Meenakshi Lekhi en Sun Nov 20 12:08:29 IST 2022 g20-summit-helps-promote-indias-cultural-soft-power <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The fourth and final G20 Culture Working Group (CWG) meeting ended in Varanasi on August 26. The other three sessions were held in Khajuraho, Hampi and Bhubaneswar. The cities were strategically selected to showcase the ancient cultural heritage to member countries in an attempt to promote our cultural soft power. We have failed to market ourselves well, and with these meetings, we have tried to amend our ways a bit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four thematic priorities were set forth by India to frame the work of the CWG, addressing: protection and restitution of cultural property; harnessing living heritage for a sustainable future; promotion of cultural and creative industries and creative economy, and leveraging digital technologies for the protection and promotion of culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India deliberated on these four priorities as these are favourable to the world as a whole. The major theme was <i>‘Vikas bhi Virasat bhi’</i>—development with preservation of our heritage is what we believe in and are putting forth. These are the major priorities on the lines of which the outcome document has been signed by the member countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the outcome document called the Kashi Culture Pathway, members committed to advancing the return and restitution of cultural property as an ethical imperative of social justice and called for a strengthened global coalition to bolster the fight against illicit trafficking. It also called for strengthened and better aligned policy frameworks, that address the misuse and misappropriation of living heritage through a more robust dialogue and policy engagement, including on issues pertaining to over-commercialisation and intellectual property, thus acknowledging the cultural rights of the bearers of this living heritage. The members also committed to work towards strengthening and aligning conceptual and monitoring frameworks of the creative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The member states have agreed to be committed towards strengthening preventive action and regulation of online trade of cultural property through: (i) the implementation of existing international standards as applicable; (ii) enhanced knowledge sharing and expertise across the G20 membership; (iii) the development and implementation of guidelines for online trading platforms and social media; (iv) the dissemination of standards and best practices to support self-regulation; (v) sustained collaboration with international organisations; and (vii) the reinforcement of anti-money laundering regulations related to cultural property.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was decided that an open and inclusive dialogue on the return and restitution of cultural property, building on a broad historical perspective that renews relationships between countries and enabling alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, as appropriate will be supported by all member states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have reached a consensus to strengthen institutional and policy frameworks to leverage living heritage for sustainable development by supporting ratification and implementation of international agreements, conventions and frameworks, bolstering measures for heritage preservation and language transmission and expanding evidence-based understanding of living heritage’s contribution to various sustainable development areas, with an emphasis on research, knowledge sharing and digital technology utilisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only these, the cities for these G20 CWG meetings were chosen strategically so that the member states could see the kaleidoscope of culture that India is. When they visited these places they would have experienced the rich diversity of our country not only in the conference halls, but also in attire, food, language, architecture and handlooms. The G20 is a great platform to market ourselves well and we have done just the same with these meetings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The outcomes of these meetings have been phenomenal and we have put forth our voice in a way the world has listened and acted upon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Sep 02 16:18:06 IST 2023 why-delhi-services-bill-is-timely <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government’s arguments to any action taken by the Central government pertaining to the national capital have become dry as dust. Dealing with the run-of-the-mill false accusation of being unconstitutional by the scared, dry-mouthed opposition has become routine for the government of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest in the list is the introduction of Delhi Services Bill, which gives power over civil services in the national capital to the lieutenant governor of Delhi. Parliament, as per the Constitutional powers bestowed, can make laws on any subject of the three lists for the Union Territories (UTs), including Delhi and Puducherry. This means that the legislative power of Parliament remains supreme in case of UTs. As per Article 239AA clause three part (b): “Nothing in sub-clause (a) shall derogate from the powers of Parliament under this Constitution to make laws with respect to any matter for a UT or any part thereof.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of any law, the Supreme Court is well in its jurisdiction to interpret the existing laws. But, when Parliament passes any such law, that shall stand to be the law of the UT.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The aim of the ordinance is to “provide for a comprehensive scheme of administration of services”, which “balances the local and domestic interests of the people of Delhi with the democratic will of the entire nation reflected through the president of India”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi National Capital Territory (NCT) may have an elected state government but it also seats an elected Central government. So the Centre has equal right to intervene in matters of importance. It is of strategic importance, especially when India has G20 presidency this year. The Kejriwal-led Delhi government has shown no interest in collaborating with the Central government for the upcoming G20 meeting in Delhi at the newly inaugurated Bharat Mandapam at Pragati Maidan. Instead, they accuse the Central government for all the problems faced by the people of Delhi. The Centre is in no position to risk its image at a global level when all eyes are on Delhi to put up a grand successful show for the G20 meet wherein representatives of all countries will join us, especially after the water-logging fiasco that everyone witnessed in the past few weeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP government has always maintained that political rivalry should not be a reason for administrative lags, but the AAP government lacks maturity on the subject.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It cannot be ignored that Delhi NCT government’s efficiency is a big question mark. It has engaged in corruption, non-maintenance and has abandoned its duties. With former Delhi deputy chief minister [Manish Sisodia] in jail in the liquor policy scam, poor management of Delhi floods due to lack of dredging activity in the past few years, potable water crisis in Delhi, excessive electricity bills, the misappropriation of funds in connection with renovation of Kejriwal’s residence, wall of a newly built school being tore down, the list of inefficiency on the part of the AAP government does not end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal and his ministers have also been accused of going on a “rampage” immediately after the May 11 verdict of the Supreme Court. The Centre needs to take relevant action in order to safeguard the national interest and also has a special responsibility towards the citizens of Delhi, and hence Delhi services ordinance is one such action taken well in time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Fri Aug 04 15:11:54 IST 2023 where-buddhism-meets-hinduism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India, from time immemorial, has been sharing the values of Buddhism with the world. Buddhism is one common heritage between India and many other nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the recently concluded Global Buddhist Summit, and at the seminar and art exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, it was reiterated that the Buddha’s teachings share commonality with the Hindu thought and way of life. We are part of one civilisation, so is Buddhism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Buddhism has been playing a significant role in cultivating deeper engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as part of India’s ‘Look East’ policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the most noticeable contributions of Buddhism to the Indian culture is in the realm of architecture—the stupas, the sculptures, the paintings, the viharas, and the chaityas that were built at Sanchi, Amravati, Taxila, Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Bahrut and many other places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>King Siddhartha was an Indian prince who chose the path of enlightenment instead of the luxuries of the royalty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Buddha’s meditative practice helped him realise that our problems lie within. We view things through the lens of our beliefs, opinions and prejudices—tools responsible for our partial view of the world inside and outside of us, and, thus, for our eventual suffering. Hence, the Buddha turned his attention towards one single object—his mind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Buddhism, essentially, is an extension or a branch of an already established Indian school of thought that God is within us. And that we must calm ourselves and control our senses and mind for a peaceful life. Life, ageing and death are realities of life. Gita says that the body is mortal, and the soul, immortal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Buddha is said to be the ninth avatar of Lord Vishnu. Whenever there is excess of evil, Vishnu takes birth and establishes Dharma. The Buddha also tried to do the same. He believed in Dharma or Dhamma, which is defined as principles of living life, in which there is harmony between humans and nature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the concept that is found in the teachings of the Buddha and in the inscriptions in temples or stupas that were built by Buddhists. The offerings to the Buddha around the world are roasted <i>sattu</i> powder and crispy sweet made of sugar (<i>batasha</i>), which are eaten commonly in eastern part of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Buddhism, the ‘Ashtamangala’, or eight divine symbols, often represent the gifts given by celestial beings to Shakyamuni Buddha on his attainment of enlightenment. They are parasol, two fish, treasure vase, lotus flower, conch shell, endless knot, victory banner and the wheel of Dharma. Lotus, conch shell, fish and wheels are all derived from ancient Sanatana traditions and are considered sacred in all religions of Indic origin. Inexhaustible treasure vase is characterised by Kubera in Hinduism. In Hinduism, the conch is an attribute of Vishnu. Even the door-keepers I have often seen in the Buddhist monasteries are similar to gatekeepers found in all Hindu temples.