Citizens' Issues
Anti-doping agency chief says sports federations protected players who used banned drugs

Rahul Bhatnagar, director-general of the National Anti-Doping Agency, says that since the credit for winning medals passes on to the sports bodies, the authorities would ‘manage’ the drug testing results

As the doping scandal involving some of the country's top athletes deepens, it seems that the wrongdoing could not have been committed without the knowledge of the sports authority, and that this illegal practise has been revealed only because drug testing has been entrusted to an independent body over the past couple of years.

The Sports Authority of India is investigating an embarrassing doping scandal after eight athletes tested positive for banned anabolic steroids a fortnight ago.

Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose and Ashwini Akkunji, three of the country's 2010 Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medal winning relay team, have been suspended along with five other lesser known athletes after testing positive.

The latest high-profile cases are in addition to the 122 other positive cases the country's National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has detected, involving mainly wrestlers and weightlifters, since May 2010.

Before NADA was set up two years ago, the test samples were collected by the Sports Authority of India (SAI). "It was a clear conflict of interest," says Rahul Bhatnagar, director-general of NADA. "It was like the coaches themselves being deputed to give the samples. The lab would check the samples and the reports would go back to the SAI and the (respective) federation would do the results management."

Mr Bhatnagar explained that the various sports federations spend on the sportspersons and since the credit for winning medals goes to these bodies, the players were protected by the authorities. "Now we are doing it (testing). We have no personal interest in protecting the athletes. So this has been exposed."

NADA collected 2,800 samples last year and has conducted 1,480 tests till July this year.

"When the athletes come up before the hearing panel, most of them say that they do not know how the (illegal) substances got into their body," Mr Bhatnagar said. "Some drugs can get into your system as part of food contamination, but steroids are a serious matter."

Now, some of the athletes who have tested positive are claiming innocence and blaming their coaches. But the NADA chief says that the buck stops with the athlete. "It is very clear in the rules that if any banned substances are found in the body of an athlete s/he will be held responsible for this."

Of course, the sportspersons share a close relationship with the coaches and support staff, like doctors, physiotherapists and officials of the sports federations. "So, it is their responsibility to ensure that they do not consume substances that are banned and not to abet such acts," Mr Bhatnagar said.

Last week, Dr Sajib Nandi, a former medical officer of the National Institute of Sports, said he has substantial evidence to prove that organised doping was going on at the institute with the involvement of top officials. Dr Nandi also met sports minister Ajay Maken and informed him about these illegal practises going on at the institute, in Patiala.

NADA is an autonomous body set up under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports with the objective of rooting out doping from sports. The organisation, which has been in operation since 2009, follows the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Asked about who pays for these banned substances, Mr Bhatnagar explained: "When a training programme is drawn up for athletes, the government provides the funds to SAI which conducts the training camps, for food, boarding and lodging. A fixed amount is also sanctioned for food supplements (Rs250 a day for top athletes). So the federation could provide the money either from their funds, or athletes could buy these banned drugs on their own."

NADA works through an Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel and an Anti-Doping Appeal Panel. It has a budget of Rs3 crore this year, for its expenditure on staff and materials, like drug-testing kits and the lab costs. While the kit costs about Rs700, the laboratory charges Rs4,390 for tests of samples from players participating in national competitions and Rs8,000 for sportspersons in international competitions.

NADA sends the samples collected for testing to the National Dope Testing Laboratory, also based in Delhi. The laboratory, also an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, is one of 36 labs around the world that are accredited by WADA. Tests of national as well as international athletes are conducted here.

The anti-doping agency organises educational programmes on the problem of drugs, wherever sports events or training sessions are held across the country. "Our experts, doctors, sports science doctors, legal experts have detailed sessions with players to explain the ill-effects of doping and what they are allowed to consume and what they are not allowed to consume."


