NEW DELHI — Om Prakash relied on relatives and neighbors to tend his wheat and vegetable fields. He ate food donated by sympathizers at home and abroad. When he felt feverish, he turned to volunteer medical workers huddled, like him, near a noisy overpass for months, through heat and cold and a deadly viral outbreak.
Now, his year away from his farm and his family has finally paid off.
Mr. Prakash was one of thousands of farmers in India who used their organizational skills, broad support network and sheer persistence to force one of the country’s most powerful leaders in modern history into a rare retreat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said lawmakers would repeal new agricultural laws that the protesting farmers feared would leave them vulnerable to rapacious big companies and destroy their way of life.
Their victory won’t help India solve the deep inefficiencies that plague its farming sector, problems that leave people malnourished in some places even as grain in other parts is unused or exported. But it showed how a group desperate to preserve its hold on a middle-class way of life could successfully challenge a government more accustomed to squelching dissent than reckoning with it.
fast-tracked citizenship for some groups but excluded Muslims, were plagued by violence.
The effort isn’t over yet. The farmers have vowed to continue their protests until the government submits to another demand, that it guarantee a minimum price for nearly two dozen crops. Rather than retreat now, they sense an opportunity to push even harder on a prime minister who is nervously watching his party’s poll numbers dip in a string of states with elections next year. The government has said it will form a committee to consider the matter.
India’s farming system still needs to be fixed, a fact that even many of the protesting farmers acknowledge. Initiated during a time of widespread starvation in the 1960s, the system created centralized markets where farmers could sell their crops. Some of the proceeds are funneled back to farming communities though infrastructure projects, pensions and programs providing free technical advice on matters like seed and fertilizer.
in debt. With city and factory jobs hard to find in a country still struggling with poverty, many farm children emigrate to find a better life.
Mr. Modi’s laws were aimed at bringing more private money into agriculture and making it more receptive to market forces. Mr. Singh, the protest leader, said many farmers would prefer subsidies over a wider range of output.
“The root of the agricultural issue in India is that farmers are not getting the proper value of their crops,” said Mr. Singh. “There are two ways to see reforms — giving away land to the corporations, the big people, the capitalists. The other is to help the farmers increase their yields.”
The movement started in Punjab, home to a large community of Sikhs, the religious group, and some of the country’s richest agricultural land. The protest leaders leaned on both to organize and finance their yearlong demonstrations.
farmers rode tractors over police barricades into New Delhi, leading to the death of one protester. Political analysts declared the movement dead. But organizers retreated behind the barricades, and resumed their peaceful protests through the harsh winter, a devastating wave of the coronavirus, a scorching summer and into the fall.
rammed into a group of protesting farmers, resulting in the deaths of four protesters along with four other people, including a local journalist. The son of one of Mr. Modi’s ministers is among those under investigation in connection with the episode.
That incident, which came after the protesters decided to shadow campaigning B.J.P. officials to draw cameras, may have been a turning point. The B.J.P.’s poll numbers soon dropped in Uttar Pradesh, where the deaths took place. Party officials began to worry that they could lose the state in elections set for early next year.
A day after Mr. Modi’s surprise announcement, the mood near Singhu, a village in the state of Haryana that borders the capital, was somber. Religious music and political speeches blared from loudspeakers across the makeshift village of bamboo huts, where people hawked T-shirts and flags that said, “No farmers, no food.”
Outside one of the huts serving free vegetarian lunch, Mr. Prakash, the farmer, described sleeping though cold weather and rain next to a busy road, leaving his farm in the care of his brothers’ children.
Mr. Prakash, who lives off his pension from 20 years in the Indian Air Force, does not need the farm to survive. Instead, holding on to the seven acres he and his siblings inherited from their parents ensures they can maintain a middle class life in a country where the vagaries of the economy often suck people back into poverty.
Mr. Prakash said that the family farm had supported his ambitions, and that he wanted the same for his children.
“To save our motherland,” he said, “we can stay here another two years.”
NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India announced Friday that his government would repeal contentious farm laws aimed at overhauling the country’s struggling agriculture sector, in a surprise concession to yearlong protests by angry farmers.