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are so many similarities between Hinduism and Buddhism, and one can safely say that there is a deep connection between these two religions, considering they originated in the same country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Jun 10 11:12:47 IST 2023 whats-modi-govts-biggest-win-in-9-years <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Narendra Modi-led BJP government will complete nine years on May 30. It has been close to a decade that the government has been working extremely hard to bring meaningful changes in the lives of people. The Modi <i>leher</i> (wave), which has taken the country by storm, brought the BJP to power, and there has been no looking back ever since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So much has happened in the country in the last nine years that it is impossible to cover it in one go. But the biggest change that this government has brought is the change in sentiment. While the corporates had almost succeeded in making our young people believe that everything Indian is uncivilised, Modi’s efforts brought back the pride.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palpable changes can be seen in the previously overlooked sections of society that gave true meaning to being an Indian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The budgetary allocation of the ministry of tribal affairs has seen a positive growth in the past nine years—from Rs4,295 crore to Rs12,000 crore. Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRSs) are being developed to impart quality education to tribal students. The National Sickle Cell Elimination Mission (implemented jointly by ministry of health and family welfare and ministry of tribal affairs) will cover aspects of the genetic disease in tribals in an integrated manner. The Pradhan Mantri Janjatiya Vikas Mission seeks to provide employment opportunities to tribals in remote areas. Under the Development Action Plan for the Scheduled Tribes (DAPST), besides the ministry of tribal affairs, 41 departments are allocating funds in the range of 4.3 to 17.5 per cent of their total scheme allocation every year for tribal development projects relating to education, health, agriculture, irrigation, roads, housing, electrification, employment generation, skill development, etc. The DAPST fund allocation has increased more than five times since 2013-14. While the numbers grew, Parliament elected the first tribal president of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The northeast had shared a somewhat strained relationship with the rest of the country. In recent years, however, the Union government has made tremendous growth in enhancing connectivity between the northeast and other states. It is not only about the five-fold jump in budget allocation, but also about diminishing boundaries between the northeast and the mainland. The political alienation that existed before has been completely thrashed and the BJP made a mark in an area that struggled between militancy and the resultant control by armed forces. The life of an average northeast dweller has improved manifold due to humility, respect for the culture and terrain and a clear intention to bring meaningful change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the most socially effective programmes run by the Modi government is the Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat programme. The Kashi-Tamil Sangamam and the Saurashtra-Tamil Sangamam programmes have brought the north Indians and south Indians closer than ever. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has made various stipulations for the promotion of regional languages.</p> <p>Wherever possible, the medium of instruction will be the mother tongue until at least grade five, but preferably till grade eight and beyond. Language is a mirror to any culture and keeping the culture alive is the best way to touch hearts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past nine years, there has been massive development in every sphere—be it infrastructure, economy, diplomacy, rail connectivity, road connectivity, medical facilities, among others. The biggest win that can be credited to this government is the inculcation of a feeling of inclusion, the feeling of oneness, the feeling of connect, and the feeling of being cared for in each and every citizen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat May 13 12:28:09 IST 2023 how-india-is-acting-as-guiding-force-in-g20 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>G20 countries account for 85 per cent of global GDP and 60 per cent of world population. Their decisions affect each and every individual in the world. The G20 plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The policies drafted by G20 leadership have direct implications for developing countries, particularly low-income countries. It helps them implement nationally driven policies and priorities necessary to meet internationally agreed upon development goals. Economic disruptions have marked the post-pandemic era. Covid-19 is said to be the biggest disruption in the world order today, though there are conflicts taking place in many parts of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, was this the first pandemic? No. Will it be the last? No. Are these wars and conflicts first in the world? No. Will they be the last? No. The world will face such challenges in future as well. So the focus should be on the challenges humanity is facing right now, and is bound to face in the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multilateral institutions were created to avert such conflicts and in case aversion wasn’t possible then in those cases to find peaceful methods to solve those conflicts through effective arbitration. The set objectives have so far have not been achieved, thus we need reformed multilateralism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With its rich civilisation dating back thousands of years, India understands that disruptions are very much a part of human existence. India brings a historical perspective to the table. The world needs ancient Indian philosophies like ekatma manavvad, and, antyodaya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ekatma manavvad, or integral humanism, means that no one person, no one country, no one society can live by itself. A country cannot live in isolation and a conflict in one part of the world affects all parts of the world in some manner or the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Antyodaya means working for the last person in the last row. It essentially means that another person’s pain is our pain. And that it is our duty to become a voice for the voiceless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our forefathers enunciated these ideologies thousands of years ago, and India today believes in these principles; our foreign policy is clear—to respect everyone and to aim for global peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks to these policies and philosophies, India’s position is that of a bridge between the Global North (the western world) and the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Culturally, India is a country of the east, but if we look at the principles that we follow—be it democracy, open society, freedom of the media—we are very much a country of the west.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is physically, symbolically and metaphorically placed to act as a bridge for all uncertainties. And that is the role of India in the G20 presidency. Our civilisational value system and cultural philosophies act as a guiding force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are two things India is trying to aim during the presidency. One, to become a voice for the voiceless, that is the Global South, and two, to find the resilience to deal with plural challenges. I am positive that we will succeed in being the bridge between the Global North and the Global South, and draw the two sides closer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Fri Apr 14 16:26:40 IST 2023 the-soft-power-of-yoga-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>March 13, 2023, marks the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Yoga, 2023. The proposal for the International Day of Yoga was first introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. Modi said, “Yoga is an invaluable gift from our ancient tradition.” Recognising its universal appeal, on December 11, 2014, the United Nations proclaimed June 21 as the International Day of Yoga.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I equate the culture of any nation to a human body. As per the Bhagavad Gita, we believe that the body is the chariot, which means it is just a carrier to reach a destination; however, the charioteer is the soul. What we see, that is the body, is the tangible heritage of any nation. The intangible cultural heritage of any nation is tantamount to the soul of its civilisation, people and history. Yoga is that soul of our civilisation, which is aeonian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the body dies, the soul continues to live and that is how India sees its intangible cultural heritage―a living wealth of knowledge, know-how and skills that are transmitted from one generation to the next.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among India’s most significant global contribution has been the gift of yoga drawing on its ancient culture and civilisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi had once rightly said that yoga belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to yoga. In a conflicting world, yoga is a uniting force bringing people together through compassion and kindness. It is all-inclusive and respects diversity. Practising yoga brings joy, good health, and inner peace. It deepens the connection between an individual’s inner consciousness and the external world. For when we look inside, we find answers to questions of the external world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Physical movement is mere one-fifth of yoga as a whole, as it is more about finding an understanding of oneness with the world and nature itself. Yoga enables one to truly connect with oneself. It enables an expansion of physical and mental abilities and helps us become the best version of ourselves. After all, inner tranquillity is the pre-requisite for global peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While yoga has always been India’s own way to fitness, today, the world realised the importance of yoga, more so during the pandemic. When I travel, I have noticed the growing reach and acceptance of yoga across the globe. Today, yoga is found in the curriculum of schools, in the training of armies, and in the motivational techniques of global corporations at an international level. Many could defeat Covid-19 due to high immunity gained through regular practice of yoga.