1. Mulling national logistics law’
Ministry aims to replace current transportation of goods law
- The Commerce Ministry is considering replacing the Multi-Modal Transportation of Goods Act (MMTG) with a full-fledged national logistics law with a view to promote growth of the sector, a senior government official said on Saturday.
- Special Secretary in the logistics division of the Ministry, Pawan Agarwal said a National Logistics Efficiency and Advancement Predictability and Safety Act (NLEAPS) is under consideration and this law tends to define various participants of the logistics space and create a light regulatory ecosystem.
- “What the logistics sector is all about is not very clear to us as of now and in that direction, we need to clearly define what the logistics sector is and what the various elements in it are… We are considering replacing it with a full-fledged national logistics law.” NLEAPS is under consideration, he said at a webinar organised by industry chamber PHDCCI.
- Multimodal transportation refers to a combination of more than one mode of movement, such as rail, road or sea, for end-to-end delivery of goods.
- “We are working towards finalising a national logistics policy. We will be having consultations once the draft is finalised,” he added.
- The move assumes significance as high logistics cost impacts the competitiveness of domestic goods in the international market. Effective implementation of the policy would help provide an impetus to trade, enhance export competitiveness, and improve India’s ranking in the Logistics Performance Index.
- India’s logistics sector is highly fragmented and the government aims to reduce the logistics cost from the present 14% of the Gross Domestic Product to less than 10%.
- According to an earlier statement from the Ministry, the sector is complex, with more than 20 government agencies, 40 partnering agencies, 37 export promotion councils, 500 certifications and 10,000 commodities.
2. Meta-analysis does not support continued use of point-of-care serological tests for COVID-19
Governments should stop contemplating the use of serological tests to issue immunity certificates
- Serological tests to detect antibodies against novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could improve diagnosis of COVID-19 and be useful tools for epidemiological surveillance. These have been seen as a tool to issue immunity passports or certificates so that already-infected people can move around freely. There has been increasing number of serological tests, and many are being marketed for point-of-care use.
- A systematic review and meta-analysis of 40 studies of antibody testing for novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has found “major weaknesses” in the evidence base for serological tests. The “evidence does not support the continued use of existing point-of-care serological tests for COVID-19”, says a study published in The British Medical Journal.
Risk of bias
- The study found that the available evidence on the accuracy of serological tests is characterised by risks of bias, and estimates of sensitivity and specificity are unreliable and have limited generalisability. The evidence is “particularly weak” for point-of-care serological tests.
- The team led by Dr F. Ahmad Khan from the Respiratory Epidemiology and Clinical Research Unit, Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada has said that caution is warranted while relying on serological tests for clinical decision making or epidemiological surveillance. And they say, “current evidence does not support the continued use of existing point-of-care tests”.
- The study warns: “Our findings should also give pause to governments that are contemplating the use of serological tests — in particular, point-of-care tests — to issue immunity certificates or passports.”
- A linked editorial also echoes the authors’ views on using serological tests for decision-making. The editorial says: “The key message of the review aligns with the conclusion of another systematic review published last week: serologic assays for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, especially point-of-care tests, are not ready for widespread use by clinicians, the general public, or policy makers.”
- The primary outcome of the analysis was to evaluate the overall sensitivity and specificity based on the method of serological testing — ELISA, lateral flow immunoassays (LFIAs), or chemilumine scent immunoassays (CLIAs), and immunoglobulin class (IgG, IgM or both).
- The secondary outcomes of the analysis were to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the tests within subgroups defined by study or participant characteristics, including time since symptom onset.
- The study found high risk of patient selection bias in 98% (48/49 studies) of assessments, and high or unclear risk of bias from performance or interpretation of the serological test in 73% (36/49) of studies. Only as little as 10% (4/40) of studies included outpatients.
- However, the pooled sensitivity and specificity were estimated for each serological tests. The pooled sensitivity of ELISA measuring IgG or IgM was just 84.3%. But for all methods of serological testing, the sensitivity increased — 69.9% to 98.9% — when the testing was carried out at least three weeks after symptom onset compared with within the first week (from 13.4% to 50.3%).
