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This post is republished in public interest from the Cobrapost website, which appears to be having trouble.

Cobrapost exposes more than two dozen media houses, including some prima donnas of India’s holy Fourth Estate, where they all show their underbelly in its most visceral form.

New Delhi: In the second part of Operation 136, Cobrapost has exposed owners and high-ranking personnel of more than two dozen media houses, both mainstream and regional, the biggest ones and the smaller ones, the oldest ones and the newer ones. ‘Operation 136: Part II,’ in fact, shows Indian media’s underbelly in its most visceral form, where even the “big daddies” do not mind agreeing to undertake a campaign that has the potential to not only cause communal disharmony among citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party. This they will do if they are paid the right price, and sometimes they have no compunctions to quote a price as high as Rs. 1000 crore, as did the Times Group owner Vineet Jain, while others showed a propensity to indulge in any kind of illegality bordering on criminality.

The media houses agreeing to run the campaign are Times of India, India Today, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Network 18, Star India, ABP News, Dainik Jagaran, Radio One, Red FM, Lokmat, ABN Andhra Jyothy, TV5, Dinamalar, Big FM, K News, India Voice, The New Indian Express, MVTV and Open magazine.

We have received an exparte stay order from the honourable Delhi High Court on the evening of 24th May, 2018, which debars us from including the Dainik Bhaskar Group in our investigation. The honourable High Court has passed the injunction in favour of Dainik Bhaskar without hearing our side of the case, and we shall consequently be challenging the court order in the interest of truth and justice.

Senior Investigative Journalist Pushp Sharma used the same cover and the same ruse! Wearing the garb of a seasoned Pracharak, Sharma adopted malleable identities which he used according to the situation at hand. He first used his association with an Ujjain-based ashram, claiming himself to have been schooled at Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, to have studied in IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore, settled in Australia and to have been running his e-gaming company out of Scotland. Sometimes, he claimed to be the head of the Madhya Pradesh unit of Om Prakash Rajbhar’s outfit, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, charged with party affairs in Karnataka, Maharashtra and the Northeast. At times, the journalist used all his assumed identities in a single meeting. As the investigation evolved to take on a pan-India character, he assumed the identity of a representative of a fictitious religious organization, Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti, purportedly on a mission, a gupt vyavastha (secret arrangement), at the behest of the “Sangathan” to bolster the prospects of the party in power in coming elections.

The journalist approached these media houses with his hideous proposition. As he offered them a fortune in return, Cobrapost saw them all crumble under the weight of a “big business opportunity” that was knocking on their doors without asking. Almost all bent themselves backward to grab this opportunity. However, there were two notable exceptions, Bartaman Patrika and the Dainik Sambad, which refused to play ball. No amount of cajoling or inducements could bring them around.

While meeting the owners and senior-most personnel of these media houses, Sharma asked them to run a media campaign on his behalf. While offering them a big fortune in terms of ad spend, which ranged anything between few crore rupees and Rs. 500 crore, he spread wide before them these essential ingredients of his agenda:

In the initial phase, the first three months, promote Hindutva through customized religious programmes to create a congenial atmosphere.
Then, the campaign will be geared up to polarize the electorate on communal lines by promoting speeches of Hindutva hardliners, the likes of Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Mohan Bhagwat, among others.
As elections approach, the campaign will target opposition leaders, namely, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, caricaturing them using less than dignified language like Pappu, Bua and Babua, respectively, for them, in order to show them in poor light before the electorate.
They will have to run this campaign on all platforms – print, electronic, radio or digital including, e-news portals, web sites and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Negotiating hard, in what you can say was a value-for-money deal, the journalist drove home all these points as they all spread a red carpet for him. The interactions that the senior journalist had with all these media houses during the course of Operation: Part II can be summed up as follows:

They agreed to promote Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism and religious discourse.
They agreed to publish content with potential to polarize the electorate along communal lines.
They concurred to besmirch or thrash political rivals of the party in power by posting or publishing defamatory content about them.
Many of them were ready to accept unaccounted cash, in other words, for the job to be assigned to them.
Some of them agreed to route cash through a third-party agency to turn it into white, even suggesting hawala routes such as Angadiyas.
Some of the owners or important functionaries admitted that they were either associated with the RSS or they were pro-Hindutva and would thus be happy to work on the campaign, forgetting the cardinal principle of journalism: neutrality.
Some of them agreed to plant stories in favour of the party in power in their publications, while others were ready to unleash their investigative teams to rake muck on opposition leaders.
Many of them agreed to develop and carry advertorials especially for this purpose.
Many of them agreed to develop content for this invidious campaign by employing their own creative team.
Almost all agreed to run this campaign on their platforms – print, electronic, FM radio or digital in its various avatars such as e-news portal, e-paper or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Some of them even agreed to run down Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Manoj Sinha, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun Gandhi, among others.
Some of them also agreed to run stories against leaders of BJP alliance partners, like Anupriya Patel, Om Prakash Rajbhar and Upendra Kushwaha.
Some of them even agreed to paint agitating farmers as Maoists in their stories.
Many of them agreed to create and promote such content as would aim for the “character assassination” of leaders like Rahul Gandhi.
Many of them are ready to run the content in such manner as would not look like paid for.
Almost all FM radio stations agreed to allow their customer to monopolize their free air time.
Many FM radio stations also agreed to use RJ mentions to promote the agenda: Hindutva and character assassination of rivals.