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beyond its immediate impact on physical health, the pandemic also exacerbated psychological suffering and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, as pandemic-related restrictions continue in various forms in many countries. The message of yoga in promoting both the physical and mental well-being of humanity has never been more relevant. Many people around the world embraced yoga to stay healthy and rejuvenated and fought social isolation and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yoga, an Indian tradition that we gifted the world, is a powerful tool for inner-engineering, through which one can explore the metaphysical and achieve spiritual oneness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India celebrated the International Day of Yoga in 2022 on a grand scale with 75 Union ministers practicing yoga at 75 iconic locations. I practiced yoga at Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari, with around 2,000 people. This year, too, government of India plans to take this further for maximum involvement from the general public. It is our responsibility as a civilisation to keep this cultural gem alive, because it is unique to us and has the power to transform the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Mar 18 17:01:58 IST 2023 india-is-uniting-the-global-south <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the Voice of the Global South Summit, it was a historic landmark. For the first time in modern history, we saw the leaders of the global south come together in solidarity towards determining a common future and shaping a new world order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world has been speaking about the development of the global south for decades. Global south was a term used by many but hardly worked towards. Global south is where three-fourths of humanity lives, but the term has been used more like a metaphor for underdevelopment. It refers to an entire history of colonialism, neo-imperialism, and differential economic and social change through which large inequalities in living standards, life expectancy, and access to resources are maintained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The global south has faced the major brunt of modern-day challenges. It is astonishing how a handful of countries of the north dominate the whole south. Issues like climate change, terrorism, wars and conflicts were not created by us (the south) but have, in turn, affected us the most. In today’s day and age, we see the modern world unravel the solutions to these problems with less or no role of our combined voices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s foreign policy, guided by our civilisational ethos of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, has seen the whole world as one family and the same philosophy has been exercised when it comes to our relations with the countries of the global south. During the pandemic, when nations across the world became inward-looking, India provided medical equipment and vaccines to more than 100 countries, especially in the global south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With development projects in 78 countries, India has remained a steady partner for shared development while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through programmes like the International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and Mission LiFE, we are furthering climate-friendly capacity building and development partnerships with friends in the global south. Our actions reflect India’s commitment in furthering a greater role of developing countries for a common future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the summit Modi called on the leaders of these nations to re-energise the world by voicing for a global agenda of 4Rs—respond, recognise, respect and reform. It is pertinent for our nations to respond to the priorities of the global south and recognise the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and thereby reform the international institutions including the United Nations. Respect will be a cornerstone of this agenda as it is only when we respect sovereignty of all nations, rule of law and peaceful resolution of differences and disputes that we can ensure an equitable and democratic world that can lead to the collective well-being of mankind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The summit, which forms an important pillar of India’s G 20 presidency, showcases India’s commitment towards development as well as crystallising the voice of the global south. Since time immemorial, the global south has shown the world the middle path—be it the decolonisation movements or the resistance towards alignment in a deeply polarised world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, through the Voice of the Global South Summit, is leading the cause of the developing world. We remain committed to take our friends along on this journey of shared development, equitable growth and well-being of all, and realise our vision of one earth, one family, one future.</p> Sat Jan 21 14:59:57 IST 2023 why-indians-make-the-best-leaders <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In December, Europe got its third Indian-origin head of government as Leo Varadkar became the taoiseach (prime minister) for the second time in a job-sharing deal made by Ireland’s centrist coalition government. He replaced Micheál Martin after lawmakers voted to approve his nomination during a special session of the Dail, the lower house of parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He joined the ‘Indian-origin European political leaders’ club, which has Rishi Sunak, who became the UK prime minister in October, and Antonio Costa, Portuguese prime minister since 2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we take a look around the world, there are many other people of Indian origin in high positions. Mauritius President Prithvirajsing Roopun, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, Singapore President Halimah Yacob, Suriname President Chan Santokhi, Guyana President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali and Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan are of Indian origin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the three leaders in Europe came up as a result of the Indian brain drain to the west, those in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean islands are descendants of people who were forcibly taken out of India as indentured labourers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever be the reason for their migration, their Indian-ness remains the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, at the moment, is at the centre of the world. The world acknowledges its cultural and intellectual pre-eminence. These roles at the international level are a reflection of the strength of nearly 140 crore Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this has been a long journey. India had thousands of years of opulence and splendour, but then came the dark period of slavery for centuries. After facing many invaders and atrocities, India has reached here today with a vibrant history. Today, those experiences are India’s biggest strength in its development journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After independence, we began a long journey, starting from zero, targeting the peak. This includes the efforts of all the governments that have been in power for the past 75 years. All the governments and the citizens together tried to take India forward in their own way. And today we are leading the world from the front with our G20 presidency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what exactly does it mean for us to have Indian-origin heads in other countries? It is definitely a matter of pride that they stand where they do despite the odds. There was a time the western world did not consider us capable of running our own country; now people of Indian-origin are running theirs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just political leadership. Major corporate heads who impact the dynamics of the world are either Indians or of Indian-origin. Be it Sundar Pichai of Google, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Laxman Narasimhan of Starbucks or Leena Nair of Chanel. Indians running these companies does give a sense of pride and hope to all Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I truly believe that Indians make the best leaders. The reason lies in our unique cultural identity. Indians have impeccable work ethic, dutifulness, genetic smartness (after all, we are the land of science), respect for the work we do, sense of wellness for others and a little bit of sass. And not only Sunak or Varadkar, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also possesses all these qualities like a true Indian.