Iran threatens to cut oil supply to India: Report

"If the problem over crude oil payments is not resolved, it's very likely that Iran won't authorise crude oil shipments to India in August," Fars quoted Central Bank of Iran governor Mohammad Bahmani as saying

Tehran: Iran on Monday threatened to cut oil supplies to India by the beginning of August if billions of dollars in what it said are overdue payments for crude oil are not made, reports PTI.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted an unidentified senior oil ministry official as saying it will not authorise shipments of crude oil to India as of 1st August if overdue payments are not made.

The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Central Bank of Iran governor Mohammad Bahmani as saying that India owes Iran about $5 billion.

A plan for India to funnel oil payments to Iran through Germany's central bank in April was scrapped at a time when Tehran faces international sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.

"If the problem over crude oil payments is not resolved, it's very likely that Iran won't authorise crude oil shipments to India in August," Fars quoted the official as saying.

India reportedly imports 12 million barrels of crude oil, or more than 12% of the nation's total requirements, every month from Iran. This makes Iran the second-largest supplier after Saudi Arabia.

The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Mr Bahmani as saying that the problem over overdue payments has nothing to do with the banking system but 'political issues.'


Four bills crucial for reform of higher education pending before parliament for very long

Experts say reforms are required urgently to equip young people with knowledge and skills, so they can participate fully in the growth story

Four draft education bills have been gathering dust on the legislative tables of parliament, sidetracked by the high drama over the much-talked about Lokpal Bill and the Food Security and Communal Violence Bill.

These bills, namely the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill, Foreign Education Institutions Bill (Regulation of Entry and Operations), Prevention of Malpractices Bill and the Education Tribunal Bill, have been pending the legislative process for a long time now.

Experts say the bills are important for the reform of the education sector and should be passed soon. "The industry knows the value of these bills in terms of bringing about potential changes in the education system," says Sandeep Aneja, founder and managing director, Kaizen Private Equity, India's first equity fund focused on the education sector.

The Foreign Education Institutions Bill, which aims to regulate the entry and operation of foreign educational institutions imparting or intending to impart higher education in India, was cleared by the Union Cabinet last year. The Bill was drafted during the tenure of the first UPA government, but the Left parties had opposed it.

The Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill proposes to set up a body to assess and accredit every institution in higher education. The existing accreditation process is voluntary.

The Education Tribunal Bill proposes to set up a two-tier structure of educational tribunals at the national and state levels to adjudicate disputes. This Bill too was deferred in the Rajya Sabha after criticism by the opposition.

Chennai-based developmental professional, Ramesh Arunachalam says that the bills are important to ensure the quality of education. "All the four bills have the potential to scale up the quality of educational reform and, therefore, they must be passed expeditiously. IIT Mumbai was the only Indian educational institution that featured in a recent rating of the top 200 universities across Asia and this is a pointer to the urgent need to scale up (higher) educational standards."

"If this is not done urgently," Mr Arunachalam says, "India's celebrated 'demographic dividend'-the reason for strong economic growth-may turn to a 'demographic liability' as the younger generation (mainly of low income segments) will not get proper education, and hence will not be able to access appropriate jobs. With over than 600 million people dependent directly and/or indirectly on agriculture, it is imperative to act now and pass the four pending Bills so that younger people from rural areas acquire the skills and quality education required to be a part of the inclusive growth story."

Madhuri Pejawar, dean of Science of the University of Mumbai, told Moneylife that the proper implementation of these bills will be equally important. "One such initiative has been started by the University of Mumbai, which is introducing a grading and crediting system at the college level. This system is in line with foreign universities and would help students opting for higher education, abroad," she explained.

The 100% cut-off for undergraduate admissions in some of Delhi's premium colleges this year has increased the concern, even in industry circles, and this prompted the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), to write the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources Development, seeking the introduction of reforms in higher education and quick approval of the four education bills.

A senior official from the HRD ministry, who requested anonymity, told Moneylife, "We have received recommendations on the Prevention of Malpractices Bill from the Standing Committee. Two bills, namely the Foreign Education and Accreditation Authority bills, are pending with the Standing Committee, whereas the Education Tribunal Bill is pending in the Rajya Sabha. We hope to get at least two of these bills passed by the next academic year."


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