Operation 136: Part II is unique in the sense that it not only has exposed all these media houses but has also brought to the fore the fact that in a technology-driven age an agenda can find a mobile app a very effective medium to reach out to millions of users. Our expose of Paytm does exactly that. It brings home the point that one does not need an elaborate arrangement of the conventional media such TV channels or newspapers. A simple mobile app can achieve what the conventional platforms cannot: it can deliver the message with a blink of an eye. In fact, our interaction with top Paytm honchos is quite revealing in many respects, for it not only shows the company’s affinity to both the BJP government and its ideological fountainhead RSS, but also shows that users’ data can be compromised.

As India has slipped two paces to 138 from its position of 136, as this investigation was underway, in World Press Freedom Index (https://rsf.org/en/ranking#), Operation 136 has found that most of the media houses are either owned by politicians themselves, particularly the regional ones, or patronized by politicians, and it is natural for them to become their masters’ voice. It was high time we coined a new phrase to define this journalism as crony journalism a la crony capitalism. For instance, ABN Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu TV news channel is patronized by TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. It is no surprise if we hear its Chief Marketing Manager E.V. Seshidhar say: “We have very good connects with TDP … We have do [sic] lot of what do you call we have main official what do you call for AP government Andhra Pradesh government, we have official event telecaster rights for Andhra Pradesh government.” While this connect goes beyond the TDP, to include the BJP and other outfits, Seshidhar even goes to say that their newspaper Andhra Jyothy holds so much sway that they could influence the outcome of the Karnataka elections.

On the other hand, Lakshmipathy Adimoolam, the owner of the 70-year-old prominent Tamil daily published from Chennai, wears his family allegiance to the Sangh Brotherhood on his sleeve. We are, therefore, least surprised to hear him say that he has imported especially designed software which could help in the promotion of Brand Modi: “You have newsletters … sent to … brochures, leaflets sent to party workers … say there is Modiji’s picture is there, just move your camera over here … it gives audio of Modiji.”

It was not that Cobrapost has exposed only those high ranking-personnel whose business is to negotiate a deal and bring business to the organization they are working for. In the course of this investigation, Cobrapost found some senior journalists, who have now donned the mantle of owners or CEOs, genuflecting before their big-ticket client and happily agreeing to work for his agenda. One such senior journalist was Purushottam Vaishnav who is working for Zee Media as its CEO Regional News Channels. Agreeing to run down political rivals by unleashing their SIT on them, Purushottam said: “Content mein jo aapki taraf se input aayega wo absorb ho jayega … humare taraf se jo content generate hoga investigative journalism humlog karte hain karwa denge jitna hum logon ne kya hai utna kisi ne nahi kiya hoga wo humlog karenge (Whatever input you will send in the form of content that will be absorbed … the content we will generate … we have been doing investigative journalism, we will do it for you. [Compared to Zee] None of the channels has done so many … we will do that).”

In fact, our investigation establishes the fact that the RSS, and as a corollary, Hindutva, has made deep inroads into not only the newsrooms but also the boardrooms of Indian media houses where even owners either blatantly admit their allegiance to the party in power and its parent organization or are eager to have an association with them. For instance, Big FM Sr. Business Partner Amit Choudhary admits to the relationship between the company that owns Big FM and the party in power in no uncertain terms: “Waise bhi Reliance BJP ka supporter hee hai (Anyway, Reliance is always a supporter of the BJP).” Then we have Basab Ghosh, Regional Sales Head of Open magazine, which is owned by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, who also confesses to their allegiance to the RSS: “Acharyaji shayad aap bhi busy rehte hain aap shayad Open dekhte nahi hain regular. Main aapko ek baat bataata hoon. Open jitna support karte hain sangathan ka shayad hee koi karta hoga. (Acharyaji, perhaps you are a busy man and maybe you don’t read Open regularly. Let me tell you one thing. Nobody supports the Sangathan [RSS] as much as does Open).”

While the journalist had a tough time in convincing Ajay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm that he was there to fulfill the assignment received directly from the Sangathan under a “gupt vyavastha” or secret arrangement, the senior vice president of the mobile-app utility payment company candidly admitted his association with the top brass of both the RSS and the BJP. Taking his prospective client as someone belonging to the Sangh Brotherhood, he made a very shocking revelation. Referring to the stone pelting in Kashmir last year, Ajay Shekhar said: “Jab JK mein band huye the na pathar … toh humari personally PMO se phone aya tha kaha gaya tha ki data de do ho sakta hai ki Paytm user hon (When the stone-pelting stopped there in J&K, I personally got a phone call from the PMO. They told us to give them data saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users.)” Paytm users may now be wondering if the company has violated its policy of privacy and data safety!

