Shut down Air India
Having botched the privatisation of the public carrier, Air India, the Government is now being called upon to bail it out yet again. Air India has asked for Rs 3,000 crores to tide over the latest financial crunch. Employees’ salaries, urgent bills, statutory commitments, etc, need to be met and AI has no money for these obligatory payments. But the finance ministry does not seem to be in a mood to oblige. And rightly so. How long can the taxpayers be expected to pay for the white elephant which refuses to improve its finances? It is true the UPA’s Praful Patel inflicted a huge financial and other damage on the airline, favouring certain private sector operators instead.
Yet, the Modi Government missed the opportunity to disinvest in this relic of the socialist age. With a number of private sector airlines freely competing, the need for a cost-heavy public carrier no longer existed. But false prestige prevented Modi from selling off this white elephant. And finally, when he did undertake to sell off AI, the half-hearted attempt failed. No private party would put up money if the Government was loath to shed controls. Vast assets of AI ought to be sold off to pay the urgent bills. An inordinately large work force cuts a huge hole in its finances, with more than 250 employees per aircraft against 50-60 in the private sector. The only option is to close down the airline and hive off its assets and to reduce its salary bill through a voluntary retirement scheme. There is no need to throw more good money after a failed and, shall we say, doomed project.
A futile debate on economic growth
There is much to and fro between the ruling NDA and the opposition UPA over the GDP growth numbers. Both parties seem to claim a better management of the economy under them. A fresh debate was triggered by the revision of growth by a committee since the beginning of 2000 which reportedly was a fraction higher than previously estimated. The former finance minister P Chidambaram was quick to jump into the fray, patting himself on the back only to get a strong riposte from Finance Minister Arun Jaitely.
Whether the growth in the UPA years averaged 7.5 per cent or 7.6 per cent is of an academic interest, especially when the method of measuring it remains controversial. Indeed, GDP numbers of most countries, particularly China’s, are hugely suspect. As for India, GDP numbers barely reflect the true state of the economy. Given the size of the underground or parallel economy, the huge informal sector, largely unaccounted farm sector incomes, etc, it is hard to measure the true growth rate. Well-regarded economists believe the actual growth may be far higher than is reflected in the official numbers, though the sharp disparities tend to obscure the true picture. It is also true that the momentum for growth in the early 2000s was provided by the Vajpayee Government which undertook massive infrastructure works and opened up the telecom sector to private entrepreneurs.
The telecom sector has since become a huge growth generator, employing tens of thousands in the service industry and facilitating several other allied businesses. The UPA in its first couple of years gained from the momentum provided by the Vajpayee Government. This was reflected in the near double-digit growth in 2004-2005. Soon, the Manmohan Singh Government was derailed by the corruption scams and retrograde policies pushed by the allies. Though the UPA-II found itself paralysed by corruption scams, the big scams had occurred in the first term. The Modi Government inherited the huge problem of stressed assets of banks and overcapacity in certain sectors due to reckless lending by public institutions. The Government, however, was lucky in a benign crude oil market with the price of oil coming down from a high of well over $100 per barrel to $30-35 a barrel.
Modi, unlike Vajpayee, erred in not pushing for a major disinvestment programme or undertaking structural reforms. He applied himself to prevent theft of public funds and to set right government undertakings rather than privatising them. And he took a major risk in demonetisation, which shaved off at least 0.5 to one per cent of the GDP in 2008-09. The short point is that the record of both the Modi NDA and the UPA on the economy is not very remarkable. Both made huge mistakes. Yet, only some in the media and a few economists fuss over GDP numbers for these do not seem to make difference to the lives of a vast majority of the people. Decent growth sustained over a number of years alone can have a salutary trickle-down effect, improving lives of the poor and the underprivileged. Whether the UPA scored a fraction of a percentage more or less over the NDA’s growth rate is a wholly irrelevant exercise.
Rohingya mark ‘black day’ one year after Myanmar violence
Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh): Rohingya refugees today marked the anniversary of a deadly military crackdown in their Myanmar homeland that drove 700,000 of the persecuted minority into Bangladesh, stateless and confronting a grim future.
Raids by Rohingya militants on August 25 last year across Myanmar’s Rakhine state spurred an army crackdown which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”. Waves of Rohingya fled by foot or boat to Bangladesh in an exodus unprecedented in speed and scale. Rohingya activists in Bangladesh’s refugee camps vowed to mark the “black day” with prayers, speeches and song. The latest influx has placed enormous pressure on Bangladesh’s impoverished Cox’s Bazar district, which quickly grew into the world’s largest refugee settlement. The squalid camps already hosted generations of Rohingya expelled from Rakhine and the latest arrivals pushed numbers close to one million.
