NH 37 dhaba, worth a stop

Do you remember the last time you experienced the flavour of a Dhaba? The rustic essence intertwined with an open air dhaba-style restaurant, and its august ambience spiced up with mouth-watering dishes and the aroma? When in a dhaba, it is not just the food that one looks out for, but the whole experience that makes dhaba food much loved by all. While far-removed from a highway, NH 37 Dhaba in Pune has a unique mood, which makes it worthy for a visit. It’s a place where could hang out with friends and family both.

Located on Range Hill Corner, near East Square, this places when entered, makes one feel transported to a totally different place. Although there is a numbering system to availing a seat, the wait is worth it. With the vastness of the place, there are a number of gazebos with different kinds of seating arrangements. While one could find wooden cut-out logs that serve as benches, there are also regular plastic garden chairs.

Though NH 37 Dhaba does not qualify as a proper Dhaba, the place has a rural touch to it. Decorated with greeneries, branches, vegetable (yes, you read it right!), bamboo, straws, this place has a different charm.  One gets a feel of being in a cottage. A pond with ducks around, and the waterfall, adds to the beauty of the place. One feels completely taken by the inner construction, fashionably designed roof tops with hay, lanterns and the trees. NH 37 Dhaba has many hidden talents to keep you entertained.

This is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Pune, and has great food quality. The menu here is well laid out with a good selection of both meat and veggie dishes, and dishes from foreign lands too. Before you start with your meal, they give you a plate of complimentary small papad, with pudina chutney to keep you occupied till your food arrives. The service is generally quick, but has chances for improvement. The tandoor items here are the ultimate. One can witness the tandooris cooked to perfection, while already biting on to a piece of lemon grass grilled chicken. For non veg, Badshahi Tandoori chicken is a must try. It is unique and yummy. The starters range from something as simple as Pahadi Panner Tikka and Tandoori Mushroom with Cheese, to spicy dishes like Ajwani Machhi Tikka (fish tikka) and Chicken Nawabi Kebab. The Achari Aloo, and Fish Tikka are just a perfect combination. For main course, I would suggest Chicken Tikka Curry, Peshawari Panner Tikka, Smoked Butter Chicken, Butter Naan, and Chicken Biryani. While you might not associate seafood with a Dhaba, this restaurant offers a whole lot of seafood dishes, like Red Pepper Pomfret and Prawn ka-Seang, this make its unique compared to the usual Dhabas. All of them were cooked delectably.

While this place also offers Bengali cuisine, but as a Bengali myself, I must say, this place is a huge disappointment. Neither they have a collection of menus, nor is the food flavoursome.

However, the real surprise was the tandoor and north Indian cuisine, quite different from all the tandoori places. This is the place you have to go, if you want to unwind in greenery filled place inside the city!


The RSS story: Uniform changed, but mindset?

A 90-year-old tradition has become history. To remain in “sync” with the recent time, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has created new headlines, and this time, trying to change its outlook. With the thought that “shorts” were unattractive and refrained young men from joining the party, the Sanghs have announced for a sartorial change from its symbolic shorts to trousers. Bidding goodbye to its khaki shorts, which have been a trademark for the Sangh for nine decades, the members are up and ready to don new uniform – brown trousers. But, does changing uniform change the orthodoxy that prevails within? With the track record of creating controversies that could well become an unwanted archive, RSS aims to make some “change” by making its short pants long. The unnecessary debates that crop up from the party members, germinating from age old belief; this new attire does not give any credit to the party.

Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, whom the Minister of Culture describes as a “dedicated follower of Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) since childhood” at the moment, is the finest example. His comments only prove that he has taken his “childhood” lessons very seriously.

The minister has advised foreign female tourists in India to not wear short skirts. Trying to justify his statement he said “the suggestion was made with regard to visits to religious places.” Well, this is what should change – the attitude. In the madness of making remarks, our ministers often state controversial and erroneous statements leading to a chaos.

The RSS senior officials are of the view that if members replace khaki shorts with trousers, it will be able to “attract” young members, thus trying to sound inclusive. But what the RSS missed out was, “Indian Culture” has evolved and progressed over the years, unlike the party, which is trying to distant itself from progressive rational.

The change in decision has its root in debate and discussion for a long time, and the only good thing about it is, individuals stitching the uniform back in Rajasthan, has got an opportunity to earn.