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having these leaders helps our country take its ethics and values to the world, and opens doors for India to become the soft power that it covertly has been all this while. But now is the time for India to shine in all its glory, out in the open, and rise to the level it truly deserves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Dec 24 17:15:49 IST 2022 indira-gandhi-congress-using-lotus-as-a-symbol-for-non-aligned-movement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a shloka in Sanskrit, which means one who gives up worldly attachments, and dedicates deeds to the supreme spirit of God is not touched by sin, just like a lotus leaf is not touched by water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This shloka in the Bhagawad Gita existed way before the BJP adopted lotus as its symbol. And, lotus was adopted as India’s national flower when India attained the status of a republic with its own identity markers. After the 200-year-long foreign rule over our country, which was catastrophic for our culture, our leaders at the time wanted national identity markers that represented our culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lotus was adopted as India’s national flower for three reasons:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>1) National emblem of India stands on a full-bloomed inverted lotus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>2) Lotus epitomises beauty and signifies non-attachment, despite growing in dirt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>3 It smells of myrrh, which is taken as a message to humankind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A human is adjourned to be like a lotus—they should work without attachment, dedicate their actions to God, and remain untouched by sin like water on a lotus leaf. The BJP adopted lotus as its symbol because of its relevance in our culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2023, India will preside over the prestigious G20 for the first time. The G20 countries account for 80 per cent of the world’s GDP. It is a chance to present India as a global leader and raise issues that impact not just a few countries but the entire humanity. The 2023 G20 summit’s logo carries the earth on a lotus, signifying that the group of 20 countries must work selflessly towards goodness of humanity without being attached to any personal gain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress’s Jairam Ramesh said, “The BJP’s election symbol has become official logo for India’s presidency of G20!” Ramesh, probably, was lost in party-wars. He forgot that it was the Congress in 1950 that adopted lotus as our national flower. He also forgot that an India exists that is beyond political wars, and we need to take pride in our culture and show solidarity in front of the rest of world as citizens of this great country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress leaders may have forgotten that one of the most prominent leaders of Congress [Indira Gandhi] used the lotus as a symbol for the non-aligned movement in 1983. So, criticising it now makes absolutely no sense. Ramesh is so blinded that he fails to recognise that the G20 logo draws inspiration from the vibrant colours of India’s national flag—saffron, white, green and blue. It juxtaposes earth with the lotus. The earth reflects India’s pro-planet approach to life—one in perfect harmony with nature. Below the G20 logo is “Bharat”, written in the Devanagari script. Why is Ramesh or other Congress leaders not able to see the other markers in the logo? ‘Bharat Jodo’ seems big talk from people who cannot appreciate a logo carrying the national flower. The true unification of India is being carried out by Narendra Modi by putting India in a leadership position on the global podium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, the G20 presidency marks the beginning of “Amritkaal”, the 25-year period beginning from the 75th anniversary of its independence on August 15, 2022, leading up to the centenary of its independence, towards a futuristic, prosperous, inclusive and developed society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, just as the leaves of lotus, despite being born out of mud and water, do not let a water droplet set on it, Modi will shrug off this uncalled-for negativity and continue doing what he does best—service to the nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sun Nov 20 12:09:07 IST 2022 india-growth-under-modi-government-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Transformational changes in the realm of welfare delivery mechanisms, application of technology in faster project executions, changes in institutional frameworks for enhancing productivity in economic activities and governance, and making India a destination for next-generation technological research and global manufacturing have been the hallmarks of the eight years of the Narendra Modi government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here, a key element is the defence sector, which through the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative of the Modi government, is witnessing, for the first time, a revolutionary involvement of the Indian private sector to cater to the critical requirements of our armed forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recently held Defence Expo 2022, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, was the exemplification of Modi’s dream of creating an Indian military industrial complex to cater to domestic requirements and to make India a critical hub for global defence manufacturing supply chain. The theme for the 12th edition of this event was —‘Path to Pride’, and why not!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taking forward Modi’s vision of ‘Make in India, Make for the World’, the defence expo showcased the immense potential of India’s industrial ecosystem and its intrinsic capability to emerge as a globally acclaimed defence manufacturing base, given its history of executing complex industrial scale projects. The heart of every nationalist is filled with pride to witness how, over the last few years, the pavilions are increasingly being filled with innumerable Indian companies—starting from well-known industrial powerhouses to startups—showcasing projects that range from artilleries, missiles, tanks, drones, combat vehicles to a wide variety of Artificial Intelligence-powered products.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gone are the days when our armed forces had little option but to look forward to foreign vendors to cater to their equipment requirements. Today, for every major foreign vendor in the realm of defence products, there is more than one Indian company willing to offer similar products at a much lower price. This has been made possible as a result of the Modi government’s initiatives to open up greater opportunities for private sector in defence sector, by creating a negative list of items for defence imports, which can now be procured by the armed forces only from Indian industries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, for decades, India’s private sector was denied its rightful place in defence manufacturing even as lobbies and arms dealers connived with vested interests to restrict India’s defence industrial capability development, so that the country remained dependent on imports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi not only disbanded that culture from the corridors of power but also paved way for Indian companies to unleash their real potential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Likewise, Modi’s initiatives in making India a hub for research in Artificial Intelligence-powered product development, quantum computing, green hydrogen, 5G, and recognising startups as key players in India’s innovation-led journey towards a $10 trillion economy, are pivotal in making sure that the mistakes of the past, when India could have emerged as a global manufacturing hub, are not repeated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s crossing of the $3.5 trillion GDP milestone, achieving Rs27 lakh crore gross tax collection, hitting $670 billion export target during 2021-22, and its ability to maintain a more than $500 billion forex reserve through these difficult phases that the world economy is facing, are harbingers of the foundation of an Atmanirbhar Bharat that Modi has steadfastly laid for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Fri Oct 28 14:28:21 IST 2022 modis-charisma-and-the-sewa-pakhwada-celebrations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated his 72nd birthday on September 17, and we are in the midst of the Sewa Pakhwada (roughly translated to service fortnight)—a 15-day programme to honour Modi’s birthday. It is not about blowing candles and cutting cake, but yet another drive to give back to the community.</p> <p>Modi has devoted his entire life for the development of the country and service to humanity. Every privileged person should adopt Modi’s zeal and his outstanding work towards uplifting the downtrodden and weaker sections of society. As a true disciple of B.R. Ambedkar, Modi has been striving hard to make India an egalitarian society. First, as a party worker, then as a chief minister, and now as the prime minister.</p> <p>Two initiatives of the Modi government that have touched the lives of those at the far end of the pyramid are the Aspirational District Programme, which aims to transform districts that have shown relatively lesser progress in key social areas, and the Adarsh Gram Yojna, which is for the development of model villages. It is Modi’s unique quality to think differently. His flawless planning and execution brought palpable changes to the lives of the poorest. Several social welfare schemes are great examples of this. Sewa Pakhwada is the most felicitous form of admiration that one can show for this great man. During the fortnight, party workers are rendering their services in various activities like organising blood donation camps and conducting free health check-up camps.</p> <p>Besides, free medical implants are being given to the physically challenged at various places by party workers, and free Covid-19 booster doses are being administered to those who could not go to the vaccination centres. Under the Sewa Pakhwada, a tuberculosis patient is adopted for a year by the BJP leaders.</p> <p>Whoever has interacted with Modi will tell you that he is quite worried about the deep-rooted corruption in our system. He knows that it is the poor who suffer the most as a result of this. Modi continues to wage a resolute battle against corruption and he ensures that the fruits of all the schemes reach the poorest of the poor. This indicates the man’s empathy for the poorest of the poor.</p> <p>It is the upliftment of poor that has put India on the global map like never before. From a mere 11th position, India has climbed up to fifth position, surpassing the UK. We have all talked about the potential that India has, but we have never tapped it on ground level. That is exactly what Modi and his government aimed at, and look where we are now! The infrastructural development that has boomed throughout the country was never seen before. Be it the Central Vista, Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor, Ujjain corridor, the grandiose is there for all to see. Infrastructure speaks of development, and we have plenty of examples to prove Modi’s priorities.</p> <p>The Sewa Pakhwada is being celebrated with the purest intention to honour Modi. It shows the love, admiration and respect that the <i>karyakartas</i> have towards him. This is a positive shift from others forms of exorbitant celebrations, and only the aura of Modi could pull this off!&nbsp;</p> Sun Sep 25 13:46:06 IST 2022 western-social-scientists-are-divided-over-indias-present-strength <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Today the world is looking at India proudly and with expectation, and the world is looking for solutions to the problems on Indian soil.