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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

3 Things

Our flagship daily news show, where hosts Neha Mathews and Shashank Bhargava talk to in-house experts about what is going on and why you need to care about it

Episode 736 February 11, 2020

India’s abortion law, Annual police conference, TN digital vault

Against the backdrop of mounting legal challenges and unsafe abortions, amendments to India’s abortion act were passed by the Union Cabinet. What changes have been made in the act? And will it benefit women? Abantika Ghosh explains. Next, Srinath Rao explains why top police officers have been given directives such as to keep “a watch on universities” and “infiltrate” their Whatsapp groups after an annual conference in Pune. Last, Arun Janardhanan explains the idea of a  secret digital vault of documents for the people of Tamil Nadu.
TRANSCRIPT
(intro)
Hi, I’m Neha Mathews, and you’re listening to 3 Things, The Indian Express news show.

Neha Mathews
On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss the Tamil Nadu government’s new Digital Vault idea. We’re also going to be looking at why police forces have been asked to infiltrate certain WhatsApp groups. But first, how India’s abortion laws have been changed.For many years, India’s abortion law, formally known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, has been challenged on various grounds.
For many years, India’s abortion law, formally known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, has been challenged on various grounds.

<audio excerpt from news> 

In a landmark ruling in September, the Indian Supreme Court allowed a 13 year old rape victim in Mumbai to terminate her 31 week pregnancy. Yet, the same court in July, ruled that a 10 year old raped child should not be allowed to abort at 28 weeks.

Neha Mathews  

With the availability of modern medicine, the MTP Act has been seen as archaic and restricting women’s reproduction rights. Here’s a few things we should know about abortions in India. 

In 2015, a study in The Lancet Global Health by Guttmacher Institute and IIPS estimated that 15.6 million abortions were performed in India just in 2015. Of these it is known that in India, the majority of abortions happen outside health clinics since just 10% of the abortions in India are notified. Now, unsafe abortions, in fact account for almost 8-9% of maternal deaths in the country. So in view of this healthcare crisis of unsafe abortions, amendments to the abortion law passed by the Union Cabinet recently has come as a breath of relief to many. What changes have been made in the act and how will it benefit women? Abantika Ghosh, who covers health for the Indian Express joins us to explain.

 So Abantika, the amendment to the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which we colloquially referred to as the Abortion Act – it’s been pending for years. And finally, it was cleared by the Union Cabinet around end of January 2020. I wanted to talk to you about both the Act and the amendments. 

Before the amendments, could you first explain on what conditions women in India could seek an abortion?

Abantika Ghosh  

Yeah, so under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, a pregnant woman could seek abortion till 12 weeks. If the doctor is convinced that there is a need for abortion, that is pretty straightforward thing. The pregnant woman could also seek abortion till 20 weeks. If two doctors are of the opinion that a) if the pregnancy continues, it would involve a risk to her life or a grave injury to her physical and mental health or b) that there is a substantial risk to the child of being born with a physical or mental abnormality or to be seriously handicapped, you know, because of a congenital problem. Those are the situations in which a pregnant woman could seek abortion.

Neha Mathews  

Did this have anything to do with whether the woman is unmarried or married?

Abantika Ghosh  

Yeah, there are some conditions under which you can seek abortion. So there is a clause which says that if there is a failure of contraception, the exact words that the law uses is that “where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children”, basically precluding the possibility of an unmarried woman simply asking for an abortion, because at that point of time, she is not ready to have the child.

Neha Mathews  

So assuming this was a stigma?

Abantika Ghosh  

Yeah, an unmarried woman to get an abortion either had to have a physical risk to her life, or to the baby’s life. A physical or mental risk. So that was a clause that made it slightly regressive.

Neha Mathews  

When it was passed in 1971, I think it was seen as progressive, but in current times, you know, there’s been a lot of pushback against it saying It has endangered women, it’s hindering reproductive rights. We also saw plenty of challenges to it in courts in the recent past. Why is that? 