Another interesting fact that has emerged during the course of ‘Operation 136: Part II’ is that although they might be swearing by their allegiance to the RSS or the BJP, they don’t give a damn to Modi’s public stance against black money for which the Prime Minister did not back away from subjecting the entire citizenry to untold miseries by enforcing demonetization in November 2016. Punching holes in what has been gloried as “surgical strike” against black money, we found Vineet Jain, Managing Director of the Times Group, and his aide Executive President Sanjeev Shah, naming some big corporate houses which could help make black money squeaky clean and even suggesting to employ the services of ‘Angadias’—a Gujarati name for hawaladars or hawala operators of illicit money—to get the job done. While Vineet Jain says, “Aur bhi businessmen honge jo humein cheque denge aap unhe cash de do (There are other businessmen who would give us cheque against the cash you may give them), his aide Shah informs us: “Who will take that from him in Delhi suppose if Goenka says I want it in Ahmedabad so that I Angadia will have contact in Ahmedabad where they will exchange in number on a note or whatever.” Hope our Prime Minister and other arms of his government are listening!

Of all interviews that the journalist had with the owners and personnel of all these media houses in the course of this investigation, Manda Mhatre’s stands out in its revelations. While criticizing her own party, and claiming that it was the RSS leadership which ensured she got a ticket to fight election after she switched loyalties from NCP to the BJP, what the BJP legislator from Belapur, Pune, told Cobrapost is quite revealing: “Mere ko Sangh wale bol rahe the ki Muslim masjid todo ye karo. Main boli sorry main ye nahi kar sakti. Masjid sthal sab kachre ke maafiq dekhte hain. Itna log ko hum haay nahi le sakte hain kyonki aadhe log apne se jud gaye hain (The Sangh people were telling me time and again to destroy the masjids of Muslims. I told them ‘Sorry I can’t do that.’ They all look at a masjid something like trash. I cannot afford to earn so much ill-will of all those people [by resorting to such hate] because many Muslims have joined the BJP).”

We know it well that such open confessions of their allegiance to the ideology of the RSS could be brushed aside as personal opinions, but given the position they hold in their respective organizations what they say cannot be taken lightly. The reason is that it is rather the business interests that have an overarching influence on the editorial policy of a media organization, and Operation 136 has once again shown it in ample measure. The first part of Operation 136 had exposed India TV, Dainik Jagaran, Hindi Khabar, SAB TV, DNA (Daily News and Analysis), Amar Ujala, UNI, 9X Tashan, Samachar Plus, HNN Live 24×7, Punjab Kesari, Swatantra Bharat, ScoopWhoop, Rediff.com, IndiaWatch, Aj and Sadhna Prime News.

All these on-camera confessions make it clear that the malaise of paid news has set in deep as it is no longer confined to a few individuals who would show no scruples while publishing paid content, camouflaging it as news stories or reports. Over the years, paid news has become institutionalized, as this investigation establishes, for no one in authority in news business would receive an agenda, which is overtly communal and defamatory, with enthusiasm, let alone committing to undertake it, particularly when there are clear-cut guidelines to follow and laws to abide by.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) has well laid-down provisions, for instance, to deal with various unlawful acts that these media houses agreed to commit. Section 153(A) makes any attempt to “promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups” punishable with imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine or both. Section 295(A) of the IPC also provides for the same punishment to be meted out when an individual deliberately, and with malicious intent, hurts the religious feelings of a community. Then, Chapter IXA of the IPC deals comprehensively with offences related to elections. Section 171 of the IPC makes interference with the free exercise of electoral right, in any form, punishable with an imprisonment of one year or fine or both. These provisions of the IPC, thus, ensure that the offence of polarizing a group on the basis of religion, caste or community is punished. The provisions of Chapter IXA of the IPC with regard to free exercise of electoral rights are overarching in their ambit as they are also relevant paid news to influence voters to gain electoral benefits.

In addition, the provisions of Cable Television Networks (Regulation Act) 1995, along with Cables Rules, and Representation of People’s Act, along with Conduct of Election Rules, make paid news and communal polarization for electoral gains an offence. Both the Cable Act and the Cable Rules prohibit transmission or re-transmission of programmes that do not conform to the advertisement code. While Rule 6 of the Cable Rules prohibits programmes of communal nature or that promote anti-national attitudes, Rule 7 also lays down the advertisement code prohibits publication of advertisements of political or religious nature. Rule 7(10) of the Cable Rules further states that “all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable programmes, viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”. Then, Section 125 of the RPA makes communal polarization an offence punishable with imprisonment for three years or fine or both, while various provisions of Section 123 declare an act aimed at polarization and the practice of paid news as “corrupt practices” making election of a candidate null and void.