“We have decided to repeal all three farm laws, and will begin the procedure at the Parliament session that begins this month,” Mr. Modi said in a televised address. “I urge the protesting farmers to return home to their families, and let’s start afresh.”
Protest leaders greeted Mr. Modi’s turnaround with cautious optimism, with plans to meet in New Delhi to discuss next steps.
Many of the protesters come from India’s minority Sikh community, and Mr. Modi timed his announcement for Guru Nanak Jayanti, a holiday celebrated by Sikhs all over the world.
the market-friendly laws it passed last year, even as the farmers refused any compromise short of repealing them. The protesters remained in their tents through last year’s harsh winter, the summer heat and a deadly Covid-19 wave that caused havoc in New Delhi.
would bring private investment into a sector that more than 60 percent of India’s population still depends on for their livelihood — but has been lagging in its contribution to India’s economy.
rammed into a group of protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh, killing four protesters along with four other people, including a local journalist. The son of one of Mr. Modi’s ministers is among those under investigation for murder in the episode.
Jagdeep Singh, whose father, Nakshatra Singh, 54, was among those killed, said the decision to repeal the laws served as homage to those who had died in the difficult conditions of a year of protests — whether from exposure to extreme temperatures, heart attacks, Covid or more. According to one farm leader, some 750 protesters have died. (The government says it does not have data on this.)
“This is a win for all those farmers who laid down their lives to save hundreds of thousands of poor farmers of this country from corporate greed,” Mr. Singh said. “They must be smiling from wherever they are.”
Karan Deep Singh and Sameer Yasir contributed reporting.
After a year of sustained protests by farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has conceded to their demands and said his government would repeal farm laws that his government had enacted to overhaul the country’s agricultural sector.
It was not in dispute that India’s previous system, which incentivized farmers to grow a huge surplus of grains, needed to be fixed. The protesters feared that the haste with which the laws were passed and the breadth of the changes they involved would send crop prices plunging. Mr. Modi’s government had argued that introducing market forces would help fix the system.
back to their villages. For years, debts and bankruptcies have been driving farmers to high rates of suicide.
What were they asking for?
The protesters challenged Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to reshape farming in India.
They called for Mr. Modi to repeal laws passed in September 2020 that would minimize the government’s role in agriculture and open more space for private investors. The government said the new laws would unshackle farmers and private investment, bringing growth. But farmers feared that the removal of state protections, which they already considered insufficient, would leave them at the mercy of greedy corporations.
Government support for farmers, which included guaranteed minimum prices for certain essential crops, helped India move past its hunger crisis of the 1960s. But with India liberalizing its economy in recent decades, Mr. Modi — who wants the country’s economy to nearly double by 2024 — realized that such a large government role in the farm sector was no longer sustainable.
Farmers, however, contended that they were struggling even with the existing protections. They feared that market-friendly laws would eventually eliminate regulatory support and leave them bereft, with the weakened economy offering little chance of a different livelihood.
NEW DELHI — The mob rampaged for days, burning homes, breaking into temples and clashing with police, leaving several dead.
The victims were minority Hindus living in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim nation grappling with increasing extremism, and the violence drew an outcry from politicians in neighboring India. As the region’s traditional center of gravity, India has a history of promoting tolerance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also positioned himself as the champion of Hindus against a history of victimhood.
But the erosion of human rights in India has weakened its moral high ground in a region where ethnic and sectarian tensions are worsening. Sheikh Hasina — Bangladesh’s prime minister and a close ally, who had just sent Mr. Modi 71 red roses on his birthday — had pointed words for India, even as she promised to hunt the culprits.
“We expect that nothing happens there,” Ms. Hasina said, “which could influence any situation in Bangladesh affecting our Hindu community here.”
into a Hindu state. In marginalizing and maligning its minority Muslims at home, Mr. Modi’s government has weakened India’s traditional leadership role of encouraging harmony in a region of many fault lines.
The shift could also open opportunities for China, which has used the promise of investment and access to its hard-charging economy to cultivate stronger relations with its rival’s neighbors.
