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American Indian Congressman Ami Bera’s re-election is at risk due to father’s illegal funding

Father Babulal Bera pleads guilty to election fraud

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Ami Bera. Image: flickr
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The 83-year-old father of Ami Bera, the only Indian descent Congressman has pleaded guilty to illegally funding his son’s election campaigns with at least $260,000, putting at risk his re-election this year in November.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell announced Tuesday that Babulal Bera admitted to making contributions to Ami Bera’s two election campaigns fraudulently in the names of other people and over the legal limit.

Prosecutors have cleared Ami Bera of involvement in the campaign funding scam, but it makes his reelection prospects harder as he is already facing opposition in his constituency from trade unions in his own Democratic Party. He was reelected to a second term in 2014 by less than 1,500 votes after a bruising campaign. The race was the costliest House of Representatives campaign that year with the two parties together running up a tab of $21 million.

Babulal Bera and Ami Bera Image: fox40.com
Babulal Bera and Ami Bera
Image: fox40.com

Federal prosecutor Phillip A. Talbert told reporters on Tuesday that there was “no indication” that the Democratic Representative or his staff were involved in the illegal election financing and that they had cooperated with the prosecutors.

Ami Bera, a medical doctor who represents the from the 7th California District in the state capital area, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he had no idea that his father had illegally financed his campaign. He said that he has sent the money contributed by his father to the US government.

In 2010 Ami Bera lost his first election campaign for the House of Representative for which his father, a retired chemical engineer, contributed $240,000. The successful 2012 campaign received $40,000 from his father.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a candidate was $2,400 in 2010 and $2,500 in 2012.

Babulal Bera was charged in the federal court for the Eastern California in Sacramento before Judge Troy L. Nunley, who is to sentence him in August. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on two charges, but is unlikely get the harsh penalty given his age. The Los Angeles Times reported that the prosecutors are recommending a prison term of upto 30 months.

Court papers said that Babulal Bera asked about 90 friends and relatives to send over 130 contributions to his son’s campaign in their own names and then he reimbursed them so that he himself will not appear to have exceeded the legal funding limits.

He is the third person of Indian descent to run afoul of the election laws in the past two years. Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza was convicted in 2014 of illegally contributing $20,000 to the unsuccessful Republican Senate campaign of his college friend, Wendy Long. Although New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara sought a jail term, the judge gave him a $30,000 fine and eight months of community confinement that allowed him to continue working.

Sant Singh Chatwal, a hotelier, pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal contributions of $188,000 to three candidates and was fined $500,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. In an unusual move, the federal prosecutor in Brooklyn at that time, Loretta Lynch, did not disclose who received Chatwal’s illegal contributions. Media reports, however, identified one of the recipients as Hillary Clinton who received them when she ran for Senate. Lynch is now the US Attorney General.

The scandal casts a shadow on Ami Bera’s reelection bid in November when he will face the Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. He is up against serious opposition within his own party because of his support for President Barack Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which trade unions consider anti-labour.

Because of trade union opposition he was unable get the endorsement of his local party unit to run for reelection and he had to get the backing of the state party convention. Unions have held protests against him in his district and vowed to defeat him as they say 12-nation TPP will lead to loss of jobs and lower wages in the US because of the cheaper imports it will allow.

Ami Bera’s 2014 victory was a nail-biter. On election night he was about 3,000 votes behind Republican Doug Ose, but as postal and other ballots were tallied over a two-week period he emerged the winner by just 1,432 votes.

According to media reports, Bera raised $3.7 million and outside organisations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $6.5 million promoting him in the 2014 election. Ose raised $3.2 million and the National Republican Congressional Committee and others contributed almost $7 million to campaign for him. (IANS)

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Most Terrible Water Crisis Ever In History Leaves Millions Of Indians Thirsty

6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water.

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A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017.
A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017. VOA

Weak infrastructure and a national shortage have made water costly all over India, but Sushila Devi paid a higher price than most. It took the deaths of her husband and son to force authorities to supply it to the slum she calls home.

