PUBLIC OPINION

No Balls, No Freedom

Hartosh Singh Bal turned from the difficulty of doing mathematics to the ease of writing on politics. Unlike mathematics all this requires is being less wrong than most others who dwell on the subject. He is the Political Editor of Open.
Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
Those who speak for liberal values must also stand up and fight for them

As an engineering student in Pilani in the mid 1980s, I attended my share of college festivals in Delhi. Among Delhi students, the festival stars were largely those from St Stephen’s. They had a way with words, a superficial cleverness that worked well in debate, which along with quizzes, theatre and JAM were the main sources of entertainment at these gatherings. In my memory, the festivals meld into each other, but an incident stands apart, of a festival dissolving in panic when word got around that a Khalsa College student had gained entry. The festival stars, the same ones who would always find words for or against the motion for debate, had fled not from the reality of a particular student, but the reputation that preceded him. Their fear had little to do with reality, and a lot to do with their minds.

I was reminded of the incident when I watched the entire video of the controversial discussion featuring Ashis Nandy on stage at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival. An online petition in Nandy’s support later claimed, ‘While Nandy’s deliberately ironic remark on corruption in the OBC and SC/ST political elites as a form of equality may not be to the liking of all, we have no doubt that it was meant to question the upper caste-middle class notions of morality rather than denigrate marginalised and subaltern groups.’

Nandy was clearly playing with ideas, the debate was on the utopian promise of a corruption-free society, and he was suggesting that some amount of corruption actually humanises a society, a corruption-free utopia would be tyranny. But taken up with himself, he got carried away, egged on by Tarun Tejpal’s specious claim that corruption was an equalising force for those who did not belong to the elite (as if the vast majority of those without means could even think of manipulating a system gamed by corruption). He made a distinction between ‘their’ corruption rendered blatant by historical circumstances and ‘our’ far more sophisticated modes of bending the rules. ‘They’ lack finesse, he later clarified to a television channel. I wonder if those who framed the petition ever thought of how ‘they’ would perceive such a claim, how patronising and dismissive Nandy’s argument was, even allowing for his much-vaunted irony, if not for his inability to tell the difference between fact and assertion.

The online petition went on to state, ‘In a country where intellectual freedoms are shrinking every day, the right of thinkers like Ashis Nandy to argue and articulate unconventional views must be protected at all costs.’ Of course, I didn’t sign it. Not because I believed, as I did, that the level of intellect on display was fit for the debates I had seen at college festivals, not because I felt that some kind of justice was being served by a critic of modernity being forced to take refuge in Enlightenment values, but because I felt the petition was a cop out. What if Nandy’s remarks had indeed been meant to be taken at face value, what if they had been made by someone who was not a ‘thinker’ like Nandy? Should not the right for anyone, not just Nandy, to argue and articulate unconventional views be protected?

Basharat Peer has vividly described what followed after the debate:

And that was what brought Kirori Lal Meena, a lower-caste member of Parliament with a formidable constituency in the state of Rajasthan, to the writers’ lounge at Diggi Palace. Meena’s supporters were already agitating outside the festival gates. Meena sat cross-legged on a bench, his hands interlocked and his body language stiff and unrelenting. He demanded that Nandy be produced. He was accompanied by police officers, who took seats around him, their faces tense. The festival organisers moved about frantically, speaking to Meena in polite, supplicating voices, urging some sort of reconciliation. He seemed keen on legal action against Nandy.

...

A few minutes later, Nandy appeared. He was sombre. He faced Meena and spoke slowly, explaining his comments, insisting that his remarks weren’t a casteist slur. Namita Gokhale, a co-director of the festival, appeared with a tea tray, offering the first cup to the enraged politician.

Meena seemed to demand a written explanation. Nandy began to write. One of the sheets of paper was torn as he wrote. He copied his explanation onto another sheet. I stood by his shoulder, watching him slowly pen his words. Nandy repeated his earlier arguments about the entrenched social networks of the elites facilitating their corruption and added: ‘But when Dalits, tribals and OBCs are corrupt, it looks very corrupt indeed.

However, this second corruption equalises. It gives them access to their entitlements. And so, as long as this equation persists, I have hope for the Republic.

I hope this will be the end of the matter. I am sorry if some have misunderstood me. Though there was no reason to do so. As should be clear from this statement, there was neither any intention nor any attempt to hurt any community. If anyone is genuinely hurt, even if through misunderstanding, I am sorry about that, too.’

Last year the controversy at JLF was over Rushdie, this year it was Nandy’s turn. Last year some unknown local Muslim leader from Jaipur obtained his 15 minutes of fame, this year it was Kirori Lal Meena. Last year it was a handful waving placards, this year it was one man, however powerful, threatening legal action. Last year Rushdie was barred, this year Nandy cut a sorry supplicant figure, and this apparently because the JLF organisers give an undertaking every year to the local police that they would not permit hurt to ‘the sentiments of any community or religion during the literary festival.’ They might as well have gone ahead and said they did not intend to offend anyone, anywhere, on any count.

There will be the usual litany from JLF camp followers, part of the large industry around books that feeds off JLF (‘our’ corruption is indeed more sophisticated) who will write in to protest, but this really is not about JLF, it is about the intellectual life of this country. Last year Samanth Subramanian objected to my accusing the JLF organisers of cowardice and instead suggested I should have focused on the police or the government. Obviously he had not even bothered to read the article in question, but surely it must now be apparent that the defence of liberal values does not lie with the police or the government in this country. The fear that made the St Stephen’s students flee the college festival is the same fear that afflicts those who pretend to speak for liberal values today.

Days after the Jaipur Festival, an art gallery in Bangalore withdrew a few objectionable paintings to let the rest of the show go on. This was done at the suggestion of the police after the gallery received threats on the phone. This was a decision much in keeping with the compromises the JLF organisers have made. A few days later, three girls were forced to stop singing in Kashmir because its Grand Mufti termed the practice unIslamic. In Tamil Nadu, Kamal Haasan gave in to his Muslim critics and made changes to his movie Viswaroopam. In each of these cases, as in Jaipur, the police or the authorities were happy to arrange a compromise, register a few cases, and let tempers calm down as liberalism retreated further.