Apart from these and other legal provisions, there are “Norms and Guidelines on Paid News” of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority and “Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2010” of the Press Council of India, which all media establishments are expected to adhere to. But do they really care for such scrupulous adherence? Our investigation says no.

We would like to make it clear that Operation 136 should in no way be taken as an effort to undermine Indian media or question its sanctity as an institution. Our investigation does not intend to cast any aspersions or pass judgment, either, on the journalists who are working in these media platforms. They have done good journalism in the past and will do so in future. However, if the management indulges in paid news, in all its gray shades, it creates a very difficult atmosphere for the journalists to ply their trade in. This story aims to underline our earnestness to address the malaise that has been dogging Indian media for the past three decades or so and look within to make course correction, so that the faith of India’s citizenry in this vibrant pillar of democracy is not dented.

4

Sone-Sangvi, Kej, Beed (Maharashtra):

The breeze that began to flow around noon on April 6 had by the evening grown into a heavy storm. Then the hails, the size of mangoes, came pelting down, with rain that lasted until the following evening. When the weather finally calmed down, 55-year-old Chandrakant Ikhe began to count his losses.

“I had no heart to see my farm after this event,” recounts Ikhe, a progressive farmer still to reconcile to his unprecedented loss in those two days. Football size water-melons lay damaged on 16 acres, mauled by the rain of hail, he remembers, countless melons, unfit for consumption, still strewn all over. “See this?” Ikhe says in frustration, lifting a big melon showing cracks and marks, “it’s all a waste.”

Ikhe’s mental anguish is quite stark: There are long pauses between his sentences; he stares desolately at his forlorn farm with rotting ‘sugar-babies’ (sugar-baby is the melon variety he grew) as far as you can see. His crop worth at least Rs 20-25 lakh went to dumps overnight. “You are seeing 350-400 ton (MT) of melons,” he says of the destroyed crop. In a fortnight, it’d have fetched him Rs 5-6000 per MT.

Some melons escaped nature’s fury, he says, but they would fetch paltry price. Ikhe will manage to earn barely Rs 1.5 lakh, or less than ten per cent of his estimated returns. That, he adds, is not even his investment costs. It was for the first time he cultivated melons on a big stretch, he says.

From his returns he planned to renovate his house, marry off his only daughter this year, and invest in a new farm technology. “Now the priority is to fix loans,” he says. The plans, alas, are on the hold.

Farming is a risky profession, but Ikhe’s just learnt it’s also a gamble. “Had it rained a week later, I may not have suffered such a big.” He’s is among a hundred melon growers who suffered big losses in recent hailstorm in this village of Kej Tehsil in Marathwada’s drought-prone Beed district, their loss accentuated by extreme weather events that are occurring at such regularity that farmers like him have no idea how to cope.

Several climate studies point to a sharp rise in extreme weather events in central India, and warn the farmers would be at the receiving end. On the one hand, Marathwada region, of which Beed is a part, is experiencing a continuation of meteorological drought leading to severe water stress; and on the other, sudden climate events like hailstorm in March-April is wrecking irreparable damages to crops.

Sone-Sangvi farmers are not atypical sustenance small or marginal farmers. Most of them grow high-end crops with cutting edge technologies. Their stakes are high, their risks higher.

A few km from Ikhe’s village near Kej town, Waseem Inamdar, 32, is broke too. He shows us around his farm – a picture of devastation. This week, the farm, in the midst of barren land, would have harvested bananas, pomegranates, Kesar mangoes and grapes that had come to harvest, clocking him profits of around Rs 50 lakh, by conservative estimates. Like Ikhe, he too can’t recover his input costs. He spent Rs 20 lakh this year – or almost 40 times the average annual investment that a dry-land cotton farmer of 2-ha land would usually spend on his cotton field in this region to earn Rs 10-20,000/acre. That was mostly on drip sets, digging a few bore-wells, and fertilisers and other inputs. Inamdar’s investment and losses like that of Sone-Sangvi farmers would make a small farmer in Marathwada mighty nervous.

“It was the third and final blow,” Inamdar says showing a banana tree that caved in with the bunch of green bananas that now look like rotting. The first bout of incessant rain came in March first week; then in March end, but the third one on April 6 and 7 came with such strong winds and hails that nothing was left to be salvaged. “Last year too I had suffered damages, but this year’s losses are irrecoverable.”

Inamdar runs a brick kiln and agriculture implements shop. From the profits he made in that business, he bought 53 acres of arid farmland near Kej and developed it into a horticulture farm by putting in big money, in five years. He first developed a banana orchard; then grapes; on a plot of five acres stand the mango plants of exportable Kesar variety, and there are pomegranates too over a six acre plot.

What happened to Ikhe or Inamdar is symbolic of wide-spread damages to crops just before the harvest. In Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, the incessant rains wrecked standing wheat and paddy; in states like Madhya Pradesh; Maharashtra; Telangana, it flattened coarse cereals, oilseeds, potatoes and fruits such as mangoes, bananas and melons. Neither farmers nor government has an idea how to prepare for such a risk. The crop insurance schemes help companies, not farmers, says Ashok Gite, a retired agriculture assistant in Beed’s Salegaon village, seven km from Ikhe’s village. “We need a good insurance policy.”