“They died because of the water problem, nothing else,” said Devi, 40, as she recalled how a brawl over a water tanker carrying clean drinking water in March killed her two relatives and finally prompted the government to drill a tubewell.

“Now things are better. But earlier … the water used to be rusty, we could not even wash our hands or feet with that kind of water,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Delhi.

India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history”, threatening hundreds of millions of lives and jeopardising economic growth, a government think-tank report said in June.

From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people – nearly half India’s population – face acute water shortage, with close to 200,000 dying each year from polluted water.

Residents like Devi queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers – a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply – often involving elbowing, pushing and punching.

On the rare occasions water does flow from taps, it is often dirty, leading to disease, infection, disability and even death, experts say.

“The water was like poison,” said Devi, who still relies on the tanker for drinking water, outside her one-room shanty in the chronically water-stressed Wazirpur area of the capital Delhi.

“It is better now, but still it is not completely drinkable. It is alright for bathing and washing the dishes.”

Water pollution is a major challenge, the report said, with nearly 70 percent of India’s water contaminated, impacting three in four Indians and contributing to 20 percent of the country’s disease burden.

Yet only one-third of its wastewater is currently treated, meaning raw sewage flows into rivers, lakes and ponds – and eventually gets into the groundwater.

“Our surface water is contaminated, our groundwater is contaminated. See, everywhere water is being contaminated because we are not managing our solid waste properly,” said the report’s author Avinash Mishra.
Loss of livelihood

Meanwhile, unchecked extraction by farmers and wealthy residents has caused groundwater levels to plunge to record lows, says the report.

It predicts that 21 major cities, including New Delhi and India’s IT hub of Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

The head of WaterAid India VK Madhavan said the country’s groundwater was now heavily contaminated.

“We are grappling with issues, with areas that have arsenic contamination, fluoride contamination, with salinity, with nitrates,” he said, listing chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

Arsenic and fluoride occur naturally in the groundwater, but become more concentrated as the water becomes scarcer, while nitrates come from fertilisers, pesticides and other industrial waste that has seeped into the supply.

The level of chemicals in the water was so high, he said, that bacterial contamination – the source of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid – “is in the second order of problems”.

“Poor quality of water – that is loss of livelihood. You fall ill because you don’t have access to safe drinking water, because your water is contaminated.”

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.
Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater. pixabay

“The burden of not having access to safe drinking water, that burden is greatest on the poor and the price is paid by them.”

Frothy lakes and rivers

Crippling water problems could shave 6 percent off India’s gross domestic product, according to the report by the government think-tank, Niti Aayog.

“This 6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water. Our industry, our food security, everything will be at stake,” said Mishra.

“It is a finite resource. It is not infinite. One day it can (become) extinct,” he said, warning that by 2030 India’s water supply will be half of the demand.

To tackle this crisis, which is predicted to get worse, the government has urged states – responsible for supplying clean water to residents – to prioritise treating waste water to bridge the supply and demand gap and to save lives.

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.

Every year, Bengaluru and New Delhi make global headlines as their heavily polluted water bodies emit clouds of white toxic froth due to a mix of industrial effluents and domestic garbage dumped into them.

In Bengaluru – once known as the “city of lakes” and now doomed to go dry – the Bellandur Lake bursts into flames often, sending plumes of black smoke into sky.

The Yamuna river that flows through New Delhi can be seen covered under a thick, detergent-like foam on some days.

On other days, faeces, chemicals and ashes from human cremations float on top, forcing passers-by to cover their mouths and noses against the stench.

That does not stop 10-year-old Gauri, who lives in a nearby slum, from jumping in every day.

With no access to water, it is the only way to cool herself down during India’s scorching summers, when temperatures soar to 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

“There usually is not enough water for us to take a shower, so we come here,” said Gauri, who only gave her first name, as she and her brother splashed around in the filthy river.

Also read: India’s bulging water crisis: Is it too late for us to do something?

“It makes us itchy and sick, but only for some time. We are happy to have this, everyone can use it.” (VOA)