- But they warn that even when the sensitivity estimates were higher at later time points — third week or later — important false negative rates were found. “In people with COVID-19 who are tested three weeks after symptom onset, ELISA IgG will misclassify 18% as not having been infected and LFIA IgG will misclassify 30%,” they write.
- “For each test method, the type of immunoglobulin being measured — IgM, IgG, or both — was not associated with diagnostic accuracy. Pooled sensitivities were lower with commercial kits and in the first and second week after symptom onset compared with the third week or later. Pooled specificities of each test method were high,” they write.
Word of caution
- But the editorial cautions that pooling sensitivities makes it “difficult to determine how well tests perform at detecting antibody” in the course of illness whether undertaken early or late in the illness. The ability to identify individual tests that might perform well in testing algorithms is also hindered.
- The study found many shortcomings in the case of LFIA serological tests, leading to say that LFIA should not be used beyond research and evaluation purposes.
|meta-analysis A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies. Meta-analysis can be performed when there are multiple scientific studies addressing the same question, with each individual study reporting measurements that are expected to have some degree of error. The aim then is to use approaches from statistics to derive a pooled estimate closest to the unknown common truth based on how this error is perceived.|
3. Detecting RNA virus in saliva samples using Raman spectroscopy
Those positive for RNA virus can be tested using RT-PCR
- If Israel developed a spectroscopy-based one-minute breath-analyser to detect coronavirus, a team led by Amit Dutt from the Mumbai-based Tata Memorial Centre has turned to Raman Spectroscopy to detect RNA viruses present in saliva samples. It is a proof-of-concept study to analyse non-infectious RNA viruses using conventional Raman Spectroscopy without using any additional reagent to enhance the signal.
- It has been reported that novel coronavirus is found in sufficient numbers in human saliva. For the study, the researchers spiked saliva samples with non-infectious RNA viruses and analysed it with Raman Spectroscopy. They analysed the raw Raman Spectroscopy data and compared the signals with both viral positive and negative samples. Statistical analysis of all the 1,400 spectra obtained for each sample, showed a set of 65 Raman spectral features was adequate to identify the viral positive signal. “Interestingly, most of the spectra were specific for the RNA molecule,” says Dr. Dutt. “We confirmed our finding by adding an enzyme that specifically degrades RNA molecule — the RNase — in presence of which the 65 spectra–based feature was completely abrogated that didn’t happen in presence of DNase or proteinase. We thus confirmed that the signal came from the RNA contributed by the intact virions,” says Dr. Dutt.
- The signal set has 92.5% sensitivity and 88.8% specificity. The results are published in the Journal of Biophotonics. Dr. Sudeep Gupta, Director of TMC is a co-author of the paper.
- To minimise variability and automate the analysis of the Raman spectra for RNA viruses, they developed an automated tool — RNA Virus Detector — using a graphical user interface. The tool can be used for detecting RNA virus from an individual or a group of samples in an unambiguous and reproducible manner, and is freely downloadable.
- “This tool, the first of its kind, takes raw data from a Raman Spectrometer analysis based on the 65-spectra signature and provides an objective output if viral RNA is present or absent in the sample,” says Dr. Dutt.
- “This conceptual framework to detect RNA viruses in saliva could form the basis for field application of Raman Spectroscopy in managing viral outbreaks, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” they write.
- Since the tool can only identify RNA viruses and not identify the specific one, it can be used only for screening. “The RNA virus detected could be a common cold virus as well or any other RNA virus such as HIV. It doesn’t look for COVID-19 viral-specific signature,” he explains. The advantage is that the tool can be taken to the field and people who test positive for RNA virus can be quarantined while another sample may be sent for validation using RT-PCR.