Abdul Malek, a 27-year-old refugee who fled an attack on his village last year, said the plight of the Rohingya was far from over. “This one year is just the beginning of many more to follow,” he told AFP in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Buddhist-majority Myanmar says it is ready to take back those who fled. But it refuses to recognise the Rohingya as citizens, falsely labelling them “Bengali” illegal immigrants. A deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start sending them back has stalled. Fewer than 200 have been repatriated so far.
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week said it was up to Bangladesh “to decide how quickly” repatriation can be done, while insisting the “terrorist threat” posed by Rohingya militants remains “real and present”. The Rohingya say they will not return without a guarantee of their safety, citizenship and compensation for homes and land torched. “We don’t want to (go) back without justice and without our rights and a proper guarantee that we won’t be driven out again,” 18-year-old Aman Ullah told AFP in Cox’s Bazar.
The Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship decades ago by Myanmar and have been hunted from the country in successive convulsions of violence. Access to healthcare and freedom of movement remains out of reach for the stateless people in Rakhine. And the Rohingya exodus from western Myanmar continues today, with refugees still trickling over the border throughout this year. The UN and international rights groups say conditions are not ready for them to go back. “It may be decades until they can safely return to Myanmar, if ever,” Medecins Sans Frontieres head of mission in Bangladesh, Pavlo Kolovos, said in a statement.
Calls have mounted for Myanmar’s military to be held responsible for the campaign, with security forces accused of torture, rape and murder. The US has sanctioned two army brigades and several commanders who oversaw the expulsion, in which thousands are estimated to have died. But Myanmar says it was simply defending itself and bristles at international calls for justice. Humanitarian agencies spearheading the relief effort in Bangladesh say just one third of the roughly USD 1 bn needed for the refugees until March has been raised.
A retrograde move
Several years ago when the Sikh militancy was at its peak, a venerable editor in a popular newspaper began his column thus, “It is twelve o’clock in Punjab and unless something drastic is done to curb the madness…”or words to that effect. Even at that time, someone had filed a case against the editor and the newspaper for hurting the sentiments of the Sikhs, demanding severe punishment for them, but under the proposed changes in the IPC, the editor would have certainly stared at a long time in prison. Instead of junking such retrograde legal stipulations, considering what the Congress Government in Punjab now proposes to do, we might well be enacting our own version of the hated blasphemy law of Pakistan.
Instead of expanding the frontiers of individual freedom, we will be headed in the reverse direction if what the Amarinder Singh Government has proposed passes muster at the Centre. The move is to make sacrilege against the holy books of the major religions punishable with life imprisonment. In 2016, the Akali-BJP Government had passed a law aimed at those committing sacrilege against the Guru Granth Sahib. This had come in the wake of several incidents of tearing and burning of the holy books of the Sikhs in various parts of the State. The ISI was a suspect, which wanted to foment communal trouble. But the Bill then was approved by all parties in the Assembly. It returned by the President since it was a religion-specific. Now, the Amarinder Singh Government has proposed to cure the flaw, extending the protection to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhadwad Gita, Holy Quran and Holy Bible. Anyone damaging these holy books will attract the proposed amendment to Section 295-AA of the IPC which seeks to criminalise “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”. The offence will be punishable by life imprisonment.
Aside from the very real threat of abuse of the proposed provision by unscrupulous elements, it will provide a handle to politicians and others in positions of power to harass and persecute their critics and even political rivals. Since the existing Section 295A already provides for a three-year jail sentence to anyone found to be committing sacrilege with the aim of causing public disorder and unrest, the proposed 295AA providing life imprisonment is excessive and open to gross abuse. Sacrilege is a loose, nay, vague term which means different things to different people, depending on their educational and cultural backgrounds. Its ever-present fear would constrict free speech and allow ruling politicians to threaten its invocation to silence critics. It will impose extreme sensitivity and restraint even in private in all matters relating to religion, its practice and traditions. The proposed move which panders to religious extremists must be abandoned forthwith.
BJP-led NDMC House proposes to name projects after Atal Bihari Vajpayee
New Delhi: The BJP-led North Delhi Municipal Corporation paid tributes to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the session of its House on Tuesday and proposed to name a few major projects after him, officials said. North Delhi Mayor Adesh Gupta, senior Congress leader Mukesh Goel and others paid homage to the BJP stalwart.
A portrait of the former prime minister was kept in the Well of the House where members paid floral tributes. “It was also proposed to name some major projects of the corporation after him,” a senior civic official said. The veteran politician died on August 16 at the age of 93 at the AIIMS here following prolonged illness.