Thinkers can’t speak their minds, painters can’t paint, singers can’t sing, and it seems all we can do is sign petitions regretting that intellectual freedoms are shrinking. Much as Nandy would like to talk about the traditional tolerance of this country and Amartya Sen claim that there is a long history to intellectual debate in this country, the fact is only a select few were part of this history. To use Nandy’s terminology, ‘they’ were always kept out. This is not a liberal country, it has never been. We have a liberal Constitution, and that is largely the product of the vision of two men, BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru. This vision, even if Nehru tried to seek solace in a romanticised version of Indian history and Ambedkar in an idealisation of early Buddhism, owes its inspiration largely to Enlightenment values. Both men were educated in the West, and Ambedkar in particular was indebted to John Dewey.

The liberal values articulated by these men found ample space in our Constitution, but they have very shallow roots in the illiberal polity of this country, which rewards those who can articulate grievances in terms of groups and communities. A handful of placard wavers can stand in for all Muslims, a Kirori Lal can speak for all OBCs, SCs and STs. In contrast, all any worthwhile liberal can do is speak for himself, and it seems that in the interest of letting a festival go on, a gallery survive, we are ready to compromise on this and find intellectual justification for doing so.

Recently Pratap Bhanu Mehta, writing in The Indian Express, attempted to articulate a liberal manifesto. Somewhere along the way he made the startling claim that ‘Liberals will defend political secularism and not compromise on basic ideas of individual freedom, equality, dignity. But they have no stake in polarising cultural wars. Like the best moments in the nationalist movement, they believe that tradition can be transcended without making all its animating impulses despicable.’ By his definition Ambedkar does not qualify, but leave that aside. What must a liberal do, if, as is the case today, individual freedom is being compromised as a result of cultural wars? Mehta’s wishy-washiness, also evident in his willingness to search for hope in Narendra Modi, is in keeping with the liberal malaise. It is a sign of cowardice in the face of difficult battles.

The failure to defend Nandy without tying ourselves in knots claiming that what he said ‘was meant to question the upper caste-middle class notions of morality’ is to realise that as liberals we are not just losing the battle, we are not even fighting it. What else can explain our silence when a Supreme Court bench consisting of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices AR Dave and Vikramjit Sen notes in a hearing on the Nandy case that ‘Every citizen has right to free speech but not at the cost of others. We are not at all happy with the way the statement was made. Why do you make such a statement in the first place?’

To accept this is to sacrifice the very idea that is at stake here. The counterpoint was made forcefully a hundred and fifty years ago by John Stuart Mill: “Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free discussion, but object to their being ‘pushed to an extreme’, not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain.”

(Note: An earlier version of the copy stated that an an art gallery in Delhi agreed to a compromise with a handful of women from the Durga Vahini, the RSS’s women’s wing, and withdrew a few objectionable paintings to let the rest of the show go on. This was actually one example where the gallery stood up to the Durga Vahini and none of the paintings on display were withdrawn.)

Vote Catcher

Minority Show

Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
Jayalalithaa’s way of deflecting Muslim attention from her apparent pro-Modi tilt

Kamal Haasan is known for highly emotional crying scenes on screen. The week gone by has been no less cinematic, as he created lumps in millions of throats by appearing on 24x7 news channels as the victim of a political bully. Deprived of artistic freedom, he threatened to exile himself to a freer country.

His latest megabudget movie, Viswaroopam, had been banned in Tamil Nadu by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on the urging of Muslim groups upset with what they saw as his close association of terror with Islam in it.

It was an actor-turned-filmmaker up against an actress-turned-politician, and a stand-off between two people of the same tinsel world was sure to draw crowds. He appealed to the media, while she approached the Madras High Court to ‘stay’ the film’s release. As the drama wore on, neither side would budge. When a single bench of the Madras High Court vacated the stay, her government asked it again to keep the ban in place. A testy Jayalalithaa pointed out that Viswaroopam was also banned in Qatar, the UAE, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. “Screening has also been stopped in neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Am I responsible for this?” she asked.

There were conspiracy theories galore on why Jayalalithaa had sought to teach Haasan a lesson: commercial conflicts of interests, a long-standing enmity, and even Haasan’s presumed preference of a veshti-clad Tamil over a sari-clad one as India’s next Prime Minister. “I am not against her in any way,” Haasan told a TV channel, “I was just an ordinary assistant dance choreographer when she was already a superstar.”

At one point, Jayalalithaa seemed to suggest she had little choice, as it would be impossible for the police to shield all 524 cinema halls slated to screen the film from Muslim anger. Some observers drew grim parallels with recent episodes of Muslim assertion, evident or otherwise. In Mumbai, a Raza Academy protest against attacks on fellow Muslims in Myanmar and Assam had taken an ugly turn for violence (in clear public view). In Bangalore, thousands of Northeasterners had fled the city in fear of retaliatory attacks after some of them got a few SMS threats (unclear exactly from whom). Was this, some wondered, at a piece with the same sort of minority fist-shaking?

The whispers got funnier and uglier by the day, till Jayalalithaa threatened to sue those floating such explanations. And finally, she appeared to relent by stating she was willing to lift the ban if “Haasan [was] willing to sit down with Muslim protestors and [arrive at] a mutual understanding with them.” And so it was. Political capital, it seems, had already been made.

Jayalalithaa had moved so quickly—at the first hint of controversy—to block the film’s release that it left observers wondering why a usually right-leaning CM would want to appease Muslims in her state. Funnily enough, nobody asked the question. Yet, it is a clear indication of a shift in her vote calculations as another general election nears. “Forget the merits of the film,” says a leader aligned with the AIADMK, “her decision to go ahead and ban the film on law and order grounds has deep-rooted political thought.”

Tamil Nadu has a sizeable Muslim population. As voters, Tamil Muslims have traditionally split their votes between the Congress and the DMK. However, in the Assembly polls that Jayalalithaa won in May 2011, a large number of Muslims voted in her favour. She could perhaps have counted on their support for the next Lok Sabha election as well, had she not been seen getting friendly with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. To overcome the off-putting effect of this, wooing Muslims anew was imperative. “As a good percentage of Muslims voted for the AIADMK in the last Assembly polls, our leader does not want to alienate them, as that will upset her winning combination,” says the leader, “If Muslims and another bloc move away from the party, then she will end up giving the DMK-Congress combine the state’s 39 Lok Sabha seats on a platter—as has happened earlier.”