This is not the first time that the RSS is bringing an alternation in their uniform. Since its inception, the dress code has changed quite a few times, only the beliefs and the approach remained unchanged. Going back to the comment, it was not his first, and nor was he the first one. Trying to define the “Indian Culture”,  ministers of his like have more often than not, questioned the culture of the said party altogether, which no change of uniform can prevent.

Suresh Josi, senior RSS functionary believes, although the party has been bringing in changes, there was more scope for modifications, and hence this decision was taken. Well, he is right, there is an ocean of scope for improvement, but to realise it, one needs to change his own thinking and outlook, and not just “uniform.”

Wealth in Health: Low public spending in healthcare sector

The Health Ministry after almost a decade released the National Health Accounts (NHA), and according to published document, India’s total healthcare expenditure comes to 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Raising questions about the already pitiable state of public funding in the sector, this statistics hints at the need for immediate focus. In 2013-14, the data for which was released recently, the Total Healthcare Expenditure (THE) was Rs. 4.5 lakh crores, which totals to 4 per cent of the GDP. The earlier estimates were for the financial year 2004-05.

With a population of 1.21 billion, the government of India’s spending in health sector constitute just 1.15 per cent of GDP. Considering the figure, it has been argued time and again that government rise the spending on health to 2.5 per cent of GDP. Recognising this situation to be problematic, the Draft National Health Policy 2015, according The Hindu stated, “Global evidence on health spending shows that unless a country spends at least 5-6 per cent of its GDP on health and the major part of it is from government expenditure, basic health care needs are seldom met.”

The NHA data states, the low public spending on healthcare, Rs. 3.06 lakh crore came from households. Although there has been a marginal upgrading from 2004-05, when the share of government’s share was just 22 per cent, this figure is still challenging.

However, of the total money that flows in India’s healthcare system, according to the data released by the Ministry, preventive care in the country receives around 9.6 per cent. Adding to this “abysmally low” number, it has also been noted that, Indians spend eight times more on private hospitals than on government ones.

What is alarmingly in this situation is, Indians’ out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditure on healthcare has shot up. This means, money individuals pay on their own, instead of being covered by insurance or health benefits. About 73 per cent of contribution in the space of health finance, based on the data, is the money that individual households spend. And this, according to health economist Dr Sakthi Selvaraj, “is a huge concern”. “I cannot think of any other country, except Myanmar, where OOP is this huge,” he informed The Hindu.

While all eyes are on the initiatives the government takes to improve its contribution in the healthcare, member of NITI Aayog, Bibek Debroy, opined on the matter saying, “There is not much point in saying that government expenditure on health should be increased to 2.5 per cent of GDP, unless you also explain where those extra resources will come from.”

Now the question remains, how will the extra resources for healthcare be collected, to crease out the tension of flow of resources in India’s healthcare sector?


Sources: The Hindu

A trans-formed law, but is all well?

Transcending outdated laws and barriers, Tamil Nadu has cleared the floors for transgender individuals to enter the police force. Third gender personnel will now be able don the uniform, with the State’s amended recruitment rules. This change is a progressive move, and reflects an inclusive model of development for gives hope for betterment. Setting an example for other states to replicate, the government has said that, transgenders could now apply either as male, female or third gender. In an order passed for appointment of 13,137 police constables, the government made this announcement.

Previous year when Prthika Yashini got recruited, she became the first trans-woman Sub-Inspector, based on a court order last year. Her achievement came after she struggled for her right at the Madras High Court, which in turn was dependent on a landmark 2015 Apex Court judgement. This move according to officers, makes Tamil Nadu the first State to put forward an offering of this kind, and opens the gates for the third gender in the police force. Reported by The Hindu, a senior officer said in a statement, “This is the first time that we will be formally inducting them in the police department. The notification is expected in a month and the recruitment completed by December.”

The order states, “Those opting for “third gender” would be under the female category for educational qualifications, physical fitness and reservation. However, this particular mention needs an examination. Whether to include the third gender in the female category for the parameters set, and reservations, is again a contentious matter, and calls for extensive study.

It has been a long fight for acceptance in the police force for the transgender community in Tamil Nadu. However for the state, and the country at large, this is an exceptional turnaround, as in 2013, Tamil Nadu had turned down a transgender candidate when the individual had failed a medical test for police recruitment. After clearing the written test, followed by physical test and personal interview, “the woman” as reported by The Hindu, “joined the force as a Grade-II constable in 2013.”  However, her joining was dismissed far along, “since she had qualified based on the standards set for women.” Notwithstanding the judgement, the candidate later had moved the Madras High Court, and stated that, she had represented the state as a woman athlete, and that she was admitted as a girl in school. Following her comment, the court had ordered her reinstated.