- “This whole process of data acquisition and analysis can be performed within a minute. Since no additional reagent is needed there is no recurring cost. A portable Raman spectrophotometer installed at the port of entry such as airports or any point of care can screen passengers within minutes,” he adds.
|RT-PCR method in testing Real time RT-PCR (reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction) is now one of the most accurate laboratory methods for detecting, tracking, and studying the coronavirus. RT-PCR is a nuclear-derived method for detecting the presence of specific genetic material from any pathogen, including a virus. It uses markers to detect the presence targeted genetic materials. Originally, radioactive isotope markers were used. Subsequent refining has led to the replacement of the isotopic labelling with special markers, most frequently fluorescent dyes. With real time RT-PCR, scientists can see the results almost immediately while the process is still ongoing. Conventional RT-PCR only provides results at the end. Virus Viruses are non-cellular, microscopic infectious agents that can only replicate inside a host cell. From a biological perspective, viruses cannot be classified either as living organism nor non-living. This is due to the fact that they possess certain defining characteristic features of living organisms and non-living entities. In a nutshell, a virus is a non-cellular, infectious entity made up of genetic material and protein that can invade and reproduce only within the living cells of bacteria, plants and animals. For instance, a virus cannot replicate itself outside the host cell. This is because viruses lack the required cellular machinery. Therefore, it enters and attaches itself to a specific host cell, injects its genetic material, reproduces by using the host genetic material and finally the host cell splits open, releasing the new viruses. Viruses can also be crystallized, which no other living organisms can do. It is these factors that lead to viruses being classified in the grey area – between the living and non-living. Classification based on the presence of nucleic acid DNA virus The virus, having DNA as its genetic material. There are two different types of DNA virus Single-stranded (Ss) DNA virus: e.g. Picornaviruses, Parvovirus, etc. Double-stranded (Ds) DNA virus: e.g. Adenovirus, Herpesvirus, etc. RNA virus The virus, having RNA as its genetic material. There are two different types of RNA virus Double-stranded (Ds) RNA virus: e.g. Reovirus, etc. Single-stranded (Ss) RNA virus. It is further classified into two Positive sense RNA (+RNA) and Negative sense RNA (-RNA). Poliovirus, Hepatitis A, Rabies virus, Influenza virus are examples of single-stranded RNA virus.|
4. How a fungus grows inside a bug, goes on to kill and feed on it
Researchers have now found these fungi for the first time in central India
- When you are an Ophiocordyceps fungus, your life is straight out of a sci-fi movie: Infect a bug, eat from inside, kill it, sprout out and target the next bug. Researchers have now found this fungi (Ophicordyceps nutans) for the first time in central India and show how it infects a stink bug. They also explore the potential of using these fungi as biopesticide and medicine.
- It was early summer in 2018 when a team from Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University in Raipur set out on a plant survey at the picturesque Kanger Valley National Park in Chhattisgarh. “By chance we stumbled upon the fungus and dead bug and wanted to study it further. Morphological studies showed that it was Ophicordyceps nutans which has been reported in India only from the Western Ghats,” says Jai Shankar Paul, from the University’s School of Studies in Bio-Technolog, the first author of the paper published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society.
- The fungus was found on its specific host insect Halyomorpha halys. Also called the stink bug, this insect is a pest to forest trees and agricultural crops. The simple but scary modus operandi of the fungi involves infecting the insect when alive, developing fungal mycelium inside its thorax, and when it is time for the spores to come out, kill the bug.
- The fruiting body sprouts out from between the insect’s thorax and head, and it continues to take nutrition from the dead body. The fungi are very host-specific, so the spores travel and infect many more stink bugs.
- Dr. Paul adds that more studies are needed to understand in detail about the behaviour, mode of action, and exact interaction of the fungus with the insect.
- Previous studies have shown that these fungi can be used as a biological pest control agent. The stink bug is known to damage the flower and fruits of soybean, green beans, apple, pear, and the team write that exploring these fungi as a pesticide will help reduce the harmful effect of chemicals in our fields.
- “The more interesting and important point to note is that several species of the Ophiocordyceps fungi have medicinal properties. Reports have shown that China has been traditionally using it. Also, in the Western Ghats, the local people use these fungi as an immune stimulator,” adds corresponding author Professor S.K. Jadhav.