Abantika Ghosh  

Most of the challenges in courts were for permission for abortion beyond 20 weeks. In fact, there we first started talking about the law needing a change was in 2008. When a Mumbai couple had approached the court, saying that please allow us permission to abort this child. Because the child, it was at that point of time, a 26 week old foetus and because the child had been diagnosed with a heart defect. That is where it started, and this went on and on and finally, Nikita Mehta, she was not allowed to abort her baby through the entire legal process, permission was not given. And eventually she actually underwent a miscarriage. But that is where we first started talking about the need to amend the law. One of the reasons is that right now, there are a lot of advanced medical technologies available, which make it easier for you to detect congenital defects earlier in vivo. So while baby’s still in the body, you can decide that this baby may be born with this, this this this defect and so as those technologies advance, there is a need for your abortion laws to keep pace. So if there is a, for example, in this case, if there is a congenital defect that is being predicted at 26 weeks, there is no no point of the parents moving for an abortion at 20 weeks. So even now, see this was a 26 week old foetus so even currently, the president amendments were through, they would not have been allowed permission. They would have still had to go to the courts but that’s a different story. Also, because of the clause of contraceptive failure, just married women. That made it slightly restrictive. And first of all, we already have a lot of social biases that creep into our medical practice. The way medicine is practised in the country. So the law actually gave a levy to doctors to refuse an unmarried woman an abortion because there is no room in the law. 

Neha Mathews  

Even if it’s rape? Even if its incest? 

Abantika Ghosh  

No! Rape is a different question. Rape is actually accounted for even in this the in the current law, the 1971 law. It says that if the pregnancy has been caused by rape, continuation of such pregnancy, because there is a clause remember that if the pregnancy continues and there is a grave danger to the mental health of the mother, then you are allowed an abortion. So pregnancy out of rape is considered to have that risk. So rape is covered in the current law. But if there is a consensual sexual act by an unmarried woman and that woman is pregnant, then by law, the doctor can say that I have no room to give you this abortion bill. And why this is a problem is also because a couple of years back, there was a study by the Guttmacher Institute which showed that 50% of pregnancies in 6 of the largest Indian states are unintended. They happen just by chance. That’s a very huge number.

Neha Mathews  

And how many women would that be?

Abantika Ghosh  

The number of pregnancies is about 14 lakh in Assam, over 1 crore in Uttar Pradesh alone. So that’s large number that we’re talking about of unintended pregnancies.

Neha Mathews  

And with this amendment what has been changed in the medical termination of pregnancy Act.

Abantika Ghosh  

The first change is obviously, that from 20 weeks, you can now abort, legally abort after 24 weeks. But rather change that the Health Ministry really pushed through, was that clause about married women that’s been removed now. So failure of contraception will be a legitimate reason for a woman to seek abortion, even if she’s unmarried. So that clause will be removed. Also, what they have done is that they have removed this gap. So like I mentioned earlier in that Nikita Mehta case, that is that was a 26 week pregnancy, for which they had approached the court. Now, what this current law says is that if we are dealing with a foetal abnormality, then this legal ceiling will not apply. Then it is a call of the medical board, a medical board that will be constituted under the law, that board will take a call on the pros and cons of continuing such a pregnancy whether it there’s a bigger risk to the mother’s health in aborting the baby or there’s a bigger deficiency in the child’s quality of life if the pregnancy is carried through. So those sorts of things the medical board will decide. So this 24 weeks then doesn’t apply. So this will basically ensure that currently, anybody beyond 20 weeks has nowhere to go to but to the court. This will effectively limit those litigations and take the pressure of the courts to decide there will be a separate system to decide when it is about foetal abnormality.

Neha Mathews  

I was wondering how the response to this amendment has been? Do doctors and activists believe it will reduce the number of unsafe abortions like you mentioned?