The climatic aberrations are also threatening economies of regions. Kej Taluka, which derives its name from Kejdi River, provides a green contrast to the large swathes of an arid and dreary Beed, among the driest districts in Maharashtra and part of what is called the rain-shadow zone. That’s because of a dam that came up at the confluence of Manjra and Kejdi rivers, where Sone-Sangvi village once breathed.

In the mid-80s villagers were removed to a new place. Many migrated to Mumbai, Pune or Aurangabad for work. Those like Ikhe, who stayed put, slowly transformed their new farm-lands. The once dry-land farmers switched to growing sugarcane following on the footsteps of their prosperous counterparts in western Maharashtra when sugar mills proliferated around the dam.

Empirical data shows, average annual rainfall in Beed district is less than 600 mm and the number of rainy days, much less than most other regions. In last five years the district has received less than 50 per cent of its annual average rains. Yet (and here’s the root of the problem), Beed grows millions of tonnes of water-guzzling sugarcane to feed about 20 roaring sugar-mills that formed the late Gopinath Munde and late Vilasrao Deshmukh’s political and business empires. The mills are now staring at closure as the acute water-scarcity has begun to finally hit sugarcane cultivation. Neighbouring Osmanabad and Latur districts are also facing drought this year deepening the water crisis to unprecedented levels.

“If I recollect my childhood, I only remember poverty,” remarks Babruvan Kanse, a progressive farmer in Sone-Sangvi who leads a collective of about a hundred horticulturists including Ikhe. Kanse was first in his village to actually experiment with watermelon cultivation on his farm in 2004 and motivate others to switch to this short-duration fruit from the otherwise water-guzzling sugarcane.

Lack of water, stemming from years of poor monsoon, had already prompted the peasants to look for viable alternatives to sugarcane. Kanse grew watermelons on drip – it required less water and traders came to doorsteps to buy the produce. Melon is a short duration crop. You sow the seeds on the rows of soil beds (some use mulching paper sheets to hold moisture and reduce water use) in January and reap the harvest by mid-April. The yield per acre here stands at 25 MT. At an average Rs 5-6000 per MT (Rs 5-6 a kg), the per-acre returns could be an average Rs 1.25 lakh over just three-four months.“You make a one-time capital investment on drip sets and a recurring production expenses on seeds and fertilisers and chemicals, and yet you can make good money from this crop,” Kanse explains.

So the shift was swift. Where this village had 150 hectares under sugarcane in the 2001-2002 season it now grows soybeans and pulses in kharif and water-melons in winter. They adopted new technologies – like automated and semi-automated drip sets; mulching papers to increase water efficiency; in-situ water conservation tanks; some have built expensive green poly-houses to grow high-end vegetables such as capsicum – by pledging huge investments from whatever profits they made every year.

“Weather is a new problem,” Kanse says. It barely rains during the monsoon, affecting kharif; then in February-April, sudden hailstorm events wreck the Rabi crop. Water brought him economic prosperity, Kanse says, his new problems are driven by the lack of it.

Ikhe’s 16-acre farm is in the belly of Manjra dam reservoir; sans water this time. This used to be his farm that got ceded for the dam. Some Sone-Sangvi villagers farm in the catchment when water recedes. Many have dug bore-wells in the belly and laid pipes from far away water-sources, desperate for water. If it rained, this area would be under water, Ikhe says. For many years now, it has not rained and the dam never got filled to its capacity even once this past decade. It’s a common refrain in this part.

Ikhe says he dug an open well and several bore-wells on his 16-acre farm in the catchment of the dam when the reservoir dried up. If you stretch his drip pipes end to end, he calculates, they would run 8 km long. Place a water melon every foot, he says, and you will end up counting hundreds. That’s how many have gone waste, he laments. On his five-acre near his new village, there’s nothing growing.

Until last year, he grew vegetables, potatoes, sugarcane and even water-melons there – by way of drip-irrigation. He has, like many other farmers in this belt, a semi-automated drip-set. “You set the time and quantity of water to be used; different for different crops and you can single-handedly operate the entire 50-acre stretch with this machine,” Ikhe says. “We can adopt any technology,” Ikhe says, staring at his melon farm, “how do we conquer weather?”

It has been over a week since a naked eunuch rushed into the compound of Bundgarden Police Station fleeing from a group of men who had stripped and assaulted him.

Here are the surviving videos.

Not only did the police not rescue him and arrest his assaulters, they kicked him out of the police station and told the thugs to take the fight elsewhere.

Two students recording this assault and police response were chased by the police and beaten and forced to write apologies (unclear for what) and the police erased the recordings from their phone.

The thugs beat up the eunuch with sticks after he was chased out of the police station with kicks by the police.

The whereabouts of both the transgender youth as well as the two students are unknown.