- The authors say that studies from across the globe have noted that these fungi is rich in biologically active metabolites, vitamin C, phenolic compounds, and also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- They also claim that it contains a component called ‘cordycepin’ which has anticancer properties. The fungi can be grownin lab settings and explored further, says the team.
|Fungi Fungi is a eukaryotic organism that includes microorganisms such as yeasts, moulds, and mushrooms. These organisms are classified under kingdom fungi. The organisms found in Kingdom fungi contain a cell wall and are omnipresent. They are classified as heterotrophs among the living organisms.|
5. The impact of the Chinese apps ban
How popular are these apps in India? Can the government’s move be challenged legally?
Why were the Chinese apps banned?
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in a press release asserted that it had received “many complaints from various sources, including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India”.
- The Ministry said it had decided to block the 59 apps to safeguard the “sovereignty and integrity of India”, invoking powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.
- The government also said that several citizens had reportedly raised concerns in representations to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) regarding security of data and loss of privacy in using these apps. In addition, the Ministry said it had also received “exhaustive recommendations” from the Home Ministry’s Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre.
- And while the government did not name China openly in its action against the apps, public comments by officials including Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and Law and Justice — he asserted that the ‘digital strike’ was done “for safety, security, defence, sovereignty & integrity of India and to protect data & privacy of people of India” — signalled that it was aimed at Chinese economic interests.
How large is the user base in India for these banned apps?
- Estimates by Sensor Tower show the video-sharing social networking app, TikTok, for instance, has seen about 611 million downloads in India over the app’s lifetime, while estimates of active users vary with the highest pegged at 200 million. According to media reports, file-sharing tool SHAREIt has about 400 million users. Statcounter places the Alibaba-owned UC Browser second in India market share at 10.19%, after Google Chrome (78.2%). Other reports estimate its user base at 130 million.
How will users be affected?
- Installed apps may continue to exist on mobile devices. But now that the latest versions of the apps have been removed from Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, users will not be able to access updated versions in future. If a notice goes out to internet service providers asking that data flow from these apps be halted, that could impact the functioning of existing, installed apps.
What are the alternatives and are they easy to find?
- Users of banned browsers or video apps may find it easier to shift to similar offerings from elsewhere. Chingari, a competitor from India to TikTok, saw its downloads soar from 1 lakh to 1 crore-plus on Google Play Store soon after the ban on Chinese apps was announced.
- Users of some apps such as CamScanner may not be able to shift so easily. For example, it is not clear yet how say a pdf, or portable document format, created by a user via CamScanner a couple of years ago and backed up in Google Drive, could be transferred to another app such as the Adobe Scan or Microsoft Office Lens, unless individually downloaded and re-uploaded.
- There are some alternative products such as the India-made Zoho Doc Scanner, which does offer users the option to import all files en masse from CamScanner.
How does the ban affect Chinese app providers?
- The potential loss of advertising revenue impacts app-makers. Tik Tok’s parent ByteDance Ltd. recorded a doubling of global revenue to $17 billion in 2019, over the previous year, with $3 billion in profit.
- Its India business may have yielded only $5.8 million in revenue for the year ended March 2019, but with quicker user adoption more recently, the stakes seem to be getting higher. When TikTok was banned briefly in India last year on the grounds that it reportedly promoted pornography, the company had told a local court that it was losing roughly $15 million a month due to the ban, according to a Reuters report. The app had subsequently been permitted to operate.
What has China’s response been to the ban?
- China has said that it suspects India’s actions could be in violation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said, “India’s measure selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and [is suspected] of violating the WTO rules. It also goes against the general trend of international trade and e-commerce, and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India.”
- The Chinese government’s comments indicate that it could file a formal complaint at the WTO.
Will the move hurt India?
- It could, in terms of investments and employment. ByteDance Ltd. had talked of upcoming investments worth $1 billion in India. That will probably remain suspended till further clarity emerges, potentially impacting job creation.
