LIST OF NEWSPAPERS COVERED
BACKWARD CLASSES 3
CIVIL SERVICE 4-14
DEFENCE, NATIONAL 15-17
EMINENT PERSONALITIES 18-20
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 31-33
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT 35-36
POSTAL SERVICES 37-38
RURAL DEVELOPMENT 46-52
URBAN DEVELOPMENT 71-76
PIONEER, DEC 9, 2015UP GOVT GETS EIGHT WEEKS TO REMOVE JATS FROM OBC LIST
The Allahabad High Court has directed the Akhilesh Yadav Government in Uttar Pradesh to remove Jats from among the Other Backward Classes list in the State within eight weeks in keeping with a Supreme Court judgment holding that the community cannot be considered as OBC.
The decision came from a bench of Justices Arun Tandon and Vipin Sinha while dealing with a petition filed by one Rajbeer and other members of the Ahir community who are listed as OBCs in the State list.
Through their lawyers Raj K Yadav and Rajeev Trivedi, the petitioners argued that the State cannot continue providing reservation for Jats in State Public Services under a notification issued on March 10, 2000.
According to them, this decision (granting reservation to the Jats) violated the SC judgment of March 17, 2015 in Ram Singh versus Union of India by which the apex court struck down the Centre’s notification for clubbing Jats as OBCs as they failed to show any indicator of social or educational backwardness.
The HC bench took note of the submissions and said, “We dispose the writ petition by requiring respondent 1 (UP Government) to consider the grievance of the petitioner in the light of the judgment of the Supreme Court strictly in accordance with law preferably within a period of eight weeks.”
Considering the fact that Jats constitute 3.6 per cent of the State’s population, taking a decision to strike them off from reservation benefits will prove costly to the Samajwadi Party Government which is bracing for polls in the State in 2017. Jats hold considerable sway in decision making as is evident from the report of the Social Justice Committee prepared in year 2001 showing that 92 per cent Jat households are landowners and 89 per cent of Jats in rural areas are employed in primary sector jobs.
The fact that UP Government did not conduct any socio-economic survey of backwardness before extending reservation to Jats was even noted by apex court in its landmark verdict. Besides, the National Commission for Backward Classes too had shot down the proposals for inclusion of Jats under the OBC category on February 26, 2014 that was held to be binding on States by the apex court.
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 15, 2015Whistleblower IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi rendered joblessBy Raghav Ohri
NEW DELHI: Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the whistleblower Indian Forest Service officer and Magsaysay award winner, has been rendered completely jobless. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, where Chaturvedi has been posted, has withdrawn the last of the tasks that had been assigned to him - that of booking its guesthouses.
An aggrieved Chaturvedi has written to Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha, stating that "over the past three years, all the works were withdrawn one by one without assigning any reason and...after the last order dated December 3, withdrawing work of estate section, I am practically without any work."
He said that "this situation is the result of lawful actions against a powerful nexus of corrupt politicians-bureaucrats about which your esteemed office is very well aware."
The civil servant had unearthed a spate of scams while posted in Haryana and took action in 165 cases covering a range of irregularities at AIIMS. Detailed questionnaires sent to the health ministry and the AIIMS director seeking comment on the matter remained unanswered.
When Chaturvedi was appointed deputy secretary of AIIMS in June 2011, his job, among other things, was to "exercise management and control of the institute" and "coordinate and manage infrastructure projects and ensure. their timely completion."
The work involved multi-crore rupee projects, including the country's biggest cancer hospital in Jhajjar. In addition, he was made chief vigilance officer of the institute. However, Chaturvedi was said to have been given charge of only two minor areas - the general section on deciding issues of grievances and pension and the estate section.
In November 2012, the charge of the general section was allegedly withdrawn without any reason. Then, he was removed from the post of CVO in August 2014. As first reported by ET in May, the officer had contended that till date, he had not been allocated the entire work.
Chaturvedi had petitioned the Central Administrative Tribunal, alleging that through an order
dated May 15, the Narendra Modi government, acting in an "arbitrary and mala fide manner," had said all files and work routed through him should be sent by subordinate officers directly to his superior. Since then, the only task left with Chaturvedi was the estate section - booking of guesthouses of the institute.
In response to the petition, the health ministry and AIIMS claimed that the entire work promised at the time of creation of the post stands allotted to Chaturvedi. Terming this as a "blatant lie," Chaturvedi accused AIIMS director MC Misra of perjury.
Taking note, the tribunal issued notices to the AIIMS director, seeking an explanation. The next hearing is in January.
"There is absolutely no rule under which an officer with consistent outstanding grading and vigilance clearance may be prevented forcefully to perform his assigned duties and in fact such acts are criminal offences," Chaturvedi said in the letter to the Cabinet Secretary.
Chaturvedi said he faces a "very humiliating situation of being without any work and being paid full salary (Rs 1 lakh plus). Such wastage of financial/human resources is very unfortunate for a poor country like ours
A parliamentary committee in a report in August had slammed the institute and the health ministry for delays in projects worth several crore rupees and had recommended "effective monitoring" to ensure their timely completion.
ASIAN AGE, DEC 14, 2015Parity dispute may delay pay panel’s award
The implementation of the seventh Central Pay Commission (recommendations may not happen in the forthcoming calendar year 2016 and there is a likelihood that it could be delayed by six months to even a year, owing to differences on pay parity between IAS and non-IAS lobbies and difficulties being faced by states to bear the financial burden.
According to sources close to the development, though the finance minister Arun Jaitley had in November at the time of receiving the seventh CPC’s report claimed that the government will try and implement these at the earliest (mainly the government was looking at the January 1, 2016 deadline), it may seem unlikely as the Centre has been receiving a lot of representations from various sections of the workforce, suggesting a relook at many of the aspects.
A panel headed by the cabinet secretary is presently reviewing the recommendations and discussing these with various stakeholders including the states.
No hike suggested by the CPC in transport allowance is one of the key issues of concern of the central government employees, while non-IAS officials like the IPS (Indian Police Service) and the IRS (Indian Revenue Service) have for long been seeking pay parity with their IAS colleagues and have conveyed their concern to the government.
While empanelment at joint secretary level within the IAS cadre happens after 11 years of service, for others like the IPS and the IRS, the empanelment at the same rank requires 13 years of service. In other words IAS officers enjoy a lead of two years over their non-IAS colleagues in terms of higher salaries and perks, sources pointed out.
Though the seventh CPC has suggested over a 100 per cent hike in house rent allowance to compensate for the unchanged transport allowance, sources said that it is one of the major source of discontentment.
PIONEER, DEC 14, 2015NO MORE NEW VEHICLES FOR DELHI BABUS!
The Arvind Kejriwal Government is planning to ban purchase of new vehicles by all its departments and encourage the use of hired automobiles. New vehicles would be purchased only in exceptional circumstances.
It is estimated that the 129 departments of the Delhi Government collectively have over 15,000 vehicles.
The move comes in the wake of rising concerns over the massive air pollution caused by the increasing number of vehicles on the city’s roads and the resultant traffic jams.
A circular issued by the Finance Department said, “Several proposals from different departments have been received by the Finance Department for purchase of vehicles either as a replacement or in addition to the existing fleet. However, according to our analysis, it is far more economical to hire vehicles rather than purchase and operate a fleet. Purchase of vehicles will be allowed in exceptional circumstances only. For instance, new vehicles for Ministers and equivalent posts/Principal Secretaries, fire department and ambulance services will be allowed.”
The circular said new vehicles may be purchased only through the Directorate-General of Supplies and Disposals on rate contract mode, adding, that model base and parameters like fuel
economy, eco-friendliness would be considered before buying the cars.
A maximum monthly expenditure limit for hire and purchase facility in all departments has been fixed at `35,000 per vehicle per month and `45,000 per vehicle per month. The departments will have to take prior approval for the number of vehicles to be hired at the beginning of the financial year. To check wasteful expenditure and misuse of Government vehicles, the Finance Department has advised all officials to enforce “strict economy” in expenditure.
The notice also warns against misuse of office vehicles. “The departments shall also ensure that the hired vehicles are used for the purpose for which they are hired,” the circular said.
The Finance Department also made it clear that vehicles would be hired only for officers having pay scale of Rs 37,400 to Rs 67,000 per month in case Government vehicles or staff cars are not available with the department.
The notice also advised all wings that only officials entitled to staff cars should be offered the facility and they would not be entitled to transport allowance if they avail of it. Sources said the Government is also planning to strictly enforce the rules for providing official vehicles from now on.
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 14, 2015Employees' body demands re-look at 7th CPC report
NEW DELHI: A body of central government employees has demanded a re-look at the Seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC) report and sought a rationalised pay structure
In a memorandum submitted to Union Minister Jitendra Singh, the Government Employees' National Federation said that while there are some positive recommendations in the 7th CPC report, there are, at the same time, several instances which need a relook.
Thus, the memorandum said, the exercise to rationalise pay structure has led to several discrepancies. It further complained that the concept of grade pay and pay band has been done away with and all grades of pay at all levels have been subsumed within the pay matrix.
Singh, the Minister of State for Personnel, said that the report submitted last month is under the government's consideration and the follow-up on it would be done after the inputs have been received from the Finance Minstry and other relevant quarters.
He said that even though opinion may vary, there is a large section of employees which has hailed the report, including its recommendation of 16 per cent hike in salary along with a 63 per cent increase in allowances and 24 per cent hike in pension, with minimum Basic Pay of Rs 18,000 and maximum pay of Rs 2.25 lakh for central government staff.
Singh recalled that, while accepting the report, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had disclosed that an implementation secretariat headed by the Expenditure Secretary had been created while a separate empowered committee under the Cabinet Secretary will take a view on suggestions received from various stakeholders.
"There is, therefore, enough reason to believe that all the concerns and apprehensions, if any, expressed by the employees will be taken care of by the government," the minister said.
There are about 50 lakh central government employees.
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 11, 2015No proposal to allow lateral entry of professionals into IAS
NEW DELHI: There is no proposal to allow lateral entry of professionals into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), government said today.
In order to address shortage of IAS officers in regular recruitment quota, the government has increased annual intake from 55 in civil services examination 1998 to 180 for this year's test, conducted by Union Public Service Commission to select IAS, IPS and IFS officers, among others.
However, no proposal to permit lateral entry into IAS is currently under consideration of the government," Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh said in a written reply in Rajya Sabha.
He said the government has sensitised the states governments to send complete and updated proposals to UPSC for selection of suitable officers for promotion quota of IAS.
During the present calender year, 28 selection committee meetings for promotion of state or non-state civil services officers to the IAS have been been conducted and 175 officers have been appointed by promotion or selection to IAS, Singh said.
Further, the government has also organised training programme for seven extra batches at four administrative training institutes to remove the backlog of induction training for promoted IAS officers, the Minister said.
PIONEER, DEC 10, 2015HOW GOVT BROUGHT DOWN A ‘CORRUPT’ BABU
The Arvind Kejriwal Government on Wednesday removed a 1984 batch IAS officer Sanjay Pratap Singh from the post of Principal Secretary (SC/ST/OBC Commission) after the CBI arrested the IAS officer and his personal assistant for allegedly demanding a bribe of `2.2 lakh from placement agencies that supplies security guards and other manpower for clearing pending bills.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, complainant JK Biswas and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia appeared before the media and claimed that the AAP Government was behind the trap.
Sisodia claimed that Singh was caught red handed by the CBI after Kejriwal was informed about it by the complainant. Following which the CM asked the complainant to contact the CBI and get the officer trapped. Sisodia sounded a warning to all Government servants, saying the Government will not tolerate corruption. “We are very serious about this issue,” he added.
He said the Government had been keeping an eye for long on the senior bureaucrat arrested on Tuesday in a graft case, but there was no evidence against him. “We had heard about Singh. But no solid information was coming our way. We were keeping an eye on him,” said Sisodia, adding that he had conducted a surprise visit recently to his office.
He had hired one guard but showed two guards on paper. “We wanted to make sure that this time the officer gets caught, not a junior who was taking bribe on his behalf,” Sisodia said.
Action was finally taken after Biswas whose firm provides security guards to the Transport Department, approached Kejriwal. The Delhi Government in turn approached the CBI and the officer was arrested after the agency laid a trap. “We got a video recording done showing how the account officer was taking money. The video clip shows that he insists on `2 lakh as bribe,” said Biswas, who had recently joined the AAP.
He alleged that the bureaucrat would ask for a bribe every time bills were cleared. “Whenever I went to get bills cleared, he would ask for over Rs1 lakh bribe and then only pass bills.”
Kejriwal has directed chief secretary KK Sharma to surrender Singh to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). It is noted that the MHA had took a strong call to compulsory retire him and the proposal was approved by DoPT in 2012 but it was stalled by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) on some technical grounds.
Strangely, the MHA promoted him within the cadre to the pay scale of secretary to the Government of India in July 2015. Also, Singh was suspended for his misbehaviour during his probation period.
It is also a fact that Singh’s name was proposed by the AAP Government in the panel of four bureaucrats that was sent to Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to work as acting Chief Secretary in the absence of Chief Secretary KK Sharma in May 2005. Sisodia had opposed his name.
According to sources, despite receiving several complaints against Singh in the past, the MHA had promoted him as Principal Secretary last year.
Interestingly, no service record is available in his executive record sheet between March 2009 and July 2009 during his posting in Mizoram.
The MHA in its report that was submitted to the CAT had held Singh guilty of misconduct and found that he, then a project director of UBS, had purchase Tata Sumo in December 1997 without approval of the Principal Secretary Urban Development.
Singh unauthorisedly brought the vehicle with him when he was transferred out of the Urban Development Department and posted as Special Commissioner (Transport) and Director Delhi Energy Development Agency (DEDA) in 1998.
He kept the vehicle for his personal use till November 1998.
According to the MHA, he also fabricated a back dated letter to show that the vehicle was sent to the Election Commission.
“Singh had committed gross misconduct and failed to maintain absolute integrity and thereby violated the provisions of Rule 3, (1) of the All India Services (conduct) Rules 1968,” the MHA said.
Sources said the MHA also held Singh responsible for his misconduct while functioning as Director DEDA, purchased a Maruti DL3CJ 8262 unauthorisedly without obtaining the prior approval of the competent authority. Singh used the car for his personal use.
Sources said Singh was also held responsible for his misconduct of service rule while functioning as Director DEDA, created a fake file no PA/MD/1998-99/IITF to favour M/s Mandali R -72 Khirki Extension Malviya Nagar to award the work of preparing a concept of designing and supervision of DEDA stall in IITF in 1998.
TRIBUNE, DEC 9, 2015Coping with pay burdenPunjab needs to rightsize administration
After the Centre, states set up pay commissions, landing themselves in deeper financial troubles. States' own revenue sources are limited. Populist and profligate politicians make matters worse. Punjab's treasury is almost empty. The debt keeps piling up year after year. The government is hard put to pay salaries in time. The Finance Minister had to reassure the staff last Saturday on their DA arrears and GPF withdrawals when the Chief Minister announced the Sixth Pay Commission.
The proposed pay hike will divert more money from education, healthcare, infrastructure, industry and agriculture. Already, starved of funds, state institutions fail to provide services expected of them. Universities and public sector undertakings (PSUs) are among the worst hit. Punjab Agriculture University is unable to undertake research projects, hire staff for extension services and pay its pensioners. The additional burden of maintaining an inefficient, top-heavy administration will obviously fall on the taxpayer. A commission apparently disregards the paying capacity of a state while recommending hefty hikes on the Central pattern.
However, like their Central counterparts, state employees need to be looked after well and paid good salaries. In return, people expect quality services, value for their money. Technology is available to make that possible. The bloated administration can be downsized. However, political will for change is lacking. Politics of populism has financially ruined the state. To beat the legal limit on the number of ministers, Punjab maintains a battalion of chief parliamentary secretaries with no meaningful work. Advisers enjoy the status and perks of a Cabinet minister or minister of state. Many boards and corporations exist just to accommodate political appointees. Welfare benefits and subsidies can be paid direct into the bank accounts of targeted beneficiaries to avoid frauds. However, the CM likes to route payments through middlemen who are politically useful.
The next pay revision should prompt a rethink on the size of the white elephant called government.
TRIBUNE, DEC 8, 2015Jayshree SenguptaThe dilemma of pay hikesHow to finance the hefty rise is the question
HOPEFULLY the Seventh Pay Commission salary hikes will make all government servants happy. The minimum government salary will now be Rs 18,000 and the maximum salary Rs 2.5 lakh. The maximum will be 14 times the minimum salary and there will be a huge gap between the highest and the lowest. The minimum salary will still be more than double of the minimum wage in the country.
The gap between the private and public sector salaries will, however, be narrowed, though only up to a certain level because the private sector has low salaries in the lower rungs but very high salaries at the upper levels. Even so, the incentive to be corrupt will be less for government servants once their salaries are more on a par with the private sector. As former Singapore Prime Minister Li Kuan Yew once said, he paid his government officials very high salaries so that they would not be tempted to take bribes.