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 15, while addressing the nation on the 75th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined a new ambition to make India free from all thoughts of slavery. People in India were compelled to endure mental slavery for a very long time even after the country gained freedom. But everything changed in 2014, when Modi took oath as prime minister and the blueprint for liberating the nation from this virulent mentality was penned. And now that we have entered the ‘Amrit Kaal’, it appears that the efforts undertaken have paid off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For a country to make a pragmatic change, people’s participation, acknowledgment and support are key. With the revolutionary announcement of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), Modi laid the foundation of financial inclusion for those at the bottom of the social pyramid. Indians recognised his efforts and realised the exigency of breaking free from the slavery mindset and made it their campaign. This also gave rise to an iconic Indian card network—Rupay—which ended the duopoly of VISA and Mastercard. Today, RuPay card services like PMJDY, Mudra and Kisan Credit Card have not only empowered the segment that remained long ignored but also seek to venture into foreign soil with the vision to revolutionise the payment industry of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India in the last eight years has witnessed prodigious reforms in modern education, health care, urban development, social justice and economic modernisation. Being the game-changer in science and technology, it has built partnerships with other countries, as in 2017, when the Indian Space Research Organisation created a world record by successfully putting 104 satellites into orbit in a single mission. While three of the 104 were Indian, the rest were from the US, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Israel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India further let other south Asian nations use its space science for free to enable their economic progress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the unprecedented crises unleashed by Covid-19, India altered the global perception and nature of humanitarian aid. While the rest of the world questioned India’s ability to handle itself, it established itself as a global pharmacy, supplying drugs to more than 150 nations as part of the Vande Bharat Mission—the largest repatriation operation in history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is known to be the abode of innovation and leadership. Western social scientists these days are divided over our present strength. As the environmental discourse over global warming heats up and the quest for oil leads to dictated foreign policies and determination of global dominance, India ambitiously targets to shift to renewable energy, away from fossil fuels. The Solar Rooftop Subsidy scheme and Production Linked Incentive scheme not only place the Atmanirbhar Bharat’s prospects to dominate the solar supply chain and manufacturing capacity in coming years but also highlight India’s determination and leadership as a global power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July 2022, India introduced Vostro account system to internationalise the Indian currency, further lowering its reliance on dollars. This would also protect our trade from the conceit and vagaries of the west and, most importantly, ease the pressure on our exchange rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A nation full of potential is now commanding its power. A clear-cut set of policies and initiatives carried by strong leadership with courage and conviction have unfolded the embryonic potential that lay unperceived under a few layers for decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Aug 27 10:58:49 IST 2022 meenakshi-lekhi-on-nda-govts-contributions-towards-tribals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>President Droupadi Murmu is the face of new India. She was the first tribal woman to become governor of a state, and, now, she is the first tribal woman to hold the highest constitutional position in the country. She is the first president of India to be born in independent India and also the first person to attain a bachelor’s degree in her village.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Murmu comes from the interiors of the country, is dynamic, and has worked at the lowest level of government machinery. Not just that, she has worked as a teacher and is quite spiritual. Her career started only 25 years ago but her sincerity has got her where she is today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Murmu’s victory is a victory of the poor tribal woman of the country for whom completing education was a dream. In fact, it gives hope to everyone who dares to dream. The victory is also for those who believe in the power of hard work, and are not afraid of chasing any position, while working tirelessly and sincerely towards the welfare of the poor, development of backward castes and growth of the nation. To become the first citizen of India is indeed a great accomplishment. And, anyone who reaches a certain position is guaranteed of many supporters. Murmu’s candidature was supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it is proof that the NDA government believes in equality—giving equal opportunity to all groups of society. Murmu spent all her life, silently, working for the welfare of her community and the public and it has paid off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Murmu belongs to a tribal community, the Santhals. As the Union minister of state for culture, I truly admire and respect the contribution of tribal communities towards the cultural heritage of India. Our government has shown special interest in the upliftment of the tribal communities in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Until 2014, there was a budget provision of Rs21,000 crore for tribal welfare schemes, but after the Modi government came to power, it has increased to Rs78,000 crore. Fifty Eklavya residential model schools are being built in tribal areas. Free rations are being given in every village. Earlier, when only around 10 crops were recognised [as forest produce], today 90 have been recognised and government assistance is being given. Approval has been given to set up about 150 medical colleges in tribal areas. About 2,500 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras and 37,000 self-help groups have been formed till date.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Modi announced that the birth anniversary of tribal icon Birsa Munda would be celebrated as Janjatiya Gaurav Divas. What’s more, the government is building 10 museums to highlight the contributions of tribal icons such as Tantia Bhil, Birsa Munda, Rani Gaidinliu (Manipur), Bhima Nayak and Khajaya Nayak (Madhya Pradesh), Thalakkal Chanthu (Kerala), Alluri Sitarama Raju (Andhra Pradesh), Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh (Chhattisgarh), and Ramji Gond (Telangana).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NDA government’s contributions towards tribals are different from past governments, because, in the past, many tribal groups were forced to assimilate into the dominant culture of the country—their aboriginal nature was looked down upon. Some groups, such as the Bhils, Gonds, Santhals, Oraons, Mundas, Khonds, Mizos, Nagas, and Khasis, resisted change and assimilation to maintain their cultural identities and languages. Such an isolation was seen as a problem to national integration, but Murmu’s victory says out loud that one does not have to change traditions and cultures to be in the mainstream. And Murmu is as mainstream as it gets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Jul 30 11:43:27 IST 2022 azadi-ka-amrit-mahotsav-will-showcase-our-hidden-heritage-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav is not only about celebrating our culture and the sentiment of patriotic pride, but also about digging out the past and giving credit where due. When India is heralding her 75th year of independence, we need to remember great people who have contributed in so many ways by sacrificing their lives for the motherland. We need to respect them and get inspired by their struggles, heroism and martyrdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a Delhiite, I have grown up seeing the structural remains of an unknown history that we never studied in history books. Same is the case with Vadnagar, in Gujarat, which has been a living city for the last 2,500 years. Some parts of our culture were never told to us due to reasons that are unknown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union ministry of culture, under AKAM, is re-discovering the past of Delhi buried under the remains of Mehrauli and other parts of Delhi. It is a fact that Delhi had a rich pre-Mughal history, which has been shrouded in secrecy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The foundation of Indraprastha—Delhi was known as Indraprastha during the times of the Mahabharat period—is well known. Successive waves of incursions from the west, and internecine warfare, caused the gravity of power and the urban conglomerate of Delhi to shift towards resettlement on several occasions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the downfall of the Gupta empire, Yoginipura came into existence in the 10th century CE, followed by the Tomara dynasty, when in 1052 to 1060 CE Maharaja Anangpal II laid the foundation of the city of Dhillika or Dhilli, which finds mention in Bijolia and Sarban inscriptions. Anangpal Tomar had built Lal Kot, the supposedly original ‘red fort’ in the present day Mehrauli region. Anangpal Tomar II had built the Anang-Tal in south Delhi, which is now being revived by ministry of culture into an Amrit Sarovar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, long before excavations started in the small city of Vadnagar, there were literary references to its ancient past. Various historical references attributed Vadnagar as Anartapura, Anandapur, Chamatkarpur, Skandpur and Nagaraka. The region finds its earliest mention in the second century CE inscription of Mahakshtrapa Rudradaman. Vadnagar was also one of major Buddhist centres in the country, similar to Kushinagar, Sarnath and Bodhgaya; Buddhist relics were found in the area that depict scenes from the Jataka tales, which are episodes from the Buddha’s life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the government of India is aiming at bringing to the forefront our hidden historical heritage. Amrit Kaal (next 25 years of independent India) is the time to realise that folklores are not always fictional. It is to realise that so many wrongs needs to be corrected. It is to realise that it is not our destiny to walk on the trodden path of previous governments. It is to realise that, yes, we can question why such steps were not taken earlier. It is to realise that the greatness of this country will not be hidden anymore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us eagerly wait for the Amrit Sarovar at Anangtal, Mehrauli and Vadnagar to come to life, and become popular spots for the world to see; there is much more to our culture and history than just Taj Mahal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Fri Jun 03 11:41:10 IST 2022 meenakshi-lekhi-on-pm-street-vendors-atmanirbhar-nidhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Union