For Santhi Soundararajan too, who won a silver medal in the Doha Asian Games, the gender test took a bigger stage than her achievement. She lost her silver medal, when she failed a gender test.

However, on an optimistic note, if this change in law advances well, Tamil Nadu by the end of the year, is expected to have many transgenders in the attire of police, and will be an important demonstration of socio-economic revolution.  Earlier, when some individuals from the said community had tried to join the police force, they were turned away, due to lack of provision to accommodate the third gender.

According to a senior police official’s statement, although there was no bar on transgenders applying, the applications could not be forwarded, as there was no policy in place on whether the individuals “should be tested as men or women.” Brining an end to this state of ambiguity, a Supreme Court order decided on the issue, and gave right of choice.

But does “right of choice” mean the same as “Those opting for “third gender” would be under the female category for educational qualifications, physical fitness and reservation?

The blind, in pursuit of the Law

Six summers have passed since 2010 Kashmir unrest which claimed lives of 112 protesters in a police firing. Since then, the use of pellet guns in Indian-held Kashmir has drawn condemnation from individuals and social institutes, as it has left scores of victims disfigured for life. Youth with pellet injuries are pouring into Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital from different parts of Kashmir, as the valley battle for its freedom from the chain of pellets and policing. However, despite public outcry against the use of pellet guns, no statement of confirmation about the ban or change in the rule has come from Delhi. This rule is an added violence haunting Kashmiris today.

The immediate question which arises is: When the use of force is inevitable because of compelling reasons, should it not be regulated?

The then Congress-led government at the Centre had deployed pellet guns as a “non-lethal” measure to avoid fatalities of civilians. However, the situation on the ground seems grim. The occurrences within the already disputed Muslim-majority territory, as fallout of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, surpasses the summer of 2010. The confrontation between civilians and the security once again raises question about the harmful nature of the pellet guns, giving an opportunity to revisit the issue. Have pellet guns proved to be an effective preventive in deterring people from protesting?

The endless uses of ‘non-lethal’ pellet guns have caused extensive injuries to many, including children. Although the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has assured the Parliament that the government would look into the use of these guns, the implementation of a changed law looks like a far-fetched reality. The earlier spell of serious violence in the summer of 2010 has once again begun to haunt individuals of the valley, bringing back the practice of using “non-lethal” crowd control methods by police. The word following ‘pellet’ is in no way innocent. As the word suggests, the machinery is used in hunting and pest control. It is known to penetrate soft tissues, and when fired from close quarters can be lethal, particularly when sensitive parts like eyes are hit. A pellet gun can leave an individual restricted for life, and this has been happening in the valley.

When fired, the cartridge disperses few hundred pellets over few hundred metres depending on the type.  Following the death of 110 people in Kashmir in 2010, the type of guns have changed, considering it would cause less harm, but is the situation anything better? Clearly not! It is “non-lethal” only in its nomenclature.

When the police are trying to contain vehement individuals, they should focus accurately. However, pellet guns don’t ensure well-targeted shots, and end up causing serious injury, including onlookers or other activists not engaging in violence. Because of its high potential to cause unwarranted injury, pellet guns should have no place in law enforcement.

The use of pellet guns is banned worldwide, and is not in line with international standards on the use of force. Although senior PDP leader and Lok Sabha member Muzuffar Hussain Beg termed the use of pellet guns by the J&K Police as worst crime, no word on ban has come from the Centre. With debates pouring in over the immediate ban on use of pellet guns, the decision only lies in the hands of the Centre. The question lurks, with violence superseding measures of mob control, could there be a silver lining for Kashmir?

Irom Sharmila: World’s longest hunger strike ends

Her plastic pipe kept her alive, standing tall she fought against the State machineries, in her white cotton and flip-flops. Irom Chanu Sharmila, for 16 years, has been a mark of peaceful protest against injustice. Her admirers aren’t just limited to Manipur; she has found widespread support in India, and across the world. Since 2000, she has been constantly fighting against Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which continues to violate human rights in Manipur. All she demands is the repeal of the act, which gives the Indian Army unquestioned special powers in areas declared as disturbed.

Determined to continue her fight, but with a change, she has decided to end her fast today. Manipur’s “Iron Lady” will be contesting elections against Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. According to a report published in The Hindu, Sharmila said, “parties have approached her but ‘all I need is 20 Independents.”