“The openly partisan approach to communal issues has created a very peculiar situation for us as far as that moral high ground in neighborhood policy is concerned,” said Yashwant Sinha, who was India’s foreign minister when Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was last in power in the early 2000s. “We can’t say ‘you stop it, this should not happen,’ because we ourselves are guilty of it.”
prosperity to the neighborhood.”
seen as discriminating against Muslims.
But such violence and the abuse of minorities is nothing new in South Asia, a region of deep ethnic and religious fault lines that is home to a quarter of the world’s population.
The traumatic partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the later war-driven split of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, left sizable ethnic and religious minorities in each country. The domestic policies of one nation inevitably affect the population of another.
Hindutva politics, and they are trying to exploit it,” said Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, referring to the B.J.P.’s Hindu nationalist ideology. “And at the same time, the Hindutva politics of India is empowering the B.J.P.-type politics in Bangladesh.”
The violence last month in Bangladesh was set off by rumors that a Quran, the Muslim holy book, had been disrespected in a Hindu temple. Seven people have been killed, the police said.
That violence has further deepened sectarian tension in India. In recent weeks, a right-wing Hindu group has been organizing large protests in the Indian state of Tripura, just over the border from Bangladesh, against the anti-Hindu violence there. Police have had to deploy heavy security to protect mosques, after members of the group vandalized at least one mosque and burned shops. A group of lawyers and activists who went to Tripura to document the damage found themselves charged with violating a draconian antiterror law.
While some B.J.P. officials criticized the violence, Mr. Modi himself has been largely silent. In contrast to Pakistan, where tensions with India sometimes break out into open conflict, Mr. Modi has cultivated good relations with Bangladesh, and harsh words could sour diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Dhaka.
Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
some of the deadliest communal violence in India in 2002 in Gujarat, where Mr. Modi was the state’s chief minister. He said such violence did not affect India’s standing because the country’s prime minister at the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made clear that the episodes were both unacceptable and isolated.
These days, Mr. Sinha said: “The interlocutor can turn back and say ‘Why don’t you practice at home what you preach to us?’”
Saif Hasnat in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Zia ur-Rehman in Karachi, Pakistan, and Aanya Wipulasena in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed reporting.
SAN FRANCISCO — When India’s government ordered Facebook and other tech companies to take down posts critical of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in April, the social network complied on some posts.
But once it did, its employees flocked to online chat rooms to ask why Facebook had helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India stifle dissent. In one internal post, which was reviewed by The New York Times, an employee with family in India accused Facebook of “being afraid” that Mr. Modi would ban the company from doing business in the country. “We can’t act or make decisions out of fear,” he wrote.
Weeks later, when clashes broke out in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians, Facebook removed posts from prominent Palestinian activists and briefly banned hashtags related to the violence. Facebook employees again took to the message boards to ask why their company now appeared to be censoring pro-Palestinian content.
“It just feels like, once again, we are erring on the side of a populist government and making decisions due to politics, not policies,” one worker wrote in an internal message that was reviewed by The Times.
inflammatory posts from former President Donald J. Trump. But since Mr. Trump left office in January, attention has shifted to Facebook’s global policies and what employees said was the company’s acquiescence to governments so that it could continue profiting in those countries.
“There’s a feeling among people at Facebook that this is a systematic approach, one which favors strong government leaders over the principles of doing what is right and correct,” said Ashraf Zeitoon, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017.
Facebook is increasingly caught in a vise. In India, Russia and elsewhere, governments are pressuring it to remove content as they try to corral the platform’s power over online speech. But when Facebook complies with the takedown orders, it has upset its own employees, who say the social network has helped authoritarian leaders and repressive regimes quash activists and silence marginalized communities.
BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times earlier reported on some of the employee dissatisfaction at Facebook over Israeli and Palestinian content.
A divide between Facebook’s employees and the global policy team, which is composed of roughly 1,000 employees, has existed for years, current and former workers said. The policy team reports to Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.
many tricky international situations over the years, including in Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar, where it has had to consider whether it would be shut down if it did not work with governments. That has led to the employee dissent, which has begun spilling into public view.
