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Hasina In India: REAFFIRMING TIES, By Dr D.K. Giri, 9 September 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 9 September 2022

Hasina In India

REAFFIRMING TIES

By Dr D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC) 

Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh arrived in India last Monday on a four-day visit. This is her fourth visit as the Prime Minister and seventh as an individual and the Opposition leader. This visit signals to renew and reaffirm ties between India and Bangladesh, especially as Hasina, though a friend of India historically, is criticised for her recent pro-China tilt.

The current backdrop to India-Bangladesh bilateral negotiations is the growth of the economies of both countries. India has just overtaken the United Kingdom as the fifth largest economy of the world after USA, China, Japan and Germany. Likewise, Bangladesh also has graduated to the rank of a middle-income country in 2021. But the latter has run into rough weather owing to the international situation mainly sparked by the war in Ukraine. Energy and food prices were soaring causing widespread protests; the depletion of foreign currency reserve has made crucial imports prohibiting; the import orders from the West on garment has hit the industry, which is the largest in the country; the skyrocketing demand for wheat has made Bangladesh the fifth largest wheat importer in the world.

On the other hand, although India’s economy is growing, New Delhi is facing political and security issues in the neighbourhood which are largely instigated by China; be it Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh and of course, Pakistan, which has become almost a vassal state for China. The recent floods although have made Pakistan rethink its neighbourhood policies. In this atmosphere of hostility and poaching of neighbours by Beijing, New Delhi would like to have friendly neighbours. Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina has been a steady and consistent friend.

During the Sheikh Hasina’s last visit in 2019, both the countries had signed seven pacts. In this visit also seven memorandums have been inked between India and Bangladesh in the areas of railways, science and space technology and broadcasting, among others.  These memorandums were signed after extensive discussion on bilateral issues related to water, trade, economic ties and regional and global issues. The MOUs were significantly signed in the presence of both the Prime Ministers. These are as follows:

An MOU between Jal Shakti Ministry of India and Ministry of Water Resources Bangladesh on withdrawal of water from common border river Kushiyara; two, between Ministries of Railways of India and Bangladesh on training of Bangladeshi Railway personnel in India; third, the two Railway Ministries on collaborations on IT systems such as FOIS and other IT applications for Bangladesh Railway; fourth, between National Judicial Academy of India and Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on training and capacity building programmes for Bangladesh Judicial officers in India; fifth, between India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) on scientific and technological cooperation; sixth, on cooperation in areas of science and technology between New Space India Limited (NSIL) and Bangladesh Satellite Company Limited (BSCL) and seventh, between Prasar Bharati, India and Bangladesh Television on cooperation in broadcasting.

In addition to the above, New Delhi provided some information about the projects to be signed and/or inaugurated by both countries. These included the unveiling of the Maitree thermal power plant in Rampal in the district of Bagerhat; the inauguration of the Khan Jahan Ali Bridge over Rupsha River in Khulna, Bangladesh also known as Rupsha bridge, and Khulna Darshana railway line link by making it double line.

Across Asia, India is the biggest market for exports from Bangladesh. In order to deepen bilateral trade, both sides hinted at initiating discussions on a bilateral Economic Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which is expected to raise Bangladesh exports to India two-fold and enhance the country’s GDP by at least two per cent.

There was, however, a concern from Bangladesh to rectify the wide asymmetry in the bilateral trade. Bangladesh exports 1.9 billion USD worth of goods to India and imports 16.15 billion USD from India. Sheikh Hasina and her team of Ministers accompanying her would like to at least partly balance the trade disparity. This would help her answer the domestic critics, who argue that their country importing 600 million USD of rice, mostly parboiled was a sign of India’s overarching shadow on the country’s economy.

The statement by Narendra Modi should lift the spirits of Bangladeshis. He said, “the trade between India and Bangladesh is increasing rapidly. We have decided to extend cooperation in the IT, Space and Nuclear sectors. Talks are also underway on power transmission lines”. On another area, which occasionally becomes controversial is the water sharing, mainly in Teesta River. The Prime Minister said that 54 rivers flow through India and Bangladesh border influencing the livelihoods of a large number of people in both countries. An important agreement was signed on Tuesday on water-sharing in Kushiyara River.