Jayalalithaa’s calculation seems simple. According to the latest census report, Hindus make up 86 per cent of the state’s population, with Christians and Muslims 7 per cent each. The numbers are disputed, not least because conversion is a highly contentious issue in the state. In fact, after a wave of Hindu conversions to Christianity, Jayalalithaa had tried to stop it with an anti-conversion bill introduced during her second term as CM.

Geographical concentrations mean that Muslim votes are more easily translated to seats. Historically, Muslims have held sway in the districts of Thanjavur, North Arcot, Tirunelveli and Ramanathapuram. They are also active in expressing support for one party or another.

In May 2011, the two main parties—the DMK and AIADMK—together fielded only 15 Muslim candidates. But there was a significant difference in pattern. In the previous assembly, five of the seven MLAs of the community were DMK representatives. In this Assembly, though the DMK alliance had fielded as many as 10 Muslim candidates, only one won. This signalled a shift towards the AIADMK.

Of the two main Muslim political parties in the electoral fray, the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), led by its coordinator Professor MH Jawahirullah, fought the polls in alliance with the AIADMK and won two of the three seats allotted to it, while three Muslims won on AIADMK tickets.

The other party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), led by Professor KM Khader Mohideen, had fought in alliance with the DMK-Congress.

That Jayalalithaa is keen on support of the state’s Muslims has been noticed widely within the community. An article published in Milli Gazette (issue of 1–15 June 2012) that has been doing the rounds explores the question of whether the so-called ‘Muslim votebank’ in Tamil Nadu is a myth or not. ‘In fact, the Muslim vote bank is a powerful weapon,’ concludes M Ameen, its author. He cites the example of the 1967 Assembly polls, when Tamil-speaking Muslims were united under the leadership of Muhammad Ismail who was in alliance with the DMK led by CN Annadurai. The DMK had won 137 seats of the Assembly’s 234 that year; back in the 1962 polls (its electoral debut), it had won only seven seats. According to AM Yusuf, editor of Marumalarchi, a newspaper popular with Muslims, it was en bloc support of the community that had helped the DMK achieve power for the first time; on an analysis of 1967’s results, he found that in 58 constituencies, DMK candidates won by margins of 2,000–7,000 votes. ‘If six per cent of Tamil Nadu’s Muslims back then could ensure a regional political party’s win in about 40 per cent of the state,’ writes Ameen, ‘the Muslim vote bank is not a myth.’

To back his argument, Ameen gives another example of actor Vijayakant’s party Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK).

Surveys indicated that he had about 6 per cent support of the total electorate. But after he allied with the AIADMK, his party won 22 seats. ‘A votebank of six per cent translated into about 10 per cent political representation,’ Ameen writes, adding that the case of the Pattal Makkal Katchi (PMK), founded by Dr Ramadoss to capture Vanniar caste votes, is no different. ‘Vanniars represent 6 per cent of the population and the party won 16 Assembly seats in the 2006 Assembly polls and a handful of Lok Sabha seats too, and a Cabinet berth [for the founder’s son Anbumani Ramadoss ] by aligning with the DMK.’ But with Muslim votes split among various parties vying for them, Ameen notes, it is pointless for the community to equate itself with the PMK or DMDK.

That leaves Muslims largely as ‘swing’ voters between the big two. In other words, it is either Amma or Ayyah (either Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK or Karunanidhi of the DMK), and Amma knows it. She believes she has already stolen ahead in Muslim favour.

 

On the contrary

Don’t Say ‘No’ When You Want to Say ‘Yes’

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
Why those who decry the ordinance on sexual violence make no sense

On 22 June 2009, the tabloid Mid-Day published a story headlined ‘Roadie in Sex Video’. In the first para, it named a contestant of MTV Roadies and said that she is ‘surprisingly well endowed’. The second para went like this: ‘A 37-second sex tape with a girl, having a stunning resemblance to the Roadie, having sex with a boy has been posted on Rapidshare and Easyshare, both video sharing websites.’ It was accompanied by a screen grab of the MMS. It was only the next day that they talked to the girl, who was understandably upset. This is a snatch of the conversation:

Interviewer: “…let me make it very clear that it was not for publicity. The story clearly says that the girl on the sex- tape is someone resembling you.”

Roadie: “Apka matlab kya thha! The idea was such that someone might have committed suicide.”

It didn’t occur to the journalist that even if it was another girl’s image, there was still a reputation at stake. Alas, the newspaper had tasted blood. After a month, it reported another MMS, which it said was of a contestant in the show Splitsvilla. It was again accompanied by a screen grab of the MMS.

Mid-Day has been a serious newspaper (disclosure: I myself worked there a decade ago), and since a new editor took over, the paper is considerably more responsible. But, at the time, its actions reeked of yellow journalism.

If the same story were run today, the journalist and editor would be facing jail for a year. This is because of The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which was signed by the President last Sunday and came into force immediately. It makes voyeurism a crime and is targeted at the making and dissemination of MMS sex clips without consent. India has a history of it. Earlier, a single MMS scandal was news; now there are websites which update clips on a daily basis.

The ordinance also addresses acid throwing and stalking. Open had a story on acid attack victims in January 2012 and one of the persons we profiled was Mahalakshmi, a Bangalore-based doctor whose landlord first stalked her for a period and then threw acid on her. She had complained to the police about the stalking, but they did nothing. Even after the attack, the police took nine months to make a chargesheet. Women have had no legal shield against stalking until this ordinance. A policeman who does not take a rape complaint also faces jail now because of the ordinance.

All these are not baby steps. The ordinance is a leap, at least in bringing the umbrella of law over physical and psychological violence against women. Which is why it is incomprehensible that feminists should have been asking the President not to sign it. The reasons cited are that many of the Verma Commission’s recommendations—making marital rape a crime, removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, etcetera—have been ignored.

It would have been interesting if Pranab Mukherjee had, in fact, done the impossible and not signed the ordinance. Because then, for the next two years, these groups would be clamouring to get exactly these laws passed. You would have had the Bill in Parliament at the mercy of people like Mulayam Singh and Mamata Banerjee. Debate is good, if everyone can agree that Parliament will function. At present, it is not certain that a single day in the next session will be a working day. And then, the Bill will have to compete for space against other bills that have been in limbo for decades.