That became evident with India. In April, as Covid-19 cases soared in the country, Mr. Modi’s government called for roughly 100 social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be pulled down. Many of the posts included critiques of the government from opposition politicians and calls for Mr. Modi’s resignation.
Facebook removed some of the posts and briefly blocked a hashtag, #ResignModi. The company later said the hashtag had been banned by mistake and was not part of a government request.
But internally, the damage was done. In online chat rooms dedicated to human rights issues and global policy, employees described how disappointed they were with Facebook’s actions. Some shared stories of family members in India who were worried they were being censored.
Last month, when violence broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, reports surfaced that Facebook had erased content from Palestinian activists. Facebook’s Instagram app also briefly banned the #AlAqsa hashtag, a reference to Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Facebook later explained that it had confused the #AlAqsa hashtag with a Palestinian militant group called Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
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Employees bristled. “We are responding to people’s protests about censoring with more censoring?” one wrote in an internal message, which was reviewed by The Times.
Nick Clegg, who leads public affairs, to explain the company’s role in removing content tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to attendees. The employee called the situation in Israel “fraught” and asked how Facebook was going “to get it right” with content moderation.
Mr. Clegg ran through a list of policy rules and plans going forward, and assured staff that moderation would be treated with fairness and responsibility, two people familiar with the meeting said. The discussion was cordial, one of the people said, and comments in the chat box beside Mr. Clegg’s response were largely positive.
But some employees were dissatisfied, the people said. As Mr. Clegg spoke, they broke off into private chats and workplace groups, known as Tribes, to discuss what to do.
Dozens of employees later formed a group to flag the Palestinian content that they said had been suppressed to internal content moderation teams, said two employees. The goal was to have the posts reinstated online, they said.
Members of Facebook’s policy team have tried calming the tensions. In an internal memo in mid-May, which was reviewed by The Times, two policy team members wrote to other employees that they hoped “that Facebook’s internal community will resist succumbing to the division and demonization of the other side that is so brutally playing itself out offline and online.”
One of them was Muslim, and the other was Jewish, they said.
“We don’t always agree,” they wrote. “However, we do some of our best work when we assume good intent and recognize that we are on the same side trying to serve our community in the best possible way.”
SAN FRANCISCO — WhatsApp sued the Indian government on Wednesday to stop what it said were oppressive new internet rules that would require it to make people’s messages “traceable” to outside parties for the first time.
The lawsuit, filed by WhatsApp in the Delhi High Court, seeks to block the enforceability of the rules that were handed down by the government this year. WhatsApp, a service owned by Facebook that sends encrypted messages, claimed in its suit that the rules, which were set to go into effect on Wednesday, were unconstitutional.
Suing India’s government is a highly unusual step by WhatsApp, which has rarely engaged with national governments in court. But the service said that making its messages traceable “would severely undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally” and effectively impair its security.
“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse,” a WhatsApp spokesman said. “WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so.”
a broadening battle between the biggest tech companies and governments around the world over which of them has the upper hand. Australia and the European Union have drafted or passed laws to limit the power of Google, Facebook and other companies over online speech, while other countries are trying to rein in the companies’ services to stifle dissent and squash protests. China has recently warned some of its biggest internet companies against engaging in anticompetitive practices.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have worked for several years to corral the power of the tech companies and more strictly police what is said online. In 2019, the government proposed giving itself vast new powers to suppress internet content, igniting a heated battle with the companies.
The rules that WhatsApp is objecting to were proposed in February by Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s law and information technology minister. Under the rules, the government could require tech companies to take down social media posts it deemed unlawful. WhatsApp, Signal and other messaging companies would also be required to create “traceable” databases of all messages sent using the service, while attaching identifiable “fingerprints” to private messages sent between users.
WhatsApp has long maintained that it does not have insight into user data and has said it does not store messages sent between users. That is because the service is end-to-end encrypted, which allows for two or more users to communicate securely and privately without allowing others to access the messages.
More than a billion people rely on WhatsApp to communicate with friends, family and businesses around the world. Many users are in India.
ordered to take down dozens of social media posts that were critical of Mr. Modi’s government and its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged the country. Government officials said the posts should be removed because they could incite panic and could hinder its response to the pandemic.