Abantika Ghosh  

Yes, they’re hopeful it will reduce the number of unsafe abortions. What they would have also liked is that if the provider base was widened. So I’m also told by my sources that the format in which the bill has been cleared by the cabinet, there may be some changes in it after this, and there may be some fine tuning happening. But what activists would also really like in the abortion bill is a widening of the provider base. Because, you know, we are very short of trained doctors who can do abortions properly. So there are huge numbers of deaths that happen in India every year because of unsafe abortions. In fact, in our 2016 study published in The Lancet, it estimated that the abortion rate is about 47,000 women in the age group or group of 15 to 49 years but they is a very high number of unsafe abortions. That is something that has been a big concern for India, and that is by activists wanted this provider base to be widened.


STORY 2

Neha Mathews  

Keeping a watch on universities where people may indulge in activities threatening the country’s integrity, infiltrating their WhatsApp groups – these are among the many initiatives listed in a note circulated to talk police officers in states after the Annual Conference of Directors General of Police and Inspectors General of Police. Are these directives standard procedure though? Srinath Rao, who covers crime for our Mumbai bureau joins us to explain.

You’ve covered this annual conference which is held with DGPs and IGPs in the police force. And Prime Minister Modi has been a part of these conferences. Could you just start with tell us what these conferences are all about? 

Srinath Rao  

The conference in Pune last December was the 54th Annual Conference of the Directors General & Inspectors General of Police of each state and Union Territory, and also chiefs of the national policing agencies, interacting, addressing each other and with the Prime Minister and Home Minister, spelling out the vision for what and how they expect the police forces to function over the next one year. Since 2015, this government has taken the conference to different parts of the country. They’ve taken it out of Delhi. We’ve had it in Gujarat in 2018 and in Pune last year. And it’s now a three day conference. You have committees of senior-most IPS officers divided into sub committees to make presentations on diverse subjects – counter-terror, cybercrime, left wing extremism, narco-terrorism, and at the end of these deliberation, there’s a set of say, action points that are put on paper, which are also derived from the Prime Minister’s address for the police. And this is basically what the police stations across the country are expected to implement.

Neha Mathews  

And when you say these, set of action points or directives, could you give us some examples of this in the past?

Srinath Rao  

In 2016, the timing of the conference was about three weeks after the demonetization announcement. So one of the foremost action points was to ask the police to ensure the goals of demonetization succeed to ensure that black money does not come inside. Also, interestingly, another action point for the police that year, for 2016-17, was to push or nudge people to use cashless services or transaction. And this was already although happening in ways that the Bombay Police also started its cashless E-Challan system whereby you pay your traffic fines through credit card. This was one of the prominent action points in 2016. In 2018, the police was asked to publicise, and this was in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack, the Prime Minister wanted the police forces to publicise that Indian muslims do not ever actively participate in what was called “international terror theatres”. So a lot of these action points they are a mix of, you know, things that happen across the country and the globe, very prior to the conference, and very generic things say, the monitoring left wing extremism, monitoring the flow of counterfeit currency.

Neha Mathews  

And this year seemed to be particularly significant in terms of some of the directives that came out. Could you explain what the main action points were for this year?

Srinath Rao  

This year, the conference was the first week of December. The main action point to come out of that is for the police to keep a watch on universities, where they believe people may indulge and take part in activities that threaten India’s integrity. Again, this is significant because unrest on campuses in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh began, I believe, in mid-December. The other thing, which the police says is routine standard procedure, is to infiltrate WhatsApp groups to keep a watch on what people say on WhatsApp. Although this does stem from a very old community policing initiative, which has always been there through the country where police stations keep a watch or are supposed to know what people are talking within their jurisdiction. Conversations at police stations on a weekly basis, they call them Sunday meetings, senior inspectors holding open door meetings in different places. You have say, beat marshals, constables forming their own WhatsApp groups of local residents just to know what people are talking about, just to gauge the mood.

Neha Mathews  

And when the directive uses the word “infiltrate” WhatsApp groups doesn’t that lend to a sense of surveillance by the police?

Srinath Rao  

Yeah, it has that connotation. Especially looking at the kind of news breaks we’ve been hearing with surveillance strategies, the spyware Pegasus. Currently we have our own phone tapping controversy in Maharashtra. So in that context, yes, that word does bring in a lot of context on the police actually surveilling people.