You can understand that rhetoric has an important part in activism, but when you start believing your own bluff, it’s not very intelligent. The suggestion by the Verma Commission that the AFSPA should be repealed is sensible. But that it will be repealed over the question of rape is letting optimism run wild. It is just not going to happen. The AFSPA’s repeal threatens the foundation on which the Army believes it is entitled to operate. It’s an elemental question, and it will not be settled on a corollary like rape. Just as it was always going to be impossible to turn over the CBI to the Lokpal because that is one of the pillars on which governments survive. If you go rigid on it, the Lokpal itself gets doomed, as Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have found out.

In an ideal India, the AFSPA should be repealed and the CBI should be independent. But we are all in the gutter and there are some ropes that come our way. To not have a law on stalking because the AFSPA is not being repealed makes no sense. Savour a victory, pat yourself on the back, and rest a day before taking up the good fight again.

 

Point

Bad Intent Makes a Bad Law

Jatin Gandhi has covered politics and policy for over a decade now for print, TV and the web. He is Deputy Political Editor at Open.
Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
By cherry-picking parts of the Verma Committee report, the Government has shown it is only interested in scoring brownie points

Of late, there has been an uncanny similarity in the way the Congress and the BJP have tried to do things. From the Nuclear Deal and closer ties with the US to the issue of greater foreign direct investment coming into the country, their views appear the same. They take turns to propose and oppose these moves merely based on who is in power and which party occupies the opposition at the time.

The Bill for women’s reservation in legislatures was re-introduced both by the BJP-led NDA Government—in 1998—and the Congress-led UPA Government. In fact, when the UPA introduced the Bill in its first term in 2008, it was termed rather crudely by its opponents as a ‘Sonia-Sushma Bill’. Yet, nearly five years later, the Bill is yet to become law. While it was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, it is still pending in the Lok Sabha—the House in which the two parties together hold more than 300 seats. Clearly then, despite their convergence on the matter, if the two parties have not been able to pass the Bill, it is not because of a lack of numbers, but lack of intent. The parties want to appear to fix inequalities rather than actually fixing them.

This is also apparent in their response to the issue of women’s safety. It illustrates clearly how the Congress prefers symbolic gestures to taking concrete steps, and how the BJP has ended up looking like the B-team of the ruling party. While Congress President Sonia Gandhi promised a flat and a job to the family of the 16 December Delhi gang-rape and murder victim, the BJP’s Delhi leadership named a science museum after her. But when it comes to the issue that really matters, the UPA has brought in an ordinance that is a mere re-jig of an already pending Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill in Parliament that pre-dates the gang-rape. The lessons that are apparent in the publicity that has surrounded the incident have been ignored. The ordinance has been framed as if the incident never happened.

After the gruesome gangrape and the protests that followed, the Congress-led Government had appointed the Justice Verma Committee to review existing laws and suggest amendments to criminal law to effectively deal with instances of sexual violence. Looking back, as it now appears, the Government would have been happier if the committee had asked for extension after extension, which such committees and commissions are wont to do. There is a long history of complicity between governments and commissions, and the delaying tactics they use to relegate burning issues to the forgotten corners of public memory are all too well known.

The Verma Committee, however, submitted its recommendations in less than the 30-day stipulated period. It did not view its mandate as only drafting new laws. It placed its mandate within the framework of the Constitution to make India a better place for women, and submitted an integrated report aimed at all-round improvement.

It is not out of mere habit or mindless activism that women’s groups are protesting the contents of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013. Their protests are a reaction to the dirty game that the Government has played in keeping out certain key recommendations of the committee. They aver that the ordinance does not make women feel safer because it keeps out changes that would have held powerful perpetrators of sexual violence accountable rather than accept their excuses. The ordinance excludes the committee’s recommendations on recognising marital non-consensual sexual intercourse as an offence and doing away with prosecution sanction for public servants, magistrates, judges and legislators in cases of crimes against women. The committee would make a senior military officer liable for sexual violence committed by those below him in the force’s chain of command, but the ordinance has rejected this recommendation. Instead, it criminalises consensual sex between the age of 16 and 18 years, classifying it as ‘rape’ and arming the moral police.

For its share of jingoism, the Government has thrown in the death penalty for barbaric cases of rape that lead either to the death of the victim or her slipping into a persistent vegetative state. The Verma Committee had carefully considered the provision and kept this penalty out, but the Government felt it necessary to listen to placard-wielding mobs rather than a committee of jurists appointed for the purpose. Incidentally, most women’s groups want the death penalty kept out of the law. Both the Congress-run Government and the BJP are not really interested in keeping women safe, but only in claiming credit for making the right noises.

 

Petrochem

America’s Plastic Revival

Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
Even with the increase in petrochem production, prices may not come down too much

America’s abundance of shale gas is set to turn it into a powerhouse of plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers and other petrochemicals once again. Producers elsewhere are watching signs of an incipient production boom in ethylene (a key input) derived from cheap ethane (a natural gas constituent) instead of costly naphtha (a crude oil derivative). With gas now available at a fraction of its oil-equivalent price, the US could easily become one of the world’s lowest-cost petrochem producers, suggests an IHS Global Insight study.

“As 75 per cent of the cost of producing these chemicals and plastics is related to the cost of energy-derived raw materials [naphtha or ethane],” says Gary Adams, chief advisor at IHS’s chemicals cell, “the price of oil versus natural gas would play a key role in defining where new capacity is built.” Right now, North America has a clear competitive advantage. This marks a revival. The region was a major petrochem producer till the late 1990s, after which it lost competitiveness as a result of high oil prices. Many US plants closed down, even as new capacity came up in the ethane-rich Middle East and in demand-rich China. Gas-derived feedstock has shifted the scenario since. Analysts now say that if shale gas extraction turns eco-friendly, its stable supplies can help America beat the Middle East on cost. Note that the latter, with huge export surpluses from oil, often suffers the ‘Dutch disease’ of a strong currency rendering everything else uncompetitive. 