What legal options does the Indian government have?
- In terms of process, there are two options available to the government under Section 69A of the IT Act to issue ban orders — normal and emergency. In the case of the ban on the 59 apps, based on the use of the phrase “interim order” in the statement issued by TikTok, it appears that the government may have adopted the emergency route. The emergency route allows content to be blocked on the directions of the Secretary, Department of IT, who must consider the impugned content and record his reasons for doing so. In the normal course, an order to block content requires: (a) a decision to be made by a government committee (b) relevant intermediaries to be given an opportunity to be heard by this committee.
- These processes are not required when emergency provisions are used. However, in the case of emergencies, the order of the Secretary, Department of IT, must be placed before the government committee within 48 hours. Based on the recommendations of this committee, the order can then be finalised or vacated.
Does the government necessarily have to publish the order?
- The legal order that empowers the designated authority to implement the ban is yet to be made public.
- Rule 16 of the Blocking rules requires strict confidentiality to be maintained regarding blocking requests, complaints received, and actions taken. However, policy experts such as Rishab Bailey, a technology researcher with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, believe that this provision primarily applies to intermediaries (through whom blocking is implemented). He points out that the government ought to disclose the orders passed (subject to relevant redactions that may be required) in the interests of transparency and accountability.
- Also, and as recognised by the Supreme Court recently in the Anuradha Bhasin case (in the context of Internet suspensions ordered under Section 144 of the The Code Of Criminal Procedure), publishing such orders is the only way in which the reasons and rationale for the decision can be judged. Challenging the decision-making process requires the reasoning to be made public, Mr. Bailey said.
Can the order be challenged in an Indian court?
- Though it is unlikely that the companies concerned may take such a step immediately, either they or any affected individual in India could challenge the blocking orders in court.
- The courts will then decide whether the government has provided sufficient explanation as to the nexus between what these apps are alleged to be doing and the reasons adduced by the government such as protection of national security and strategic interests. Courts will also consider if the ban is a proportionate and necessary step to be taken, given the facts at hand.
- According to Mr. Bailey, another factor to be considered is whether the process for blocking under Section 69A of the IT Act contemplates blocking of content (or apps) on grounds of privacy violations.
6. Pathogens and prediction
What are scientists saying about a new strain in China?
- The story so far: Reports of an emergent viral infection transmitted from pigs in China dominated the news earlier this week. Newspapers and television channels reported that a new strain of H1N1 (also known as swine flu) had started infecting workers and the recommendations of scientists were that it must be controlled with a great deal of urgency as it had the potential of becoming yet another pandemic.
What are the risks from emerging pathogens?
- At this stage, potential harm from G4 EA H1N1, the new strain, has just been flagged by scientists who predict risk from emerging pathogens. Knowledge of the existence of the virus in pig farms in China has been present since 2016. But a new study (“Prevalent Eurasian avian-like H1N1 swine influenza virus with 2009 pandemic viral genes facilitating human infection”) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. (https://bit.ly/2ZuLy7O), said it replicates efficiently in human airway paths and so far, has infected a few people without actually making them ill. They found antibodies for the virus in the blood of pig farm workers, none of whom was sick.
- The authors, who are researchers based in China, recorded in the article: “Pigs are intermediate hosts for the generation of pandemic influenza virus. Thus, systematic surveillance of influenza viruses in pigs is a key measure for pre-warning the emergence of the next pandemic influenza… G4 viruses have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus. Of concern is that swine workers show elevated seroprevalence for G4 virus. Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially the workers in swine industry, should be urgently implemented.”
- The researchers collected 338 blood samples from workers on 15 farms and 230 from people in nearby households. The results, as published, found that 10.4 % of the workers and 4.4 % of the others tested positive for antibodies to G4 EA H1N1. Over all, 20.5 % of the workers between the ages of 18 and 35 tested positive.
Is G4 a current pandemic?