Neha Mathews  

So the officers that you talked to about this particular directive, did they mention if this is standard procedure for them?

Srinath Rao  

They did. From what they’ve said, they’ve been doing this for quite some time, in a way that is part of the larger community policing initiative whereby they’re required to know what they say. People across social, religious sectors, political groups, minorities, student unions. They just need to be well informed of what everyone is talking about at a certain time. And just to be prepared for you know, what reaction might come from a particular segment of society to a given incident or situation say, either in that part of the country or in any other partner countries. The way they put is, no one should be able to spring a surprise on us. We should know beforehand if something’s going to happen and be prepared for that.


STORY 3

Neha Mathews  

Pretty soon the people of Tamilnadu will be able to access important documents, birth and death certificates, licences and more in a single click through a secret digital vault. How does this idea work? Tamil Nadu correspondent Arun Janardhanan joins me to explain. 

Arun, so the Tamil Nadu government has come up with this sort of digital locker for citizens documents. I wanted to ask you know how the scheme works and how it goes beyond just storing documents.

Arun Janardhanan  

So this is not actually a cloud platform for people to store their documents and certifcates. This is actually transaction digital platform, where the government considers many official transactions as the predictive service for example, the family need a birth certificate or a death certificate or a community certificate or even certain authentication of education certificate, most of these things are done by the government agencies or government bodies. So, people will have to go to the government officials and stand in the queue and they may have to visit several times to get a particular certificate or a document related to their identity or whatever. So, in this thing, the government make it work like a predictive service where they provide it, then and there. So here exactly when I need a certificate, when I have a problem with one of my identity documents, for example, there’s a change in my name’s spelling in my PAN Card and Aadhar Card. So this is a common problem that we can see everywhere and we don’t know whether we should correct the PAN card or the aadhar card. Similarly, there are differences in the name of parents, in our birth certificate or school certificates. Because in India, you know, many names are pronounced in different ways, especially certain names of people from certain communities will differ. In all these cases, you know, poeple would have to waste a lot of time. Sometimes they would have to bribe people or even private agents to get it done. So in this particular Tamil Nadu government project, the government used it as a predictive service were all our certificates will be intact in a secret vault, a digital vault. So there are two ends, like one is the customer’s end or the citizen’s end, and another is the government end. So a person who uses this service can access this entire vault through his phone or a computer. But for that, he just need to use his cell phone number. And he will get an OTP and that OTP will be used to open this vault. So, if I have to authenticate a particular certificate or if an institution or a private company or even a government department, who want to recruit me, they can go through this particular vault and verify my documents. So, that is the entire purpose of the service to make things easier.

Neha Mathews  

So, Arun you mentioned that, you know, the government also has access to this folder with our documents. So, I have to ask, was there any concern about privacy in this case?

Arun Janardhanan  

Well, let there be government or even a private company that is offering me a job or whatever transactions I have to make it that that particular entity, if they have to access my vault, then they will give me a request and I have to clear that request then only they can access that particular document.

Neha Mathews  

Could you tell us a little bit about who came up to this plan? Was there a need for, to have a folder such as this?

Arun Janardhanan  

See this plan has been rolled out by the Tamil Nadu E-governance department, which comes under the information technology. The idea was first floated by Santosh Babu IAS and the IAS officer heading it, Mr. Santosh Mithra. The government announced the project and there will be an official order will be issued very soon. And Santosh Babu has a track record of doing many such things in the last decade or  more than one decade, such as, you know, the very famous rural BPOs in Tamil Nadu’s rural areas. Similarly, there are so many other things like he made so many departments paperfree, like digitizing the entire process, for example, where if a driver has to apply for leave, the officer can clear it online. He’s also the man who implemented a lot of Open Source programmes and open source for research throughout the collectorate in Tamil Nadu. And there is a repository of artisans in Tamil Nadu that is again another very interesting project, where you get to see all artisans in Tamil Nadu and you get to see their product and profiles. So, these are couple of examples for the team that have come out with this project.