On hearing of this incident, the Legal Rights Society (LRS), a Pune-based NGO immediately filed a complaint against seven police constables and two assistant police inspectors, who were involved in the incident, at Bundgarden Police Station. Satish Mathur, Commissioner of Police was not interested in acting against the accused, till Anoop Awasthi contacted Devendra Fadnavis, Chief minister of Maharashtra. With both the eunuch and students untraceable, the police claim that there is no one to file the complaint, which is not correct, as the LRS has indeed filed the complaint based on the actions of the police and other assaulters as recorded in the video.

In the meanwhile, the police have registered a dummy case of eve teasing against the eunuch as an explanation for the assault against him, which does not explain why they did not keep him at the police station for his supposed eve-teasing when he was clearly refusing to leave.

LRS is pursuing the matter further and updates will follow.

In the meanwhile, for anyone who wants to take this ahead, here is some information.

Bundgarden Police Station

Address: Moledina Road, near Collector Office, old Zilla Parishad, Pune Staion, Somwar Peth, Pune, Maharashtra 411001
Phone:020 2612 3825

Commissioner of Police, Pune: Satish Mathur

Phone number: +919158457255

Joint Commissioner of Police : Sanjeev Kumar

Phone Number: +919823802688
DCP SHRI. TAMAMBHARE = +919823030789
SENIOR POLICE INSPECTOR SHRI. UGLE(BUND GARDEN) -  +918888198555
CRIME POLICE INSPECTOR SHRI. NIKAM (BUND GARDEN) - +919158445555

Hyderabad based AIMIM led by MP and leader Assaduddin Owaisi after the recent success in Maharashtra elections had announced a rally in Pune Maharashtra to demand implementation of 5% Reservations from the Maharashtra Government which had been struck down by the courts.

Crowd at AIMIM rally in Pune
Crowd at AIMIM rally in Pune

The rally was already marred by controversy when Pune police denied Mr. Assaduddin Owaisi permission to hold rally at the much larger Golibar Maidan Pune as requested by the AIMIM leader.  Mr. Owaisi had cried foul and alleged police bias in regard to denying of the permission to hold the rally at the desired venue.

After the venue was rejected AIMIM leader settled for a much smaller ground in Kauser baug a Muslim dominated area of Kondhwa Pune. The rally was scheduled for 5.pm. All the roads leading to the venue were blocked and traffic diverted for law and order and crowd control. Just before the rally started there was a demonstration by right wing Hindu Shiv Sena activists at some distance from the rally venue adding to woes of the already worsened traffic condition.

Crowd at AIMIM rally in Pune
Crowd at AIMIM rally in Pune

Unlike most political partiesMr. Asaduddin Owaisi rally started on time exactly. The venue was already packed with a large number of Muslims most of whom were youngsters and more people continued to stream towards the ground. Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi is no doubt one of the better orators not only among the Muslim community but among all the political leaders in India. He surely knows the pulse of the community and it was evident from the huge roar and applause he got from the crowd that consisted mainly of young Muslim men.

The Hyderabad based MP spoke about hate speech charges leveled against him and his younger brother MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi but did not use any words that amounted to be called provocative in his speech. He mentioned issues like Muslim backwardness and recommendations of Sachar Committee report and requested Maharashtra government of Fadnavis to implement 5 % reservation for Muslims that was brought in by the previous government. He refuted the charges against him and his party of being communal and went to tell the crowd that he was the first one in parliament to address Pakistan based JUD leader Hafiz Saeed as an old man in the parliament

Crowd amassed at AIMIM rally in Pune
Crowd amassed at AIMIM rally in Pune

The crowd which according to my estimate should be anything between fifteen to twenty thousand people cheered the leader at his jibes against the opposition parties and the largest roar came when Mr. Assaduddin Owaisi declared that there would be another rally in Pune in future that would be addressed by his younger brother the firebrand Akbaruddin Owaisi

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen clearly appears to have caught the fancy and imagination of the younger generation of Muslims and one should not be surprised if AIMIM a fairly new party in Maharashtra starts winning local council seats in Muslim dominated pockets in the state.

AIMIM rally audience
AIMIM rally audience

The rise of parties like BJP and AIMIM means marginalization of parties like congress and NCP from the political scenario and only future will tell whether Indian political scene has taken a road towards right or will go back to its secular politics

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A long overdue step toward bringing in standards in advenure sports took off when the Government of Maharashtra issued norms as a Government Resolution applicable to individuals and organizations offering adventure tours. While the initial rules are better than expected, largely due to trekking organizations impleading themselves into the case by Anil Mahajan that led to the Bombay High Court directive, this must be seen as an initial step, that also will require much refinement before a desirable state of regulation without suffocation can evolve.

There is no doubt that operators of dubious competence endanger lives of people seeking adventure. However, it is important to recognize that there are few specific qualifications that could apply to many of the tours on offer and most of the competence of even the best of professionals in the adventure sector comes from experience and hobby that lead to no certification.