Once the 47 lakh serving employees and 52 lakh pensioners are appeased by the new salary scales, there will be generated the much-needed ‘demand push’ for goods and services in India. But then, the government will have to also address the wellbeing of agricultural labour and farmers because they too work hard against all odds and have had to face severe weather conditions for the last two consecutive years. Due to bad monsoon, rural wages have registered an average annual growth of 3.8 per cent in recent years, the lowest since 2005. Labour Bureau data shows that the average all India daily wage rate across 23 agricultural and non-agricultural occupations was at only Rs 266.26 in November 2014. Besides the low wage rate, there is gender disparity in wages, with women getting lower wages than men in some occupations.
The government will also be pressured into giving a higher minimum support prices (MSP) for agricultural produce, as suggested by the MS Swaminathan formula, according to which, the MSP should be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production. Already, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard. If the MSP is raised, rural wages will also go up.
Rural demand is much more important than the demand coming from government employees, and which according to the RBI Governor, is still low. Almost half the population is engaged in
agricultural occupations, though their contribution is considerably less to the GDP than industry and services at 15 per cent. The slackness in rural demand has been felt by the corporate sector which has resulted in the low capacity utilisation in industry.
The informal sector workers who are unskilled also deserve a better deal. The minimum wage has been calculated on a formula based on the food intake for a family of husband, wife and two children below 14 years, amounting to 2,700 calories a day. From July 2015, the national floor level minimum wage has been revised and set at Rs 160 a day for unskilled workers. It also includes provision for rent, clothing, education, medical expenses, recreation, festivals and ceremonies. The trade unions have demanded a minimum wage of Rs 15,000 per month. The government has declared that it is working on a law that will raise minimum wages in both formal and informal sectors. It will be benchmarked to inflation.
Another area in which the government may have to shell out more money would be in the rural employment guarantee scheme (MNREGA) in which the daily wage, though indexed to inflation, remains very low and there has been a long standing demand for increasing the wage. The government is under pressure to hike the MNREGA wage rate. There is a huge amount of arrears to be paid. Recently the government has announced that it will raise the daily wage rate also.
With the new pay scales, the government job vacancies ought to get filled. It is shocking that the Union government has 7,28,870 vacancies and a huge manpower shortage. The worst- affected ministries are finance and science and technology. Hiring temporary staff on contracts is the most favoured mode of employment by the government ministries. With 23.5 per cent salary hikes, everyone expects that the government will work more efficiently. But the hard performance criteria of the private sector are not applicable for government employees. Non-performers, according to the Seventh Pay Commission, will be phased out after 20 years, meaning that the annual increment will be stopped.
There will be pressure on the fiscal situation with an outgo of Rs 1 lakh crore towards pay hikes for government employees, especially when the target for fiscal deficit has been set at 3.5 per cent for 2016-17. If we add to it a higher MSP and minimum wage in the Central government sphere as well as a hike in MNREGA daily wage, the government’s wage bill will rise. There could be inflationary pressure generated by the rise in demand.
The RBI is playing a cautious game and is bent upon controlling inflation especially the CPI. It has not reduced the interest rate from 6.75 per cent because it wants to keep inflation muted. It may want to maintain status quo for some time with a threat of inflation returning. But the
problem is going to be with new investments without which the GDP growth rate will flounder and tax revenues may fall which will make all wage hikes difficult to implement.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said the government pay hikes will not trigger an inflationary spiral because with oil and commodity prices down and better revenue collection, the government will be saving money and there is enough leeway for spending more on salaries. The government, however, in a last minute bid to meet the fiscal deficit may indulge in cutting capital expenditure which will be disastrous.
Last year, the Union Budget slashed health expenditure. The state of healthcare in India is most unsatisfactory, especially in maternal and infant healthcare. Compromising on healthcare and education expenditure could prove to be dangerous. The question is how to finance the hefty pay hikes when there is only nascent economic recovery and marginal increases in tax revenue.
INDIAN EXPRESS, DEC 8, 2015Official trips abroad: Govt seeks details of outcome, spending
There is also a separate column on “Essentiality Grading” to indicate if the officer or minister’s
inclusion was “mandatory, absolutely essential or essential”.Written by Amitabh Ranjan
After introducing stringent guidelines on official trips abroad, the government has initiated
scrutiny of such trips by ministers and bureaucrats to check the intended outcome as well as the
visit’s funding and spending.
All ministries have been asked to submit lists of foreign deputations and overseas training since
April 2013 providing the size of delegation, purpose of each visit, countries visited, duration,
names of delegates, estimated source of funding and the expenditure on each officer.
It also wants the PAN and Aaadhaar number of the officers — deputy secretary and above —
and the ministers who went on these trips. Information has been sought for visits undertaken
during fiscal years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 (until September).
There is also a separate column on “Essentiality Grading” to indicate if the officer or minister’s
inclusion was “mandatory, absolutely essential or essential”. Each department also has to put
down its remark on the outcome of the visit and submit the data to the Finance Ministry’s
expenditure division this month.
Though the official reason for this exercise is to analyse the data so as to regulate future visits
with a view to make them “more efficient and effective”, sources said this was part of the
government’s exercise to clamp down on on non-essential visits.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been rejecting proposals on ministers’ foreign visits
even after a go-ahead by the Ministry of External Affairs. It recently asked the ministers to be
“judicious” before submitting such proposals for secretaries and additional secretaries of their
In June last year, the government tightened the procedure for official foreign visits by
bureaucrats, directing that such proposals should go through the PMO and Screening Committee
of Secretaries for approval. Noting that norms for foreign visits were not being followed, it said
clearances from PMO, Ministry of External Affairs and Home Ministry were necessary for going
abroad and that details of such visits should be uploaded every quarter on the website of the
BUSINESS STANDARD, DEC 15, 2015Govt appoints judicial commission on OROPIn the OROP agitation, veterans demand identical pensions for all those who retire at the same rank, with the same length of serviceAjai Shukla
OROP may lead to review of govt's medium-term spending plan On a Janmashtami deadline, Govt announces OROP; RSS gets the credit Black money law helps OROP soldier on Veterans reject OROP award, plan to intensify agitation Day after drub, ministers cagey on social media
With the appointment of a one-man judicial commission to look into the implementation of the
one rank, one pension (OROP) scheme for ex-servicemen, the government has tried in vain to
signal flexibility in resolving this vexed dispute.
On Monday, the defence ministry (MoD) named Justice L Narasimha Reddy, retired chief
justice of the Patna High Court, as the head of the one-man commission.
A MoD release says the committee will make recommendations on "removal of anomalies that
may arise in the implementation of the OROP", which the government notified on November 7.
It will also address inter-service anomalies, and "any other matter referred by the Central
In the OROP agitation, veterans demand identical pensions for all those who retire at the same
rank, with the same length of service. Ex-servicemen argue they performed the same job in
service and must make ends meet in identical economic conditions today.
Before OROP, veterans who retired in earlier years when salaries were lower got far lower
pensions than those retiring today. A pension, which is payable for life, and then at half rate to a
veteran's widow, amounts to half the salary drawn on the date of retirement.
On September 5, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar announced OROP, but the ex-servicemen
agitation continued, with their leaders discontent with the implementation.
Now the Justice Reddy commission has six months to submit its recommendations on issues that
will be raised before it. It may also submit interim reports, if necessary.
Ex-servicemen bodies at the forefront of the agitation, like the United Front of Ex-Servicemen
(UFESM), first cautiously welcomed, then rejected, the commission.
Colonel (Retired) Anil Kaul, media head of the UFESM told Business Standard: "The
commission provides an additional forum for redressing veterans' grievances against the OROP
award. We don't want to go to court unnecessarily; if the judicial commission can resolve our
issues, that would be the best course."
But a statement put out later by the UFESM took a far stronger line, rejecting the judicial
commission since the UFESM had earlier recommended the commission should have 3-5
members, including two ex-servicemen. Now, for the first time, the UFESM talked openly about
"The way forward is to approach the Supreme Court which would be taken proceduraly (sic) as
per the advise (sic) of our counsel Ram Jethmalani very shortly," said the UFESM in a late-
evening statement. Business Standard understands that Jethmalani has offered to represent the
The government has sent mixed messages about its willingness to compromise. On December 1,
Parrikar met with UFESM leaders and promised to continue finding a settlement. Former army
chief and minister of state for external affairs, General (Retired) VK Singh, was nominated as a
channel of communication.
The UFESM says that by appointing a judicial commission, "the door kept open with a mediator
in the form of Gen VK Singh has been shut on our Face too (sic)."
On Saturday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, speaking at the Aaj Tak Conclave in New Delhi,
had flatly ruled out compromise. Jaitley insisted that most ex-servicemen have gratefully
accepted the government's OROP award, with only "fringe elements" continuing the agitation.
UFESM officeholders say there are two key sticking points in the way of a settlement. First, the
OROP award mandates that the pension in each pay grade would be based on the average salary
that grade. The UFESM insists pension must be based on the top salary in each scale.
Second, ex-servicemen demand that all pensions be based on salaries as on March 31, 2014. The
OROP award bases them on the median salary of calendar year 2013, depriving ex-servicemen
of one annual increment.
A third contentious issue - denying OROP benefits to ex-servicemen who opt in the future for
premature retirement - appears to have been dropped by the UFESM.
Say UFESM leaders, anonymously: "The bill to meet our two demands would be just Rs 3,000
crore, over and above Rs 8,300 crore that the government has put as the annual cost of OROP.
Given that just 14 per cent of this would be paid out to officers, and 86 per cent would go to
enlisted men, the government should not withhold it."
The resilience of the UFESM agitation and its on-going programme of rallies across the country
have surprised the government.
STATESMAN, DEC 9, 2015Quest for dignityTarun Kumar
Modernity in the subcontinent is generally regarded as an outcome of colonialism. It opened up numerous possibilities and prompted a variety of reactions from society. Baba Sahib Bhim Rao Ambedkar was a prodigy despite his depressed class origins, indeed a segment of the population that often lacked the culture of education. There is little doubt that modernity facilitated the spread of learning. Indeed, education and interface with the West helped him to develop a pragmatic, rational legal outlook. He developed a positive approach towards solving problems. He was inspired by the American social scientist, John Dewey.
Equipped with this enlightened outlook he confronted the acutely hierarchical social reality. The social arrogance of the upper castes was revolting, going by his personal experience in the princely state of Baroda, where despite occupying a significant position in the Gaekwad administration he was often humiliated. He was kept at a distance and discriminated against. Files were thrown at his table. He was not served water by his peon.
Such personal experiences soon made him realize that Mahatma Gandhi had inspired social penance of caste Hindus. Entry to temples or access to wells or common dining were all superficial attempts that could not break the cultural straitjacket of caste-based discrimination. Casteism was not merely a vulgar social practice; it was ritually ordained and culturally inscribed and could not be wished away by mere social tinkering and political positioning.
He was indeed at his radical best when he wrote Annhilation of Caste. His detractors might call his approach utopian, but given the extent of the social malaise, so surgical a prescription was not a surprise. The obnoxious nature of caste-based discrimination provoked Ambedkar to burn the Manusmriti on the occasion of his historical Mahad Satyagraha in 1927 for securing the right of untouchables to drink the water of the Chawdar tank in Mahad town in Maharashtra. He was convinced that caste could not be reformed (contrary to Gandhi’s hope) but only annihilated. And the annihilation of caste implies the abolition of Hindu ideology because it is formulated in the Shastras and Smritis. Thus, Ambedkar wished to replace the Hinduism, which was a ‘religion of rules’, with ‘true religion’, the religion of principles, which is the basis for civic government.
The book provoked a response from the Mahatma itself, who called it a ‘challenge to Hinduism’ and Ambedkar’s quest for liberation, autonomy and distinctive nationhood of depressed classes was met with a profound response by the Mahatma Rs fast unto death. It was a crucial moment for Ambedkar, he was in a dilemma. The eventual climbdown led to the Poona Pact which was a bitterly frustrating experience for him.
In that moment of stress, Ambedkar’s pragmatic streak made him realize the vulnerability of the Dalits who were scattered across tiny hamlets throughout the country. Slowly but surely, he eventually regained his rational mindset and he became a constitutional genius who shaped the legal covenant of free India. He built into the Constitution legal safeguards against discrimination and abolished untouchability while bringing in legal and political equality. This compelled him to be a revolutionary and to concurrently put his foot in the corridors of power whenever it was possible. His genius lay in his capacity to use both these facets of his personality to achieve his ultimate goal of securing a dignified existence for Dalits.
While concluding the process of framing the Constitution, he warned that unless the legal and political freedoms are backed with social equality, the system would not last. In this rational-cum-legal framework he tried to reform Hinduism by pushing for the Hindu Code Bill. This evoked a strong reaction and ended his honeymoon with the establishment. Ambedkar had made a profound sociological analysis of Indian reality. He had declared that he was born a Hindu but would not die as one.
Ironically, like his arch opponent Mahatma, he also realized that the sweep of modernity was a half-way house; but while Gandhi went on to develop an overarching critique of modernity, Ambedkar’s task was quite complex. He sought cultural sustenance that could support the legal structures of modernity. Modern nationhood per se under a new set of legal rules would not be able to do away with pre-modern cultural rigidities and practices that had been the bane of Dalits for centuries. What troubled him was the dual existence of a Dalit who was a legal citizen in free India but sociologically subordinated to the hegemonic structures that had their roots in scriptural sophistry and this needed to be countered culturally. In this sense, he draws a unique parallel with WE Dubois who was acutely aware of the dual consciousness of a Black in America and that of a Negro and American.
This realization forced Ambedkar to relentlessly seek an indigenous alternative and this ultimately brought him to his cultural substitute Rs Buddhism. He thought that it was only by relinquishing the cultural baggage of Hinduism and embracing the rational and humanist precepts of Buddhism that there was a possibility of an alternative and dignified social existence. He realized that the sense of dignity for a Dalit was a vulnerable social commodity; its modern safeguards were not strong enough to sustain it and thus another bulwark was needed to secure it. In his reckoning, this bulwark was Buddhism, given its rational worldview and rejection of caste. In doing so he was evolving a kind of liberation theology that was at once rational and contemporary. His foray towards Buddhism also opens the larger issue of cultural props that become imperative to fortify modern existence and is somewhat akin to Rousseau’s notion of civil religion.Perceived through the prism of the present, however, it has meant that he left behind a dual and somewhat ambivalent legacy Rs Ambedkar the cultural radical, and Ambedkar the father of the Constitution. But the real problem is not with the legacy of the icon, it is with us. We have either not appreciated the depth of his thought and its inherent implications or have just gone along with his routine deification wherein the statues glow with adulation but overshadow the intellectual content.
The writer is a civil servant and the views are personal.
DECCAN HERALD, DEC 15, 2015COP21: Not ideal but best deal possible
The landmark climate agreement reached by 195 countries in Paris on Saturday is the first event in history whereby all countries together have decided to regulate their actions to ward off a common threat to their ways of life and wellbeing. It has come after years of arguments, setbacks and slow progress. When it finally came, it is not the most ideal and best deal to tackle the problem of the warming of the earth and climate change, but it may be the best possible in a milieu of differing and even conflicting interests of countries over the issue. The responses to the agreement have ranged from elation to reservation to even disappointment, but no one would dispute that it is a major step forward. Some scientists have claimed it would change the world for the better. But the best way to look at it is to consider it as a foundation on which more can be done later.
The agreement charts a low-carbon future for the world and has adopted a goal of well below 2 degrees Centigrade for temperature rise, and set up a regime of financing of developing countries to make the transition from the fossil fuel age to an era of sustainable energy production and consumption. The agreement will go into effect from 2020 and it is based on the voluntary cuts of greenhouse gas emissions promised by individual countries. It also accepts the principle of common but differentiated responsibility which ensures equity by making developed nations foot a part of the bill to be paid by developing countries for the sacrifices they have to make by reducing their carbon footprint. The poorer countries have been promised finances and technological transfer for adaptation and mitigation. The promised financial and technological support will be inadequate, but the need for accommodation and consensus made the poor countries accept a minimal deal.
All developing countries, including India, have welcomed the agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that climate justice has got a boost and there are no winners or losers in Paris. If sincerely implemented by all countries, the agreement will achieve far larger cuts in emissions than piecemeal initiatives have done in the past. It has also set a more ambitious aim of further reducing the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade in future. The non-binding nature of the deal is a worry, but there is some hope in the common commitment. Even with the agreement the climate will get worse, but it may help the world to avert the worst climate catastrophes that can make the earth unlivable.
INDIAN EXPRESS, DEC 8, 2015Govt takes in-principle decision to ban all construction on Ganga
Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar has been given a month’s time to conclude the
committee’s report so as to apprise the Supreme Court of the government’s final decision at the
next hearing on January 20.Written by Amitav Ranjan
The Union Cabinet in May approved Rs 20,000 crore for use over the next five years for the flagship Namami Gange, which integrates the efforts to clean and protect the river in a comprehensive manner. (Source: PTI)
To maintain the river’s minimum environmental flow and protect the ecology dependent on it, no
new construction would be allowed on river Ganga or any of its tributaries.
The decision was taken in principle last month at an Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) meeting to
review an Expert Body report giving clearance to hydroelectric power (HEP) projects to be built
on Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins in Uttarakhand.