(outro) 

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India’s abortion law, Annual police conference, TN digital vaultAgainst the backdrop of mounting legal challenges and unsafe abortions, amendments to India's abortion act were passed by the Union Cabinet. What changes have been made in the act? And will it benefit women? Abantika Ghosh explains. Next, Srinath Rao explains why top police officers have been given directives such as to keep "a watch on universities" and "infiltrate" their Whatsapp groups after an annual conference in Pune. Last, Arun Janardhanan explains the idea of a  secret digital vault of documents for the people of Tamil Nadu. TRANSCRIPT (intro) Hi, I'm Neha Mathews, and you're listening to 3 Things, The Indian Express news show. Neha Mathews On today's episode, we're going to discuss the Tamil Nadu government's new Digital Vault idea. We're also going to be looking at why police forces have been asked to infiltrate certain WhatsApp groups. But first, how India's abortion laws have been changed.For many years, India's abortion law, formally known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, has been challenged on various grounds. For many years, India's abortion law, formally known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, has been challenged on various grounds. <audio excerpt from news>  In a landmark ruling in September, the Indian Supreme Court allowed a 13 year old rape victim in Mumbai to terminate her 31 week pregnancy. Yet, the same court in July, ruled that a 10 year old raped child should not be allowed to abort at 28 weeks. Neha Mathews   With the availability of modern medicine, the MTP Act has been seen as archaic and restricting women's reproduction rights. Here's a few things we should know about abortions in India.  In 2015, a study in The Lancet Global Health by Guttmacher Institute and IIPS estimated that 15.6 million abortions were performed in India just in 2015. Of these it is known that in India, the majority of abortions happen outside health clinics since just 10% of the abortions in India are notified. Now, unsafe abortions, in fact account for almost 8-9% of maternal deaths in the country. So in view of this healthcare crisis of unsafe abortions, amendments to the abortion law passed by the Union Cabinet recently has come as a breath of relief to many. What changes have been made in the act and how will it benefit women? Abantika Ghosh, who covers health for the Indian Express joins us to explain.  So Abantika, the amendment to the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which we colloquially referred to as the Abortion Act - it's been pending for years. And finally, it was cleared by the Union Cabinet around end of January 2020. I wanted to talk to you about both the Act and the amendments.  Before the amendments, could you first explain on what conditions women in India could seek an abortion? Abantika Ghosh   Yeah, so under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, a pregnant woman could seek abortion till 12 weeks. If the doctor is convinced that there is a need for abortion, that is pretty straightforward thing. The pregnant woman could also seek abortion till 20 weeks. If two doctors are of the opinion that a) if the pregnancy continues, it would involve a risk to her life or a grave injury to her physical and mental health or b) that there is a substantial risk to the child of being born with a physical or mental abnormality or to be seriously handicapped, you know, because of a congenital problem. Those are the situations in which a pregnant woman could seek abortion. Neha Mathews   Did this have anything to do with whether the woman is unmarried or married? Abantika Ghosh   Yeah, there are some conditions under which you can seek abortion. So there is a clause which says that if there is a failure of contraception, the exact words that the law uses is that "where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children", basically precluding the possibility of an unmarried woman simply asking for an abortion, because at that point of time, she is not ready to have the child. Neha Mathews   So assuming this was a stigma? Abantika Ghosh   Yeah, an unmarried woman to get an abortion either had to have a physical risk to her life, or to the baby's life. A physical or mental risk. So that was a clause that made it slightly regressive. Neha Mathews   When it was passed in 1971, I think it was seen as progressive, but in current times, you know, there's been a lot of pushback against it saying It has endangered women, it's hindering reproductive rights. We also saw plenty of challenges to it in courts in the recent past. Why is that?  