The human rights activist has always followed a non-violent path, and stuck to her belief, that, a State can function without the draconian law. Sharmila’s movement is a passive, potent, and forceful resistance.

Back in November 2000, when she decided to fast for the removal of the AFSPA from Manipur, Sharmila did not get much reaction; she did not move many hearts and minds in her state, let alone the government. But she fought consistently, creating a notable and moving journey. This battle of Sharmila is also reflective of a tough judgment against the misuse of laws in the country, and how draconian laws are prevalent in Independent and developing India. No doubt her voice will be more audible as a politician but the cause she is fighting for, to me, lost some significance.

With that thin plastic pipe fitted tightly on her nose, she walked in and out of the jail with charges of “attempt to commit suicide”. One may ask, what ‘crime’ did she commit? “Her hunger strike is the crime.” When despair arrived, she took to writing poetry, reading literature, and in this manner, dedicated her life to a cause she found worthy. “I don’t want to be a goddess. “I just want a normal life,” she once told the Indian Express newspaper.

Today, her decision is an indicator of how unfair the democracy has been to her, even an extreme form of nonviolent protest failed to secure a just demand. It would not be wrong to note that, this is also a defeat of the freedom of expression, as most Sharmila’s freedoms were curtailed.

She now chooses to “lead from the front”. When she took the decision to end her fast, Manipur was caught unaware. As emotions settle, there is a general agreement that the Iron Lady’s pronouncement may be the most practical way onward, for both her, and her cause. As she embarks on this path of politics, legal proceedings are underway, with her next hearing of the case scheduled on August 23.

Monsanto’s ‘threat’ to withdraw: A blessing in disguise?

Taking note of  Monsanto’s ‘threat’ to withdraw its genetically modified crop technology from India, following the Centre’s plan to cut the company’s royalty fees, it gives an opportunity to trace Monsanto’s journey in India, and how it came to be known as “seed of suicide”.

1988, Monsanto arrived in the Indian market, bringing in wide-ranging change in the Indian seed sector. The 1988 Seed Policy enforced by the World Bank, demanded deregulation of the seed market by the government. Things started changing with Monsanto’s entry. While on one side joint-ventures and licensing arrangements increased the concentration over the seed sector, seed that had been the farmers’ common resource earlier, became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto. The company began collecting royalties, which increased the costs of seed, bringing in trouble for farmers. Genetically modified hybrid seeds replaced open pollinated cotton seeds. Most importantly, cotton, which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops, now had to be grown as a monoculture, that were more vulnerable to disease, drought, pests, and crop failure.

It also began to use public resources to drive its non-renewable hybrids through public-private partnerships (PPP).  However, Monsanto’s determined control over the seed sector in India is worrying, and has come under the scanner multiple times.  It has been blamed for farmer suicides and agrarian anguish which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in parts of India, mainly in the cotton belt.

In 2012, an internal advisory by the agricultural ministry stated that, “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.” As Monsanto’s profits grew, farmers’ debt grew side by side. It is in this situation, Monsanto’s seeds came to be known as “seeds of suicide.”

However, Monsanto received a big blow, as cotton farmers across north India, are switching to “desi”, and indigenous variety of cotton, which comes at half the cost, and also allows farmers to save and replant the seed next near. Cotton farmers are disposing of Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt cotton, in a bid to use local variety of seeds. India is world’s biggest producer and second-largest exporter of cotton and this move is spelling trouble for Monsanto’s biggest after USA.  According to a Reuters, in India, sales of the seed are down by 15% year on year, worth $75 million. While Monsanto’s genetically modified variety of cottons remains dominant, the Indian government is promoting home-grown varieties, which caused Monsanto, a loss of around 5% in 2016 alone.

The water-intensive crop of Monsanto is resistant to pest such as the bollworm, which is an advantage over the local variety. However, local varieties seeds appear more resistant to whitefly, common in India’s during dry seasons. Experts are of the opinion that, the indigenous cotton seeds developed by the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), which comes under the farm ministry, would catch on over time, as the indigenous cotton looks promising. In Vidharba, community seed banks have been created to help farmers go organic.

Special attention is being given to encourage and educate farmers to produce their own seeds so that they can cultivate the seeds with less production cost. However, if Monsanto’s threat is a worrying note, or a sigh of relief for the seed sector and the agriculture industry, will be proved with time.