On the political front, the indication coming from the joint statement was that the common ground for understanding and cooperation was growing between two countries. Both leaders were full of appreciation of each other as they resolved to fight common threats of cross-border terrorism, radicalisation and covid like pandemics. Hasina reaffirmed that India is the most important and closest neighbour of Bangladesh. She extolled the bilateralism between the two countries as the ‘role model for neighbourhood diplomacy’. Quite an assertion that! She attributed this to the visionary leadership of Modi that continues to add momentum to the bilateral relations.

Modi reciprocated the goodwill for India and appreciation of his leadership. He said that Bangladesh had witnessed rapid development under the guidance of Hasina. “It is our biggest trade partner in the region and we share strong cultural ties’, he added. Remember that Hasina has been at the helm for 13 years. Although she has faced stiff opposition from her rival party BNP who even called her ‘a proxy of India’, it is under Hasina, the same radicalised elements suffered the biggest electoral setback – outright public rejection.

Sheikh Hasina looks to India as a friend and mentor owing to the strong historical inks from the days to liberation of her country. She herself had sought political asylum in India for six years up to 1981. Her family has had a 70-year-old link with the 12th-century shrine in Ajmer. The Chistis of the Shrine have been the hereditary priests of Hasina family. Her father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founder of Bangladesh, had visited the shrine in 1957.

Diplomats from Bangladesh asserted that the PM gives primacy to India among all its allies even though it may not be so easy to state in the geo-political stage. But it is evident in all her speeches and interviews she gave in the run up to the visit. Sheikh Hasina’s inclination toward India is obvious, but the challenge is to build solid relations between peoples of both countries.

India should not repeat the mistake committed in Nepal by supporting the part of the population, the Madhesis. Each country requires a specially calibrated strategy. In Pakistan it is the government which is antagonistic unlike in Bangladesh where it is the people. New Delhi should see such nuances in the neighbourhood diplomacy.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

7 September 2022    

Little Respite From Mounting Graft, By Inder Jit, 8 September 2022 Print E-mail

REWIND

New Delhi, 8 September 2022

Little Respite From Mounting Graft

By Inder Jit

(Released on 30 August 1988)

Yet another farce has been enacted at the Centre in the long and repeatedly promised battle against corruption --- especially graft in high places. Largely unnoticed by most people, the Rajya Sabha adopted on August 11 the Prevention of Corruption Bill. The measure was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 7 last year, and now awaits the President’s assent. The Bill caused great disappointment when it was first brought forward as it makes only a few changes in the existing law and mainly replaces the Prevention of Corruption Act 1947, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1952 and some sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to the offence of bribery. The few changes incorporated in the new law seek to bring office bearers and examiners of Universities and aided educational institutions, members of various selection committees set up by the Public Service Commissions etc. within the scope of the anti-corruption law. The measure also provides for setting up special courts to deal with corruption cases. Jail sentence has been made compulsory for those found guilty of corruption. But much of what was greatly need is eloquently conspicuous by its absence.

Some of us had earnestly hoped that good sense might still prevail and meaningful amendments brought forward before the bill was taken up by the Rajya Sabha. Regrettably, this did not happen. The Rajya Sabha returned the Bill to the Lok Sabha with only one amendment that “1987”, wherever it occurs, be changed to “1988”. Prominent among the glaring omissions in the new Bill is the Government’s failure to include MPs, MLAs, Municipal Councilors and other elected representatives within the purview of the law. Moreover, there is no clear provision to confiscate ill-gotten wealth of the guilty persons at a time when more and more public men in positions of power are known to be abusing their offices and influence to amass huge wealth, including valuable urban land, palatial buildings and luxurious farm houses close to metropolitan centres. The new law merely retains the provisions of imposing fine after taking into account the value of illegally acquired property. Confiscation of property, as readers will surely note, is vastly different from imposing a mere fine.