Abantika Ghosh   Most of the challenges in courts were for permission for abortion beyond 20 weeks. In fact, there we first started talking about the law needing a change was in 2008. When a Mumbai couple had approached the court, saying that please allow us permission to abort this child. Because the child, it was at that point of time, a 26 week old foetus and because the child had been diagnosed with a heart defect. That is where it started, and this went on and on and finally, Nikita Mehta, she was not allowed to abort her baby through the entire legal process, permission was not given. And eventually she actually underwent a miscarriage. But that is where we first started talking about the need to amend the law. One of the reasons is that right now, there are a lot of advanced medical technologies available, which make it easier for you to detect congenital defects earlier in vivo. So while baby's still in the body, you can decide that this baby may be born with this, this this this defect and so as those technologies advance, there is a need for your abortion laws to keep pace. So if there is a, for example, in this case, if there is a congenital defect that is being predicted at 26 weeks, there is no no point of the parents moving for an abortion at 20 weeks. So even now, see this was a 26 week old foetus so even currently, the president amendments were through, they would not have been allowed permission. They would have still had to go to the courts but that's a different story. Also, because of the clause of contraceptive failure, just married women. That made it slightly restrictive. And first of all, we already have a lot of social biases that creep into our medical practice. The way medicine is practised in the country. So the law actually gave a levy to doctors to refuse an unmarried woman an abortion because there is no room in the law.  Neha Mathews   Even if it's rape? Even if its incest?  Abantika Ghosh   No! Rape is a different question. Rape is actually accounted for even in this the in the current law, the 1971 law. It says that if the pregnancy has been caused by rape, continuation of such pregnancy, because there is a clause remember that if the pregnancy continues and there is a grave danger to the mental health of the mother, then you are allowed an abortion. So pregnancy out of rape is considered to have that risk. So rape is covered in the current law. But if there is a consensual sexual act by an unmarried woman and that woman is pregnant, then by law, the doctor can say that I have no room to give you this abortion bill. And why this is a problem is also because a couple of years back, there was a study by the Guttmacher Institute which showed that 50% of pregnancies in 6 of the largest Indian states are unintended. They happen just by chance. That's a very huge number. Neha Mathews   And how many women would that be? Abantika Ghosh   The number of pregnancies is about 14 lakh in Assam, over 1 crore in Uttar Pradesh alone. So that's large number that we're talking about of unintended pregnancies. Neha Mathews   And with this amendment what has been changed in the medical termination of pregnancy Act. Abantika Ghosh   The first change is obviously, that from 20 weeks, you can now abort, legally abort after 24 weeks. But rather change that the Health Ministry really pushed through, was that clause about married women that's been removed now. So failure of contraception will be a legitimate reason for a woman to seek abortion, even if she's unmarried. So that clause will be removed. Also, what they have done is that they have removed this gap. So like I mentioned earlier in that Nikita Mehta case, that is that was a 26 week pregnancy, for which they had approached the court. Now, what this current law says is that if we are dealing with a foetal abnormality, then this legal ceiling will not apply. Then it is a call of the medical board, a medical board that will be constituted under the law, that board will take a call on the pros and cons of continuing such a pregnancy whether it there's a bigger risk to the mother's health in aborting the baby or there's a bigger deficiency in the child's quality of life if the pregnancy is carried through. So those sorts of things the medical board will decide. So this 24 weeks then doesn't apply. So this will basically ensure that currently, anybody beyond 20 weeks has nowhere to go to but to the court. This will effectively limit those litigations and take the pressure of the courts to decide there will be a separate system to decide when it is about foetal abnormality. Neha Mathews   I was wondering how the response to this amendment has been? Do doctors and activists believe it will reduce the number of unsafe abortions like you mentioned? Abantika Ghosh   Yes, they're hopeful it will reduce the number of unsafe abortions. What they would have also liked is that if the provider base was widened. So I'm also told by my sources that the format in which the bill has been cleared by the cabinet, there may be some changes in it after this, and there may be some fine tuning happening. But what activists would also really like in the abortion bill is a widening of the provider base. Because, you know, we are very short of trained doctors who can do abortions properly. So there are huge numbers of deaths that happen in India every year because of unsafe abortions. In fact, in our 2016 study published in The Lancet, it estimated that the abortion rate is about 47,000 women in the age group or group of 15 to 49 years but they is a very high number of unsafe abortions. That is something that has been a big concern for India, and that is by activists wanted this provider base to be widened. STORY 2 Neha Mathews   Keeping a watch on universities where people may indulge in activities threatening the country's integrity, infiltrating their WhatsApp groups - these are among the many initiatives listed in a note circulated to talk police officers in states after the Annual Conference of Directors General of Police and Inspectors General of Police. Are these directives standard procedure though? Srinath Rao, who covers crime for our Mumbai bureau joins us to explain. You've covered this annual conference which is held with DGPs and IGPs in the police force. And Prime Minister Modi has been a part of these conferences. Could you just start with tell us what these conferences are all about?  