North America is earmarked for about $95 billion of investment in new ethylene capacity over the next 10 years. Ethylene is hard to transport, and since the region’s own demand for petrochemicals is expected to stay moderate, the broad aim is to make and export petrochemicals, plastics and other products to other markets. “India is expected to become a much larger importer of basic chemicals and plastics,” says Adams, “or can even participate by investing in new US chemical plants and transporting the production to India.” 

Domestically, Indian companies use oil-based naphtha as raw stock for petrochemicals. Reliance ranks among the world’s biggest petrochem producers, and would surely be watching US developments closely for implications to its own global competitiveness. Yet, Adams does not expect a drastic fall in global ethylene prices. North America and the Middle East together account for only 30 per cent of the world’s annual ethylene capacity (about 150 million tonnes), and another 10 million tonnes coming up may not make much difference. Oil-based producers will not go out of business anytime soon.

 

It happens

Disabled Unfriendly

Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
Delhi University out to evict a disabled professor from his quarters

A disabled English Literature professor is struggling to keep a roof over his head, with Delhi University (DU) trying its best to evict him from his quarters.

Affected by childhood polio, 45-year-old GN Saibaba has been confined to a wheelchair for the better part of his life. He was allotted a residence at Gwyer Hall, the oldest post-graduate men’s hostel in DU, on compassionate grounds in 2008. “The principal of my college (Ram Lal Anand) made a special request on my behalf and I was allotted this house. It was made clear to me that I could live here until they found me an alternative disabled-friendly accommodation,” he says.

However, on 26 December 2012, the Estate Officer of DU served him an eviction notice saying he had “unauthorisedly occupied” the premises and would be forcibly evicted if he did not vacate the house within a fortnight. The letter came as a shock to Saibaba, who says that Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh had a month earlier assured him of an alternative residence. Despite writing to the HRD ministry and the Equal Opportunities Cell (DU), the issue has not been resolved.

The eviction proceedings are taking place under the Public Premises Act of 1971, but in Saibaba’s case, it runs counter to the Persons with Disability Act of 1995, which specifies that rehabilitation is an important part of employing a differently abled person. The VC justifies his decision by not recognising Saibaba as a part of the faculty since he teaches at a college in South Delhi. Yet, the college is maintained by the university.

The VC’s office did not comment on the matter despite several calls and emails. According to Deputy Dean (PH category), Bipin Tiwari, “GN Saibaba was given the accommodation when he was pursuing his PhD and teaching till the time he completed his PhD. His stay had been extended so far, but now since the warden needs to be accommodated, the university can’t extend his stay.” Saibaba says two bigger flats lying vacant for two years can be used by the warden, if necessary.

The Delhi University Teacher’s Association says it is a “callous show of ruthlessness” on the part of the university. They have asked the VC to reconsider the eviction.

Warfare

K-15 missiles

Page 1 of 1
The missile will soon be tested from INS Arihant, the country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine

The K-15 missile, recently test-fired in the Bay of Bengal with success, is India’s first underwater ballistic missile. Christened Sagarika, it has a range of 700 km. It is 10 metres long, weighs 17 tonnes and can carry a one-tonne nuclear warhead. While the missile was launched from a submerged platform, it will eventually be deployed on submarines.

What makes this achievement noteworthy is that it takes the country closer to completing its nuclear triad—the capability to fire nukes from land, air and sea. So far, India only possesses the capability of delivering nuclear weapons from land and aerial platforms. The missile will soon be tested from INS Arihant, the country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine, which is currently being tested. Once that proves successful, the missile will be integrated with the submarine, making the country nuclear capable on all three fronts.

India currently has INS Chakra, the Akula-II class nuclear-propelled submarine, which it has leased from Russia for 10 years. However, because of various international treaties, the submarine does not come armed with strategic missiles. INS Arihant, on the other hand, will be able to carry 12 K-15 missiles. The submarine will be powered by an 80 MWt reactor and will weigh 6,000 tonnes.

Sagarika has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. It has been under development since the late 1990s. The agency is also developing K-4 missiles that will have a range of 3,500 km. India has a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons and the development of the missile boosts its retaliatory strike capability. So far, only the US, Russia, France and China have been successful in developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Open Space

Ayurveda: Hoax or Science?

Limbo

Ayurveda: Hoax or Science?

Tagged Under -
Page 1 of 1
Can this ancient, hidebound system survive the scrutiny of modern medicine?

Five hundred and twenty-three. That is the number of research papers and studies on the herb Ashwagandha in the online database of medical literature known as Pubmed.

If papers outside Pubmed are included, the number may run into over a thousand. The range of medical conditions for which Ashwagandha is being investigated today is dazzling—among them cancer, protection against chemotherapy, memory impairment, skin pigmentation, stress, sore throat, depression, tooth decay, tuberculosis and hormonal disorders.

Several of these studies conclude with positive findings, leaving ellipses of expectations.

Zero. The number of Ashwagandha-based drugs a practitioner of modern medicine can prescribe.

This dramatic statistic summarises the paradoxical state of Ayurvedic drugs in the medical world today. Reams upon reams of research exists, much of it dramatic and worded most optimistically, but they are not taken seriously by modern medicine. Herbal extracts of Ashwagandha proliferate in the market, but no self-respecting psychiatrist would prescribe any of them for anxiety, one of the claimed indications for Ashwagandha. Thousands of other herbs and formulations are in similar stasis—they enjoy immense popularity and a Rs 8,000 crore market among Indians, but modern medicine rejects many of them. To put it another way, Ayurvedic medicines have barely got their foot in the door of mainstream modern medicine, and to many researchers in the field, this situation is a colossal disappointment.

Why hasn’t the dazzling array of research into Ayurveda resulted in proven drugs? Why are these drugs incomparable to modern medicine? Is it that Ayurveda works on faith alone? If so, what is one to make of the thousands of ‘scientific’ studies arguing for Ayurvedic drugs?

THE MIRAGE OF AMPLE DATA

To understand the problem, it helps to first understand the scale of effort and investment necessary to develop a single new modern drug. It takes 15-20 years of research and $1-2 billion to bring a drug to market. Even after this, there is no guaranteed outcome. After ten years of drug development, a drug may enter the late stage of testing, known as phase 3 trials, and fail to prove its efficacy. (See ‘What it takes to develop a drug’, Page 23).