The tragedy of our times and, more importantly, of the new legislation was highlighted in the Rajya Sabha by one of the senior Congress-I members, Mr. A.G. Kulkarni, who spoke with refreshing candour during the debate on the bill and struck a heartening note. Said he: “Previously we used to come here by rickshaws and then by taxi… Now I find many Members of Parliament, people’s representatives, have got posh cars to come to Parliament. Similar is the case with the MLAs. Where does the money come from? Where is the nexus?” Mr. Kulkarni also offered some deserved advice: “Let us show to the people that this Government is not only passing laws like the Anti-Corruption Bill, but also desires to implement them.” Clearly, Mr. Kulkarni wanted the people’s representatives at all levels to be specifically brought within the purview of the anti-graft law and not treats as modern-day Samurais. He seemed equally clear that corruption among the lesser mortals could not be curbed effectively so long as the guardians of the State and the society at the top were allowed to go scot free and wallow in their ill-gotten five-star wealth and vulgar monuments of corruption.

My interaction with knowledgeable and experienced people has led me to one conclusion: the problem of dealing with corruption is not merely due to lack of necessary legal powers or absence of any enforcement agency. We have had the Prevention of Corruption Act since 1947. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was set up by a Government Resolution as early as April 1963. Prior to this, anti-corruption work was entrusted to the Special Police Establishment under the Home Ministry. Further, the Union Government set up the Central Vigilance Commission, an agency independent of the Government, in February 1964 on the recommendation of the Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption. Nevertheless, one fact stands out. No amount of legal powers or creation of enforcement infrastructure will be of much help unless there is a genuine desire and will to deal with corruption. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s ascendance to the office of Prime Minister in January 1985 raised many hopes and expectations, thanks to his promise to wage a war against corruption. By all accounts, however, graft under the present regime appears to have surpassed all previous records and levels.

The Santhanam Committee in its Report in 1964 made a guarded observation that “it cannot confidently and without reservation assert that at the political level ministers, legislators, party officials were free from the malady of corruption”. Much worse has happened since then. People now confidently and without any reservation assert about large scale corruption among politicians in power including those at the top. This was simply unthinkable in 1964. The result? The many scandals alleging involvement of the highest in the Government that have appeared in the Press during the past year and more have greatly impaired the faith of the people in the Government’s credibility. (Remember, what is important is not what you are, but what you appear to be.) More and more people find it hard to believe that this Government has the desire, the face or the moral strength to deal with corruption even at the lower levels of administration. The word “Bofors” is now coming to be used increasingly in common parlance to denote Commissions or kick-backs. In business transactions, one hears of parties concerned leaving no scope for any doubt regarding the “Bofors” to be paid!

Few are inclined to take the passing of the new Prevention of Corruption Act seriously in the prevailing atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism. Most persons I have talked to genuinely feel that the latest legislation may remain a paper law which will show its existence once in a while only --- to nab small persons or to fix those who fall foul of the powers that be. The habitual bigger offenders in power or those enjoying the protection of the mighty will have little to fear. This law will be largely irrelevant and as good as non-existent for them since even such law enforcement agencies as the CBI have become non-functional for anti-corruption work. This agency is now largely utilized for non-corruption investigation work such as drug trafficking, smuggling and murders allegedly involving politicians. Indeed, the Vigilance Commission took serous note of the growing preoccupation of the CBI with work other than vigilance in its last Annual Report and advised the Government to set up another police agency for whole –time anti-corruption work.