Mahanadi river case: NGT directs MoEF to submit report
New Delhi:The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Monday directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to submit a report on steps taken by the ministry in connection with the six barrages constructed over the Mahanadi River by Chhattisgarh.
A bench of Justice Raghubendra Singh Rathore and expert member Dr Satyawan Singh Garbyal directed the ministry to file compliance report within three months before the tribunal.
“Ministry of Environment and Forest shall act expeditiously in furtherance to the letter it has written in September 20, 2017 to Chhattisgarh and submit a report within three months before the tribunal,” said the bench.
Notably, the ministry has written a letter, following an inspection by the Nagpur regional office, to Chhattisgarh raising objection over the construction of barrages on the river and requested Chhattisgarh to inform the reason for not informing the ministry and Odisha government, a riparian state, about the construction of six barrages on the River.
The Nagpur regional office of the environment ministry had conducted a inspection of all the six barrages and stated that no studies, pertaining to e-flow to be maintained in the downstream and impact on the flora and fauna in the large area to be submerged over 120 km stretch of the River, has been conducted by the implementing agency through an institute of repute. A cumulative impact assessment and carrying capacity of the river needs studied.
The bench has disposed off the matter, however the petitioner said that if the Union government does not comply with the direction of the tribunal then the court will again take up the matter and the matter will be heard.
Bihar: Professor assaulted for being critical of Vajpayee
Motihari: An academician, working at Mahatma Gandhi University, was allegedly thrashed by an angry mob on Friday afternoon for a comment on a social media platform criticising former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who took his last breath on Thursday, following a prolonged illness.
The professor was attacked and dragged down from his flat, situated on the third floor. The attackers also attempted to burn him alive.
Reportedly, his comment on a critical post against the late BJP Veteran read, “Fascivad ke ek Yug ki samapti. Atal ji anant yatra par nikle (End to an era of fascism. Atal ji embarks on an journey to eternity).”
The professor was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital and later was referred to Patna’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for advanced medical treatment.
Speaking to ANI, the victim however claimed that he was not only attacked for commenting on the post criticising Vajpayee, and but also for raising his voice against his university’s Vice Chancellor’s (VC) decisions in the past.
“The people, who attacked me were all backed by the present VC. I also received a threat call from the attackers, who warned me to not protest against the VC,” he added.
A face-off between the VC and the professors started on May 29, after scores of teachers sat on dharna, protesting the decisions taken by the university administration pertaining to reservation and appointment of new faculty members. (ANI)
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.
- MARCUS GARVEY. Historical buildings and monuments are physical links to our past. I was reminded of this maxim during a road journey I undertook recently. While travelling by road from Ranchi, the administrative capital of Jharkhand State to Dhanbad, the Coal Capital of India, I came across ORMANHJI CHOWK, a marketplace along the highway, just on the outskirts of Ranchi. There stands a gate constructed in the memory of Shaikh Bhikhari, a great freedom fighter of the 1st War of Independence in 1857. Shaikh Bhikhari was born in a humble momin ansar family of Khudia village in Ormanjhi, on 2nd October, 1811. From a humble weaver in the beginning, he rose to become a great freedom fighter, by virtue of his extreme patriotic fervour and bravery. Shaikh Bhikhari had fought the British a number of times. Employing his tactical guerrilla warfare skills, he inflicted major casualties on the British forces advancing from Ramgarh towards Ranchi through the Chutupalu Hills. But Shaikh Bhikhari was destined to become a martyr in the cause of the Motherland. He was hanged to death by the British in Chutupalu Valley on January 8, 1858.
At the present time, the ‘‘Shaikh Bhikari Gate’’ at Ormanjhi Chowk is a monument lying in a state of ruin and disrepair – plasters are crumbling, paints have peeled off, even the writing of the main arch has almost completely faded due to weather conditions and absence of routine repairs. It is indeed painful to see an important landmark, built to commemorate the noble sacrifice of this great freedom fighter, suffering from indifference and neglect.
Today is August 15, 2018. We are celebrating our 72nd Independence Day, today. We owe this great day to the sacrifices of our great freedom fighters, one of whom was, undoubtedly, Shaikh Bhikhari. The least we can do to honour his supreme sacrifice for the cause of Motherland is to repair this decaying monument and restore it to its original glory and grandeur.