- No. The paper has merely forewarned of the possibility that the G4 virus might emerge into a pandemic in the future, and the authors have called for greater vigilance in monitoring people. It has not become potent in humans even though their blood contains antibodies for the virus.
- Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and also an adviser in the White House coronavirus taskforce, told the U.S. Senate that U.S. health officials were watching the China developments with reference to G4, which has the characteristics of the 2009 H1N1 virus and the 1918 pandemic flu. The virus, which scientists are calling “G4 EA H1N1,” has not yet been shown to infect humans but it is exhibiting “reassortment capabilities”, the media cited him as saying.
- At this point of time, the alert can be considered an early warning bell. It calls for vigil primarily because this is a new strain against which humans would have no inbuilt immunity from the virus, much like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, COVID-19.
What is disease/pandemic risk surveillance?
- Most countries have their own disease surveillance mechanisms in place to monitor and track emerging diseases. Public health teams evaluate the risk of a particular pathogen on the community, based on the cases occurring, and warn of potential risks from that pathogen. Early warning systems have been successful in predicting dengue and Ebola outbreaks, among other diseases, in the past, enabling health systems to be pre-warned and, thus, prepared to tackle the challenge. Local outbreaks of cholera or diarrhoeal disease have also been identified in cities, and have helped limit the damage in the community.
- Closely studying a pathogen will yield valuable information on transmission, and behaviour of the organism, giving humans early lessons in its prevention and treatment. Alerts should also be sent out by global health mechanisms, including the World Health Organization (WHO), so that other nations at equal risk might be warned before the outbreak hits their shores.
What is the future?
- Borrowing the urgency of a now famous phrase that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus used for the coronavirus (‘Test, Test, Test’), the world must seek ‘Vigilance, Vigilance, Vigilance’/ All risk assessment systems across the world will have to be on active mode, besides forming a network globally to share information on emerging diseases and pathogens. WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) is at the front of such initiatives to make scientific predictions based on certain models. While there is no doubt that disease and pathogen surveillance have a place in the modern world, it is also important to remember that scientists themselves regard it as an imprecise form, ergo, any undue alarm as a consequence of such studies would quite frustrate the target of preparedness.
7. Peace under process, tension in the air
The Naga militancy, with its roots going back to First World War, is back in the spotlight after the State Governor slammed ‘gun-point extortions’
- The NSCN split into two factions in 1988 over differences on initiating a dialogue with the Indian government
- Both factions, NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K), later joined the peace process
- In 2015, NSCN (K) abrogated the ceasefire but three breakaway factions formed a new group and entered the dialogue later
- Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi did not name any group when he, in a letter to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio on June 16, said the legitimacy of the constitutionally-established State government was being challenged on a daily basis by more than half a dozen “armed gangs that question the sovereignty and integrity of the nation”. The Governor, who took charge in July 2019, pointed out instances of “gunpoint extortions” for siphoning off a large chunk of government funds meant for development.
- The Governor’s comments have threatend the tenuous peace process with the militant groups responding sharply to him.
- The Working Committee of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), a conglomerate of seven extremist groups, denied indulging in extortion but admitted to accepting “nominal contribution” that has been “mandatory” since the “inception of our struggle”. Some of the constituents of the umbrella group are breakaway factions of the NSCN (K), or the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, formed by the Myanmar-based Shangnyu Shangwang Khaplang.
- The NNPGs were not the first to counter Mr. Ravi. Their bigger rival NSCN (IM), named after founders Isak Chishi Swu, who died in June 2016, and Thuingaleng Muivah, reacted first by insisting it does not extort people but levies “genuine taxes” on them. “It is the inherent right of any sovereign people and nation to collect taxes from the people and commercial establishments… Taxes have been the source of sustenance that has brought the Naga political movement this far. This was legitimately acknowledged by the earlier interlocutors and Indian authorities and it was never an issue,” the NSCN (IM) said in its defence.
- The letter from Mr. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre’s interlocutor for the Naga peace process in August 2014 for his hold on the affairs of the northeast, was unprecedented. Those acquainted with extremism in Nagaland and adjoining States where various factions of the NSCN have been active know much of what he said was familiar. The extremist groups have been collecting “taxes” or “donations” from people in their areas of operation before and after the ceasefire agreement with the NSCN (IM) in mid-1997.