government, under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, launched the PM Street Vendor’s AtmaNirbhar Nidhi (PM SVANidhi) scheme in 2020 to protect and empower street vendors. With it, for the first time, a serious effort was made by the government to free street vendors from the vicious cycle of indebtedness. The scheme provides a collateral free working capital loan of up to Rs10,000 to street vendors to resume their businesses adversely impacted due to the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world saw the worst calamity of the century in the last two years, which wreaked havoc globally—socially and economically. The pandemic affected all but it had significant implications on the informal sector of our country. In every city in India, there are numerous local markets that support the livelihood of lakhs of people. There are roughly 60 lakh street vendors across India. Even during normal times they had a marginalised existence, and the pandemic compounded their problems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The street vendors constitute up to 2 per cent of the urban population and they contribute immensely to the informal economy. The scheme envisages to bring ‘banks at the door steps’ of these ‘nano-entrepreneurs’ by engaging the Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) and the Micro Financing Institutions (MFIs) as lending institutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even in such a short span of time, the scheme has made significant achievements. It is a matter of great pride that the scheme has successfully crossed the 30 lakh mark, and 29.6 lakh loans, amounting to Rs2,931 crore, have already been disbursed. The beneficiaries have conducted more than 13.5 crore digital transactions, and have been given a cashback of Rs10 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This scheme is a prime example of how technology can transform the lives of the poor and enhance capacity building.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s belief that street vendors need to be provided an enabling environment, where they have a sense of protection from undue harassment and eviction, is congruent with the common man’s belief. The scheme has not only provided support to street vendors but it has also helped build their credit profile through digital payment platforms for integrating them into the formal urban economy. It has made them digitally literate and gave them an impetus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As envisioned by Modi, the scheme aims to not only extend loans to street vendors, but also aims for their holistic development and socio-economic upliftment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, in order to sustain this development journey, the scheme has been extended till December 2024, with a focus on enhanced collateral free affordable loan corpus, increased adoption of digital transactions and holistic socio-economic development of street vendors and their families. The extension, in itself, is expected to benefit nearly 1.2 crore citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is for the first time in the history of our country that a government has undertaken such a measure to empower and protect street vendors, who constitute an important part of our informal economy, by connecting millions of vendors to the system. The scheme has provided swarozgar (self-employment), svavlamban (self-reliance) and swabhimaan (respect) to lakhs of street vendors across the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Fri May 06 14:21:09 IST 2022 merging-delhi-corporations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On April 5, the Rajya Sabha passed the Delhi Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2022, aimed at unifying the three municipal corporations of Delhi. It was a change that Delhi was longing for years. The three corporations—north, south and east Delhi municipal corporations—will function as a single body.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The unification has been well received by most stakeholders and people. It will make the civic body more powerful, thus enabling effective discharge of civic services and taking up of ambitious projects. It will also make the functioning of the agencies more transparent and allow for better citizen services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was obvious that the move to trifurcate the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 2012 was done more for political reasons than for efficacy. It led to a mismatch between the income and liabilities of the civic bodies. While the South Delhi Municipal Corporation enjoyed a good revenue thanks to its well-to-do citizens, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation was always falling short of revenue to do the best for its lower income group-majority citizens. The unification will enhance the significance, power and responsibilities of the mayor’s office manifold. The unified municipal body will be stronger, development projects will move faster and services will be better, with fewer bureaucratic and procedural delays.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The move has been well applauded by most of the resident welfare associations in Delhi, who are hoping for more involvement of civil society in governance. The unification will streamline the functioning of civic bodies and alleviate the issue of paucity of funds to carry out their civic responsibilities. It has been observed that the three MCDs were denied legitimate funds by the AAP government, and this obstructs them from carrying out the entrusted responsibilities. As per reports, the fifth finance commission of Delhi said the three MCDs should get Rs40,561 crore, but the Delhi government gave them less than Rs7,000 crore. At present, the three MCDs have a deficit of Rs11,000 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The MCDs have worked hard to make Delhi clean and green. They have improved local governance, civic services, waste management and air quality levels. The BJP won the highest number of seats in the previous elections and it is the trust of citizens of Delhi that will bring the party back to power. The issues that stand before the MCD are timely payment of employees, uniform use of revenue collected across the city and resistance from state government to take up developmental works.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the passage of the bill, each issue will be targeted, and it will lead to a Delhi of our dreams. In the wrestle for power between the state and the corporations, the employees of MCDs and the citizens of Delhi have suffered the most. The parties concerned about constitutionality and raising unnecessary questions toward the amendment forget that Delhi is not a complete state. The onus of its day-to-day issues pertains to the Central government. This is why the Constitution, under Article 239AA, empowers Parliament to amend or form laws on matters pertaining to Delhi. The resistance is prominent because with the unification, the state government will not be able to mislead people about the whereabouts of the allocations made by the Central government to the corporations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hence, political parties, instead of blowing their own trumpet, should leave it to Delhiites to decide what is best for their own interests in the municipal elections.</p> <p><b></b></p> Mon Apr 11 11:14:23 IST 2022 separate-party-politics-and-the-prime-minister-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The case of a security lapse during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab has raised many questions about the overlap between party politics and&nbsp;standard protocol procedures of VVIPs. Was this a case of mismanagement or a pre-planned conspiracy?</p> <p><br> Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi may be trying to pass this off as a classic case of mismanagement between state and Central security agencies,&nbsp;but my experience tells a different story. I was denied entry at multiple gates [in Punjab], despite being in the state for a few days.<b> </b>People coming to the rally from different districts of the state were denied entry to the rally spot. Videos of people tearing off posters of the prime minister on roads surfaced later.&nbsp;</p> <p><br> It was a clear message from the Congress government in Punjab that the BJP’s Narendra Modi is not welcome there.&nbsp;The plan was to sabotage the rally, deny benefits from the Central government to the people of Punjab.</p> <p><br> Modi’s plans to lay foundation stones of development projects worth over Rs 42,750 crore, including the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway and a satellite centre of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, were sabotaged. Other projects included four-laning of the Amritsar-Una section, the Mukerian-Talwara broad gauge railway line, and setting up two new medical colleges at Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur.</p> <p><br> While Modi’s convoy waited atop a flyover on the Bathinda-Ferozepur highway, it was forgotten that he is the prime minister of the largest democracy in the world. While the Congress leaders feared that Modi’s rally will have an impact on the people of Punjab, ahead of the assembly elections in the state, they forgot that the post of prime minister is much larger than conflicting party interests.</p> <p><br> They also forgot that notwithstanding party affiliations, the Centre and the states are expected to work together in all areas. There are bound to be frictions due to conflicting political interests and rivalry for power amongst different parties. However, there is still a balance that needs to be maintained.</p> <p><br> With politics taking a front seat in the country, it seems the federal system is&nbsp;cracking&nbsp;in the country.&nbsp;Regional politics is leading to misuse of power granted by the sacred&nbsp;Constitution of the country. A similar incident happened when&nbsp;the West Bengal government [in 2019] denied permission to Amit Shah’s helicopter to land in Malda, citing security concerns. This, when the West Bengal government’s helicopters landed there every week.&nbsp;Sure,&nbsp;Shah was not a Union minister back then, but the state government had no right to deny him entry.</p> <p><br> Did&nbsp;Channi&nbsp;even think about the international image of our country before shrugging things off casually? Modi has built an envious&nbsp;position&nbsp;of our country&nbsp;in the world with his diplomatic skills and economic policies,&nbsp;and international media scouts for stories like these to&nbsp;malign India’s image.&nbsp;There was much more at stake than just sabotaging a rally.&nbsp;</p> <p><br> The Central government&nbsp;has&nbsp;tried to restore this imbalance caused by the&nbsp;state governments&nbsp;in our federal polity The most recent example is the way the Centre provided aid to all the states during the pandemic. The prime minister was constantly in touch with all chief ministers and worked in close coordination with state governments without bothering which political party was in power there.