A good report card
The Prime Minister addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Wednesday, the last Independence Day before he returns to the people for a fresh mandate, devoted most of his time listing what all the Government had done in last four-plus years. It was a dhobi list of big and small things meant to ameliorate the condition of the underprivileged and to set the economy on the path to robust recovery. He reiterated his commitment to sabka saath, sabka viaks, citing the tremendous work done in taking the benefits of development to the poor.
Housing, power, clean water, cooking gas, connectivity, sanitation, etc, were all meant to restore ‘dignity of the poor which was as important as economic growth’. Modi hammered home the theme of development, and said that his government had single-mindedly devoted itself to this task and achieved far more in the last four years than previous governments had done in decades. “I have experienced since 2014 that people had not just come forward to form a government but for nation-building. We are proud of what we have achieved and at the same time, we also have to look at where we have come from. That is when we will realise the remarkable strides the nation has made.” As if to drive him the point, he said that at the pace toilets were made in 2013, the last year of the UPA, it would take us decades more to complete them. In a similar vein, he compared and contrasted the speed at which the villages were electrified by the previous governments or the subsidised LPG cylinders were given to the poor households, especially in the rural areas. Aware of the Opposition propaganda, the PM said the recent monsoon session of Parliament was devoted to the empowerment of Dalits and other backward castes, mentioning the constitutional status given to the backward castes commission.
As if to nail the lie that he had not spoken against the vigilante violence, the PM emphasised that the rule of law alone was supreme and nobody had any right to take the law into his own hands. Given the recent failure of the Government to pass the Bill against the practice of triple talaq, an issue that feeds well into the BJP’s electoral narrative, Modi noted how certain elements were bent on defending this anti-women practice, but he committed himself to end the injustice to Muslim women. On the incidents of rape, the PM backed the death penalty for the crime and noted how a rapist in Madhya Pradesh was recently hanged by a fast-track court. Probably the biggest announcement concerned about the launch of the Ayushman Bharat health scheme, which is to be inaugurated on 25th September which happens to be the birth anniversary of the BJP’s mascot Deen Dayal Upadhyay. This scheme could be a game-changer should it take off ahead of the parliamentary poll next year. Providing a modicum of health insurance through a country-wide network of basic dispensaries might be an arduous task, involving a huge infrastructure of medical centres for a cluster of villages, rising up to district and state level facilities, and entails a huge outlay of funds, but the objective is laudable and, given ample time, even attainable.
Since it was his fifth and last I-Day address from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort, it was okay for him to quote from the recent reports of the IMF and the World Bank to reassure the people that the economy was on the right track. It was set to grow the fastest in the world in the next three decades. Such confidence was possible because his government was capable of taking bold decisions and undertake reforms such as the GST, the insolvency law, the benami property law, etc. He had freed the government from the baneful effect of crony capitalists and in a telling sentence claimed that the ‘streets of Delhi are free from powerbrokers and middlemen’. He reiterated the resolve to punish the corrupt and to attack the black money in the system. He also touched upon Kashmir and the North-East in his 85-mintue report-card to the nation, exuding confidence that the economy, the sixth largest in the world, would attain a higher position if it continued on the right track. All in all, an encouraging performance report.
BJP scores with clever strategy
It is becoming increasingly clear that with Rahul Gandhi at the helm of the Congress with his poor organising ability and equally weak strategising, the BJP would be able to get past the winning post in next year’s general elections even if it fails to win a clear public mandate. Two milestone wins in the just-concluded session of Parliament have strengthened this feeling — the first is the no-confidence motion that the NDA was able to defeat comprehensively and the second the failure of the Opposition to defeat the NDA nominee in the election to the post of deputy leader of the Rajya Sabha despite the benefit of better numerical strength on paper. Nothing illustrates Rahul’s arrogance better than the fact that in the Rajya Sabha battle, he could not even get the Aam Aadmi Party on board with its three members by fulfilling its demand that Rahul must call up Arvind Kejriwal to seek his party’s support.
Besides, the Biju Janata Dal, despite the fact that it sees the BJP as its principal rival in the Assembly polls, could not be weaned away by the Congress. By shrewdly putting up a JD (U) nominee instead of its own, the BJP checkmated the Opposition by firmly drawing that party away from the Opposition. The YSR Congress has had a channel of communication open with the BJP but has been publicly opposing it. Both during the no-trust vote and the Rajya Sabha vote, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s party abstained, yielding an advantage to the NDA. That the NDA has cemented ties with all these parties to prepare itself for the eventuality of falling short of a majority in the Lok Sabha polls is a measure of its superior strategising. The Congress, on the other hand, is still groping despite enjoying the support of many Opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha. It is a case of serving power to the BJP virtually on a platter through poor strategising.