The social media companies complied with many of the requests by making the posts invisible inside India, though they were still visible to people outside the country. In the past, Twitter and Facebook have reposted some content after determining that it didn’t break the law.
Tensions between tech companies and the Indian government escalated this week when the police descended on the New Delhi offices of Twitter to contest labels affixed to certain tweets from senior members of the government. While Twitter’s offices were empty, the visit symbolized the mounting pressure on social media companies to rein in speech seen as critical of the ruling party.
Facebook and WhatsApp have long maintained working relationships with the authorities in dozens of countries, including India. Typically, WhatsApp has said it will respond to lawful requests for information and has a team that assists law enforcement officials with emergencies involving imminent harm.
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Only rarely has WhatsApp pushed back. The service has been shut down many times in Brazil after the company resisted requests for user data from the government. And it has skirmished with U.S. officials who have sought to install “back doors” in encrypted messaging services to monitor for criminal activity.
But WhatsApp argued that even if it tried enacting India’s new “traceability” rules, the technology would not work. Such a practice is “ineffective and highly susceptible to abuse,” the company said.
Other technology firms and digital rights groups like Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week that they supported WhatsApp’s fight against “traceability.”
“The threat that anything someone writes can be traced back to them takes away people’s privacy and would have a chilling effect on what people say even in private settings, violating universally recognized principles of free expression and human rights,” WhatsApp said.
The officers from India’s elite antiterrorism police unit descended after dusk on the New Delhi offices of Twitter, with television news cameras in tow. Their mission: Start an argument over fake news.
The offices sat empty, closed amid India’s devastating coronavirus outbreak. And the police acknowledged that they were there to deliver nothing more legally binding than a notice disputing a warning label that Twitter had assigned to some tweets.
But symbolically, the visit by the police on Monday night sent a clear message that India’s powerful ruling party is becoming increasingly upset with Twitter because of the perception that the company has sided with critics of the government. As anger has risen across the country over India’s stumbling response to the pandemic, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have struggled to control the narrative.
As a result, top Indian political leaders have applied increasing pressure on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms that people are using to air their complaints. In doing so, they are following the path of some other countries trying to control how and where messages can spread on social media. In March, for example, the Russian government said it would slow access to Twitter, one of the few places where Russians openly criticize the government.
blocked the accounts of 500 people accused of making inflammatory remarks about Mr. Modi.
India banned TikTok, WeChat and dozens of other Chinese apps, citing national security concerns.
Though Mr. Modi’s government controls the Delhi police, it was not clear on Tuesday that the failed mission at the Twitter office had happened at its behest.
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A B.J.P. spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Twitter spokeswoman asked for questions in an email, which went unanswered.
On May 18, a B.J.P. spokesman, Sambit Patra, tweeted the picture of a document he described as plans by the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, for making the government look bad.
Mr. Patra’s message was retweeted more than 5,000 times, including by ministers in Mr. Modi’s government and party leaders.
Harsh Vardhan, India’s health minister, used the hashtag #CongressToolkitExposed to rip into the opposition party.
“It’s deplorable on their part to attempt to spread misinformation during this global catastrophe just to swell their dwindling political fortunes at the expense of people’s suffering,” Dr. Vardhan tweeted.
India’s decision to export vaccines abroad.
The posters were made by the ruling party in Delhi, another party in opposition to the B.J.P., according to a party member, Durgesh Pathak.
“In a democracy, to ask a question is not wrong,” Mr. Pathak said. “I am not abusing anybody. I am not instigating anybody for violence. I am not asking anybody to do any wrong thing. I am asking a question to the prime minister of my country.”
Bake sales on Instagram. Online fund-raisers involving Hollywood celebrities. Pledges of aid from companies like Mastercard and Google. A middle-of-the-night flight by a FedExcargo plane transporting thousands of oxygen concentrators and masks.
India’s devastating surge in Covid-19 cases has galvanized corporations, nonprofit organizations and individuals in the United States into raising millions of dollars and sending medical supplies to the nation of 1.4 billion.