</p> <p><br> States may have powers of their&nbsp;own&nbsp;but it should not be forgotten that we are a quasi-federal government. And unlike a true federal system like the US, we have a single constitution, single citizenship, and a unified judiciary with national integration at the heart of it. Any power working against this system is no short of treason.</p> Sun Jan 16 12:16:40 IST 2022 farm-laws-or-no-farm-laws-modi-will-continue-to-work-for-farming-community-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Deh siva bar mohe eh-hey subh karman te kabhu na taro…</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(Dear God, grant my request, so that I may never deviate from doing good deeds)—is a much celebrated and one of the most revered shabad (hymn) to Guru Gobind Singh, which was quoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech on the auspicious day of Guru Nanak Dev Jayanti. The <i>shabad</i> continues to lay down an enlightened path for generations of Sikhs, and, Indians, at large, to never have any apprehension or anxiety from the righteous fight ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fight ahead is no doubt reforming the agricultural sector, for it has from the time immemorial been the most indispensable and foundational aspect of the Indian society, and, therefore, farmers, the anna-dattas (someone who provides food), are next to God in India. Their resilience in the face of adversities is what has been an impetus to India’s indomitable spirit of breaking out of the shackles of looming miseries, time and again. It was this resilience that the prime minister wanted to bring to the forefront of the economy, from the first day of his pursuit of being in service to the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Owing to his extensive personal experience of working and living with farmers, Modi has been able to gather an in-depth understanding of the adversities of the farming community; he had seen their plight first-hand and always had a profound empathy for the community. The endless number of reforms taken up by the government in the agriculture sector in the past 7.5 years is a testimony to that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government has endeavoured into reforming the agricultural sector, step-by-step, keeping minute needs of farmers in mind. It has ensured the ready availability of credit (Rs2 lakh crore credit boost to 2.5 crore farmers at reduced interest rates via Kisan Credit Cards) and direct benefit transfers (106 lakh farmers in the country have benefited through the direct benefit transfer of Rs6,000 each) to reduce the farmer’s input cost on diesel and electricity. The PM-KUSUM scheme has ensured support to 20 lakh farmers through subsidy for standalone solar pumps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has also worked on making agriculture more sustainable for farmers by improving soil health, by means of soil health cards. Further, thousands of rural markets are being developed and upgraded; rural road connectivity has brought farmers in close proximity to the market at lesser cost and time. Moreover, not only were minimum support prices (MSP) hiked multiple times but procurement at MSP has increased many times more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the synergy of such well-intentioned reforms and the resilience of our farming community that, even during the pandemic, agriculture turned out to be the only sector to have a positive growth of 3.4 per cent in 2020-21. While the Gross Value (GVA) added for the entire economy contracted by 7.2 per cent, growth in GVA for agriculture maintained a positive growth of 3.4 per cent. Furthermore, the budget allocation for agriculture was Rs88,811 crore between 2009 and 2014, which has increased to Rs4,87,238 crore between 2014 and 2020, registering a growth of 438 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not backing down from its efforts even after the contentious repeal of the three farm laws, the government is all set to give a fresh impetus to zero budget farming to make agriculture more viable, especially for small farmers, and to save them from getting into the debt trap. It is now for the nation to understand that the repeal of farm laws was not a quinquennial bet, nor was it a matter of victory or defeat. It was certainly not a competition, rather it was a matter of differing opinions but for the same novel vision of reforming the agricultural sector of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Farm laws or no farm laws, it was Modi’s very own resilience to work for the advancement of the farming community that continues to remain resolute for making a highly productive agriculture sector of India a profitable one for the farmers of the lowest rungs and strata, and for ensuring that the ones who sow the seeds with their sweat reap its benefit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sun Dec 19 17:41:43 IST 2021 break-the-shackles-of-ignorance-celebrate-our-proud-past-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India is a contender for a place on the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for the period 2021-2025. We have been a part of the World Heritage Committee three times before—1985-1991, 2001-2007 and 2011-2015. Now after the mandatory moratorium of six years, India is contending for its fourth term and this time it is more important than ever. We are celebrating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cherish the 75 years of Independence and our ancient glory. That glory got drained, and only a few Indians realise how great a debt the world of art owes the Indian civilisation. Be it the art of east Asia or architecture and paintings of the west, all can be traced back to some elements of Indian art and culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is indeed an ancient centre of art, culture, and knowledge. International institutions and the world at large has time and again recognised this fact. But do we as Indians realise the contributions made by our vast civilisation over the years to the world? Today, 40 Indian sites have the UNESCO world heritage tag and various western countries have celebrated October as Hindu heritage month. But why are most of us still ignorant about our land?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to break the shackles of ignorance and reclaim the lost glory of ancient Indian heritage. The Union government has brought a new dawn in this direction. In its unparalleled efforts to promote Indian culture and heritage on the international front, the Union government has also been able to preserve more and more heritage sites and antiquities. Since 2014, 10 new Indian sites have been added to the World Heritage List of UNESCO. As per the records of the Archaeological Survey of India, only 13 antiquities were repatriated to India between 1976 and 2014. On the other hand, since 2014, 42 antiquities from various countries have been repatriated to India. Recently, the Queen of Kashi idol, that was stolen from Varanasi a century ago, was brought back to be reinstalled in its original place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A special task force, comprising officials of the ministry of external affairs and ministry of culture, has been constituted to expedite the repatriation process of stolen antiquities, which were smuggled out of the country over the decades. Memorandum of understandings with some countries have already been signed, and are being worked out with other countries in this direction. We are positive that by next year 200 idols, paintings and artwork of Indian origin will be repatriated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since 2014, six Indian cities were made part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network—which was launched in 2004, and recognises creativity as a strategic factor in the urban development of cities. These are Varanasi (for music, 2015), Jaipur (for crafts and folk arts, 2015), Chennai (for music, 2017), Mumbai (for film, 2019), and very recently, Srinagar (for crafts and folk arts, 2021). UNESCO requires to be applauded for its efforts in preserving the heritage of India and recognising our due legacy and cultural significance. India and UNESCO are natural partners in advancing the vision of culture as an enabler of sustainable development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since time immemorial, India has been a constant source of knowledge and inspiration for various cultures across the world and had directly and indirectly shaped the global village. We are positive that we will be able to seal our place in the 2021-2025 World Heritage Committee and realise what we have envisioned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Sat Nov 20 12:19:01 IST 2021 air-india-deal-will-boost-sentiments-in-the-capital-markets-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2017, the government had tried to disinvest Air India, as the airline had a mere 14 per cent market share and a debt of approximately $50,000 crore (at present, it is around $62,000 crore). The government remarked that if the private sector could handle 86 per cent of flying, it could well handle 100 per cent. Air India’s debts were a clear burden on the state exchequer, and the government wanted to invest that money in other sectors, such as education and health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IndiGo had shown interest in acquiring Air India, but things did not work out. It was during the tenure of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee&nbsp;in 2001 that the first attempt to sell Air India was made; only 40 per cent equity was offered then. Initially, several foreign airlines including Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines, Air France-Delta, British Airways, Emirates and Singapore Airlines had expressed interest in buying the airline, in addition to corporate houses like the Hinduja group and the Tata group. But when the government clarified that any foreign airline will have to partner with an Indian company to bid, most airlines pulled out. The Tata-Singapore Airlines consortium remained the sole player in the race.