Srinath Rao   The conference in Pune last December was the 54th Annual Conference of the Directors General & Inspectors General of Police of each state and Union Territory, and also chiefs of the national policing agencies, interacting, addressing each other and with the Prime Minister and Home Minister, spelling out the vision for what and how they expect the police forces to function over the next one year. Since 2015, this government has taken the conference to different parts of the country. They've taken it out of Delhi. We've had it in Gujarat in 2018 and in Pune last year. And it's now a three day conference. You have committees of senior-most IPS officers divided into sub committees to make presentations on diverse subjects - counter-terror, cybercrime, left wing extremism, narco-terrorism, and at the end of these deliberation, there's a set of say, action points that are put on paper, which are also derived from the Prime Minister's address for the police. And this is basically what the police stations across the country are expected to implement. Neha Mathews   And when you say these, set of action points or directives, could you give us some examples of this in the past? Srinath Rao   In 2016, the timing of the conference was about three weeks after the demonetization announcement. So one of the foremost action points was to ask the police to ensure the goals of demonetization succeed to ensure that black money does not come inside. Also, interestingly, another action point for the police that year, for 2016-17, was to push or nudge people to use cashless services or transaction. And this was already although happening in ways that the Bombay Police also started its cashless E-Challan system whereby you pay your traffic fines through credit card. This was one of the prominent action points in 2016. In 2018, the police was asked to publicise, and this was in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack, the Prime Minister wanted the police forces to publicise that Indian muslims do not ever actively participate in what was called "international terror theatres". So a lot of these action points they are a mix of, you know, things that happen across the country and the globe, very prior to the conference, and very generic things say, the monitoring left wing extremism, monitoring the flow of counterfeit currency. Neha Mathews   And this year seemed to be particularly significant in terms of some of the directives that came out. Could you explain what the main action points were for this year? Srinath Rao   This year, the conference was the first week of December. The main action point to come out of that is for the police to keep a watch on universities, where they believe people may indulge and take part in activities that threaten India's integrity. Again, this is significant because unrest on campuses in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh began, I believe, in mid-December. The other thing, which the police says is routine standard procedure, is to infiltrate WhatsApp groups to keep a watch on what people say on WhatsApp. Although this does stem from a very old community policing initiative, which has always been there through the country where police stations keep a watch or are supposed to know what people are talking within their jurisdiction. Conversations at police stations on a weekly basis, they call them Sunday meetings, senior inspectors holding open door meetings in different places. You have say, beat marshals, constables forming their own WhatsApp groups of local residents just to know what people are talking about, just to gauge the mood. Neha Mathews   And when the directive uses the word "infiltrate" WhatsApp groups doesn't that lend to a sense of surveillance by the police? Srinath Rao   Yeah, it has that connotation. Especially looking at the kind of news breaks we've been hearing with surveillance strategies, the spyware Pegasus. Currently we have our own phone tapping controversy in Maharashtra. So in that context, yes, that word does bring in a lot of context on the police actually surveilling people. Neha Mathews   So the officers that you talked to about this particular directive, did they mention if this is standard procedure for them? Srinath Rao   They did. From what they've said, they've been doing this for quite some time, in a way that is part of the larger community policing initiative whereby they're required to know what they say. People across social, religious sectors, political groups, minorities, student unions. They just need to be well informed of what everyone is talking about at a certain time. And just to be prepared for you know, what reaction might come from a particular segment of society to a given incident or situation say, either in that part of the country or in any other partner countries. The way they put is, no one should be able to spring a surprise on us. We should know beforehand if something's going to happen and be prepared for that. STORY 3 Neha Mathews   Pretty soon the people of Tamilnadu will be able to access important documents, birth and death certificates, licences and more in a single click through a secret digital vault. How does this idea work? Tamil Nadu correspondent Arun Janardhanan joins me to explain.  