But a sweeping change to India’s decades-old law governing foreign donations is choking off foreign aid just when the country needs it desperately. The amendment, passed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September with little warning, limits international charities that donate to local nonprofits.
The effect is far-reaching. Almost overnight, the amendment gutted a reliable source of funding for tens of thousands of nongovernmental organizations, or N.G.O.s, that were already stretched thin by the pandemic. It prompted international charities to cut back giving that supported local efforts — and supplemented the government’s work — in fields such as health, education and gender.
more than 22 million infections and over 236,000 deaths, but experts say the toll is severely undercounted. Medical oxygen is in short supply. Hospitals are turning away patients. Only a tiny fraction of the population has been vaccinated. Mr. Modi’s government has come under increasing criticism inside and outside the country over its handling of the second wave.
Nongovernmental organizations help provide basic health services in India, picking up the slack in a country where government spending in that area totals 1.2 percent of gross domestic product. The United States spends close to 18 percent on health care. When the pandemic first surged in India, in March 2020, Mr. Modi asked NGOs to help provide supplies and protective gear and to spread the message on social distancing.
At the same time, India’s relationship with NGOs — a catchall term for the roughly three million nonprofits working across the country, including religious, educational and advocacy groups — has occasionally been fraught.
about a quarter of India’s NGO funding — roughly $2.2 billion — came from foreign donors, according to Bain & Co., the consulting firm. The September amendment, which was met with a backlash from India’s vocal community of activists, changed the landscape drastically.
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“It came into existence so quickly that there was not the kind of public input or eyes on it that could tell you why it came into existence,” said Ted Hart, the chief executive of Charities Aid Foundation of America, an Alexandria, Va., nonprofit. “It was a shock.”
transport supplies to India free of cost.
The Indian diaspora of about four million people in the United States has swung into action. Some have given money to online platforms such as GiveIndia that route money to Indian nonprofits set up to receive foreign contributions.
It took just a few days for Indiaspora, a nonprofit community of mainly Indian-American donors, to raised around $5 million, including $1.6 million through an online fund-raiser in Hollywood.
“The approach we’ve taken is that the house is burning,” said Indiaspora’s founder, M.R. Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur who lost his sister to Covid-19 in India. But his group is stepping carefully in giving that money away. It decided to stick with a small group of well-established nonprofits to which to direct its funding.
“The way we’re handling our giving is that we’re making sure that the organizations are F.C.R.A. compliant,” Mr. Rangaswami said.
Nicholas Kulish and Karan Deep Singh contributed reporting.
NEW DELHI — Dozens of bodies washed up on the banks of the Ganges this week, most likely the remains of people who perished from Covid-19.
States in southern India have threatened to stop sharing medical oxygen with each other, fiercely protective about holding on to whatever they have as their hospitals swell with the sick and infections skyrocket.
And at one hospital in Andhra Pradesh, a rural state in southeastern India, furious relatives went on a rampage in the intensive care unit after lifesaving oxygen suddenly ran out — the latest example of the same tragedy repeating itself, of patients dying while gasping for air.
The desperation that engulfed New Delhi, India’s capital, over the past few weeks is now spreading across the entire country, hitting states and rural areas with many fewer resources. Positivity rates are soaring in those states, and public health experts say that the rising numbers most likely fall far short of giving the true picture in places where sickness and deaths caused by Covid-19 are harder to track.
B.1.167, may be especially transmissible, which is just adding to the sense of alarm.
an Indian news site that has been tracking the string of deadly incidents.
roughly two million doses that have been administered each day over the past few days are lower than the highs a few weeks ago, when some days the country gave out more than three million doses. Many people can’t find any appointments to get the shot. Some vaccination sites have completely run out, officials say.
All this is leading to the sharpest criticism that Narendra Modi, India’s powerful prime minister, has faced since he came into office seven years ago. He has been widely accused of declaring premature victory over the coronavirus and encouraging his country to drop its guard.
Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party remains India’s most powerful political organization by far. But the solid wall that the party has maintained during this crisis may be showing some cracks.