This approach needs focus. And research into Ayurvedic drugs has been anything but focused. Unlike in the case of a synthetic drug developed by a pharmaceutical firm, where all clinical research protocol is adhered to strictly, chaos reigns in the Ayurvedic drug sector. “Somebody is doing studies in rats, somebody is doing it in mice, somebody is doing it in guinea pigs. They are all publishing data, but you cannot take it all together as a whole,” says K Nagarajan, who headed the medicinal chemistry department at Ciba-Geigy’s (now Novartis) Indian R&D centre in the 1970s and 80s.

To take the example of Ashwagandha alone, there exists no ‘single definitive trial,’ according to Keiran Cooley, a Canadian naturopath who carried out a clinical study in 2009 using naturopathic interventions, including Ashwagandha, in patients of anxiety. “The state of evidence on Withania (Ashwagandha) is one of complexities—there are both positive and non-positive studies across a wide variety of disorders… there are promising findings, but… evidence isn’t convincing enough in any one area,” says Cooley.

If some research findings are too disconnected and conflicting, other research is of poor quality. For example, the studies that appear on the website of India’s apex body for promoting Ayurveda, the Central Council for Research into Ayurvedic Sciences, do not adhere to the gold standard of modern research—the placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nor do they follow the best protocols, says Nityaanand, the erstwhile director of the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), which developed Guggulipid—India’s first modern drug from an Ayurvedic lead—during his tenure. Such research is, therefore, irrelevant to a drug developer.

Finally, a whole set of clinical data out there is outright fraudulent. Firms that sell over-the-counter Ayurvedic drugs can buy positive research results for a price, says Sanyasi Kalidindi, the founder of US-based Ayurvedic drug research firm Natreon.

In other words, the wealth of data that exists on many Ayurvedic drugs is a mirage.

CLASH OF OPINIONS

Why is there so much bad research in Ayurveda? Like the seven blind men and the elephant in the Indian parable, every scientist has a different perspective.

One set of scientists argues that a rabid nationalistic fervour for everything Indian has made Ayurvedic practitioners regard the classical texts as the last word, insisting that modern scientific endorsement is not important for them. Also, the jingoistic zeal has led to looser regulations for Ayurveda, which has seriously harmed the credibility of this ancient form of medicine. Ram Vishwakarma, who heads the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine in Jammu, a CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) laboratory that researches herbs for drug development, says, “The challenges (in developing drugs from Ayurveda) are many, but the biggest is the arrogance of many people who practise Ayurveda.”

Another set of scientists points the finger the other way, claiming it is Western science that is arrogant and has not tried hard enough to accommodate Ayurveda.

According to Ashok Vaidya, who heads research at ICMR’s (Indian Council of Medical Research) Advanced Centre for Reverse Pharmacology, “Western science identifies these systems as folklore. They don’t see it as an organised system of knowledge—this is an alien epistemology to them because their medical traditions only go as far back as the medieval times and renaissance.”

There is also the very real problem of complexity in natural-product research. It is harder to develop a drug from Ayurveda than it is to build a synthetic molecule, because of the large number of compounds in each Ayurvedic herb. All these factors are responsible for the state of Ayurvedic medicine today.

CAN TOO MUCH FAITH BE A PROBLEM?

One of the reasons why research into Ayurveda is so underdeveloped is that there has always been an alternative—the herbal route.

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) allows firms to manufacture and sell Ayurvedic medicines as long as they are described in the ancient texts. Unlike modern drugs, DCGI does not require Ayurvedic medicines to show clinical-trial data proving they are safe and effective. The logic of this sanction is that centuries of use has already made the case for these medicines. The law has allowed a market for herbal medicines to flourish, promoting firms like The Himalaya Drug Company and Dabur. But on the downside, the thousands of formulations being sold in the market have never undergone modern scientific testing. Whether these tests would validate the claims made by the ancient texts is anybody’s guess.

An interesting case study is Himalaya’s Liv.52, one of the big commercial success stories in Ayurvedic medicine. This liver tonic is a combination of six herbs and a bhasma, a preparation in which a metal (iron in this case) is treated according to a process defined in Ayurvedic texts.

Liv.52 today has a 47 per cent market share in liver drugs in India, garnering annual revenue of Rs 167 crore. Such a market share would not be attainable if consumers of modern medicine were not also taking Liv.52. Indeed, according to Pralhad Patki, Himalaya’s head of research, many allopathic doctors prescribe it.

Scratch the surface, and a more complex picture emerges.

Three of the gastroenterologists (who typically treat liver diseases) I spoke to for this story said they would never prescribe Liv.52, except as a placebo. This is what they said: liver disease or hepatitis is typically of two kinds—induced by a virus or having other causes, as in the case of alcoholic liver disease or fatty liver disease. Except in chronic cases, the virus causing hepatitis is usually self-limiting, meaning the patient’s body fights it away and a spontaneous recovery occurs in a couple of months in 99 per cent of cases.

No treatment is needed here, unless symptoms such as nausea or fever develop, in which case, the doctor prescribes drugs for these symptoms. Yet, patients become impatient and ‘seek instantaneous relief,’ says Dr Umesh Jalihal, head of the department of gastroenterology at MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital in Bangalore. “So we prescribe liver tonics.” According to Jalihal, tonics such as Liv.52 have no proven action. They are merely given to placate the patient. When chronic liver disease does occur, specific antivirals such as Interferon or Ribavarin are called for.

Among the three practitioners of modern medicine mentioned above, the concern was the same—Liv.52 does not have enough clinical trials supporting its efficacy. Nor is it known how it will interact with modern drugs for liver disease. And this information is critical.

Ironically, The Himalaya Drug Company is known as one of the few Ayurvedic drug firms in India that undertakes clinical research. Patki says Liv.52 has more than 250 clinical trials supporting it. Why isn’t all this research enough?

Let’s take the example of Himalaya’s 51-patient clinical trial on Liv.52HB (a more potent variant of Liv.52 that claims to cure hepatitis B), which was published in the reputed Dutch journal, Antiviral Research. This study found that the drug was able to clear the virus effectively in patients of chronic liver disease.