- Mr. Rio’s coalition government, of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is a constituent, objected to the Governor’s reminder of Article 371A (1)(b) of the Constitution that gives the Governor of Nagaland the special responsibility with respect to law and order in the State. In a statement on July 2, the State government pointed out that the procedure of taking the Governor’s approval for the transfer and posting of senior officers was ended through an Assembly resolution in December 2013. It also said any decision to put the clock back “in the guise of discharging special responsibilities” under the said Article “would be against the principles of democracy” and anti-people. But what stood out in the government’s rebuttal was the complaint about the Governor’s reference to “armed gangs”. Terming the organisations such, it said, “may not be congenial to the achievement of lasting peace, which is the desire of both the Central and the state governments”. By using the term vis-a-vis the peace process, both the Governor and the Rio government made it clear which group mattered the most — the NSCN (IM).
The Naga Club
- Mostly comprising the Nagas of Manipur, the NSCN (IM) is 32 years old. But it has its roots in the conscription of some 2,000 Nagas by the British as labourers and porters for salvage work and road-building in France during First World War in 1917. On a foreign land, the Nagas, from disparate and warring tribes, developed a bond and the survivors who returned in May-June 1918 formed the Naga Club, along with some educated locals in October that year. The club aroused a sense of Naga nationalism. In 1929, leaders of the club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission, stating that the Nagas should be left alone to “determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
- The Naga Club was later overshadowed by the Naga Hills District Tribal Council, formed in 1945. A year later, it metamorphosed into a political organisation called the Naga National Council (NNC), which campaigned for sovereignty and secession of the Naga Hills, then a district of Assam, from India. Under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, the Nagas declared independence on August 14, 1947. A referendum organised by the NNC in May 1951 showed “99%” people supported an “independent” Nagaland.
- The NNC’s movement intensified after it boycotted the 1952 general election. As New Delhi deployed the armed forces, the strength of the underground Nagas increased. In March 1956, the NNC formed a parallel government and hoisted the flag of the “republic”, while the radical members floated the underground Naga Federal Army. The intensity of the armed movement lessened with the signing of the 16-Point Agreement between the Centre and a group of the people’s representatives in 1960, leading to Nagaland’s statehood in December 1963.
- The movement, however, continued intermittently. The hopes of peace were raised when the Centre signed the Shillong Agreement with a moderate faction of the NNC in 1975. But a dissident group led by Muivah, Swu and Khaplang, who had been trained in China, rejected the pact outright. They went underground again, spending much of their time in Myanmar and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in January 1980. Differences surfaced within the outfit over initiating a dialogue process with the Indian government. It split into the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K) in April 1988 and often engaged in fratricidal battles.
Feelers from Delhi
- In 1997, the NSCN (IM) received feelers from New Delhi for peace talks and a ceasefire agreement was signed. The NSCN (K) followed suit four years later but it unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire in 2015. At least three of its breakaway factions, however, formed the NNPGs to join the peace process two years later.
- In the 23 years since the signing of the truce pact, the NSCN (IM), dominated by the Tankhuls of Manipur, has held more than 100 rounds of peace talks with the Centre within and outside the country. One of its most contentious demands was the creation of a unified Naga homeland, called ‘Greater Nagalim’ by integrating the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal with Nagaland.
- The other north-eastern States are opposed to the idea of the pan-Naga homeland, and are wary of the Framework Agreement the NSCN (IM) leaders signed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence in August 2015. The contents of the agreement have not been revealed.
- The NSCN (IM) said Governor Ravi’s letter reflected the intention of an interlocutor who wanted to complicate and prolong the much-delayed peace process. There are reports that key NSCN (IM) leader Phungthing Shimrang and his loyalists have gone underground again for a return to the pre-1997 days if the Nagas do not get the “honourable solution” they seek.