Importantly, the Commission also commented on the lack of interest shown in vigilance work by various Government Departments and Public Sector Undertakings. In its Annual Report of 1986, it said: “In some Departments of Government as well as some large Public Sector Undertakings, despite the large general perception of large-scale prevalence of corruption and malpractices, no cases of corruption or only a few were detected by the vigilance units.” The outcome? The Commission’s jurisdiction over the public sector employees was severely curtailed to stop it from making such comments. The Commission reacted sharply and said: “The decision to limit the role of the Vigilance Commission vis-à-vis the public sector undertakings not only violates the terms of reference of the Commission contained in the Resolution of February 1964 but also the spirit behind the creation of an independent Commission. The Commission is of the view that this decision of the Government would lead to a big set-back in tackling the problem of corruption in public sector undertakings and it is a retrograde step.” But this made no difference.

That is not all. Over the years, the Government has sought to erode the independence of the Commission and make the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVS pliable to its wishes and command. The CVC was first reduced from six years to five years and in February 1977 to three years with provision for extension by two years at Government’s pleasure. This change was obviously made to silence the CVC and punish those who refused to oblige. A case in point is that of Mr. U.C. Agarwal, who demitted the office of the CVC on July 7 last at the end of three years. The reason is not far to seek. Time and again, he had expressed concern over the Government’s lukewarm attitude to vigilance matters. I had occasion to discuss with Mr. Agarwal his views on effective vigilance strategy. Unhesitatingly he said: “The top has to be clean to make the bottom clean. The top people should not only be honest but must also appear to be honest to deal effectively with corruption at the lower levels.” Thanks are clearly due to those who perform their public duties fearlessly unmindful of personal gains.

In sum, one fact stands out. The Union Government’s record in fighting corruption at the official level and in using the available machinery continues to be dismal. Twenty years have rolled by since Mrs. Gandhi’s Government first brought forward in 1968 a Lok Pal bill for the establishment of an ombudsman. However, power has its own way of playing havoc with principles and promises. The bill lapsed in 1970. It was reintroduced in 1971 and lapsed again in 1977. The Janata Government introduced the Lok Pal Bill in July 1977. But this Bill fell with the Janata Government. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi promised early in 1985 to set up the institution of Lok Pal. But the institution, which has come to be identified with a Government’s intent to fight corruption, is nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, the CBI’s attention has been diverted from anti-corruption work to ordinary crimes and the independence of the Vigilance Commission largely neutralized. Mr. Agarwal’s successor has yet to be appointed. All in all, there seems to be little hope of respite for our long-suffering people from the demon of corruption, whose hunger is growing with each passing day.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Indian Democracy: JOY TURNS TO DESPAIR AT 75?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 7 September 2022 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 7 September 2022

Indian Democracy

JOY TURNS TO DESPAIR AT 75?

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

“What should be a moment of celebration and joy has become a moment of deep despair and reflection,” is an assessment by US-based free speech watchdog, PEN America. This after it reached out to authors from India and the Indian diaspora to write short texts expressing what they feltabout India’s 75 years of independence.  

The short statements of 100-odd authors collectively titled ‘India at 75’ were sought over a period of time and uploaded on its website. The introduction reads: ‘Some voices are optimistic, some prayerful, some anguished and enraged. Some suggest defeat, others venture hope, still others are defiant. The authors hold a spectrum of political views, and may be in disagreement about much else, but they are united in their concern for the state of Indian democracy.’The authors, include Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Geetanjali Shree and Ganesh Devy.

India at independence, noted the watchdog,offered a beacon of hope, but it “retained many colonial-era laws that restricted freedoms and, over the years, added more such laws, undermining its democracy. An internal Emergency in 1975 curtailed civil liberties and jailed dissidents….” However, the “elections in 2014 has transformed India into a country where hate speech is expressed and disseminated loudly; where Muslims are discriminated against and lynched, their homes and mosques bulldozed, their livelihoods destroyed; where Christians are beaten and churches attacked, where political prisoners are held in jail without trial. Dissenting journalists and authors are denied permission to leave the country”.

In PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index 2021, India is the only nominally democratic country included in its count of ‘the top 10 jailers of writers and public intellectuals world-wide.’ In recent years, the country has seen an acceleration of threats against free speech, academic freedom and digital rights and an uptick in online trolling and harassment. Similarly, in a letter to President Droupadi Murmu the signatories, including J.M. Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk, expressed “grave concerns about the rapidly worsening situation for human rights in India, specifically freedom of speech and creative expression, on the eve of India’s 75th anniversary of independence.”

This certainly doesn’t bode well for any democratic society. Not just political but social and economic problems of great magnitude plague the Indian society. While economic problems may be attributed to the high population growth compared to resources available to cater to their development, it is equally true that the right strategy as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi, has not been adhered to. But of greater concern are socio-political problems of religion, caste and class with an authoritarian government dictating terms without considering the lives and livelihoods of the masses. 

One may mention here that even the Additional Session Judge of a Delhi court, while granting bail to Alt News co-founder, Mohammed Zubair, stated that Indian political parties were open to criticism, adding that mere criticism did not justify the invocation of penal sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295A (outraging religious feelings).  “Hindu religion is one of the oldest religions and most tolerant. The followers of Hindu religion are also tolerant. Hindu religion is so tolerant that its followers proudly name their institution/organisation/facilities in the name of their Holy God or Goddess”, the judge observed. But unfortunately, toleration is steadily becoming extinct.

The present form of religion being preached and popularised is making religion intolerant and sectarian. Sadly, it is being accepted because real education has not reached the masses who have very little knowledge about what Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda preached. The need for using religion to unite people and communities is not being followed.

At the same time, social analysts are questioning whether India is facing an informal type of emergency? The increasing misuse of draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the National Security Act (NSA), or the Public safety act (PSA) has empowered governments to unilaterally declare somebody a terrorist or ‘urban Naxal’, arrest him arbitrarily and incarcerate him for extended periods without trial. Agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and IT department have become adept at investigating those who speak up. Missing the basics that criticising the government in power should not be taboo for dissent is healthy for a vibrant democracy.

What Jesuits like Stan Swamy preached was not to be converted to the fundamentalism of development, a world that destroys the margins. He represented a hope for the tribals and the oppressed communities but it wasn’ seen as such. One may mention here that Naxalite leaders like Kanu Sanyal or Jangal Santhal talked of justice, suffering, without evoking revolution and they suffered quietly in jail without a murmur. Both Marxists and missionaries understood caring was a cosmopolitanism that went beyond Marx and Christianity.

Dissenters and the dissenting imaginations may be more committed to their institutions and help the process of highlighting democracy. But the authoritarian attitude of the government has led to social service becoming suspect. Dissent needs to be understood in the wider context of knowledge and democracy as a difference that sustains.

Two modes of dissent are believed to have suffered from this onslaught -- the concerns for environment and for human rights. Both these issues have converged around the tribe as a way of life and thought. The fate of the tribe, the loosening of forest laws, all gets swept under the table of ‘’Urban Naxal’. It’s time that dissenters stand up united along with academics and ordinary citizens to uphold the rights of the tribes and backward communities for a decent life.

Academics and civil society groups are sidelined and are also threatened by various State machineries. And, troll armies are there to provide the back-up to destroy a person’s reputation even before he or she is declared innocent. The only fool proof remedy is judicial protection. However, justice is delayed and the ruling dispensation has little interest to boost up the judicial infrastructure.

It is believed that within a few years, roughly 20 percent of all humans on this troubled planet will be looking to find shelter in this country. As ethnicities and genetic groups increasingly mix with one another, our species is moving towards multiplying micro-diversities rather than any over-arching homogeneity.

The authoritarian character of the government needs to change and a judicious transformation of the political order is critical at this juncture. People are promised eradication of casteism and communalism but the real picture appears to be the reverse, due to ignorance, lack of education and awareness. A progressive society cannot afford to follow a fundamentalist path.