Sources said a formal ban on construction would be conveyed to the Supreme Court after an
IMG-constituted committee submits its “comprehensive view” on all aspects of environment
flow and longitudinal connectivity in the two rivers, along with authentic figures of water
The IMG — comprising Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, Environment Minister Prakash
Javadekar and Power Minister Piyush Goyal — formed the five-member committee chaired by
Water Resources Secretary Shashi Shekhar, who has trashed the Expert Body report on giving
clearance to five of the six HEP projects.
Shekhar told the IMG that the requirement of environmental flow and longitudinal connectivity,
as recommended by the Expert Body, was “grossly inadequate”. “It will leave these rivers with
almost no water during non-monsoon season,” he told the ministers.
Shekhar has been given a month’s time to conclude the committee’s report so as to apprise the
Supreme Court of the government’s final decision at the next hearing on January 20.
Sources said the IMG is also agreed on refunding the money invested by project promoters and
has asked the Power Ministry to “make available latest figures of expenditure on six HEPs,
including the contractors’ pending claims”.
According to sources, Bharti has offered to compensate the six HEPs — NTPC’s Lata Tapavan,
NHPC’s Kotlibhel IA, GMR’s Alaknanda, Super Hydro’s Khirao Ganga and Bhyunder Ganga
and THDC’s Jelam Tamak — out of the Namami Gange funds.
The Union Cabinet in May approved Rs 20,000 crore for use over the next five years for the
flagship Namami Gange, which integrates the efforts to clean and protect the river in a
Bharti, also the minister for Ganga Rejuvenation, is upset that the Environment Ministry filed the
affidavit based on the Expert Body report in the apex court without consulting her ministry, even
though the determination and maintenance of minimum environmental flow in Ganga and its
tributaries was one of the “important mandates” of her ministry.
“Though chief engineer of Central Water Commission working under this ministry was included
as technical organisation expert (in the Expert Body), CWC is not competent organisation to give
opinion regarding e-flow and longitudinal connectivity,” she wrote to Javadekar.
After the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the court took cognizance of the tragedy and prohibited
setting up of any new HEP in the state till further orders. In December 2014, it asked the
Environment Ministry to consider the six HEPs in a cluster for which a four-member committee
was set up.
The four-member committee in February 2015 said “these six projects in their present form may
not be taken up as they have potential of causing significant impacts on the bio-diversity, river
system, wildlife and other fragile eco-systems in areas where these projects are located due to
altered hydrological parameters”.
The court then asked the ministry to submit its final recommendations on the six projects through
an Expert Body. The Expert Body in October overturned the previous recommendations.
HINDU, DEC 8, 2015India to have 8 new observatories
India on Monday announced a programme to open eight more long-term ecological observatories to study the effects of climate change.
The new facilities under the Indian Long Term Ecological Observatories (I-LTEO) would assess the health of eight different biomes (types of habitat) and come up with long-term research findings on the changes there that were happening due to climate change.
It will cover the Western Himalayas to Western Ghats, Eastern Himalayas to Andaman and Nicobar islands, central India to the Sundarbans, and from Jammu and Kashmir to Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Monitoring for 30 years
Launching the programme at the climate conference CoP21, Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar said the research facility of the Indian Institute of Science at Mudumalai in the Western Ghats had been monitoring a 50-hectare plot for 30 years and mapping observations to climate change.
Flora and fauna
The I-LTEO would scientifically monitor flora and fauna to assess how climate change is affecting “natural and closely associated human systems in agriculture and pastoralism,” a Ministry publication released on the occasion said.
The new facilities under ILTEO will assess the health of eight different biomes
STATESMAN, DEC 9, 2015It isn’t even odd to work from homeGovind Bhattacharjee
We are literally inhaling poison in Delhi. I do not normally have a sinus or coughing problem, and I am highly exercise-dependent for my mental and physical well-being. But every year during the three winter months, I do not dare to venture out for taking a walk or jogging, even though I live in an area that is reasonably green. During the dismal winter months of Delhi, I keep myself hermetically sealed within the four walls of my house, refusing to step out except for an emergency and barking at anyone who dares to open any window.
But this year, none of this is helping me. I have a blocked nose, sore throat, sleepless nights and what naturally follows as a consequence, a depressed and sterile mind. Same with my wife, and you can well imagine what happens when two depressed souls are locked within a house that increasingly resembles a gaol in a city that the Delhi High Court had aptly described as a “gas chamber”.
So it was cheerful news that at last the AAP government had focussed its attention away from the Lt. Governor towards the Aam Admi of Delhi for a change. Alarmed by the rising air pollution that has assumed unseemly proportions with no one having any clue about how to combat it, the Delhi Government has announced its intention to allowing the plying of private vehicles bearing odd and even registration numbers to alternate days only in the national capital from 1 January 2016. A motorist will now be able to drive his vehicle only for 15 days in a month.
Several other measures were announced along with this, like shutting down the Badarpur Thermal power station, moving the National Green Tribunal to close the Dadri power plant in Uttar Pradesh, carrying out a massive plantation drive along all arterial roads across the city to curb the spread of dust and vacuum-cleaning of roads by the PWD from April, besides allowing trucks into the city only after 11 pm. If only even half these intentions could be translated into actions rather than being exercises in tokenism, the city indeed would be a different place to live in, instead of the lethal toxic cocktail that it is at present.
The odd/even number scheme is nothing new. Cities like Beijing and Singapore have already tried it. The question is whether it is practicable in Delhi, where the public transport is clearly unequipped to carry the additional load. Thankfully, It would not restrict the Chief Minister’s movements who has two cars numbered 0001 and 0002, or the rich people who can afford to buy a second vehicle - usually a used one - to beat the scheme and thereby contributing to increasing, rather than reducing vehicular pollution. As always, it will be the Aam Admi the Government wants to help who will be hurt the most.
It is still unclear how the scheme will be implemented, what would be penalty on violators and how it will be enforced, or how the government would regulate the vehicles coming from outside. Considering all these, the scheme seems not to have been thought through. It looks more like a knee-jerk reaction; for a scheme like this to succeed, all stakeholders including the public had to be taken on board beforehand, which obviously was not the case.
A scheme like this can at best be a quick fix rather than a permanent solution, as experiences of different cities across the world prove. Beijing used it for the first time during the 2008 Olympic Games. It did curb its notorious smog level by 20 per cent, the concentration of PM 2.5 (fine, respirable particles) by 31 per cent and asthma-related doctor visits by 50 per cent. Now the ban is enforced for only a day every week, and it restricts not one but two last digits - one odd and one even - say 3 and 4 - so that to beat the scheme, one has to have a third vehicle carrying a different number.
In 1989, Mexico City started its Hoy No Circula (today you can’t drive) programme based on the even-odd formula to fight smog, which only resulted in giving a boost to the automobile sector, sharply increasing the vehicle sales. Bogota’s Pico y Placa (Peak and [License] Plate) programme reduced private vehicle use by up to 40 per cent on weekdays, but the effect on the city’s pollution was only marginal. For a scheme like this to succeed, we also need an effective system of public transportation which is just not in place in most of our cities.
Other cities have tried other methods linked to pricing which are more effective, but may not be palatable in a country with a baggage of socialistic pattern of society and a history of the dole culture practiced and promoted as national welfare. Transport Demand Management methods linked to pricing like parking restrictions and congestion pricing have accrued long term benefits rather than short term emergency measures like an even-odd formula in some cities.
London introduced congestion pricing in 2003 by imposing a fine of £5 for vehicles entering Central London areas - in the first three years, it reduced vehicle traffic by 16 per cent and journey times by 14 per cent, with significant reduction in the levels of toxic gases and particulate matter. The fee was hiked to £10 five years later followed by restrictions on the entry of buses and trucks in Greater London areas which led to a reduction in the level of PM 2.5 by 20 per cent. Singapore follows a similar Electronic Road Pricing system based on high pricing using technology like GPS.
Delhi had 8.47 million registered vehicles as on 31 March 2015, out of which 5.72 million were two wheelers. Every year, 600,000 new vehicles are registered in Delhi, that is, more than 1600 vehicles per day. There is also an unknown number of vehicles registered in neighbouring states of Haryana or UP plying in Delhi. It is estimated that on any given day, there are about 4 million four wheelers are plying on Delhi roads - more than the total numbers of vehicles in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai put together. For all its good intentions, the AAP Govt’s move may add to this number by forcing commuters to buy additional vehicles. This cannot be a lasting solution to the city’s woes. Let us therefore think of a more viable alternative.
Telecommuting is a term coined by Jack Nilles in 1973 which is increasingly being used in the developed world, and is not unknown in some private sector organizations in our country too. It means remote work or telework, i.e. technology-assisted work - an arrangement that allows employees not to commute to a central place for work; they are ‘work-at-home’ employees. In addition, there are ‘nomad workers’ who use mobile telecommunications technology to work from cyber cafes or other locations.
Government and companies are increasingly using these concepts to attract and retain workers. These are not only welfare measures, but also smart economics as well. The General Services Administration of USA estimates that if the federal employees telecommute at least one day every week, federal agencies could boost productivity by more than $ 2.3 billion annually.
Wikipedia reports the results of a Reuters poll, according to which approximately “one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently and nearly 10 per cent work from home every day”. The guiding motto behind this is : “Work is something we DO, not a place that we GO”. According to Wikipedia, over fifty million U.S. workers - that is, about 40 per cent of the working population, could work from home at least part of the time. The number of employees reported to have actually worked from their home on their primary job in 2010 was 9.4 million. In that year, U.S. Federal Government passed the Telework Enhancement Act ‘in order to improve Continuity of operations and ensure that essential Federal functions are maintained during emergency situations; to promote management effectiveness when telework is used to achieve reductions in
organizational and transit costs and environmental impacts; and to enhance the work-life balance of workers’.
The 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey indicates that in 13 government departments, more than half the employees reported teleworking, including 69 per cent from the Dept. of Education, 74 per cent from the Office of Personal Management and 76 per cent from the National Science Foundation. Forrester Research’s US Telecommuting Forecast reports that 34 million Americans work from home and ‘the number is expected to reach a staggering 63 million - or 43 per cent of the U.S. workforce - by 2016’. Cisco reports that the company has generated ‘an estimated annual savings of $277 million in productivity by allowing employees to telecommute and telework’. In the UK, in 2012, over 4 million employees out of a total workforce of 30 million were teleworkers.
Let us look at the potential benefits of telecommuting should we introduce it in India. It would allow employees to better manage their work together with family obligations. It will lead to more freedom, more resilience, greater productivity, improved staff retention and lower operating costs. The most significant impact will of course be on our city environment. Think of Delhi, with a population of 18 million and a working population of about 6 million. Even if a third doesn’t have to report to the office everyday, that means 1 million vehicles less on the roads. Think about the impact of this on vehicular pollution.
Many government departments and ministries, public sector organsiations, think tanks, IT/ ITC industries, design and development orgnaisations, taxation departments etc. can seamlessly shift to such a work culture by appropriate planning and reengineering of their works. Only those employed with organisations whose business involves dealing with the public, like banks, academic institutions, trading and business, transportation and the like will have to commute daily, but they will commute faster since the roads will be decongested. Life for everyone will be simpler and more free, and the air purer to breathe.
The writer is a commentator. The views expressed are personal.
HINDU, DEC 8, 2015For a morally conscious governmentSUHRITH PARTHASARATHY
Last week, Chennai experienced the wettest December day that the city has seen in more than 100 years. The rain’s effects were unprecedented and utterly devastating. Beginning Tuesday morning, thundershowers came furiously lashing down on the city, and by the time there was
some respite from the rain, nearly 24 hours later, substantial parts of the city had been besieged by water. Hundreds of thousands of people had been left stranded with no electricity, no access to food and drinking water, and, most tragically, nowhere to go for refuge from the gushing floods but to their respective rooftops, if indeed they were fortunate enough to have one.
After the devastation
The following Wednesday, especially as day gave way to night, the scenes around, and on, Chennai’s roads appeared almost apocalyptic. Several areas of the city were left marooned and inaccessible, and, with various reservoirs overflowing, the water levels on the streets rose alarmingly even after the rainfall had abated. As Vaishna Roy wrote in The Hindu (“And still waters run deep”, Dec.3) — which, on Wednesday, and a rare occasion in its 137-year-old history, did not deliver a printed newspaper to the city — the worst of Chennai also appeared to bring along with it the best of Chennai, as an indomitable character appeared to animate all cross-sections of society. Social media was being used effectively to mobilise food, water, blankets, medicines and other essential resources for people who were isolated by the rain, and to also help direct rescue operators to areas where people were in greatest distress. Homes were opened up to provide dry spaces to those stranded, and several people came together to organise and pack food and water for distribution across the city. There were also heroes aplenty on the heavily submerged streets — fire and armed service personnel, police and corporation workers, and, not least, hundreds of civilians — who helped navigate people to safety.
The nature of the devastation is such that the aftermath of the flooding is likely to be felt for months, perhaps even for years. It has become a common refrain to claim, though, that this is no time for politicising the crisis. To do so when people’s homes have been wrecked, when many lives have been lost, and when roads have been left in a shambles, we are told, is tantamount to insensitivity. Now, it is unquestionable that several state functionaries have been working both selflessly and tirelessly to help bring the city back on its veritable feet, and our focus should indeed be on the immediate work required to allow Chennai, and its neighbouring villages and towns, to return to something resembling normalcy, if at all that’s possible. But, it’s even more important that, simultaneously, we ask the state — including the judiciary — and, for that matter, ourselves, vital questions on what has really caused this mammoth destruction.
Folly of assumed growth
So far, the State government’s response to any questions asked has been all too familiar. It believes that there is nothing that could have been done to avert this tragedy. “Losses are unavoidable when there’s very heavy rain,” the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, had said during the rains in November that preceded the present crisis. “Swift rescue and relief alone are indicators of a good government.” If one were to view this statement as representing even a kernel of the truth, a complete absence of urban planning, an inability to ensure effective compliance with development rules, a lack of enforcement of fire safety mechanisms, and an abject failure to provide adequately safe shelter to the homeless are all apparently jobs beyond a reasonable government’s domain.
Needless to say, what we have experienced, and are continuing to experience, is incomparable. As a developing society, we have never seen rains like this before in Chennai. The city’s infrastructure, as is quite palpable, was not built to face a catastrophe of this kind. After all, how could we have possibly predicted the kind of rainfall that we have seen? But questions such as this ought not to represent axioms of justification. As citizens, a number of us have benefitted from Chennai’s rapid urbanisation. But as these devastating floods have shown, our callous effort at assumed growth has come at enormous costs.
It’s easy to view the present disaster as an act of god for which the government is simply not responsible. But any ecologist would tell us that the floods, as much as it might have been triggered by unprecedented rainfall, are substantially man-made. Over the years, in an effort to supposedly modernise Chennai, transport systems have been constructed over lands bounding, and, at times, on top of, canals and rivers; the so-called rules that regulate coastal regulation zones have been mercilessly broken; multi-storied buildings have been constructed on environmentally hazardous lands; and natural drainage systems have been blocked to enable a supposed development that is, at every level, simply unsustainable.
Various succeeding governments in Tamil Nadu have been consistently reprehensible in allowing Chennai to decay into this urban mess. What’s most unfortunate though is that even in judging our follies, we are eager to point not at these egregious violations of building rules and absurd constructions made over forbidden land, but to the purported encroachments made on riverbeds by the poor, who have nowhere else to go in search of livelihood. When the dust finally settles, it’s entirely likely that it is these settlements, which will be targeted in an effort to make Chennai supposedly more flood-resistant. As has now become the norm, the most grievous infractions will not only be condoned, but will also find active support from the state — what we’ll see is a hallmark of a neo-liberal economy, a quite unique brand of socialism, a socialism that is meant for the rich and the rich alone.
In the days to follow, therefore, it is vital that the inexplicable stroke of misfortune that the rainfall in Chennai has brought with it is not used as an excuse to whittle away the moral bankruptcy of successive governments in Tamil Nadu. India’s Constitution might implore upon governments to guarantee a welfare state. But as much as ruling regimes might like to tell us otherwise, what we have had, in Tamil Nadu, with both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam at the helm over several years, isn’t as much governments focussed on welfarism as ones that dole out benefits with the sole view to securing votes.
Pinning down responsibility
Unfortunately, the courts, which are meant to act as a counter-majoritarian institution, have also been complicit in acting as an enforcer of the prevalent will of the state. There is a deep suspicion within the judiciary of any socio-economic movement aimed at challenging the status quo, of any programme that seeks to confront the supposed developmental agenda of the state.
As a result, flagrant violations of development rules and regulations, both by the government and by private entities, are routinely overlooked.
The destruction caused by the recent floods ought not to be seen as a force majeure event. Instead, the loss of property must be viewed as an illegal expropriation by government. The state’s role cannot end with mere rescue and relief. The government must be forced to pay for the losses suffered by millions of people across Tamil Nadu. It’s time that we fought for greater accountability from those in positions of authority. We must strive not only towards restoring an element of normalcy to the places affected, but we must also actively work towards ensuring that any supposed development activity undertaken in the city is environmentally sustainable. To this end, rhetoric alone would not suffice. We require a form of dissent that is far stronger, one that demands a morally conscious government, and one that requires the state to ensure that environmental rights and interests are not trumped by neo-liberal corruption.
(Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate in the Madras High Court.)