Despite the impeccable reputation of the journal it was published in, the study comes with a few caveats. It notes that larger trials are needed to confirm results. Secondly, this trial does not compare the medicine with a placebo. As a modern drug, the Liv.52 HB trial would qualify as merely an early-stage study—promising but not definitive (See ‘What it takes…’). “Frankly, a large part of Himalaya’s research is only aimed at marketing its drugs,” says Vaidya. Compare clinical data on Liv.52 HB with that on Interferon—a modern drug for hepatitis B. It is supported by hundreds of trials, conducted in various countries and published in peer-reviewed journals. In terms of the sheer scrutiny it has been put through, it beats Liv.52 HB hands down.

To be fair, Himalaya’s Liv.52 and Liv.52 HB are among the better herbal drugs in a highly unregulated market, because firms such as Himalaya and Dabur use standardisation and quality control techniques to ensure the presence of the medicine’s active chemicals. The key question is: do these herbal drugs offer the same proof of efficacy that modern drugs do? The answer is no. To claim a cure for hepatitis, a modern drug would require more data than Himalaya currently provides for Liv.52 HB.

But is it even possible for Ayurveda-based drugs to meet the requirements of modern medicine?

PROMISING PRECEDENTS

Seventy per cent of all modern drugs today come from natural sources. This means there is enough precedent for drugs being developed from herbs. Quinine, the frontline treatment for malaria in the 1940s, was first isolated from the bark of the Cinchona tree in 1820 by two French researchers. Also, Ayurvedic herbs have yielded modern drugs too. A remarkable success story is that of the blood-pressure lowering drug Reserpine, which was isolated from Rauwolfia Serpentina or the Indian snakeroot by Ciba-Geigy scientists in the 1950s. Sage Charaka had documented the snakeroot or Sarpagandha in his very ancient text, Charaka Samhita.

This drug was also the first to be shown to have anti-depressant effects in a clinical trial, leading to ‘a watershed in the development of anti-depressants,’ according to Ashok Vaidya, in a 2009 paper on drug discovery from traditional medicine. Reserpine had harsh side effects and was eventually replaced by better blood-pressure drugs, but it is still in occasional use.

Cancer drugs Vinblastine and Vincristine come from a flowering plant used in Ayurveda. While these drugs were developed outside India, scientists from the Central Drug Research Institute, an Indian government organisation, developed cholesterol-lowering drug Guggulipid from the herb Guggul in 1986.

What this handful of examples proves is that ancient Ayurvedic doctors had put together a virtual treasure trove of medicines thousands of years ago without access to modern scientific methods. The bigger conclusion, however, is that Ayurvedic sources can yield modern drugs. Why then are there so few such drugs?

BIAS AGAINST TRADITIONAL MEDICINE?

To understand the bias that scientists such as Vaidya talk about, the process of developing Ayurveda-based drugs needs some elucidation. These drugs can be developed along two distinct routes. In the first, the active ingredient (alternatively referred to as ‘pure compound’ or ‘single molecule’ in this story) is isolated from a herb. This is what Ciba-Geigy scientists did when they isolated Reserpine from Charaka’s Sarpagandha. It is also what scientists at the Central Drug Research Institute did when they isolated Guggulipid from the Guggul herb during Nityaanand’s tenure. The second way is to use herbal extracts—the Liv.52 way. Either you have a combination of extracts from several herbs, as in the case of Liv.52, or an extract from a single herb, as in the case of Piramal Enterprises’ Tinefcon ointment for psoriasis.

The second route has little precedent of acceptance as a drug in modern medicine. Such medicines tend to go the dietary-supplement route, which means modern medicine practitioners cannot prescribe them.

Till 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not have guidelines for testing herbal extracts as drugs, making it impossible for herbals to meet the same stringent regulatory requirements that synthetic drugs needed to clear. After the FDA made its requirements more herb-friendly in 2004, only one herbal drug—a green-tea extract called Veregen for treating genital warts—has been approved in the US.

The FDA’s stance reflects the stance of much of modern medicine—that traditional medicines should prove their efficacy the same way modern drugs too.

This is difficult.

For one thing, all modern medicine hinges on the concept of the pure compound. Which herbs are not.

Says Nagarajan, “When you go to the US or European or Indian pharmacopeia, you will find that these drugs are very often more than 99 per cent pure, often more than 99.5 per cent pure; often at least 99.8 per cent pure. Single impurities are almost always expected to be 0.1 per cent or less.” This purity allows for consistency. Each time you synthesise a pure compound, you can be sure it is the same drug, with the same predictable effects.

Ayurvedic medicines, on the other hand, contain herbs—mixtures of several compounds. The medicine itself, such as Chyawanprash, is a mixture of several herbs, increasing complexity by an order of magnitude. This makes it tough to get consistency across multiple batches of production.

Moreover, Ayurvedic drugs rely on the concept of synergy, which means single compounds may not work well enough alone. One compound may be complementing another, playing Robin to its Batman. The best proven example of synergy is Trikatu—a mix of three peppers prescribed to improve digestion in Ayurveda. It has now been discovered that piperine, the active compound in pepper, enhances the effect of certain other drugs. Taken with piperine, these drugs can be administered in smaller doses for the same effect.

Such unorthodox mechanisms of action made Ayurvedic drugs opaque to modern medicine for a long time. Today, though, the FDA does not require a single active ingredient to be isolated from a herb for it to become a drug.

While this is great news, India evidently has not taken them up on the offer. Traditional Chinese Medicine preparations outnumber Indian preparations in the herbal drug applications with the FDA. In 2010, Dansheng Dripping Pill, a traditional Chinese medicine, became the first herbal drug since Veregen to enter Phase 3 clinical trials. No Ayurvedic drug has come this far.

A modern drug typically goes through this drug-testing process before it is launched. After tests in animals, phase 1 trials are carried out in humans to test for safety. In Phase 2, the drug’s claimed effects are tested. Phase 3 compares the drug with the current standard treatment or a placebo.

Comparing the drug with a placebo is important because many patients recover from illnesses without any treatment. A drug developer must prove that it is the drug that caused the cure and not the body’s own recovery mechanism. Plus, the drug must show that it is at least as effective as the standard treatment already in use.