Several party lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state and one controlled by Mr. Modi’s party, have begun to grumble about the way the state government has responded.
reported 12,481 new infections on Tuesday, less than half of what was reported on April 30. And the positivity rate among people being tested for the coronavirus has been steadily falling in the city, to 19 percent from a troubling high of 36 percent a few weeks ago.
In Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, something similar has happened and people are now allowing themselves to wonder if the worst has passed. Mumbai’s positivity rate has dropped to about 7 percent from roughly 25 percent.
chugged into Bangalore on Tuesday morning.
Kerala says it can’t ship out oxygen because it needs its entire supply for its own rising needs. Tamil Nadu, also in the south, is saying the same thing and that it can’t supply its poorer neighbor, Andhra Pradesh, where the 11 people died from the oxygen cutoff Monday night.
“I can hardly imagine what is going on in rural India,” said Rijo M. John, a health economist in Kerala, where the positivity rate shot up to nearly 27 percent on Tuesday, from around 8 percent in early April.
Mr. John said that rural areas were not doing much Covid testing and that many people “may be dying due to a lack of any treatment at all.”
A particularly troubling omen came to a riverside village in Bihar, a rural state in northern India. In the village of Chausa, residents were feeling deeply uneasy after discovering dozens of bodies that mysteriously washed up on the banks of the Ganges.
Nobody knows who these people were or how their bodies got there. Villagers found them on Monday evening. Stunned onlookers crowded around the remains, many with brightly colored clothes sticking to them, floating in the shallows. Images of the bloated bodies have made the rounds across Indian media, unsettling countless people.
Officials said around 30 bodies had been found. Witnesses put the figure at more than 100.
Once in awhile, villagers said, they see a single corpse floating in the river. It’s part of a custom in which some families send the bodies of their loved ones into the Ganges, the holiest river in Hinduism, weighted down by stones. But officials and residents in Chausa suspect that the unprecedented number of bodies they found this week belonged to victims of Covid-19.
“I’ve never seen so many bodies,” said Arun Kumar Srivastava, a government doctor in Chausa.
As Covid-19 has ravaged this area, Dr. Srivastava said he has seen more and more people transporting dead bodies, sometimes on their shoulders. “Definitely,” he said. “More deaths are happening.”
Krishna Dutt Mishra, an ambulance driver in Chausa, said that many poor people were disposing of bodies in the river because ever since the second wave of Covid hit, the price of cremations has shot up from 2,000 rupees, about $27, to 15,000 rupees, about $200, which for most families is an insurmountable sum.
This has become a problem across India. Covid-19 deaths have overwhelmed cremation grounds, and some unscrupulous cremation workers are now charging five or even 10 times the normal price for last rites.
“I drove the entire stretch from Buxar to Chausa,” Mr. Mishra said, referring to another town a little further east. “I have never seen even a few bodies, let alone so many of them, lined up on the river, all through this stretch.”
Hari Kumar and Shalini Venugopal Bhagat contributed reporting.
NEW DELHI — Adar Poonawalla made big promises. The 40-year-old chief of the world’s largest vaccine maker pledged to take a leading role in the global effort to inoculate the poor against Covid-19. His India-based empire signed deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars to make and export doses to suffering countries.
Those promises have fallen apart. India, engulfed in a coronavirus second wave, is laying claim to his vaccines. Other countries and aid groups are now racing to find scarce doses elsewhere.
At home, politicians and the public have castigated Mr. Poonawalla and his company, the Serum Institute of India, for raising prices mid-pandemic. Serum has suffered production problems that have kept it from expanding output at a time when India needs every dose. He has come under criticism for departing to London amid the crisis, though he said it was only a quick trip. He told a British newspaper he had received threats from politicians and some of India’s “most powerful men,” demanding that he supply them with vaccines. When he returns to India, he will travel with government-assigned armed guards.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Poonawalla defended his company and its ambitions. He had no choice but to hand over vaccines to the government, he said. He cited a lack of raw materials, which he has partially blamed on the United States. Making vaccines, he said, is a painstaking process that requires investment and major risks. He said he would return to India when he had finished his business in London. He shrugged off his earlier comments about threats, saying they were “nothing we can’t handle.”
backed waiving intellectual property protections for vaccines, which could make it easier for Indian factories to make them. Still, that won’t help India’s current crisis, which as of Friday had claimed more than 230,000 lives — a figure that likely represents a vast undercount.
a horse breeder turned vaccine billionaire. Before the crisis, he was extolled in the Indian media as an example of a new class of young, worldly entrepreneurs. Photos of him and his wife, Natasha, were a staple of fashion spreads.