What’s most unfortunate is that even in judging our follies, we are eager to point not at egregious violations of building rules and absurd constructions made over forbidden land, but to the purported encroachments made on riverbeds by the poor, who have nowhere else to go in search of livelihood.
The state’s role cannot end with mere rescue and relief. The government must be forced to pay for the losses suffered by millions of people across Tamil Nadu. It is time that we fought for greater accountability from those in positions of authority.
STATESMAN, DEC 8, 2015Heart of AsiaSalman Haidar
The next in the series of ‘Heart of Asia’ conferences of the ‘Istanbul Process’ is shortly to take place in Islamabad. These ministerial-level meetings have been going on since 2011, bringing together senior representatives of a number of countries of the region in discussions aimed at
enhancing security around Afghanistan and promoting economic development in that country. Apart from the immediate neighbours, the process has drawn in major countries that hem the region, including China and Russia, Turkey where the Istanbul Process originated, Iran and the major Arab states, twenty-five participants in all. The Islamabad meeting will be the fifth in the series and India’s External Affairs Minister is among the prominent invitees. Her presence will be an important demonstration of India’s commitment to the restoration of Afghanistan’s tranquility and prosperity after a prolonged period of disorder.
The Istanbul Process is the latest of numerous international initiatives of the last few decades to restore peace and development in and around Afghanistan. That country has never been an easy place to deal with, for itself and for its close neighbours, having experienced much turbulence through the attentions of powerful, aggrandizing countries in its vicinity, and through its own restless stirrings that have driven it to spread its wings abroad. The constant unrest within and warlike attention from without led it to be described in the colonial discourse as ‘the Cockpit of Asia’, forever wrapped in strife and rivalry. The term that now seems to have gained favour -‘Heart of Asia’ -is certainly more appropriate and makes due acknowledgement of the geographical significance of its location at the centre of the continent. But however one describes it, Afghanistan has been, and remains, a strategic magnet that draws the attention and affects the affairs of its region.
In recent years, India has emerged as a major economic partner of Afghanistan and has substantially enlarged its traditional friendship and cooperation with that country. Lack of a shared border after 1947 affected what used to be a flourishing traditional trade between the two countries but in the last few years they have collaborated with Iran in finding alternative access through Chah Bahar on the Gulf, so the trading prospects are much improved. India is now in a position to play a fuller part in international efforts like the Istanbul Process without running up, as it has so often in the past, against the barrier of Pakistan. It can also have easier access to Central Asia and thereby contribute to the development of the region as a whole, so it is poised for a bigger role in the Istanbul Process. Pakistan has always been leery of India becoming prominent in Afghan affairs, with the result that in the early stages New Delhi was not able to play a very active part in restoring the war-devastated Afghan economy commensurate with its traditional relationship with that country. But now its role has expanded and its contribution to the international effort has become steadily more significant. The Heart of Asia meetings and earlier similar efforts have thus done a good deal already to remove unnecessary barriers to enhanced cooperation.
There are other considerations, too, besides the economic factors, that play an important part in India’s approach. Even though the extremist and terrorist groups that earlier held sway in
Afghanistan have been largely curbed, some such elements can still cause disruption and trouble, as was witnessed in recent terror attacks within Afghanistan. Such elements have access to Pakistan across the historically porous border where they add to the prevalent insecurity, and can become a menace further afield in India. Thus the security-related aspect of the ‘Heart of Asia’ meeting is of direct interest to India, which is always eager to widen the international net against terror. This is an important unifying theme for the participants, for many of them have been subjected to terror attacks and would be ready to back better regional coordination in confronting the menace. India will no doubt have a leading role in this endeavour.
This conference in Islamabad has drawn particular attention in New Delhi because it comes at a time when Indo-Pak relations are, as so often, in a state of flux. After a fairly prolonged downturn following the cancellation of a proposed meeting between senior officials, the atmosphere has been abruptly improved by a brief meeting between Prime Ministers Modi and Nawaz Sharif at the Paris conference on climate change. They exchanged a few words and a warm handshake, which have given fresh momentum and raised expectations of revival of the stalled dialogue. As has been seen often in the past, the leaders keep coming back to it, and no turning away from dialogue seems final, though both clearly have to be careful of their own hardline supporters. For further complication, two Pakistani nationals with connections to the Pak High Commission have been apprehended on charges of espionage, which is grist to the mills of those who advocate further suspension of dialogue. Nevertheless, the Minister’s visit to Islamabad will be an important opportunity to revive and restore bilateral dialogue, which cannot lightly be set aside, and though the formal purpose of Ms. Swaraj’s Islamabad visit is to attend the ‘Heart of Asia’ meeting, Indian interest in her visit is likely to be focused less on the conference than on the bilateral meeting between her and her Pakistani counterparts.
As an aspect of India’s enhanced diplomatic activity in the region as a whole, it is noteworthy that the External Affairs Minister has been invited to visit Syria where efforts are intensifying to find a solution to the long-running and dangerous civil strife. Hitherto, Indian diplomacy has not been greatly active in that part of West Asia, so if Ms. Swaraj does accept the invitation from her Syrian counterpart, that will be something of a fresh departure. It will also underline the fact that this is a region where India’s broader interests are inescapably engaged and the country cannot hold aloof from developments taking place there.
The impending ‘Istanbul Process’ meeting in Islamabad therefore raises a number of possibilities for India. It provides an unexpected opportunity for putting the derailed Indo-Pak dialogue back on track; the conference has its own dynamic but what happens on the sidelines may well resonate louder than any other part of the deliberations so far as these two countries are concerned. At the same time, the conference provides an important forum for participants to
agree on practical measures on their shared regional interests, especially the matter of terrorism. Region-wide cooperation on this is long identified as one of the key themes of the Istanbul Process, and should receive a considerable boost from the forthcoming meeting.The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary.
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 9, 2015PM Narendra Modi initiates 1-hour tutorials for MPs on GST
NEW DELHI: The government is looking at scheduling a four-hour discussion in Parliament on Monday on the Goods and Services Tax bill, billed as the biggest ever tax reform legislation. Ahead of the discussion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has initiated hour-long tutorial running
through all five days of this week to address the concern of the MPs and explain to them the intricacies of the bill.
The tutorial for members of both Houses has been arranged with the help of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to "educate" them on the importance of GST and how it will contribute to India's economy.
The government has brought in tax experts that include former chairman of Central Board of Excise and Customs S D Majumder, Prof Kavita Rao of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and two commissioner-level officers of CBEC to explain to the MPs what the bill is all about.
The government needs support from a two-third majority in both Houses for the passage of the Constitution amendment bill, which will also require ratification by at least half of the states. However, the bill is yet to be introduced in Rajya Sabha with the Congress taking a belligerent stand over court summons issued to party president Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case.
Earlier, the NDA government had accepted a major demand of Congress on keeping the rates below 18 per cent. The government is still hopeful of getting the bill tabled and finding support from all major parties. But it can hardly afford isolating Congress on this important piece of legislation.
In a conciliatory tone, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday said, "It's extremely important and all parties must come together. Now that revenue neutral rate of 15 per cent has been announced which was not even discussed...people were discussing 22-24 per cent." The FM, however, cautioned that any attempt to create any hurdle would amount to damaging the interests of the country.
The FM said Congress must help in passage of the bill as it was originally an initiative started by the UPA party.
The PM had earlier held a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh to break the ice on GST and discuss the opposition party's suggested changes in the bill.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 11, 2015Government replaces RFD Model to measure performance with eSamiksha and PRAGATIBy Aman Sharma
NEW DELHI: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Cabinet Secretariat directly monitoring progress of schemes and projects of all ministries through PM's pet eSamiksha and PRAGATI
projects, the government has scrapped a major scheme close to the heart of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through which performance of ministries was monitored since 2011.
Minister of State for PMO, Jitendra Singh has told Parliament that the government "has not pursued the mechanism of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation System (PMES) for 2014-15 and thereafter". Under PMES, every ministry made a Result Framework Document (RFD) every year against which its performance was measured at the end of the year.
A senior government official told ET that the Modi government saw the RFD concept as a "completely unviable concept" since it was not possible to quantify performance of any ministry. "Most ministries are dependent on execution of schemes by states and are only monitoring schemes. How will you measure performance of say, DoPT?" the senior official said.
The official added that PM and Cabinet Secretariat were now directly monitoring projects and schemes of ministries through eSamiksha project launched by Modi. "When PM and Cabinet Secretary — such senior persons — are intensely monitoring the performance, what is the need for a PMES mechanism? The main objective is only that projects should complete on time," he said. The official added that PMES mechanism was going on "mechanically" and the feedback that the PMO got from many bureaucrats was was that the scheme was not suited for the purpose.
"Giving marks to a ministry at the end of the year based on performance which cannot be quantified is useless. Many ministries were setting lower targets to get more marks," the senior official said.
The official hence said that the RFDs prepared by ministries for 2014-15 under the UPA were not approved by the new government and no RFDs were made in 2015-16.
"Instead, there are now frequent reviews by the PM and Cabinet Secretariat through eSamiksha," the official said. Under the Cabinet Secretariat, the Performance Management Division was handling the PMES.
The eSamiksha is a real time, online system for monitoring of projects by the PM and follow-up action is to be updated by the concerned ministry as and when the status changes or at least every month — PM monitors this on his iPad. PRAGATI is another platform through which PM once every month monitors and reviews important programmes and projects of Centre and states.
In 2011, then PM Manmohan Singh had unveiled the PMES system for monitoring performance of government departments. Renowned economist, Prajapati Trivedi, was brought in as Secretary of the Performance Management Division of Cabinet Secretariat to steer the PMES through
which every ministry made its RFD every year since 2011 spelling out its key targets. At the end of the year, all ministries reviewed their performance against the targets and were given marks. Trivedi left the post earlier this this year and was replaced by Ramesh Abhishek, chairman of Forward Markets Commission, as chairman of Performance Management Division this October.
BUSINESS LINE, DEC 8, 2015Banks, insurers keen on tying up with India PostS RONENDRA SINGH / KR SRIVATS
The e-mail may have replaced the snail-mail but India Post has survived the numerous obituaries written for it and become much sought-after once again on the strength of its unmatched network.
After being pursued by e-commerce firms for logistics and other support, the country’s oldest postal service provider is now being wooed by banks and insurance companies as it gears up for a debut in the payment banking business. The list of those keen to tie up with India Post includes marquee names like SBI, Bajaj Alliance, IDBI, YES Bank, HDFC and Axis Bank.
There are 17 such banking and insurance companies who have shown interest to use the postal network for delivering their services such as EMI collection and insurance.
According to government sources, these companies want to use the postal network by partnering with the India Post Payment Bank, which got licence from the RBI recently.
Sources close to the development toldBusinessLine that SBI could be the first bank to join hands with the Postal Department. “SBI chief (Arundhati Bhattacharya) and Kavery Banerjee, Secretary, Department of Posts, had a meeting recently and they discussed to work hand-in-hand for providing services to customers,” an official said.
Both the heads — of the largest bank and postal networks — discussed how they can leverage each other’s strengths and help extend financial services to the disadvantaged, the official added.
“There was a discussion also on how a postman can work as a bank agent in far-flung rural areas where neither a bank branch nor a bank agent can go for verification of loans. But with the Postal Department’s help, farmers and students can get loans (for agriculture/education) without much hassle,” the official said.
ATMs at post offices
The official said the government is also working towards banks installing ATMs at post offices; the Department of Posts has a network of 1.55 lakh branches across the country and more than 85 per cent are in rural areas.
But it is evident that the banks are gung-ho about tying up with the Postal Department as they will only stand to benefit. “This initiative will play a pivotal role in bringing a large number of uninsured segments of the country under the safety net and improving the penetration of insurance in the country,” said TA Ramalingam, Chief Distribution Officer, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.
A tie-up with payment banks like The India Post will provide insurers an opportunity to distribute retail insurance solutions such as personal accident and health insurance policies to their huge customer base, he said.
“This will also enable insurers leverage on the payment bank’s strong distribution network to take insurance solutions to the unrepresented segments in the country, especially in tier-III cities and villages,” he added.
(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 8, 2015)
DECCAN HERALD, DEC 15, 2015Railway ticket cancellation, refund rules amended
Railway ticket cancellation and refund rules have been amended, parliament was told on Monday.
Granting refund of confirmed railway ticket up to four hours before departure, 50 percent cancellation charge for a confirmed ticket submitted between 12 and four hours before departure and 25 percent cancellation charge if submitted between 48 and 12 hours before departure are some of the amended rules since December 12, Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply.
The minister said refund of fare after deducting clerkage charge for Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC), wait listed ticket and partially confirmed tickets have been introduced if the tickets were submitted for refund up to 30 minutes before the train's scheduled departure.
"Rules have been amended to check bogus claims, to facilitate provision of mobile ticketing as well as paperless ticketing, discourage last minute cancellation resulting in seats/berths going vacant etc. The amendment in refund rules became necessary to adapt to changes/developments in the ticketing systems," Sinha said.
"No cancellation charge or clerkage charges are levied and full fare is refunded to all passengers holding confirmed, RAC and wait-listed tickets if the journey is not undertaken due to late running of the train by more than three hours of scheduled departure."
The minister added that Railways are preparing reservation charts at least four hours in advance to facilitate ticket reservation till 30 minutes before a train departs.
STATESMAN, DEC 10, 2015Religion & State policy - I
The beloved of the Gods, the King Priyadarshi (Asoka’s style of referring to himself in all his edicts) honours all sects and religions both ascetics and layman, with gifts and various forms of recognition. But he does not consider gifts or honours to be as important as advancement of essential doctrine of all religions or sects. The progress of essential doctrine of religions can be achieved in many ways, but its basis is the control of one’s speech, so as not to extol one’s own religion or disparage another’s. Therefore, amity between various religions is to be commended, so that men may hear one another’s principles and obey them. -Emperor Asoka, 12th. Major Rock Edict, circa 256 BCE.
Bereft of royal salutations and simplicity of a long bygone era, the quote expresses in a nutshell the essence of religious tolerance expected of a very mature modern statesman. Coming from a man who ruled about two and a quarter millennium back in history over an area more in size than India of present speaks volumes about the depth of understanding and sagacity of the third Emperor of the Mauryan dynasty. Though the advent of Christianity was still about two hundred and fifty years into the future and that of Islam about eight hundred years to come, there was no dearth of religious heterogeneity in India of the third century BCE. The Vedic Hinduism had by that time crystallized into strong mores of behavior and caste system, but Buddhism and Jainism had begun to spread their roots along with the atheism of the Ajivika sect. Religious intolerance and bigotry was not uncommon particularly if fuelled by the ruling dispensation.
Asoka belonged to a family that was known for its religious liberalism. Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty and Asoka’s grandfather, is stated to have abdicated his throne in his later years and had become a Jain ascetic while Asoka’s father Bindusara, the second Mauryan emperor, is stated to have embraced Ajivika sect along with his queen consort in later part of his reign. Asoka strenuously tried to establish a tolerant, rational and humanistic social order among his subjects in a visionary spirit unthinkable in that era or rarely seen ever since. Frowning upon meaningless religious rituals he tried to explain what he believed to be the essence of all religious teachings in a very lucid manner -“People practise various ceremonies during illness, at marriages of sons and daughters, at birth of children, on going on a journey and on other occasions,” Asoka had observed in the 9th. Major Rock Edict. “Women particularly perform a variety of ceremonies which are trivial and useless and have but small results. The true value of religion or Dharma lies in regard for slaves and servants, respect for teachers and restrained behaviour towards living beings and donations to shramanas (monks) and Brahmans.” In other edicts, Asoka had further appealed to his subjects to observe Dharma or religious morality through good behaviour towards each other.
In his reckoning, religion is not about rigid modes of behaviour and rituals or unnecessary debates about comparative benefits among competitive sects but about observation of basic human values and fraternity and kindness among all individuals irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Asoka’s concern for congenial family life is touching and heartwarming. In most of his edicts he has repeatedly urged his subjects to be obedient to their mother and father and elders, show respect to them as well as the teachers and to be kind to the servants and helpers. While Asoka had urged that all members of the family must be shown equal respect to each other he also suggested that the senior members of the family should be given due honour. It is significant that Asoka gives no prominence to the male members of the family and urges equal respect for all in the family, male and female. He also instructs his civil servants to ensure that Brahmanas, teachers, trainers, story tellers and all who are in charge of training the young should impress upon their students and apprentices to observe these norms for congenial family and social life.
Of particular significance are Asoka’s instructions to his civil servants as well as the new group of officials he appointed to encourage the people to observe the essential good of all religions. “You are in charge of many thousand living beings’, Asoka instructed his civil servants in a particularly moving piece of administrative direction. “You must strive to gain the affection of men. All men are my children and just as I desire happiness and welfare for my children both in this world and the next so do I desire for all men. Often a man suffers imprisonment or torture and then is released, both without reason, and many others suffer still further. You should strive to practise impartiality which requires that you must avoid jealousy, shortness of temper, harshness, rashness, obstinacy, idleness or slackness in your public dealings. The basic lesson is to be even tempered and not rash in your official actions. At the same time, one who is slack will not act. In your official capacity you must strive, act and work so that you may be satisfied in your mind that you have discharged your debt to the King who approves and instructs thus”.
