burqas in public


Citing national security concerns, the Buddhist-majority island nation’s cabinet clears proposal to ban full-face veils in public.

A burqa-clad Sri Lankan Muslim woman in the capital, Colombo [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP]
A burqa-clad Sri Lankan Muslim woman in the capital, Colombo [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP]
Sri Lanka’s cabinet has approved a proposed ban on wearing full-face veils including Muslim burqas in public, citing national security grounds, despite a United Nations expert’s comment that it would violate international law.

The cabinet approved the proposal by Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, Weerasekera said on his Facebook page.

The proposal will now be sent to the Attorney General’s Department and must be approved by parliament to become law.

The proposal could easily be passed as the government holds a majority in parliament.

Weerasekara has called burqas, a garment that covers the body and face worn by some Muslim women, a “sign of religious extremism” and said a ban would improve national security.

The wearing of burqas was temporarily banned in 2019 after Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks killed more than 260 people.

Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group were blamed for the attacks at six locations – two Roman Catholic churches, one Protestant church and three top hotels.

Last month, Pakistani Ambassador Saad Khattak tweeted that a ban would hurt the feelings of Muslims.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed tweeted that a ban would be incompatible with international law and the right to free religious expression.

Muslims make up about 9 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, with Buddhists accounting for more than 70 percent. Ethnic-minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 15 percent.

Chinese Smart TV-Maker Accused of Spying on Owners' Other Devices


Chinese Smart TV-Maker Accused of Spying on Owners' Other Devices

Skyworth chief executive Tony Wang unveils premium 8K TV models at the Consumer Electronics Show during the CES Unveiled event at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Jan. 5, 2020.
A China-based manufacturer of smart televisions has been accused of spying on its users by scanning their homes for other devices connected to the wifi network every few minutes, owners of the devices have reported on social media.

Smart TVs made by Skyworth were found to have an app -- Gozen Data -- installed on the Android-based operating system of the TV, according to a post on the V2EX website titled "My TV is monitoring all connected devices."

According to the post, Gozen Data scanned for and collected the names of his computer, his network interface card, IP addresses, and the usernames of those connected to his and other local wifi networks.

"I found that there was something called ‘Gozen Data,' and I had no idea what it was doing," the post said.

"The service was sending back the hostnames, mac, ip, and even the network delay time, as well as detecting the nearby wifi SSID names and mac addresses and sending them off to ... a database," it said.

The data, according to screenshots posted by the user, was sent to gz-data.com, a data analysis platform managed by Gozen Data that counts among its international customers Sanyo, Toshiba and Philips, and which holds data harvested from 103 million smart TVs according to 2018 figures.

Project Xueliang

While the company told the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong that the data wasn't used for surveillance, but for targeted advertising, former citizen journalist Xing Jian said the Android smart TV operating system has been repurposed by the Chinese government for surveillance of people's homes in rural areas, in an operation known as Project Xueliang.

"Project Xueliang uses the Android operating system to achieve full domain coverage, full network sharing, round-the-clock and remote-controlled video surveillance for policing purposes," Xing said.

"This app is a form of spyware that is inserted onto users' smartphones, TVs and other Android devices, and it will automatically scan and collect data about devices, usage information and social connections, and upload it to a government database for online monitoring," he said.

Analysts said the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears to be implementing a nationwide surveillance network that includes watching people in their own homes and monitoring their contacts and interactions.

Other social media posts have said that users are worried about using Android TVs at all, while others have reported on Xiaomi routers requesting wifi-related information every few seconds.

A Shanxi-based legal scholar surnamed Song said the surveillance is aiming for total control over what people are saying to each other.

"The government is strengthening control of people's data for the purposes of ideological control," Song said. "They are also hoping to penetrate people's minds and influence their lives with government propaganda."

"They will be the arbiters of what news and information is appropriate for people to have access to," he said.

CCP uses surveillance and propaganda

Xing Jian agreed, saying that the CCP uses surveillance and propaganda as a way to bolster its grip on power.

"[They are] using state power to stop people monitoring the government or pursuing corrupt officials, so as to stay in power," Xing said.

"The Cyberspace Administration of China uses methods such as sending letters and stopping domain name resolution to domestic websites, shutting down public opinion monitoring websites, and taking measures to block overseas websites; the propaganda department forces webmasters and moderators to delete posts under their control by sending letters, and through coercion and manipulation," Xing said.

An employee at Skyworth’s Hong Kong office surnamed Chan told the Apple Daily that the data is purely for commercial use, for the purposes of targeted advertising, and denied it was spying on users.

Users are asked if they accept the data collection policy when they activate the smart system, and could compromise their TV's functionality if they reject it, the paper quoted Chan as saying.

Chinese citizens are already monitored by more than 20 million surveillance cameras as they go about their daily business in public places, according state media reported in 2018.

Artificial intelligence can also identify and "tag" individual cars, cyclists, and pedestrians with distinguishing information that can be stored and searched for descriptions of wanted individuals.

The smart video tool correctly identifies the gender, age, and clothing descriptions of passersby, as well as distinguishing between motorized and non-motorized vehicles, recent media reports say.

The technology comes amid a growing trend towards using facial recognition as a secure form of ID, including to identify rail and airline passengers, physical and e-commerce customers, and missing persons cases.

Facial recognition technology is already used by ride-sharing and robotic package delivery apps, airport and college dorm security, and social credit schemes, as well against jaywalkers.


source: Radio Free Asia