As an author wrote: it is time that we must ask – which idea of India provides succour and safety to the widest variety of people? Which idea is most accommodating of difference, whether ethnic, racial, religious, of secular orientation, of different practices of living?  Which idea will ensure the fairest distribution of increasingly scarce resources? The rulers must pay heed and provide answers. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Monsoon Fury: TOH? KI PHARAK PAINDA HAI!, By Poonam I Kaushish, 6 September 2022 Print E-mail

 

Political Diary

New Delhi, 6 September 2022

Monsoon Fury

TOH? KI PHARAK PAINDA HAI!

By Poonam I Kaushish

Q) What do Karnataka, Himachal, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Assam, Jharkhand have in common?

A) Lord Indra is playing hooky once again causing massive destruction, death and anguish as torrential rain sluices cities, villages, roads, cripples train services, shuts down airports, wrecks economy, damages crops, brings everything to a grinding halt leaving thousands homeless and Rs. 3,612 crores public property and crops damaged every year. Whoever said when it rains miseries, it pours, was dead on!

So fellow countrymen, let lose the volley of expletives as the story is the same, year in and year out with. Yesterday it was Assam, today Bengaluru is ‘jammed’ with boats,’ tomorrow Jharkhand. And yawn, so predictable is our netas response: an annual nautanki. Everyone goes through the kaam chalao stereotype motions ---All lament the crisis. Deluge and relief are freely bandied about. From Prime Minister, Chief Minster, Opposition Parties all parrot grief and vouch to help people, even announce monetary compensation etc.

Obviously, they don’t mean it. Why else would they allow unabated construction, insufficient cleaning of drains, encroachments of sprawling slums alongside rivers and streams, shoddy management of storm water drains, dug-up roads, no de-silting etc. Underscoring, a stark reality: Government's fiasco and failure to prepare expertise in predicting rainfall intensity and its impact. Succinctly, disaster management is a disaster.

While the severity of the rains can be termed as an ‘act of God’, the mess, misery and damage is certainly man-made and mostly caused by human error. An example. Tamil Nadu has witnessed 8 severe cyclones in 13 years so one expects the national and State disaster management teams would be hands-on to tackle the emergency.

The reality: Zilch, as preparedness is non-existent. There is no clear line of communication or coordination among State agencies involved in search and rescue operations, only families checking on each other.

Questionably, does anyone care?  Given that torrential rain, thunderstorms, landslides and flash floods are an annual affair specially in hill States. Why do Governments’ only prioritise floods at crises time? Why does it only react after loss of lives? Who will be held accountable? And which head will roll?

Remember, floods struck Assam and Uttarakhand last year resulting in over 50 dead and 200 missing, Kerala 2018 leaving over 500 killed and 2,23,000 living in 1568 relief camps,  Gujarat 2017,Chennai 2015, Uttarakhand and Srinagar 2014, Delhi 2013 and Mumbai in 2005. 

 

Why are long-term responses not developed to what is an annual expected problem? Why aren’t adequate arrangements made to ensure survivors don’t die of starvation, due to Administration’s ineptitude. Primarily because the aam aadmi translates into sterile statistics to be manipulated at will. Standing mute testimony to a callous and selfish polity and Administration bereft of cure and consolation. All cursing the Government!


 

Shockingly, the frenzy of ill thought out development has only worsened impacts of intense rainfall with most leaders unaware that Himalayan area is the least monitored region which only accentuates how vulnerable we are. In the western Himalayas there is a massive thrust in building infrastructure that has put enormous pressure on the region’s natural environment. Despite warnings of endangering the fragile mountain ecosystem, the Government has embarked on the contentious Char Dham highway project to connect four Hindu shrines in the Uttarakhand.

Alas, our preparedness to deal with calamity is as rag-tag as ever. Far from having a defence system against elemental fury, the Central and State Governments seem to be banking on hope that any future disaster would not be as destructive as the last. Think. India is the 14th most vulnerable country in the world, due to extreme weather-related events states the 2019 Global Climate Risk Index Report with floods being the most frequent disaster accounting for 52% of calamities total occurrences.