But Asoka is not satisfied only by appealing to the conscience of the civil servants. He instructs the superior magistrates to strictly ensure that no one is imprisoned or tortured without good reason. As a further check to ensure such impartial behaviour he also proposed to send superior and balanced officials on tour both from the Central as well provincial levels to investigate and ensure that the King’s orders are carried out in full. Not a very happy commentary on the Indian bureaucracy then and, perhaps, equally applicable today.
Asoka also knew that it was easier to ensure such administration of justice in cities or urban areas through strict instructions and constant monitoring but very difficult to achieve in the vast rural areas of his empire. Through his various edicts Asoka had repeatedly stressed his concern for the welfare of his rural subjects. In the 7th. Pillar Edict, Asoka had mentioned that he had undertaken various welfare measures in the rural areas like digging of wells for drinking water,
plantations on the roadside, building of rest houses, plantation of fruit bearing trees, preservation of forest areas etc. But he reflected that similar welfare measures were also undertaken by kings in the past but those did not really touch the lives of rural people and did not uplift their understanding and acceptance of Dharma. Which essentially meant ethical social and humane behaviour by men towards each other, and welfare and development for all irrespective of personal or religious beliefs. In order to achieve happiness and welfare of the rural people Asoka had created a new post of rural officials called Rajukas and had appointed many thousands of such rural officials and took personal care to train them. He had given them independent authority to promote happiness and welfare of the country people.
“As one entrusts his child to an experienced nurse and is confident that the nurse is able to take care of the child satisfactorily,” Asoka had declared in the 4th. Pillar Edict, “so my Rajukas have been appointed for the welfare and happiness of the country people. In order that they may fulfill their functions fearlessly, confidently and cheerfully, I have given them independent authority in judgment and punishment”. But at the same time Asoka was aware of the possibilities of excesses on the part of the newly appointed officials and cautioned that they must adopt uniformity in judicial procedure and punishment and should be guided by envoys that Asoka sent periodically.(To be concluded)The writer is retired Principal Secretary, Government of West Bengal.
STATESMAN, DEC 11, 2015Religion & State policy - IIVikram Sen
Asoka’s care and concern for the protection of the environment is also amazing for that age. Apart from plantation of shady and fruit-bearing trees, medicinal plants and herbs, he had repeatedly called for the protection of living beings and mercy towards them. In the 5th. Pillar Edict, Asoka had given a long list of weak and endangered species of birds, animals, fish and turtles which are not to be killed throughout his empire and forbade burning of forests for killing living beings. In order to preserve and sustain domestic animals and fish in the rivers he had specified certain calendar days when these animals are not to be caught, killed or castrated. Frowning upon religious practices of slaughter or sacrifice of animals he issued stern instructions not to sacrifice animals during religious festivals and urged his subjects to reduce slaughter of animals for food. Giving his own example he said that in the past many hundred animals were slaughtered for meat in the royal kitchen but now only two peacocks and a deer are killed, the deer not regularly. He was even trying to reduce these killings.
It is significant that Asoka did not call for the prevention of killing or slaughter of animals or particular animals under any religious considerations, but under a genuine feeling of kindness and pity for all living beings. But at the same time he did not intend to impose the royal will over eating habits of his subjects and did not issue blanket orders preventing slaughter of animals even in his own kitchen. He only appealed to the people to show compassion and kindness to all living beings. Here he made a clear distinction between royal decrees to be implemented by force and the power of gentle persuasion. Asoka had clearly understood that mere issuance of royal orders or decrees can by no means guarantee their observance. It is much more important to persuade people by meeting them, explaining the need for decent social and personal behaviour and win their hearts for the cause of Dharma. Thus in his 7th. and last Pillar Edict Asoka had concluded, ‘The advancement of Dharma among the people has been achieved by two means, legislation ( issuance of decrees or regulations) and persuasion. But of these two, persuasion has been much more effective. For instance I have proclaimed through legislation that certain species of animals are not to be killed and many other such regulations. But men have increased their adherence to Dharma by being persuaded not to injure living beings and not to take life”.
Asoka had thus constantly encouraged his officials to meet ordinary people, listen to their problems and explain the value of truthfulness, honesty, kindness to living beings and amity and fellow-feeling among all. The Emperor himself was constantly on tour and met people and explained the conduct of Dharma to all. He also instructed that wherever there are stone pillars and stone slabs the Dharma messages are to be engraved so that they may last long and guide and inspire people.
It is true that Asoka by his own declaration was a lay Buddhist believer but later became more ardent and close to the order. He had also given specific advice to the Buddhist monks on proper learning of the teachings of Buddha and to maintain unity and purpose of the order. But what is significant is that all such edicts were inscribed at or near Buddhist shrines or places for congregation of the Buddhist order in what archaeologists classify as minor or separate rock or pillar edicts. But in his main or major 14 Rock or seven Pillar-edicts spread across the length and breadth of the country presumably for reading and understanding by the general population and also for guidance of his officials, Asoka had never mentioned Buddha or his teachings and had always equated Brahmanas, Shramanas, Jains and leaders of other religious sects for respect, charity and care. It is unfortunate that in Indian traditions he had largely been portrayed as a monarch who became a Buddhist convert after the Kalinga war and adopted pacifist policies which ultimately led to the downfall of the Mauryan empire.
Little attention has been paid to his deep commitment to secular and humane administrative policies and his untiring efforts and concern for welfare of his people. Almost all subsequent
rulers of India or their courtiers had invoked gods and goddesses in their public engravings, scriptures or coinage and eulogized themselves or their patrons as chosen and protected by the divine powers and went on to describe their military exploits with little or no mention of the lives of their subjects. Apart from his title of “Beloved of gods King Priyadarshi” Asoka rarely made reference to gods in his edicts. Instead of the listing of his conquests, he had sincerely expressed his remorse for the Kalinga conquest which had brought death and loss of near and dear ones and untold suffering to ordinary people. Again it is rarely seen in history that a monarch expresses his remorse and repentance in public for the sorrows and sufferings caused to ordinary men as a result of his wars and promising to abjure unnecessary violence. But at the same time he warned that his remorse or softness should not be taken as his weakness and he has enough powers even in his remorse to punish those who challenge his authority or foment trouble in the border areas of the empire.
It is also significant that Asoka chose to write his entire set of edicts in Magdhi Prakrit, the pan-Indian language of the common man at that age and easier for them to follow and comprehend rather than in classical Sanskrit, the language of the court and that of the educated. Engravings and writings of subsequent rulers including those of the Gupta Emperors are mostly recorded in Sanskrit. The script was of course in Brahmi which is the precursor of Devanagri and most of the modern Indian scripts.
While Independent India adopted the Asokan symbol as the State emblem and gave constitutional guarantee to his secular policy, it seems that that the framers of the Constitution were not bold enough to implement Asoka’s repeated calls for the progress of essential good of all religions based on universally accepted liberal humanist values which he regarded as higher than the teachings of any individual religion. Our Constitution has guaranteed freedom of religion but does not inspire its citizens to rise above narrow religious boundaries.
Thus more than six decades after the adoption of our Constitution we still find people being killed for allegedly eating beef, religious instructional institutions harbouring terrorists and imposition of a blanket ban on eating habits of people -all in the name of religion. The liberal, rational and secular ideals that were the hallmark of our struggle for Independence have all but disappeared in the vortex of electoral politics. Asoka’s fervent appeals to adopt moderation in praising or practising one’s religion have now been replaced by religio-political leaders promising to supply guns to whoever comes to kill people in the name of religion. Asoka’s instructions to ensure that humane social, family and personal values are taught in schools and training institutions have now evolved to religious hymns and rituals practised in schools again in the name of freedom of religion. Asoka’s fight against meaningless religious rituals and appeals for the establishment of a civil society based on tolerance, kindness and sympathy for
fellow individuals have now been reduced to the dominance of religious rituals and practices in our public life and killings of scholars and rationalists for exposing unscientific religious restrictions and superstitions. As we witness the sorry spectacle of a lethargic police force rendered even more impotent to uphold individual freedom in the face of a cynical political leadership we perhaps understand Asoka’s logic behind appointing the Rajukas for dispensation of instant justice in rural areas. It is true that the highly centralized Mauryan Empire did not last more than 78 years after Asoka’s death, but his messages of tolerance, compassion and paternal care for his subjects irrespective of religious or social barriers as an expression of philanthropic statecraft still survive. Our present political leadership will do well to study his state policy if only to comprehend the vision and concern of a man sitting on an imperial pedestal and governing more areas than they can ever do, about the lives of the humblest of his citizens and his constant desire that they live a violence-free happy and honest life.
STATESMAN, DEC 13, 2015Smart Villages-I
In his landmark book, Making Globalisation Work, Joseph E Stiglitz observed that “Development is about transforming the lives of people, not just transforming economies.” To the contrary, globally declining commodity prices, food inflation, natural calamities and much more have created a hitherto unparalleled agrarian crisis in India. This has led to deaths and impoverishment of three-quarters of the people who live in rural areas.
This crisis, in turn, has engendered massive agricultural indebtedness, alienation of land to money-lenders, resultant suicides and all-round impoverishment of small and medium farmers. In many states land reforms have shrunk individual land-holdings that are not acceptable to banks as collateral security for loans. Farmers’ savings are utilised by bigger farmers, mainly in southern and western India while the credit-to-deposit ratio for states like Assam declines. Although giant loan waivers resorted to by preceding governments have been granted, almost bankrupting the banking system and budget, these have hardly benefited small and medium farmers.
Arrogant politics of keeping body and soul together, enshrined in programmes such as MNREGA have rendered farmers, mainly small and medium, unskilled, untrained and economically dependent on declining state and central budgets for subsistence. Six and a half decades of deprivation, notably in NE, Northern and Central India, has also contributed, in part, to the rise of left-wing extremism. Basic amenities of life such as health and education have not permeated to the desired extent in rural India. Nor has much new skill development taken place that would have afforded a billion people to earn an honourable supplemental living. While catchy slogans like Digital India and Smart Cities are the order of the day, little is being spared for 72 per cent of India’s population. With health and education budgets on the decline in real terms and the absence of a social security system, life in rural India is worsening by the day.
Census 2011 shows that 72 per cent of Indians, or about 950 million, live in nearly 6.50 lakh villages. Assuming no more than a 3-5 per cent decline in such numbers till 2026, nearly 1.10 billion Indians will populate close to 7 lakh villages. The country’s population is projected to grow to 1.40 billion in 2026. The rural population is presently spread over villages with 59 per cent concentrated in habitations of a thousand heads or less. In other words, about 300 million people live in small rural clusters of 1000 heads and below. Thus a cost-effective mix of permanently resident and mobile solutions would have to be contemplated for these two broad categories of rural agglomerations.
Since three-quarters of India’s people live in villages, that too mostly in economically-sized villages (in terms of services and coverage) there is the strongest case for reincarnating them as
smart villages at a fraction of the cost of smart cities. For instance, in the health sector, mobile clinics, operation theatres, telemedicine, VSAT connectivity with major state and private hospitals to rural family wellness centres should be planned. Likewise, in the education sector, mobile e-libraries, Internet Access Vans, Adult Literacy Classroom Vans, technical trade classrooms and work benches are entirely feasible. Mobile agri-labs, demo vans, fertilizer sale vans, post offices and banks, mobile entertainment, Community TV/Radio Broadcast Centres, telephone exchanges would greatly help the village economy in its integration with the urban economy.
Being mobile, all these amenities could plug into off-grid solar/biomass-based energy systems and not require more than 2-3 months to erect. Once large-scale employment is generated in villages, their painful migration to cities may well become history while prosperity spreads to villages. Modular add-ons relating to waste and water management could be considered, subject to availability of investible funds. That too would vastly improve the Quality of Life Index (QLI) by providing amenities comparable to an urban area while stoking low-overheads and medium-technology but huge manufacturing rural economy with concomitant employment opportunities in addition to agriculture. I created an example of how rural waste management could help improve QLIs in rural India. Waste management may have three major components - mobile waste collection and incineration for energy and human/animal remains incineration. Waste collection would cover community and individual water closets and generate biogas while waste water could be recycled for irrigation. From mobile incineration, energy could be generated with saleable by-products like fly ash. Commercial animal remains disposal could create a village industry in animal hide. Likewise, portable all-weather prefabricated structures could provide multi-use solutions, in tandem with mobile ones. These could be used to house primary schools, multipurpose halls, homes, local manufacturing centres, stadia/amphitheatre and family wellness centres. Information technology enabled services (ITES) connected to the State OFC backbone (with Reliance Jio in the pipeline) could offer multiple services. For energy and water management, web-based meter reading, pre-paid tariff coupons could be contemplated. I-T enabled services would coordinate movement of mobile waste collection; manage local energy generation and much more. A single pre-fabricated hut could accommodate the panchayat office, post office, rail and bus booking counters, real time e-kiosk information access to weather, water and energy supply, market prices of produce, etc.
The use of alternative fuels would open Greenfield areas of employment and foods/vaccine preservation. Solar/biomass powered cold storage containers would fetch much better prices for produce when one considers that 22 per cent of India’s vegetable and fruit production worth an estimated Rs 330 billion in 2014-15, rots or never reaches remunerative markets. Such containers could store medicines, vaccines, meat, and marine products as well. Technologies like biomass
gasifiers would not only help in managing rural waste (presently being burnt in Punjab, UP and Haryana and causing lung-searing smog in New Delhi) but has substantial energy potential too to supplement state energy utilities.
Rural India may well be the single biggest GDP-booster in the next decade or so if its energy requirement is met. Then should Public-Private Partnership (PPP) be the preferred option? A UNODC survey in 2011 showed that 6.45 per cent of private PPP partners embezzled property, 6.45 per cent of private senior managers colluded; there was corruption in 9.68 per cent of PPP procurement, 19.35 per cent fabricated false financial statements, another 19.35 per cent colluded with governments to select a pre-determined bidder while 22.58 per cent resorted to bribery to government PPP-related partners. On the government’s side. 10.11 per cent of officials surveyed felt that government tender evaluators colluded with the private partner, 13.48 per cent accused politicians of colluding with politicians, 20.22 per cent believed that independent consultants hired by the government colluded with the concessionaire, 25.84 per cent believed that there was misrepresentation of facts by bidders and 30.34 per cent thought that concessionaires misrepresented facts.
Private PPP partners also blamed their government partners for poor services to be rendered by these ventures. In fact, both government and PPP partners agreed that confidentiality of bids was shared by both partners and that corruption also had its genesis in the definition of the pre-qualification criteria. Likewise, government and their PPP partners agreed that there was pressure from senior members of the government. In fact, PPP ventures have become the biggest contemporary racket in India with the difference between politicians, civil servants and contractors having been obliterated. The logical corollary therefore is private sector takeover with the establishment of an effective regulation regime by states.
India’s Prime Minister realised, early in his tenure, the futility of finding state funding for smart rural India when there was precious little available with his government. Yet, the Government of India’s high pitch for FDI is yet to show appreciable results.
FDI alone is not the panacea for the severe shortage of development funds and must necessarily be teamed with systemic out-of-the-box thinking for meaningful accretion to GDP and prosperity as at least Mr Narendra Modi has realized. The virtual exclusion of rural India and the traditional preservation of poverty for votes is an issue that bodes ill for our national integrity. It is also not as if India is not endowed with large investible resources but the owners of such resources, public and private, await coherent long-term policy to be enunciated. CNBC’s Money Control database shows 16 major private banks had over Rs.1.70 lakh crore cash and deposits that was an average of only 7.41 per cent of their liabilities. PSBs likewise, have over Rs.7.36
lakh crore that was an average of 7.58 per cent of their liabilities. Four major CPSUs in the power generation sector, viz. NTPC, NHPC, NLC, SJVN and PGCIL had a combined total cash and deposit availability of Rs.26500 crore with an average of 12.50 per cent of their liabilities. In fact, the fifty largest Indian firms had combined cash and deposit base in excess of Rs.10 lakh crore as on March 31, 2015. PSBs would also have extra funds to loan Rs.40000-50000 crore if they are able to recover even 10 per cent of their current NPAs.(To be concluded)
STATESMAN, DEC 14, 2015Smart villages -IIShantanu Basu
To begin with, the governments must give up direct delivery of high-cost state-run and difficult-to-staff rural energy, sanitation, healthcare and education sectors. Instead it should confine themselves to the role of refinancing agencies for providing interest subsidy on loans to financial institutions that lend capital for rural development. Tax-free Rural Development Bonds with amnesty for non-disclosure of source of investment by subscribers may be contemplated. Loaning financial institutions must be permitted on the boards of SPVs that the private sector may create for this purpose and to freely determine collateral securities, etc. It follows that government patronage by mainly absent nominee Directors must be eliminated.
Further, states must be mandated to allow pre-paid tariffs for all public services (duly regulated by SERCs, etc.) and 25-30 year lease of panchayat land (with lease rent going to panchayats) for such services. This would reduce pilferage and unpaid bills. Since governments would save hugely by involving the private sector in rural India, it must be willing to shell out such savings in the form of a social security scheme by bunching all subsidies and other financial assistance plus their savings. Such a scheme would partly underwrite public services and could involve an affordable monthly or annual consolidated premium by rural Indians to make such private projects financially viable in the long run. This would also ensure accountability of private operators. Rampant rent-seeking from O&M on state buildings may be minimized with leasing out O&M of state hospitals, schools, primary health centres, etc. to the private sector. There is a huge shortage of human resources in all states, paradoxically with high unemployment, irrespective of educational attainment. Therefore, overstretched and expensive government human resources, with some re-training, could staff regulatory and onsite inspection agencies, instead of directly delivering mostly unsatisfactory and erratic public services.