Arun, so the Tamil Nadu government has come up with this sort of digital locker for citizens documents. I wanted to ask you know how the scheme works and how it goes beyond just storing documents. Arun Janardhanan   So this is not actually a cloud platform for people to store their documents and certifcates. This is actually transaction digital platform, where the government considers many official transactions as the predictive service for example, the family need a birth certificate or a death certificate or a community certificate or even certain authentication of education certificate, most of these things are done by the government agencies or government bodies. So, people will have to go to the government officials and stand in the queue and they may have to visit several times to get a particular certificate or a document related to their identity or whatever. So, in this thing, the government make it work like a predictive service where they provide it, then and there. So here exactly when I need a certificate, when I have a problem with one of my identity documents, for example, there's a change in my name's spelling in my PAN Card and Aadhar Card. So this is a common problem that we can see everywhere and we don't know whether we should correct the PAN card or the aadhar card. Similarly, there are differences in the name of parents, in our birth certificate or school certificates. Because in India, you know, many names are pronounced in different ways, especially certain names of people from certain communities will differ. In all these cases, you know, poeple would have to waste a lot of time. Sometimes they would have to bribe people or even private agents to get it done. So in this particular Tamil Nadu government project, the government used it as a predictive service were all our certificates will be intact in a secret vault, a digital vault. So there are two ends, like one is the customer's end or the citizen's end, and another is the government end. So a person who uses this service can access this entire vault through his phone or a computer. But for that, he just need to use his cell phone number. And he will get an OTP and that OTP will be used to open this vault. So, if I have to authenticate a particular certificate or if an institution or a private company or even a government department, who want to recruit me, they can go through this particular vault and verify my documents. So, that is the entire purpose of the service to make things easier. Neha Mathews   So, Arun you mentioned that, you know, the government also has access to this folder with our documents. So, I have to ask, was there any concern about privacy in this case? Arun Janardhanan   Well, let there be government or even a private company that is offering me a job or whatever transactions I have to make it that that particular entity, if they have to access my vault, then they will give me a request and I have to clear that request then only they can access that particular document. Neha Mathews   Could you tell us a little bit about who came up to this plan? Was there a need for, to have a folder such as this? Arun Janardhanan   See this plan has been rolled out by the Tamil Nadu E-governance department, which comes under the information technology. The idea was first floated by Santosh Babu IAS and the IAS officer heading it, Mr. Santosh Mithra. The government announced the project and there will be an official order will be issued very soon. And Santosh Babu has a track record of doing many such things in the last decade or  more than one decade, such as, you know, the very famous rural BPOs in Tamil Nadu's rural areas. Similarly, there are so many other things like he made so many departments paperfree, like digitizing the entire process, for example, where if a driver has to apply for leave, the officer can clear it online. He's also the man who implemented a lot of Open Source programmes and open source for research throughout the collectorate in Tamil Nadu. And there is a repository of artisans in Tamil Nadu that is again another very interesting project, where you get to see all artisans in Tamil Nadu and you get to see their product and profiles. So, these are couple of examples for the team that have come out with this project. (outro)  You are listening to 3 Things by the Indian Express. Today's show, as always, was edited and mixed our producer Joshua Thomas. If you liked the show, then do subscribe to us wherever you get your podcast. You can also recommend the show to someone you think would like it. Share with a friend or someone in your family. 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