Around 40 million hectares of land is exposed to floods (12% of the country’s total land area), 76% of India's coastline is cyclones and tsunamis prone, about 6.5 million acres of crop is submerged and more than 20 lakhs cattle heads perish. With neither the Central Disaster Management Authority nor the State Disaster Boards implementing any project properly.

Worse, it is a tell-tale of total apathy of an insensitive Administration in various States that do not spare even ecologically sensitive zones to satiate their greed thereby making them more vulnerable to climate change. Of rulers who ignore experts who in turn, blame it on lessons not learnt by successive Administrations.

Largely because flood policies are based on the assumption that flood disasters result from nature's actions and are not man-made. Whereas, in actuality the damage is caused by human error, mainly, poor land management and myopic flood-control strategies. This was underscored by the CAG 2010 report which lamented the country’s disaster management preparedness and warned of impending catastrophe including severe natural ecology hazards.

Loss of green spaces which can reduce flood intensity and soil erosion has added to the problem along-with concretization, unplanned urbanisation alongside nature’s fury. Concerted efforts are needed like massive afforestation and soil conservation programmes throughout the country. Reforesting of the Himalayas would be a beginning in this direction.

Our polity needs to emphasis on national priorities, take into account local realities and involve experts and environmentalists who would evaluate the ecological problems, study its context and be involved in decision and policy-making. With special emphasis on problems created by burgeoning population and its impact on the local eco-system, growth of hap-hazard housing, environmental  insanitation and decay, drainage and  stagnant water bodies.

The need of the hour demands action. Blue-prints and discussions are not going to help unless and until the Government starts implementing those master-plans dumped in dusty Government corridors. Even as NaMo bulldozes ahead with grand designs to develop India in to a super power, this season’s devastating floods shows, fixing today’s flood-prone metropolises is a more pressing task.

High time our leaders pull up their bootstraps instead of going through ritual circus albeit shedding copious glycerin tears in the hope these would wipe the hear-wrenching cries for help and facilitate votes at election time. If lakhs are displaced, toh ki faraak painda hai in our billion plus population?

The writing is clearly on the wall.  Netas have to shed reluctance to focus on long-term rather than short-term planning. India must improve its planning to reduce the potential impact of disasters before they occur. Communication and connectivity are vital as one moves from simple forecasting to impact forecasting and ensure information flows faster than the floodwater.

We need neither a bleeding heart nor blindness to know what should be done. For if we still elect to do nothing about disaster it only holds out promises of more misery, more wrenching news bulletins and more cries. Remember, life is not collating numbers, but flesh and blood with beating hearts. Can we just let them bleed? ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 


 

Big Figures, Fragile Upturn: JOBS CAN SPUR CHURNING, By Shivaji Sarkar, 5 September 2022 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 5 September

Big Figures, Fragile Upturn

JOBS CAN SPUR CHURNING

By Shivaji Sarkar

Indian politics and economy are queering the pitch. Politically feeble attempts are there with Telangana Chief Minister K Chandshekaar Rao making the first move for talks with his counterpart in Bihar and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar and RJD for cobbling up a difficult conglomeration or not. Economically, it is a challenge despite a first-quarter growth of 13.5 per cent but less than expectation of the Reserve Bank of India and job growth of 7.6 per cent that may not match the overall decline, including that in the public sector.

The core sector has grown but a rate slower at 4.5 per cent in July against 13.2 per cent in June. The fiscal deficit at 20.5 per cent even with Rs 30,307 crore dividends from RBI, Rs 7867 crore from public sector banks falls short of expected revenue generation. Even with the latest GST collection of Rs 1.44 lakh crore, 28 per cent rise, the total revenue is unable to match the high government expenses and infra investment.

The Economic Affairs Ministry Secretary Ajai Seth says that there are challenges due to oil price now rising to $102 a barrel, possible slowdown in advanced economies and likely impact on exports despite the fact India is much better placed than other economies.