THE CHALLENGE OF COMPLEXITY

What about the single compound route? It turns out that even though modern science accepts such drugs, the challenges are no less formidable. Developing a single-compound drug from Ayurveda is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. More accurately, it is like finding a needle in many haystacks, because a drug maker is trying to find this compound in a mixture of many herbs.

The first hurdle is that any Ayurvedic herb comes in several varieties—some of high quality and some of little use. “The amount of active ingredient is practically nil in the Guggul grown in Kerala, while it is very high in the Guggul grown in Afghanistan,” says Nityaanand. Second, the herb that grows in summer is different from the one that grows in winter, which is different from the one that grows in monsoon. Third, it is possible that the herbs available millenniums ago, when the ancient Ayurvedic texts were written, do not even exist anymore or have mutated.

Therefore, collecting the right plant in the right season is itself a challenge. Next, it must be standardised, which means ensuring the presence of the active compounds in it.

Many of the extracts you buy in the market may not meet these quality standards. “When you buy crude plant powder from the market that is labelled ‘Brahmi’, you don’t know what Brahmi it is,” says Nagarajan. It is only when the right herbs have been found after crossing these many impediments that the drug developer begins to look for the needle—the compound in the herb that really works. To get to Guggulipid, CDRI scientists had to pare away several other compounds that were merely co-passengers on the bus. And the process took them 30 years, says Nityaanand.

Finally, natural molecules are tougher to build in the lab. For many such drugs, their makers have had to rely on the availability of the actual plant through agriculture. The price of the antimalarial Artemisinin, which is widely used to treat malaria in Sub-Saharan countries, fluctuated wildly in the 2000s due to short supply.

Meanwhile, synthetic ways to make Artemisinin gave low yields, making them a poor alternative.

HOW TO DISCOURAGE GOOD RESEARCH

Given the difficulties of developing Ayurvedic drugs, their best hope is the interest of large pharmaceutical firms with the competence and funds to develop them. But according to Ram Vishwakarma, many steps taken by the Indian government have repelled such interest.

One such step was the National Biodiversity Act that India introduced in 2002. This act restricts access to Indian plants for research and drug development, leaving pharmaceutical firms in India and abroad up in arms about it. “It is the most draconian and bureaucratic piece of legislation,” says Prashant Reddy, an intellectual property lawyer, who blogs regularly on the IP issue website, Spicy IP. “It can throw scientists into jail for not securing permission from the National Biodiversity Authority (a body instituted under the Act) before accessing biological resources in the country. The NBA can also impose and collect some kind of fee or tax for the use of the nation’s biological resources. All of this just makes it extremely difficult for companies to conduct research in anything in the traditional knowledge field.”

Apart from being a deterrent, this law is difficult to interpret. “It is so complicated, so difficult to follow. We are struggling to find out whether we are conforming with the law,” says Swati Piramal, the vice-chairperson of Piramal Enterprises, one of the few Indian firms researching traditional-medicine leads for new drugs.

While creating such complicated deterrents to drug research, India has not created any incentives. “You can make laws saying don’t do this and don’t do that, but the industry needs guidance and encouragement too, right?” says Piramal.

In 2003, India did make an attempt in this direction with an ambitious programme to foster innovation. It was called the National Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative, under which several grants were given to research organisations to develop herbal drugs. As of 2013, however, no drug from this programme is in the market. They have all hit roadblocks either during research or before being launched in the market. A herbal psoriasis drug by Lupin was said to be in Phase 2B clinical trials in 2009, after which there has been no news of it. At least four other drugs developed for conditions ranging from diabetes to arthritis by a network of Indian research organisations and hospitals reached late stage trials. But negotiations between CSIR and drug developers to commercialise these drugs have made little leeway, says Bhushan Patwardhan, who steered several of the Millennium Initiative’s herbal drug-development programmes.

In the words of Goverdhan Mehta, a member of the Scientific Advisory Council to India’s Prime Minister, such government efforts in Ayurveda are always ‘bits and pieces’ research, not necessarily involving competent people and the industry. “Most of the engagements I have witnessed over the years have all been superficial and goody-goody. The industry will not become involved unless they think it’s worthwhile for them,” he says.

In sharp contrast, China has made major strides in promoting Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) research, despite being up against the same problems. Their approach has been a concerted one, driven by the government.

According to Ikhlas Khan, who heads the Mississippi-based Centre for Research into Indian Systems of Medicine (CRISM) that collaborates with US regulatory bodies to promote scientific acceptance of Indian medicine, “Modernisation of TCM is a national priority in China and is backed by financial support from [their] Government. There is a tremendous amount of research being done in China and in collaboration with Western countries to generate scientific evidence and revalidate the system.”

In March 2008, the US Pharmacopeial Convention, a non-profit American body that works with the government, entered an agreement with the Chinese Pharmacopoeia Commission to improve the quality of traditional Chinese medicine. While this applies mostly to supplements, such attempts at standardising quality can only help TCM. Meanwhile, a government-backed industry-university alliance was launched recently, including two universities and 12 drug firms. TCM research papers being published every year far outnumber those on Ayurveda. Patwardhan cites a telling statistic: “If you search the SCOPUS database (an online database of academic publications) for papers on Ayurveda, you will see maybe 1,300 papers. If you look for TCM, you will see something like 15,000.”

Scientists agree that China’s brute-force approach is what India needs too. Comparing China’s effort with programmes driven by the Indian government, Vishwakar- ma says our approach is simply not widespread enough. “You need scale in something like this. We should be doing 500 trials at a time, not one or two,” he argues, reasoning that the failure rate is high for clinical trials.

In 2009, Chinese Universities developed a natural extract database in collaboration with Harvard University, which painstakingly adheres to high standards of quality for herbs, explicitly to resolve the problem of variability in herb samples for clinical trials. “Such an integrated approach has always been missing in India,” says Arvind Saklani, assistant director, natural products botany at Piramal Enterprises.

“My belief is that the Chinese will discover drugs from Ayurvedic plants before we do,” concludes Vishwakarma. “Whatever herbs are available on this side of the Himalayas are also available on the other… and what they are doing is the exact opposite of what we are.”

 

Subscribe to Subscribe to Subscribe to Subscribe to Subscribe to Subscribe to Subscribe to