Yet, the crux of success of such huge projects is the transparent and fair award of these operating leases to applicant firms. If cronyism and capture of leases remain constant, these projects will
become a millstone around governments’ neck, much the same way as state financial corporations and electricity utilities in most states. A financially viable geographical jurisdiction that harmonises resident and peripatetic service and off-grid and on-grid solutions is essential for this new business model to emerge from the shadow. State regulators must ensure that private operators do not speculate on rural land instead of putting up their equipment, solar farms, etc. For skill development for supplementary income for agriculturists, states would have to lay down the broad parameters for adding value to unskilled labour by training them in identified specialized modules such as solar and basic equipment maintenance, welding, FMCG assembly, etc. Special training ought to be provided to women who, by and large, remain far more conscientious and honest workers than men.
Obviously, the private sector would demand matching incentives for their large investments in rural India. If interest subsidy of about 4-5 per cent per annum were budgeted in FY 2016-17, this would be a great start. Single-window clearance to participating firms would be an asset and minimize rent-seeking. Accelerated depreciation percentages for such investment could be revised upwards so that investments plus interest and a 15-20 per cent annual return may be achieved for operators. Incomes arising from such projects could be declared 50 per cent tax-free for the first 10 years and 25 per cent exempt in the following ten. The rampant milking of anything new by Finance Ministers to cover the inefficiency and waste of state spending ought not to cloud such mega projects. Instead, government buildings could derive income by permitting railway station, post office and bank building roofs to place communication equipment and solar panels by private operators. Fair weather roads constructed under PMGSY could be macadamised using a mix of waste plastic and fly ash, etc. in tandem with the usual bitumen, gravel and gravel dust. Private firms engaging in such projects could be considered for 5-7 per cent interest subsidy and an annual toll paid by government of another 1-2 per cent of the cost of construction for the entire lease period, subject to renewal at negotiated rates.
Supplementing the private sector and tax breaks, etc. are many other sources of financing that may come forward with offers to invest were this business model to take off with a modicum of success. The examples are bilateral and multilateral aid institutions, infrastructure debt and R&D funds and venture capital, etc. Moreover, there are huge savings on capital account in state budgets every year. In 2012-13 and 2013-14, ten states alone accounted for savings of Rs. 31631 crore while the Government of India saved a whopping Rs. 4.27 lakh crore in 2012-13. Adding to government revenues are mining leases, telecom spectrum auction proceeds (about Rs. 43000 crore in 2014-15), huge saving in POL imports not balanced by reduction in taxes thereon and ad hoc demands raised by the Union Finance Minister in end-2014. A modest 10 per cent cut in spending on revenue account could add several thousand crore more per annum.
In 2014-15, state and central governments spent Rs. 18.48 lakh crore for development purposes. Even if 5 per cent of this amount, say a lakh crore rupees, were earmarked for a smart rural India, this would underwrite capital subsidy for annual loans in the range of Rs. 8-10 lakh crore per annum by public and private sectors. This percentage would rise by at least another 20-25 per cent if one were to factor corruption and petty pilferage from nearly all development schemes and lower delivery cost by the private sector and a social security scheme, making possible institutional lending of Rs. 20-30 lakh crore per annum. The gain on employment, housing, health, education and finally, GDP would be immeasurably large and leave governments with adequate resources to undertake larger projects like national highways, rail tracks, communication satellites, etc. India’s villages are no longer as desperately poor and illiterate as many of our reputed economists would have the nation believe... all for votes. Census 2011 clearly shows that even with a depressed 64.64 per cent national literacy rate, there are over an additional 100 million literate women now, almost equal with their male counterparts, who have a substantially higher 80.89 per cent literacy rate. In fact in rural areas, female literacy has expanded from 46.13 per cent in 2001 to 57.93 in 2011, i.e. by about 12 per cent. Against these figures, the male literacy rate stands at 70.70 per cent to 77.15 per cent from 2001 to 2011, i.e. about 7 per cent. Basic education has spread to the majority of rural India while the national electronic media has raised hopes of a better life. About 39 million families, in rural and urban India, still live in homes that have thatched/grass roof while 22.1 per cent of rural households in 2011 have water sources located far away from their homes, up from 19.5 per cent in 2001. Likewise, 51.9 per cent of the rural population depends on unfiltered water in 2011, up from 43.2 per cent in 2001. Similarly, nearly 28 per cent of rural Indians have no kitchen inside their homes and 45 million households, 24 per cent of the overall population, cannot afford less labour-intensive fuels such as LPG and have to make do with crop residue.
The Indian villager would therefore not be averse to paying affordable tariffs for efficiently delivered fundamental necessities of life. If pre-paid tariffs with matching meters are charged by private operators and they are permitted to use the revenues wholly for maintaining and extending rural infrastructure for say, 25 years, rural India would bloom. An unparalleled rural-based market economy would come into being, new skills and employment would be generated that would attract migrant villagers in urban areas, our cities would not look like giant slums, industry would prosper and become more competitive. Consumption would steadily rise and thereby attract more investment, indeed the benefits are manifold. The days of free water and energy as vote-catchers, being financially unsustainable, are therefore over -a truth that the nations’ rulers would have to necessarily accept.
The only role the State must play is that of facilitator but not a regulator, a planner but not an implementer and a statesman but not a rent-seeker. The key to India’s prosperity lies not only in
its slum-like towns and cities but in the giant rural hinterland that is home to three-quarters of the population. Hungry and poor voters may add votes for political parties but are a generational blot on a nation that frequently proclaims its pretensions of becoming the world’s second largest economy by 2025. Why not the world’s largest instead? The renowned American political scientist, EE Schattschneider observed over five decades ago, “In politics the most catastrophic force in the world is the power of irrelevance which transmutes one conflict into another and turns all existing alignments inside out.”
In his Riot: A Love Story, Shashi Tharoor aptly observed that “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.” A smart rural India could turn existing political and economic alignments inside out for three-quarters of India and raise her from her current advanced state of decay.
HINDU, DEC 11, 2015To defeat or to contain Islamic State?Stanly Johny
Over the past few months, the Islamic State (IS) has carried out a number of terror attacks outside Syria and Iraq, the core of its influence. Within the last two months, it bombed Ankara and Beirut, downed a Russian airliner over Sinai, carried out coordinated strikes across Paris and killed a provincial governor in Yemen. These attacks were also a message to radicalised IS supporters elsewhere to carry out lone wolf attacks, like the one in San Bernardino, California, recently, where a couple, reportedly inspired by IS ideology, shot dead 14 people and injured over 20. The group has vowed to organise more attacks in the West, in an apparent admission of its changing strategy, which till now was focussed on the ground battles in “Syraq”.
Unlike al-Qaeda, the IS has never been a hit-and-run jihadist group. The political ambitions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of IS, had not been lost on anyone. Since late 2013, it fought for territories in Syria and Iraq, and steadily expanded its reach, capitalising on the power vacuum created in these two countries by the wars, led and sponsored by the West and their regional allies. This strategy paid off initially. The IS now controls territories as large as Great Britain and comprising some 10 million people. But of late, under counter-attack from different militia groups such as the Peshmerga, Hezbollah and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the IS’s expansionary project has come under enormous pressure.
Limits of expansion
When Mosul, the second largest Iraqi city, fell to the hands of the IS in June 2014, the supporters of the jihadist group claimed that it was only a matter of time before Baghdadi’s men started marching towards Baghdad. It actually moved forces towards the Iraqi capital, capturing many towns such as Hawija and Rawa. Earlier this year, they captured Ramadi, 120 km west of Baghdad. Parts of Fallujah, about 70 km west of Baghdad, have been under their control since January 2014. Still, they couldn’t breach the defence of Baghdad erected by the Iraqi troops and Shia militias trained by Iran, let alone marching towards Shia-populated southern Iraq. They also lost some of the captured cities such as Kirkuk, Tikrit and, more recently, parts of Ramadi. Stopped at central Iraq, the IS tried to move towards Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, only 80 km east of its power base, Mosul. But its advances were successfully thwarted by the Peshmergas, the militia of Iraqi Kurdistan, who were provided air cover by American jets. It is worth noting that U.S. President Barack Obama ordered air strikes against the IS only after the jihadists started targeting Erbil. The U.S. has a consulate in Erbil. The Iraqi Kurdistan has, historically, enjoyed good ties with Washington. It also has huge, untapped energy potential.
In the west of the “Caliphate”, the IS’s plan was naturally to move towards Damascus and unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It reached Palmyra in May when government troops, under attack on many fronts including the U.S. and Arab-sponsored rebels, withdrew under strain. But in the past six months, the IS has not only not made any substantial advances towards the west, but has also come under heavy attacks by Russian warplanes as well as a rejuvenated Assadian army in the ancient Syrian city. Capturing Damascus remains a distant dream.
On the north-eastern border of the “Caliphate”, the Syrian-Turkish border areas, the jihadists came under heavy ground attacks from Kurdish rebels. One of the effective strategic decisions Mr. Assad made in the early stages of the civil war was to withdraw government troops from the Kurdish areas, where rebels have long been fighting for autonomy. The IS might have calculated that without the presence of the government army, the Kurdish towns on the border would easily fall to its hands. But what happened was the opposite.
The PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), gloriously resisted the IS’s attacks. The jihadists briefly laid siege to Kobane, a small city on the Syrian side of the border, in September 2014, but were thrown out by the YPG guerrillas after a long bloody battle over weeks that nearly destroyed the city. Later, in June this year, the YPG guerrillas seized Tal Abyad, another border town, dealing a significant blow to the IS as the city was a supply line to Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the “Caliphate”. These setbacks on the ground have forced the group to retreat, from one of offence to that of the defence of the “Caliphate” on the ground.
Hegemony of terror
From the beginning of the war, the IS has created a spectacle of violence that it claimed is legitimised by religious texts, and thereby inspiring tens of thousands of radicalised youth from around the world. The extreme violence it used against its victims served both as a publicity tool and a strategic weapon to terrorise its enemies. The IS knew that there is no balance of power between its military strength and that of its adversaries. But then it wanted to create a hegemony of terror in order to open a war front at the psychological level. This strategy worked in the beginning — the IS continued to attract radicalised youth from around the world and made military advances on the ground — but came under strain as its territorial expansion was halted. Also, the group doesn’t have many more high-profile hostages the beheading or the burning alive of whom could have served its publicity and strategic purposes. So, to keep the terror project afloat, it started massacring civilians in faraway regions. It could trigger chaos in other societies, help the rise of xenophobic forces elsewhere and find more foreign recruits.
Besides, there is an ideological angle to its terror strikes in western cities. The IS’s online propaganda claims, referring to religious scriptures, that an apocalyptic war with the “Romans” (Christians) is inevitable, after which Islam would be victorious. The scripture the group refers to describes Dâbiq, a village in northern Syria which is now under the control of the group, as the location of the fateful showdown between Christians and Muslims; the IS has named its online magazine after this village. To declare the fulfilment of its prophecy, the IS wants to drag western troops into the battlefields in “Syraq”, which would strengthen its narrative of the religious war, and attract more “soldiers” from around the world.
The new strategy appears to be working through a “core and periphery theory”. The “Caliphate” is the core which should be defended and tightly controlled. If it cannot expand the core, attack the periphery, which is the rest of the world. This is a new phase of the global jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda more or less waged an asymmetric war against the rest of the world. It
didn’t have a state or a proto-state. It was either at the mercy of other states — the Taliban in Afghanistan — or operating undercover or from hideouts in the Arabian Peninsula, Mali, etc. But the IS has built a proto-state in the territories it controls where it could plan terror attacks and coordinate with its jihadists living in other parts of the world to carry them out.
How far will Baghdadi and his men go? Is the IS really invincible as its supporters claim? By deciding not to send ground troops to “Syraq”, Mr. Obama has denied the IS prophecy for now. But by not coming up with a comprehensive strategy to fight the group, the U.S. and its allies are actually helping the “Caliphate” flourish. True, four of the five UN Security Council members are now bombing the IS in Syria. But air strikes alone won’t defeat terrorist/insurgent groups. None of the forces that halted the IS’s expansion on the ground is ready to take the battle into the core, mainly because the primary goal is to defend individual interests. For example, as far as the embattled Syrian regime is concerned, the goal is its survival, not the defeat of the IS. For the Kurds (both Syrian and Iraqi), the chief objective is to stop the IS’s advances into their territories, not to capture Sunni-Arab lands which they know would be counterproductive in the future. For the Iraqi army, the main interest lies in protecting the Shia-dominated areas in the south.
What makes matters more complicated is the geopolitics of West Asia. Regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey may not want a further expansion of the IS, but it is debatable whether they want the total defeat of the group. From the perspective of Saudi/Turkish realpolitik, the IS has weakened the “strategic depth of the Shia Iran”. If the Saudis wanted the IS to be defeated, they would have given up their opposition towards the Assad regime a long time ago and pushed for a united anti-IS front. If Turkey wanted the IS’s defeat, it would not have bombed the Kurdish rebels who were actually fighting a successful battle against the jihadists, let alone downing a Russian jet. The Americans were jolted into action only when their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan came under threat.
So, the real question is not whether the IS is invincible; it is whether the world powers want the group to be defeated, or to be just contained.
This is a new phase of the global jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda more or less waged an asymmetric war against the rest of the world. The IS has built a proto-state in the territories it controls where it could plan terror attacks and coordinate with its jihadists living in other parts of the world to carry them out.
Is the IS really invincible as its supporters claim? By deciding not to send ground troops to ‘Syraq’, Barack Obama has denied the IS prophecy, for now. But by not coming up with a
comprehensive strategy to fight the group, the U.S. and its allies are actually helping the ‘Caliphate’ flourish
TELEGRAPH, DEC 11, 2015
Heil hypocrisy- Outrage over Paris ignores the history of the West's violence
First Person Singular: A.M.
Wailing over the outrage in Paris seems unending. National governments here, there and everywhere are expressing their condemnation of the espionage activities being indulged in by the Islamic State organization. The G-20 nations in Ankara shoved aside discussion over problems of inter-country disparities in economic growth to mourn long and loud for the Paris victims. The United Nations hurried to pass a cliché-ridden resolution disapproving of such manifestations of murderous intolerance as exhibited by the perpetrators of the outrage. Almost every day yet another country-government responds to President Barack Obama's invitation to join the Americans and send one or two fighter planes to strafe hypothetical targets in Syria and kill a few hundred innocent citizens, including women, children and ailing old people. After all, human civilization is in peril and it is an obligation to save it.
Is it amnesia or sheer hypocrisy? Maybe I have a twisted mind and a memory vitiated by prejudice. Certain events which took place over the past half-a-century haunt my memory. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy had been elected president of the United States of America with the commitment to usher in a new dawn for his country as well as for the world. He was surrounded by eminent advisers hand-picked from the top crop of towering intellectuals adorning the front-ranking universities in the country. It was their collective decision to destroy that puny country in southeastern Asia, Vietnam, in order to ensure 'global freedom'. Hundreds of villages were therefore wiped away by dropping napalm bombs from American fighter planes, millions of innocent men, women and children were killed, more millions were maimed for life, their habitats were destroyed: it was a carnival of death and devastation. That the final outcome was so ironic - the first formal defeat of the US in international combat - is for the moment beside the point. What is more interesting is the fact that no country outside the Soviet bloc bothered to mourn such insensate killings; there was hardly any explosion of outrage in any international conclave. In individual countries too, apart from a handful of youngsters led astray by empty emotional slogans, the sophisticated quarters behaved as if they could not care less.
This story has been reported over and over again. In the early 1980s, the US military command, greatly concerned at the increasing Soviet intrusion in Afghanistan, chose to support to the hilt the rabid fundamentalist group, the Taliban. The endeavour met with tremendous success, the mullahs leading the Taliban annihilated ruthlessly the Left-leaning elements and took total charge of the country. What ill luck, they now turned on the Americans and waited to drive out these foreigners, too, from their country. American troops were killed in huge numbers; the decision-makers in Washington DC were to have recourse to indiscriminate bombing of areas
that were, in their judgment, important pockets of Taliban concentration. US disappointment persists. Thousands have been killed, this or that area became occasionally quiet, the Americans optimistically organized some sort of a democratic election and installed a government of its choice in Kabul. But the Taliban continue to give them no peace; the fundamentalists are in control of most of the countryside and organize every now and then daring raids targeting strategic spots in Kabul itself. The US response is to further intensify bombing; scores of more people are dying every day, the country lies in ruins, animosity towards the Americans mounts. The world is mum; no word of sympathy for the suffering Afghan people and no word of rebuke for the US administration.
It was once more in the 1980s that Arab-Israeli encounters had been a regular phenomenon along the Lebanese border; casualties used to take place on both sides. Following a relatively more serious incident of which Israel was the worse victim, the Americans, the firmest ally and patron of Israel, decided to teach the Lebanese an appropriate lesson. Beirut, once one of the most beautiful cities in the world with wonderful modernist architecture, was bombed into non-existence; it is today a ghost of what it once was. The so-called world community simply turned the other way.