There were sharp barbs on the economy by K Chandrashekar Rao in Patna saying all sectors are in disarray. But it seemed Nitish Kumar avoided making any comment. Despite the hype, it is apparent that the opposition is yet to pick up the threads or do a study to challenge the economic indicators. Their challenge to the BJP remains cosmetic as of now. The revelry in the BJP camp at the sudden move of Nitish Kumar to leave the press meet speaks volumes.

Overall there is a swing in the economic indicators. The GDP growth to Rs 36.85 lakh crore, lower by 2.7 percentage points of RBI forecast, remains one of the best in post pandemic situation even as the country grapples with a difficult situation. It bars the Opposition from taking an advantageous situation as the overall numbers are no less impressive.

The GDP in the first quarter is above the pre-pandemic level. Further indications also come from the data that both private consumption and investments have surpassed pre-Covid marks. The RBI in August MPC has lowered growth rates to 7.2 per cent but the State Bank of India puts it at 6.8, Goldman Sachs 7 and Moody’s at 5.2. In subsequent quarters growth is predicted to moderate.

The farm sector has robust growth at 4.5 per cent while services sector grew at 17.6 per cent. Private consumption, a key driver, rose by 25.9 per cent indicating aspirational purchases and gross fixed capital formations are on the rise. The manufacturing sector rise has been at 4.8 per cent against 49 per cent a year ago indicate that still a lot remains to be corrected. The growth in July is one of the slowest.

The National Statistics Office lowering of April growth figures from projected 9.5 per cent to 8.4 per cent justifies the Finance Secretary TV Somanathan’s contention that overall annual growth rate would be between 7-7.5 per cent.

Another area that has not been so bright is the contact-intensive-sectors like the trade, hotel and travel. Their output remains lower than pre-2019 levels. It has just touched 16 per cent increase against 20 per cent three years back. The sector is key to providing employment. Its less than the desired growth which may be an overall indicator of the job situation. After fall of jobs in four consecutive quarters the urban jobs show a rise of 7.6 per cent, supposedly good for an emerging economy but for Indian situation more is needed.

The good prospects of the first quarter may not be easy to repeat in the subsequent quarters considering that more interest rate revisions by the RBI are on the cards to contain inflation now at 6.82 per cent and chances of it stabilising may be shaky as oil and food grain prices may continue to rise. This is likely to push up input costs across the board. Indian crude basket has become dearer by10 per cent to $102. This indicates the recovery is still fragile after major shocks of the pandemic, lockdown, note-ban and high penalty provisions of the GST.

The challenges are not easy. The private sector, despite some increase in jobs post-Covid, is not good paymaster. Actual job data is not known. There have been overall cuts in wages even in the best of the companies apart many layoffs and retrenchments. Many data is being collated. The severity needs to be gauged. The public sector that was adding to the job figures of late goes through an uncertainty with many units on the sale block. The railways known to be employing the highest numbers have decided to do away with large number of jobs and turn many others into short-term contracts.

The job creation needs a policy change but not on the cards for now. The government has chosen to compromise on salary bills because high fiscal deficit. The advisors need to tell the government that it may visibly bring down the wage bill but may cause severe difficulties for the country as more jobs are actually lost leading to a vortex of low consumption, penury and likely rise in crimes. It would stress the policing, not efficient in most States across the country. If not improved, it might add to aggravation of the law and order situation.

The flip side is, according to the Brookings report, India has 70.6 million people living in extreme poverty and those earning $4 a day number over 200 million. It is just not the urban poverty but the rural poverty too is showing signs of increases. The social stress is increasing. The stress on coffers is forcing to have second thoughts on free food dole to 800 million. During 2018-20, unemployment led to 16081suicides, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told the Rajya Sabha.

These are signs of uneasy situation for a country that is mulling to create a society that has high happiness index. The K-shaped growth can put the industry in a graver situation. Despite impressive first quarter figures, and touted fastest growing economy, it is not booming. Changes in infra policies and priorities are must to move out of the morass for a fast growth and bettering of social conditions. Else a political churning may not be out of place. --- INFA           

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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