Serum received a $300 million grant from the Gates Foundation to supply as many as 200 million doses of Covishield and another vaccine in development to the Gavi Alliance, the public-private partnership that is overseeing Covax, the program to donate vaccines to poor countries.
Serum pledged between January and March to sell about 1.1 billion vaccine doses in coming months, according to a review of purchase agreements supplied by UNICEF. By the time India largely stopped vaccine exports, Serum had exported only about 60 million doses, about half to Gavi. India had claimed more than 120 million.
AstraZeneca has served Serum a legal notice over delivery delays. Serum has just “temporarily deferred” its commitments, Mr. Poonawalla said, citing the Indian government’s halt of exports.
“This is something coming from India,” he said. “It’s not the supplier that is defaulting.”
The world is grappling with the ripple effect. A spokesman for Gavi said that India’s decision to prioritize “domestic needs” is having “a knock-on effect in other parts of the world that desperately need vaccines.” Still, in a sign of the lack of options for getting vaccines, Gavi on Thursday signed a purchase deal with an American vaccine company, called Novavax, involving doses to be made by Serum.
people are being turned away from vaccination centers that have run out of doses.
Serum has missed its expansion targets. Mr. Poonawalla said last fall that by early this year, Serum Institute would be pumping out 100 million doses per month, of which about four in 10 would go overseas.
But after a fire at a facility that was supposed to help the company ramp up vaccine production, Serum’s capacity has remained at about 72 million doses per month. A grant of more than $200 million from the Indian government should help the company reach its goal by summer, he said.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
Mr. Poonawalla has also cited raw materials supplies. In April, he asked President Biden on Twitter to “lift the embargo” on raw material used to make Covid-19 vaccines. White House officials said Mr. Poonawalla mischaracterized his situation. Still, the United States said it would send raw materials to the Serum Institute to increase its vaccine production, though Mr. Poonawalla said they haven’t yet arrived.
Mr. Poonawalla has also come under scrutiny for charging different prices to the central government, to India’s states and to private hospitals. Two weeks ago, Serum said it would charge state governments about $5 per dose, about $3 more than what it charges Mr. Modi’s government.
Last week, following criticism, Mr. Poonawalla lowered the price to $4. Still, the critics point to an interview in which Mr. Poonawalla said that he was making a profit even at the central government’s price.
Mr. Poonawalla said that Serum could sell at a lower price to India’s central government because it was ordering larger volumes.
“People don’t understand,” Mr. Poonawalla told The New York Times. “They just take things in isolation and then they vilify you, not realizing that this commodity is sold at $20 a dose in the world and we’re providing it for $5 or $6 in India. There’s no end to the cribbing, the complaining, the criticizing.”
includes four to five armed personnel.
In an interview with The Times of London newspaper published last week, he described receiving constant, aggressive calls demanding vaccines immediately. “‘Threats’ is an understatement,” he told the paper.
He played down the threats in his interview with The New York Times, and his office declined to disclose further specifics. Still, the comments caused an uproar in India. Some politicians demanded that he name names.
tweeted that Mr. Poonawalla’s departure to London was “shameful” and that he should reduce prices.
The Serum Institute is planning a major expansion in Britain, investing nearly $335 million for research and development, to fund clinical trials, to build out its sales office and to possibly construct a manufacturing plant, Mr. Poonawalla’s office said.
“Everyone is depending on us to be able to give this magic silver bullet in an almost infinite capacity,” Mr. Poonawalla said. “There’s this tremendous pressure from state governments, ministers, the public, friends, and they all want the vaccine. And I’m just trying to equitably distribute it as best I can.”
Selam Gebrekidan in London and Bhadra Sharma in Kathmandu, Nepal, contributed reporting.