The GR has a mixed reception from what I have observed in the adventure fraternity. Well established businesses with large turnovers have little to worry about (other than availability of instructors with qualifications specified - who will be rare for a while yet). However smaller businesses and organizers are in a quandry even as they recognize the need for regulation for the sake of safety. There are still other hobbyists who are not comfortable with the need to register with authorities for every hike (something many people do every weekend in this region) and see this as a created opportunity for corruption.

Several valid questions raised include:

What distinguishes a hike from a picnic or other trip?

Many trekking locations are also popular spots for picnics or local festivals. Often, picnicers are found drinking alcohol and littering the place with both trash as well as dangerous glass from broken bottles. Trekking groups are the ones usually organizing clean up campaigns. Yet these guidelines will do little to prevent risky behavior by individuals, while forcing paperwork deterrents on organizations going to the same place with far more competence - for reasons of safety. Additionally, such trips will be forced to provide medical and evacuation plans which will add to costs and result in more trips conducted as unofficial picnics bypassing regulations resulting in little actual safety on the ground. It will be impossible to regulate free movement of people to picnic spots of their choosing and again be difficult to discriminate them with any sensible logic from pilgrims and other travelers to the same spots.

Qualifications

There are few qualifications that can apply to professionals in several kinds of adventure tours. While specific sports - like rock climbing, skiing or rafting have specific training courses available, most trekkers learn trekking by trekking and it is difficult for someone who has trekked for decades and is likely more competent than someone merely doing some mountaineering course to prove competence on paper. Further complications arise when it comes to trips out of the state. For example, consider a rafting trip on the Kali (Karnataka) or an adventure camp in Manali which will feature skiing and paragliding as activities. What qualifications should the instructors provided from Mumbai or Pune (for example) have? They will essentially be escorting travel, with local adventure operators providing the specific expertise for the activities. Why would they need more qualifications than any other tour operator? On the other hand, with local guides not requiring registration, there remains absolutely no guarantee of competence outside the state in any case, unless the operator is large enough with rich enough clients who will bear the costs of qualified instructors from Maharashtra accompanying every batch - who will not be allowed by local operators to run the activity on their setup in any case - because they will have established teams with smooth operations.

Worse, there are no qualifications that cover many kinds of competencies required on adventure tours, and responsible operators usually hire based on their knowledge of competence of people in key roles. These may not necessarily have the competencies on paper.

Innovation

Like any other field, the adventure field too goes through innovations. Rock climbing and rappelling trips that cannot be done in monsoons gave away to waterfall rappelling in the Sahyadri region. Skiing and snow boarding at snow points at Rohtang gave away to sliding down mountain slopes sitting tight in inflated truck tires. Is sliding down a snow slope on an inflated tire adventure or fun? Is sliding down the same slope on a snowboard adventure or fun? Will a team game involving a team building a makeshift raft and crossing a pond require an instructor trained in rafting or swimming coach? Is it adventure or not? Most operators experiment on themselves, and learn the risks before taking another through the experience. But with these regulations, that will not be enough. Too many regulations will strangle the joy of innovation - either for fear of legal consequences or for lack of qualifications to fit every need.

How unsafe is unsafe

Treating all adventure sports as being equally unsafe is a bit immature. Hiking in the Sahyadri is something entire generations of mountaineers grew up doing each weekend. When I was an active hiker, it was common to leave home intending to go on a trek and eyeball various groups waiting for the last train to Karjat at Dadar station to make a decision on which trek it will be. With these rules it will be impossible. I will need to register on Friday before offices close in order to be able to attend a weekend hike. No more spontaneous "gimme a breath of green". On the other hand, I can't remember half a dozen people who died on hikes in over two decades of being involved in the outdoors. Can't say the same or drivers on roads. Yet, you wouldn't dream of asking people to apply for permission each time they want to drive!

On the other hand, the unpredictable winds make paragliding at Solang Nallah uncommonly risky - particularly in early summer - peak Maharashtrian tourist season, and it has been banned and allowed dozens of times over the years, balancing safety concerns with public demands and livelihoods. It keeps boiling down to the competence of instructors and locally evolved rules for stopping flights in unpredictable weather. Yet these rules can't do a thing about ensuring safety there. Even a trained flier from Maharashtra would lack knowledge of prevailing wind patterns in a new place.

Also, how exactly would local authorities ensure safety of those registering with them? Knowing who to call in case of an accident? That can be managed with far fewer headaches.

Medical safety

Given India's pathetic doctor to patient ratio, it takes Alice in Wonderland to expect doctors escorting every adventure tour. Assuming all doctors in Maharashtra were willing to escort adventure tours, the chances are we'd still have more adventure tours than doctors.

There are few mountain first aid courses, and many of them are for knowledge and don't offer certificates in the end. They may, in the future, but the instructors competent in first aid currently often have no papers to prove it. The guidelines also fail to recognize that many adventure training includes first aid. Basic and Advanced mountaineering courses in the Himalaya include training for the mountains and high altitudes, for example. Advanced rock climbing courses (at least the one I did) include things like rock face rescues using ropes systems, and so on. It can easily be made mandatory for all adventure courses to include first aid training rather than requiring separate courses that cannot accommodates specific risk factors of each sport.