We come to the hoary 1990s and the first decade-and-a-half of the present century. George W. Bush and Tony Blair decided that enough was enough, that Iraqi tyrant, Saddam Hussein, needed to be silenced forever. The tanks rolled, the planes roared and relics of the ancient Baghdad civilization were rendered into dust; hospitals, school buildings, and residential abodes were mercilessly bombed; more than a million were sent to their improvised graves. The beast, Saddam, was duly captured, he was hanged in public after grisly torture, the details of this ugly happening were shown on television screens across the world: it was an occasion of great éclat for the civilized, super-sophisticated West.
Every action, it is said, has its opposite and equal reaction. The consequence of the Iraqi massacres is the emergence of the Islamic State with its programme of suicide raids in this or that Western country; it has promised not to exclude the US too from its intended targets.
The counter response has been a stereotype: more bombs landing on the Arab population in the mid-west Asian countries; American fighter planes are daily joined by new companies of bomber planes belonging to other civilized Western governments: no compromise with the terrorists is the unwavering resolve.
There is no question of any collective amnesia. Savagery perpetrated by the US, the richest and militarily most powerful country in the world, is supposed to act to defend and extend 'human freedom'; those who try to resist the Americans are enemies of civilization. This hypocrisy is what reigns the world of which we are citizens in the 21st century.
It, though, has its natural consequences. If there is hypocrisy at the international level, individual nations are bound to copy it. Consider the instance of our prime minister. While in London or Singapore, with his eye on imploring foreign capital to invest in India, Narendra Modi invokes the name of Mahatma Gandhi and preaches the doctrine of religious tolerance. At that very moment, the zealots who constitute his main support base - the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh - observe Balidan Diwas, solemnly honouring the memory of Nathuram Godse who killed Gandhi, on the day the murderer was hanged. That apart, a hard core RSS firebrand, whom Modi has sent to Assam as governor, proudly asserts that India is ordained to be a country ruled by the Hindus forever. The RSS and its associates continue with their rampage of violence against the conscientious men and women who dare to protest against their intolerance; the frenzied propagating the doctrine of Hindutva do not hesitate to murder those who persist in their dissent.
While concluding, let me quote another rather hilarious example of the infectious malady of hypocritical goings-about. West Bengal's present chief minister is reportedly busy organizing a united front of opposition political parties to fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party's 'absolutism' and religious intolerance. Back in her own state though, ordinary men and women are constantly at the receiving end of ruthless authoritarianism indulged in by herself and her hoodlums. These goons constitute the hard core of her party; they have ensured that the entire administration as well as the police are cowed down to such an extent that law and order have disappeared in the state; even judicial directives fail to be implemented; rapists are having a whale of a time, murderers freely roam about; the forced collection of funds by the goons receives the stamp of official approval. You try to organize a protest rally, the chief minister's hoodlums will break your head, the so-called forces of law and order will applaud from the sidelines.
It is a world crowded with hypocrites; either you join them, or else...
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 15, 2015Odd-even scheme: Need complementary measures, robust public transport & public sensitization
By Akshima T Ghate
Those who believe, research and practice in sustainable mobility have been advocating for Transport Demand Management (TDM) for a long time. The concept of TDM revolves around maximizing efficiency of urban transport systems by encouraging use of public transport, walking and cycling and discouraging use of individual/low occupancy modes like cars. The odd-even vehicle number scheme being proposed in Delhi is just one of the regulatory measures that are available as choices to policy makers for meeting the local mobility objectives based on their contextual needs.
I stress on the whole TDM concept in the current scenario to make a point that there are several other measures beyond odd-even scheme that are available for managing the current traffic situation in Delhi. We need to identify the best strategies that could work in Delhi and develop a package of measures for the city. Experience shows that no single TDM strategy has been able to single handedly meet the desired objectives.
You will always need a package of measures. And this brings us to Beijing. We are all talking about Beijing and how successful it has been in implementing the odd-even scheme. Yes, the odd-even scheme introduced during Beijing Olympics was a success, but do we know that it was accompanied with several other key measures that made it a success. Number plate scheme in Beijing was complemented with measures like separated bus lanes and/or bus priority, staggered work hours (including telecommuting and flexible working time system) and government-vehicles prohibition. Studies evaluating the impact of these measures have attributed the success in reduction of traffic during Beijing Olympics to the collective impact of these measures and not any one measure. Lesson being very clear - we need a package of measures if we are serious about success of one principal TDM strategy, which in Delhi's case seem to be the odd-even system at at the moment.
Another important thing to learn from Beijing's success is the attention given to public transport and bicycling. After winning the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001, the government established the Beijing Municipal Transportation Committee in 2003, which since 2003 explored and planned for a comprehensive strategy to deal with traffic by 2008. A key pillar of this strategy has been augmentation of public transport and implementation of the public bicycle sharing/bicycle rental scheme. In fact, this is a pre-requisite for success of any package of economic and/or regulatory transport demand measures. Cities which have achieved any amount of success in implementing TDM have all ensured the basic pre-requisite of adequate and quality public transport systems and good infrastructure and operational conditions for non-motorized transport systems.
Beijing has not looked back since 2008. After the success of TDM strategies during Olympics, it has continued with the odd-even scheme but in a much more relaxed form along with the staggered work hours scheme. Additionally Beijing has advanced to more stringent TDM measures. It introduced a significant hike in parking fees in the city center in 2010 and devised heavy fines for illegal parking.
To check the increasing car ownership in the city, which was to some extent a response by the
population to avoid the influence of number plate restriction policy, the city government introduced the car purchase restriction policy in 2011 wherein a monthly quota is decided for sales of new cars in order to check the growth and number of cars on roads. Beijing seems to have a long-term strategy and continued effort to address the growing traffic and vehicular pollution, which provides important insights for Delhi.
Delhi needs a comprehensive and long-term action plan for managing the growing travel demand. It's good that its starting with a trial; Beijing also started with a trial. In its first trial in 2006, Beijing had restricted nearly 500,000 cars from plying on roads for six days. The second trial was in 2007 - odd-even scheme and staggered working hours were implemented to test their effectiveness. The trial in Delhi like in Beijing should hopefully lead to a long term travel demand management plan, the basic principle for which has to be promotion of public transport, walking and cycling.
There is no iota of doubt that it will be extremely difficult to achieve success during the 15-day trial in January, given that there has been no sensitization of public on the importance of the intervention. Places where TDM has been successfully implemented like Stockholm have had success after extensive sensitization and community involvement in decisions related to traffic restrictions/pricing.
It is therefore absolutely critical that the Delhi government goes full out till the 31st December to plan and most importantly sensitize the public on the importance of the action, the failure of which could create a sense of disbelief among residents that any policy measure can save the city from increasing traffic and rising pollution.
( Akshima T Ghate, Fellow, TERI. Views expressed are personal)
TELEGRAPH, DEC 14, 2015
Odds and evens- Pollution has given the AAP a virtuous cause to fight for
The idea that odd and even numbered cars should ply on alternate days to lower emissions has been widely implemented elsewhere in the world but it could have been specially designed to deal with Delhi's elite. To introduce a scheme that systematically discriminates against a whole category of entitled desis is hard; to do it without giving the members of that category grounds for existential grievance amounts to genius. Think of 'post-Mandal politics': a whole epoch of Indian political history is named after the savarna Indian's sense of being hard done by.
This is not to say that car-happy dilli-wallahs are taking this lying down. In restaurants, offices,
common rooms, gymnasiums and resident welfare associations, paunchy men and perfumed women are doing their best to stoke collective indignation but it's hard to get worked up about being singled out as an odd number when your even-numbered neighbour gets singled out in her turn.
There is a case for arguing that the abstract arbitrariness of the odd-even alternation inaugurates a new, rigorously secular politics where citizens are classified as types of numbers, thus avoiding the conflicts of an identity politics defined by caste or religious community. The only other instance of this that I can think of is the practice of boarding passengers by numbered rows into aeroplanes but it isn't nearly as egalitarian because the privileged in business class are boarded first. No, this could be the start of something big: populism by numbers.
It isn't a coincidence that the Aam Aadmi Party was the first party to import the notion into Indian politics. AAP does urban politics in a way that no other party does in this country. It looks for issues that it can use to act out its engagement with the People. Its inaugural blockbuster was corruption, which is the perfect populist issue because everyone is a victim of corruption while no one's ever complicit in it. Pollution, pitched as the degradation of the environment by irresponsible human beings, is, like corruption, low-hanging fruit for a populist party: everyone's against it, because everyone is damaged by it. In the context of climate change and the Paris conference, this self-interest is ennobled by a larger concern for the planet's welfare.
I could be doing the AAP's leadership an injustice but I don't think Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia spend much time fretting about global warming. They, like other citizens, see Delhi's noxious air as a problem (think of Kejriwal's cough); they also see it as a virtuous cause that no one can publicly oppose. That being so, by assuming the leadership of this cause (instead of letting some agitating non-governmental organization take the credit), the AAP is back where it always wishes to be: in the vanguard of virtue.
All the arguments against the odd-and-even number scheme are specious. We know that as an emergency measure it substantially reduces emissions. The scheme's great rhetorical advantage is that everyone understands that if you get half of Delhi's two million cars off the roads every day, it's bound to make a difference. The counter-arguments are convoluted, counter-intuitive, wrong and selfish. A talking head on a television show claimed that a decline in private cars would be offset by an increase in taxis. Even if this were true, it would still be an improvement because taxis in Delhi are powered by compressed natural gas which is a cleaner fuel than either petrol or diesel. I overheard a young woman at a bar complain that the rule would put women's safety at risk because they would have to exchange the security of their cars for the uncertainties of Delhi's public transport system. It is an argument that only Khan Market mesdames can make without embarrassment or a thought for the millions of women who board Delhi's buses and metro trains every day.
This insulated narcissism is indefensible and AAP's leaders know it is. In an interview withThe Indian Express, Satyendar Jain, Delhi's public works department minister, argued that the case for public transport was also the case for democratic sociability. One of the disadvantages of driving a car, he argued, was that "...you have detached yourself from public life... We've
created a world in which we get out from our homes in cars, then go to office. We don't meet anyone, except the same people... We have no space for unknown people in our lives, we don't want to meet anyone. This is an opportunity for society to grow, to travel in buses and cars and become humans".
Homilies from desi politicians are always infuriating, but Jain is making an irrefutable point: car owners in India are a small pampered minority who can't be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Being a paid-up member of the AAP he can't help being pious, so he adds that getting out more is good for you, it helps make you human. The trouble is, that's true too. There simply isn't a large argument to be made against the slew of measures announced by the Delhi government.
There is some evidence that Kejriwal's government built up to this announcement. There were two 'car-free' days in different parts of the National Capital Region, one centred on Shahjahanabad and the other on Dwarka. In themselves they were grandstanding events focused on Arvind Kejriwal riding a bicycle, but they now seem ways of signalling that the government was serious about managing vehicular traffic and getting cars off the road. The timing of the trial run of the odd-even scheme (the first two weeks of January) is clearly intended to target the smoggiest part of Delhi's winter when citizens are most amenable to the idea that something drastic needs to be done.
Can it be implemented? It's worth remembering that in the late 1990s, Delhi's public transportation managed an enormous transition: the change over from petrol and diesel to CNG. When it was first mooted, the plan was widely scorned as impracticable and there were teething pains through the transition. But it worked. In 2001, India Today reported that from 1998 the "concentration of suspended particulate matter (SPM), carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide at the busy ITO intersection has come down by 15 per cent, 34.5 per cent and 11 per cent respectively."
There's no reason why Kejriwal's plan shouldn't make a difference in the same way. There will be more articulate opposition to it because the transition to CNG didn't affect Delhi's car owners; the people who bore the brunt of that change were auto-rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers and public corporations like the Delhi Transport Corporation. Technocratic solutions that disrupt the lives of others are viewed benevolently by desi elites. Solutions that disrupt their daily routines, on the other hand, are unacceptable, impractical invasions of citizens' lives by a nanny State.
Criticism of the scheme has been an exercise in pie-pitching, having a go hoping something will stick. The scheme won't work because Delhi Police is corrupt. It won't work because the dilli-wallah is corrupt. It won't work because the Central government will sabotage it. It won't work because it's a publicity stunt by a populist party.
The truth is that it might work because it has been mooted by a populist party that will do its damnedest to make the scheme seem like a virtuous crusade. It might actually convince Delhi's citizens that they are volunteers in a great cause. Delhi's Bus Rapid Transit experiment died an unnatural death because the Congress government that sponsored it didn't have the populist
chops to take its case to the People. Making political capital out of single issue campaigns is something Kejriwal does rather well. He might yet show our pundits that knowingness isn't prescience.
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 11, 2015Breaking Delhi’s odd-even car rule may cost you Rs 2,000By AKSHAY DESHMANE
NEW DELHi: Breaking the Capital's odd-even driving rule, which is being tested for a two-week period starting January 1, could cost violators Rs 2,000 or more. Seeking to ensure maximum compliance, the Delhi government is considering the extension of a provision of the Motor Vehicles Act that currently applies to commercial vehicles to private ones during the fortnight in order to make this possible.
"Section 194 of the Motor Vehicles Act applies to commercial vehicles such as trucks, among others, whose timings of entry and exit in Delhi are restricted," a senior Delhi government official told ET on condition of anonymity.
"One of the things being discussed is using the logic of restricting timings for entry and exit of commercial vehicles and extending it to private vehicles... This can be implemented simply by issuing a notification," the official said. The section imposes a minimum penalty of Rs 2,000 on commercial vehicles regarding "permissible weights".
However, it also draws from other sections, including Section 115, which empowers the government to "restrict the use of vehicles" of specified classes in certain areas or roads in the interest of "public safety" and "convenience". The official said a higher penalty is also being discussed by the government.
The Motor Vehicles Act is one of at least three laws that the transport and law departments have been discussing with the traffic police for use during the fortnight to ensure that motorists comply with the odd-even rule. Delhi wants to restrict private cars between 8 am and 8 pm, Monday to Saturday, as it seeks to curb pollution. Odd-numbered cars will run on odd dates and those with even numbers on even dates.
Another Delhi government official said other Acts that could come into play include the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, apart from legislation on "mechanically propelled vehicles".
If the existing legal provisions don't suffice, new ones could be introduced. "Everything is possible, since it's being discussed and the government will take a decision based on sound legal advice," said the official cited above. One possibility is amending the Delhi Motor Vehicles Rules to either increase the penalty or introduce norms related to numbers. "Everything is possible till January 1," the official said.
Reacting to this, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said, "We have to consider it properly. The effect needs to be studied in details. Pollution is a serious issue for the citizens. Clean environment is a human rights issue. We have to give a clean environment to the citizens but how to do it is a question. It should not create inconvenience also to the citizen."
The Delhi government announced steps to boost public transport capacity on Thursday. This will include 6,000 more buses, an increase in the availability of autorickshaws and the Delhi Metro running at "peak capacity" during the test period.
Delhi Transport Corporation has 6,000 buses, state transport minister Gopal Rai said. Of the additional buses, 4,000 will come from private bus operators and 2,000 from those that run school bus services. These school buses will have half the seats reserved for women, he said.
HINDU, DEC 8, 2015Betting on odds and evensRUKMINI S.
Nationally, over 35 per cent of urban households own a motorised two-wheeler and just under 10 per cent own a car, jeep or van. In Delhi, where per capita incomes are among the highest in the country, these proportions are much higher: nearly 40 per cent of households own a two-wheeler and over 20 per cent of households own a car. The Census 2011 does not tell us how many households own both, so it’s reasonable to say that between 40 and 60 per cent of households own either a car or a two-wheeler in the capital. The Delhi government’s proposed restrictions, then, could affect half the city, and it seems fair to guess that this is the better off half of the city.
A 2011 National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data showed that Delhi was among the States with the longest commutes: Goa, Chandigarh and Delhi had the highest proportion of households where the main earner needed to travel more than 5 km to his or her place of work. Among people who have to commute to work in Delhi, an equal share (26 per cent each) either walk or take the bus, Census data shows. Thirty per cent go by car or by two-wheeler. Bengaluru and Chennai and Hyderabad have even higher proportions of private vehicle-using commuters, driven mainly by the larger proportion of two-wheeler riders in those cities.
State of emergency
Eighty-eight lakh cars and two-wheelers hit Delhi’s streets every day, and the city has the world’s worst air quality. The Delhi government is right in saying that this is an emergency response to an emergency situation. Particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) levels in the city since Diwali have systematically remained in the “severe” category of India’s National Air Quality Index, levels that provoke poor air quality cities such as Beijing to even halt industrial production and restrict outdoor activities for children. Moreover, this state of emergency has begun to breach the borders of winter, when the burning of paddy straw by farmers in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana coincides with cooler temperatures to bring on a lethal fog — the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said on December 2 that Delhi has had just 16 “good” air quality days this year.
The restrictions on private vehicle usage may have got most of the media coverage, but are by no means the only steps the government has announced — it will also begin vacuum cleaning of the dust from the roads in Delhi from April 1, 2016, close down the Badarpur and Raj Ghat thermal power plants, push the entry of trucks into the city to later in the night, and bring forward the cut-off date for Euro-VI emission norms. This bouquet of measures is particularly useful because the precise contribution of vehicles, industry, and the National Capital Region’s agricultural activities to Delhi’s air pollution has been debated: CSE trashed a 2010 study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for Delhi and Mumbai, which blamed LPG and road dust for Delhi’s air pollution. CSE contends that car emissions contribute to between 50 and 80 per cent of PM10 loads. An Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur study submitted last month found that vehicular emissions contributed to up to 60 per cent of winter air pollution.
Cities across the world have experimented with variations of restriction on car usage — there is odd and even day rationing during peak hours in Bogota (Colombia), similar restrictions during peak pollution days in Beijing, restrictions on single-occupancy vehicular passage in some North American cities, congestion charges on driving in the city centre in London, and high car taxes in Singapore.
Problems with proposal
To be sure, there are problems with the proposed restrictions on private vehicle use in Delhi. In recent days, families with differently abled members have spoken out about the impossibility of using public transport that is neither seamless nor accessible and their fears about having to explain their situation at every traffic stop. A recent personal health-related experience with restricted mobility has given me much greater awareness of my privilege in being able to use a car when I cannot take the metro and fears for my own mobility from January on. Dozens of working women I know pride themselves on being able to work as late as the men in their office, secure in the knowledge that they can drive themselves home. Many parents with children in schools not served by buses are unwilling to use unreliable autos every day, particularly in winter. Last-mile connectivity remains patchy. Many such people, including me, are aware of the place of privilege we come from and are willing to work with the state so that our comforts do not come at the cost of everyone’s health, but the road map to that collaboration — which takes the form of permits and passes in the cities that have implemented such restrictions — is not yet visible. A vital link to both enforcing the system and tackling exceptions would have been the traffic police; however the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continues to be relentlessly confrontational with the police, who have already expressed misgivings about their level of preparedness.
Where the AAP government will stumble is on improving public transport fast enough to accommodate the 45 lakh new commuters who will need to use the metro, buses, autorickshaws and taxis from January 1. The world-class metro is currently used by about 20 lakh people every day, while the Delhi Transport Corporation’s overstretched bus service serves 45 lakh passengers. Neither is equipped to take on several lakh new passengers within 15 days. Innovative reforms have either stalled or been killed, on one memorable occasion by the AAP government itself; in 2008, the then Congress government introduced a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with a short dedicated high-speed corridor at a tenth of the cost of the metro. The 5.8-km BRT was not extended and it was poorly policed; in addition it created traffic snarls (as predicted in any road rationing scheme), angering car users and the city’s powerful car-using media. However, it did substantially improve its users’ experience, as I can testify to, having enjoyed a quick and comfortable commute for the two years I lived on its route. Soon after coming back to power, the AAP government scrapped it despite ample global evidence on how to improve it.
In the coming days, Arvind Kejriwal’s government is likely to face the same storm of middle class and rich Delhi outrage that blew the BRT out of the water. Perhaps political compulsions did not allow Mr. Kejriwal to attempt to improve a public transport innovation that was making the lives of the city’s bus-taking majority markedly better, while rationing road use for its private vehicle-using citizens. Perhaps poor advice stopped him from attempting to improve and expand it. Mr. Kejriwal’s proposed vehicle restrictions also require improvement, but I hope this time, he stays the course. Delhi’s richer half has dictated policy for all, all the while making air quality worse for all. That cannot continue.
INDIAN EXPRESS, DEC 8, 2015Odd-even scheme to apply to non-Delhi vehicles too: Delhi govt
Health minister Satyendar Jain added that the rule will not apply to two-wheelers.Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR
Public works department and health minister Satyendar Jain Monday said the Delhi
government’s decision to let odd and even number vehicles ply on alternate days will apply to
private cars coming into Delhi from outside as well.
Jain added that the rule will not apply to two-wheelers. The minister is heading the government’s
steering committee that will work on the recently announced pollution control measures –
including the odd-even vehicle scheme.
“There were two suggestions. One was that odd numbers would ply on Monday, Wednesday and
Friday while even numbers would ply on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; everyone would be
allowed to ply on Sunday. The other suggestion was that odd numbers would ply on odd dates
and vice-versa. But some people felt there should be at least one day when everybody is allowed
to ply. Also date-wise, 31st would be followed by 1st. Hence, it would be two consecutive days
of odd number operations. Most people felt that the first option was better,” said Jain.
Government sources said that in a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Monday,
discussions were held on whether the odd and even number operations should be applied round-
the-clock or during peak hours. While the government has broadly decided to implement the rule
for two weeks, the exact duration has not finalised, said sources.
Ministers and senior government officials deliberated on whether exemptions should be granted
once the rule is enforced. While emergency cases may be considered an exception, officials are
concerned that the exemption may be misused.
Encouraging car-pools was also an idea that prompted the government to take radical pollution
control measures. “If the Chief Justice of India can carpool, why not others? Delhi ministers will
have to car pool. There is no choice,” said Jain.
“We discussed whether a car carrying four or five passengers should be allowed to ply,
irrespective of the number plate, as …the car would be utilised to its optimum capacity. These
were some of the ideas that were floated,” said a source.
Jain said public transport, including DTC buses and the Delhi Metro, will have to up their
operations by 20 per cent to cater to the increased load. “We will be able to provide more than
the necessary alternative means of transport. A 20 per cent increase in their operations – in the
number of trips made by buses, more drivers and increase in the working hours of the Metro –
will make this possible,” he said.
The minister said it was “unfortunate” that the police commissioner had dismissed the idea of
implementing the odd-even number code. “Making the law and implementing it are two different
things. Delhi police is not the government. It is an arm of the government. The job of police is to
implement the law made by the government. We will take them into consultation and explain
everything to him,” said Jain.
Meanwhile, Kejriwal sought an appointment with union home minister Rajnath Singh to discuss
the implementation of the pollution control measures announced by his government.
ECONOMIC TIMES, DEC 9, 2015Odd-even scheme to be in force from 8 am to 8 pm on workdays; DPCC to measure air samples
NEW DELHI: Pressing ahead with its plan to ban the plying of private vehicles with odd and even registration numbers on alternate days, the Delhi government said the curbs will be applicable from 8 am to 8 pm on working days from January 1. The restrictions won't be enforced on Sundays.
Briefing reporters after a marathon meeting with the traffic police, ministers and government officials, Transport Minister Gopal Rai said cars will be allowed to ply depending on the date — odd registration numbers on odd dates and even registration numbers on even dates. On the launch day, January 1, only cars with odd numbers will be permitted.
Adecision on groups to be exempted from the ban will be taken at a review meeting on December 10. "All concerned departments and Cabinet ministers had a joint meeting to review our preparations," Rai said at the Delhi Secretariat on Tuesday evening. Before December 25, the joint team will present the blueprint to the people to address all concerns.
The government decided that the odd/even campaign would run from January 1-15 in the first phase, after which there will be a review and based on that, "the government will decide future strategy".
People can take their cars out before 8 am and after 8 pm, but during these hours, the "even/odd system will be in force".
Rai said it had been decided to go by the date of the month to determine which vehicles will be allowed to ply, rather than the previous idea of following the system of days of the week. "The feedback we received from many places was that remembering days will be difficult," Rai explained. On dates ending in 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, odd-numbered vehicles will run, and on dates ending in 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8, even-numbered cars will be allowed.
The ban is being introduced in an attempt to reduce high levels of pollution in the Capital. To assess the impact of the restrictions, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee will measure air samples from 200 places. "We will display the rise and fall in air pollution levels in different places," the transport minister said.
To enforce the ban, about 1,000 civil defence volunteers will be taken on board. The public transport system will be supplemented to encourage people not to use cars. More than 2.6 million private cars were registered in the Capital as of March 31, according to the Delhi transport department website.
"Nine-thousand CNG buses which run in schools will be brought on the roads during this period to add to the public transport system," Rai said. Another 1,000 dedicated buses under the Delhi Transport Corporation's "cluster scheme" will be added in the next three months.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will hold a meeting on December 10 to review the preparations for the fortnight-long campaign, Rai said. "Based on feedback reports from other departments, at the December 10 review meeting we will decide whether to exempt some groups or not," he added.
Other measures to curb pollution, such as the closure of Badarpur thermal power plant and the mechanical cleaning of streets are being fine-tuned, he said. The review meeting on Tuesday was attended by all ministers and stakeholders, including the Delhi Traffic Police and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, senior officials of the government and the Delhi Dialogue Commission.
TELEGRAPH, DEC 9, 2015
Clean and private
- The Clean India campaign should be taken seriously
COMMENTARAO: S.L. Rao
India has inherited some strange practices. For example, a menstruating woman is still considered by many to be unclean and forbidden to enter temples, kitchens and pujarooms. This is so particularly in south India. Earlier, she was banished during her period to the backyard of the house which was also the place for open or closed defecation. Homes are kept spotlessly clean but all garbage is thrown out by many into the open. Private hygiene goes along with public squalor.
Open defecation has been the practice in both urban and rural areas. It has declined in most urban areas, especially in metropolitan towns, but not vanished. Most rural households do not have private toilets. But household surveys show that Indian households own more mobile phones in total than they have closed toilets.
To state the obvious, open defecation has many consequences. It destroys privacy. It restricts women to hold back till there is darkness and - for security - the company of other women. Open defecation spreads disease, especially diarrhoea, as excrement leaches into groundwater. Closed door defecation, good sewerage and drainage systems, regular garbage disposal and safe drinking water are essential as indicators of a cleaner environment and a more civic and developed society. India is among the most backward in these respects.
The emphasis of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, on a clean India - " swachh Bharat" - as a national campaign must not be politicized; it should be welcomed. Political criticism of the programme and its implementation is not only misplaced. It is wrong. Girl students in a Bangalore college made this clear recently to an important politician. The programme must be supported by all.
The 69th National Sample survey (2012) shows that over the last few decades, there has been progress. The data quoted here relates to the period, July 2012 to December 2012. The survey covered the whole of the Indian Union. The central sample was of 4,475 villages in rural areas and 3,522 urban blocks spread over all states and Union territories. The total number of households surveyed was 95,548, (53,393 in rural areas and 42,155 in urban areas).
About 88.5 per cent households in rural India had an improved source of drinking water while the corresponding figure was 95.3 percent in urban India.
Among rural households, 85.8 per cent had sufficient drinking water and for urban India the
corresponding figure was 89.6 per cent. The percentage of households which got drinking water within their premises was 46.1 per cent in rural India and 76.8 per cent in urban India.
About 62.3 per cent of rural households and 16.7 per cent of urban households did not have any bathroom facility while 59.4 per cent and 8.8 per cent households in rural India and urban India respectively had no latrine facilities.
Among the households having latrine facilities, 31.9 per cent and 63.9 per cent households in rural India and urban India respectively had access to its exclusive use. About 38.8 per cent and 89.6 per cent households in rural and urban India respectively, had access to an 'improved' type of latrine and 80 per cent of rural households and 97.9 per cent of urban households had electricity for domestic use. Only 26.3 per cent and 47.1 per cent households in rural India and urban India respectively had dwelling units with 'good ventilation' while 31.7 per cent of rural households and 82.5 per cent of urban households had 'improved drainage' facilities in the environment of their dwelling units. In rural India 32 per cent households had some garbage disposal arrangement, whereas in urban areas the corresponding figure was 75.8 per cent.
This brief statistical description shows that many millions of Indians live in poor and unhygienic conditions. The duty of a good government is to improve their living conditions. Apart from funds and proper implementation, what are the requirements to correct the situation?
There must be an overarching determination at all levels that the situation must be speedily corrected. The 'beneficiaries' must accept the need for change. There must be a coordinated plan and implementing agencies should be monitored for completion on time and for quality.
There is a perception that many Indians prefer open defecation to privacy. How else do we explain the preference for television set ownership or for cell phones over having private latrines? Whatever the preferences might be, it is essential that a programme of education be launched to teach everyone of the importance to them and their families of avoiding open defecation. Providing financial support to households and imposing penalties on those who do not comply might help.
Women are perhaps easier persuaded of the need since they suffer debilitating gynaecological illnesses because of having to wait for hours to relieve themselves.
There is already a programme to urgently ensure that all schools have toilets. This is essential for the health of children, especially girls. It is also an incentive for parents to send girl children to school since they will have privacy in these personal tasks.
Building toilets in schools and homes is not enough. They have to be kept clean. There must also be adequate water available for users to wash after using the toilet. In homes, the Gandhian principle that cleaning their toilets is everyone's task, has to be inculcated. This also calls for a great deal of unlearning of old prejudices.
Ensuring water at all times in toilets at home, in schools and community toilets, is a great
challenge. This is especially so in hot summers and in dry lands. Rainwater harvesting might help by collecting water. It may not be enough. Other methods must be found to have some water always available.
A major challenge is toilet design. It must suit the topography and climate of the area. Excrement can be collected in septic tanks and converted to fertilizer. This is a significant additional cost.
Alternatively there must be drainage that will take it away to places where it is treated for conversion to productive use, or flushed into the sea. A drainage system is part of a community or town arrangement and requires considerable investment. Another possibility is to design toilets that have microbes that break up the materials. These are capital cost intensive and also have a running cost. Both have to be provided for.
A Swachh Bharat programme cannot stop at sanitation. It must include drainage and garbage collection, removal, treatment and disposal. These are municipal issues. In India, in almost every part, these are subject to poor management, lack of planning and coordination, and huge corruption. They are also state and municipal subjects under the law. To get a swachh Bharat all these levels of government must work together. There is no sign that attention is being paid to this aspect. A Clean India is not as simple to achieve as it sounds. It has to have a combination of psychological methods to change people's attitudes; technologies to achieve suitable toilet designs (for homes, schools and communities); well-thought-out arrangements for keeping them clean; water specialists to arrange water availability in different topographies and climates; garbage management, and public governance to ensure coordinated actions on all fronts.
The government must work on these aspects if this programme is not to waste the vast sums it has on projects like cleaning the Ganga.
The author is former director-general, National Council of Applied Economic Research
BUSINESS STANDARD, DEC 11, 2015Only 10 smart cities may get funds from Centre this yearMost BJP-ruled states are ready with their city development plans Nivedita Mookerji
States rush to meet Smart City deadline; Kerala, J&K seek more time Rae Bareli and Meerut vie for Smart City tag Smart cities or smart pilots? Local bodies can't be ignored in schemes for urban housing, infrastructure NBCC surges as government launches Smart City mission
The National Democratic Alliance government is getting ready to scale down the size and speed
of its signature Smart City Mission, if the need arises. Not keen to delay the project, the Centre
may fund only 10 cities, instead of the proposed 20, in the first year, if proposals don’t match
The idea is to not slip on the target date (January 26) for announcing the first list of smart cities,
a segment that could mean a long-term opportunity of $50 billion in India.
December 15 is the cut-off date to be eligible for the Centre’s funds. If states submit “inadequate
or incomplete” area development plans to the urban development ministry by then, the number
of cities to be picked up for the first round would be lower, a source in the government told
Business Standard. “The government is sure of at least 10 quality proposals, though it would
like to start with 20,” the source said.
Most BJP-ruled states are ready with their city development plans, according to an official in the
urban development ministry.
The states that are expected to submit “quality” proposals by the due date include Maharashtra,
Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra
The Delhi government could also submit its plan because it’s meant only for the New Delhi
Municipal Council (NDMC) area, a small part of the city. Telangana and Chhattisgarh are
among the others that are seen as “serious” with their planning, and could end up submitting
good proposals, officials said.
The cities which could make it to the first list include Pune, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Vizag, Jaipur,
Udaipur, Surat, Bhopal and NDMC area of Delhi, people tracking the process said.
Of the 100 cities (98 have been shortlisted till now), 20 were scheduled to get funding in 2015-16. The Centre would spend Rs 500 crore on each city, in phases, while the remaining amount is to come from states, urban bodies and private partners.
A few months ago the Cabinet had cleared Rs 50,000 crore for the project and another Rs 48,000 crore for AMRUT (another city rejuvenation plan) — both schemes were part of the election plank of NDA last year.
Many of the states are going slow on their smart city plans because of the push and pull between greenfield, or new projects, and brownfield, or retrofitting projects, sectoral experts pointed out. The recent Chennai floods may also have delayed the plans of some states.
Estimates suggest that building a new smart city with one-million population would cost Rs 20,000 crore a year for the next 10-15 years. Building on existing cities would be cheaper, depending on the nature of retrofitting work required. But once a brownfiled plan is selected, it is hard to go back to a greenfield one, experts say.
The minimum area under a greenfield project is 250 acres and that for brownfield is 500. Any redevelopment has to be done on an area of more than 50 acres. Though the guidelines permit both plans in “contiguous” areas, the interpretation lacks clarity, some state government representatives have said. “Opportunities will lie in the cities that don’t make it to the first list as everything will go back to the drawing board for them,” said Pratap Padode, founder and director at Smart Cities Council India. That will be the real churn of urban planning, as these states correct the situation after the first cut-off is over, he pointed out.
The 98 probable cities were picked up through a ‘City Challenge’. But, the names will change as the competition moves from one round to another. More than 15 countries have collaborated with Indian cities in some manner so far.