Evacuation is something that needs more elaboration. Many really risky places don't have phone coverage. Are we saying every organization must be forced to buy satellite phones? Even if calls for assistance are made, the first responders are usually "whoever is available and near" this can mean villagers, other adventure groups, the Army, helicopters, evacuation by the group members of the casualty themselves... and it is most efficient. It is difficult for me, as someone who has been in a lot of extreme adventure situations to understand how this can be predicted and guaranteed on paper. The only medical emergency of my career involved me helping a woman down a mountain to lose altitude fast. She was 15 kilos heavier than me, but I still carried her part of the way. Ended up with bad knees for a week myself after that. Where in the form would the readiness to do this be written? Merely writing that there would be a vehicle waiting hardly matters. Most trips using vehicles have the vehicle waiting, trips not using vehicles will have a considerable added expense to be forced to use vehicles on the possibility that an evacuation may be needed (remember, hiking is safer than driving?).

Age restrictions

The age restriction of participants of adventure tours going 3000m and above must be above 16 years came less than a month after Malavath Purna, a 13 year old daughter of a poor farmer from Andhra Pradesh got felicitated for climbing Everest. Are we saying that Maharashtra's children must not do such things? Or that they may, but they must not be organized by Maharashtra's adventurers? The concern has solid basis. Younger people can be more sensitive to high altitudes and hypothermia, for example. At the same time, mandating presence of a competent (read qualified for high altitudes) guardian personally (not necessarily parent or relative, but responsible personally) or stricter enforcement of presence of doctors or other measures may be wiser than forbidding the opportunity to all below sixteen with not even a process to apply for exceptions provided.

Concerns about corruption

Many regular hikers worry that the need for registering every trip will lead to a flourishing business for touts and agents, as few of the free spirited mountaineers have the time or inclination to stand in queues as a matter of routine. There are also concerns of extortion by police or other authorities by citing some or the other nearly impossible to fulfill conditions for hobby hikers.

Equipment

Given the requirements of quality standards of improvement and given that India neither has approved standards, nor consequently manufacturers that follow them, this will result in groups being forced to pay three times the cost of perfectly safe and acceptable equipment produced in India. There is nothing wrong with Indian ropes, harnesses and helmets (among other things) for example. But there being no standard, ALL INDIAN MANUFACTURERS will be forced to get certification in some foreign country where they don't do business (harness and rucksack manufacturers often operate small businesses from slums producing good equipment), or fall short of requirements to sell in India. Further, the blanket lifespans stated have to be a joke. You could probably use a karabiner for more than 10 years easily, and cycle out your long tyrolean traverse rope within a season or two. There needs to be some sanity here for the guidelines to be useful.

Livelihoods

Given that most adventure professionals have very poor incomes (the dazzle rarely translates to reliable incomes - most are adventurers doing it compromising stable incomes for love) there need to be standards of payment along the lines of minimum wage as well, if instructors are expected to spend money getting qualified. Additionally, till qualifications can be "rolled in", reference certificates of competence by senior professionals (should be defined in some manner - in position to hire professionals for more than 5 years?) should be considered valid. Given that waiting lists for many of the best qualifications are long (2 year waiting for a 9k basic mountaineering course at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering Uttarkashi, for example), registration confirmation should be considered for temporary licences to operate in non-critical roles, as it is beyond unreasonable for a person living from paycheck to paycheck to spend 9 thousand rupees (and about twice that preparing, traveling, etc) and wait two years to be eligible to earn anything.

Too urbanized

Most adventure sport happens outside urban settings. There is a possibility to improve rural incomes as well as effectiveness of the norms by involving panchayats at locations of adventure sport destinations in maintaining records of visitors arriving. This will provide for emergency action information being available at the closest point as well as allow spontaneous hikers the flexibility and monitor ALL visitors including spontaneous outings. Exempting local guides from accountability does not make sense, since local guides are often the most knowledgeable professionals on a trip. Registering local guides and porters available for trekking routes locally will result in better employment, standardized wages and accountability.

In my view, these questions are valid. Equally important and appreciation deserving is the fact that the initial guidelines have made a commendable attempt toward enforcing important things. Making indemnity forms mandatory, for example is a small and easily applicable step that will immediately result in responsible disclosure of risks as well as putting emergency contacts on record. On the other hand, these norms STILL cannot prevent a death on a high altitude trek because of incompetence - the original subject of the PIL that led to the directive for the regulations.

It will be a while before bureaucracy and free spirit find a meeting point that is also practical to implement as well as meets objectives. It will not be easy. However, things must not stop here and the exercise must be taken to conclusion resulting in norms that allow adventure sport to thrive in Maharashtra while also insisting on responsible operations and recognizing that adventure has an inherent element of risk. The goal is a robust and accountable community, not sterilization.