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The consortium was in the advanced stages of the deal and had even completed due diligence, when it dropped out. One of the probable factors was the bombing at Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport in 2001, in which several of Singapore Airlines’ aircraft were destroyed, causing massive financial losses to the carrier. Also, Air India and Indian Airlines were two companies then, and only Air India—which operated only international flights—was for sale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since that failed attempt to privatise, we all know the price we have paid as a nation in terms of the drain that Air India has been on government finances, and, of course, the abysmal service that most of us experienced. So, the recently finalised privatisation of Air India is indeed commendable. The government deserves applause for its determination to go ahead with it. This is even more significant, as it is a 100 per cent sale of the merged entity that comprises the entire domestic and international operations of the carrier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An efficient model of privatisation of a government undertaking has multiple positive outcomes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government is not supposed to be a profit-making body. When a government company is required to focus on generating revenue from its citizens, it is often a failure because of the multiple constraints concerning its public ownership. Even developed countries like Japan and England have privatised their national airlines to increase efficiency. Privatisation ensures better utilisation of resources, and that would eventually benefit customers. Another positive of this privatisation effort is the impact it can have on economic growth, infrastructure development and job creation. The revival of a significant business certainly boosts its entire ecosystem. It eventually would uplift tax collection. Such privatisation efforts will boost the sentiments in the capital markets. Remember the big fillip that our markets had received after the 1991 economic reforms amid a weak economic situation. Creative and constructive initiatives boost the market and give renewed confidence in the broader reform agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This step has underscored Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to reduce the government’s role in the economy. It also saved taxpayers from paying for Air India’s daily losses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is Union minister of state for external affairs and culture.</b></p> Fri Oct 22 17:04:18 IST 2021 meenakshi-lekhi-on-modis-dream-of-India-becoming-a-multi-sports-nation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Indian players performed exceedingly well in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics&nbsp;and Paralympics&nbsp;2020. While we finished 48th&nbsp;in the Olympics—the highest ranking in over four decades, with a total of seven medals, including a historic gold medal from Neeraj Chopra in javelin throw—the country’s differently-abled extended this tale of excellence into the Paralympic Games.&nbsp;India sent its largest contingent ever, in which 54 para-players represented the country in nine para-sports.&nbsp;The contingent recorded their best finish—24th&nbsp;place, with 19 medals.&nbsp;Indian athletes created history with shooter Avani Lekhara becoming the first woman to win two medals at the Paralympics. The games have truly been a special moment for Indian sports.&nbsp;</p> <p>​In a nation where sporting culture is renounced for academic excellence, the news about the historic wins has to be considered as system-changing.&nbsp;Sport has never been a career prospect for most Indians, but Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have paved the way for lakhs of aspiring sportspersons.&nbsp;</p> <p>All said,&nbsp;no medal is won without proper support, training opportunities and&nbsp;putting&nbsp;relevant authorities at work. Credit goes to the Paralympic Committee of India and the Union sports ministry who played their parts well and helped players to shine in a championship held in the shadow of the pandemic. The government’s&nbsp;sustained efforts to promote sports in a big way played a pivotal role in India’s historic wins.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports launched Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS)&nbsp;in 2014 with an aim to realise India’s Olympic medal dreams at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.&nbsp;The scheme provides financial and other support to top athletes in the country, to help them reach the podium at the Olympics.&nbsp;The results are for everyone to see.</p> <p>India’s&nbsp;youth have undergone a&nbsp;perspective&nbsp;transformation. They do not want to tread ready-made beaten paths, they want to carve out newer paths and it&nbsp;is imperative&nbsp;that they receive adequate&nbsp;support from the government to realise their potential and fulfil their dreams.&nbsp;</p> <p>To provide maximum opportunities to our young talents,&nbsp;the&nbsp;Khelo&nbsp;India Scheme was initiated in 2016 as a fusion of three schemes—the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan, Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme and National Sports Talent Search Scheme. It focused on increasing mass participation of youth in annual sports games and competitions.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream to see India develop as a multi-sports nation, and not just one or two sports garnering the limelight. The Tokyo Olympics proved that with the right leadership, India is capable of bringing medals in all arenas. Modi has always believed that sports can inculcate values of self-discipline, sportsmanship, team spirit, leadership, and integrity&nbsp;in our youth&nbsp;as well as promote a healthy lifestyle.&nbsp;As someone who leads by example, he launched the Fit India Movement&nbsp;and suggested&nbsp;that fellow citizens adopt a healthy lifestyle.</p> <p>It was through perseverance and tremendous hard work&nbsp;of our athletes, their coaches and&nbsp;concerted efforts of the government that India could create history in the arena of sports.&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us bask in the glory for now and then get back with double the force because when our sportspersons enter the stadium next time, we will not be the underdogs.</p> <p>The&nbsp;Tokyo&nbsp;Olympics have created a major impact&nbsp;on the sports scene of the country&nbsp;and it is important to ensure that the momentum generated by the success of the Indian contingent&nbsp;does not melt away.</p> Thu Sep 23 16:38:46 IST 2021 empowerment-growth-for-all-india-moving-towards-cooperativism-says-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The celebrations that flagged off the 75th year of independence were unlike the ones in other years.&nbsp;There was a sense of responsibility, with each of us being acutely aware of the challenges that confront our country.&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is easy to look down that path,&nbsp;one must not forget the glorious journey our nation has treaded in the past 75 years. Our achievements have been nothing short of miraculous. From ensuring access to electricity to every village, to reaching Mars, to developing indigenous vaccines, to eradicating diseases, to becoming a pioneer in the FinTech revolution through Unified Payments Interface, development has touched every citizen.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time of&nbsp;independence, epitaphs for Indian democracy were written&nbsp;by Anglophile commentators. They imagined that it was impossible for&nbsp;a democracy to sustain itself in a newly formed country brimming with such&nbsp;unimaginable diversity.&nbsp;We&nbsp;have not just “sustained” democracy, but have also embraced, nurtured and developed it.&nbsp;It is for this reason that there is perhaps no other parallel to this story of our country.&nbsp;</p> <p>Concurrently, we face challenges that are signs of changing times. With globalisation, almost all issues have global ramifications. Our country and the world are confronting issues like climate change, disaster resilience, adapting to newer technologies at a faster pace, and challenges in cyber-security, energy security and&nbsp;bio-security.</p> <p>Atmanirbhar Bharat is an umbrella term to describe our strategy&nbsp;to tackle&nbsp;such&nbsp;new-age challenges. It means self-reliance, which will eventually&nbsp;lead to a self-confident country, capable of helping herself and other countries along the way.</p> <p>The various ways by which our country has set forth to achieve <i>atmanirbharta</i> are through the string of schemes&nbsp;announced by our government since&nbsp;last year. These include the production-linked incentive scheme for manufacturing an array of goods of strategic importance,&nbsp;new hydrogen mission, diversion of surplus sugar for manufacture of ethanol for our energy security, the&nbsp;multiple measures being taken for indigenisation of defence equipment (INS Vikrant is an example), the newly announced mission on oilseeds for attaining food security and geo-spatial reforms.</p> <p>Antiquated ways and laws are making way for next generation reforms. The new education policy is a testimony to this. The current education system, developed when India was not independent, does not deserve to be preserved.&nbsp;Our next generation must be equipped to face challenges.&nbsp;Various laws are also being simplified and revamped, such as the Limited Liability Partnership Act, to unshackle the entrepreneurial spirits of our country.&nbsp;This&nbsp;year has already produced a record 23&nbsp;unicorns.&nbsp;</p> <p>As we enter the next quarter, each of us must be aware of our responsibilities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi added a&nbsp;very important term&nbsp;to a phrase that has become synonymous to our governance—Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. By adding ‘<i>sabka prayas</i>’, he has given each of us&nbsp;the responsibility&nbsp;to&nbsp;get into the driver’s seat and&nbsp;drive&nbsp;our country&nbsp;ahead.&nbsp;Today, world over, there is a debate on capitalism verses socialism;&nbsp;our country is looking towards cooperativism. We believe in empowerment and growth of all.&nbsp;</p> <p>It is only when every single citizen is truly empowered and contributes to the success story of our country, that we can realise the dream of Rabindranath Tagore—Where the heart is without fear and where heads are held high; into that heaven of&nbsp;freedom, the country shall awake.</p> Thu Aug 26 16:47:34 IST 2021 despite-roadblocks-modi-govts-vaccination-policy-is-a-success-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>More than 33 crore Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in India till date. The world’s largest vaccination drive, which started this January, is running successfully.</p> <p>Constant statements from&nbsp;opposition&nbsp;leaders, questioning the&nbsp;availability&nbsp;of vaccines,&nbsp;are pitiful actions to belittle the Centre’s efforts.&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;Congress and its paid media played a significant role in creating vaccine hesitancy in Indians.&nbsp;A couple of cases of serious side-effects were blown out of proportion to instil fear in citizens.&nbsp;Much wastage was reported in the early days of the vaccination drive due to vaccine hesitancy. And, when the deadly second wave hit us in April, people, who were not vaccinated and had got infected, found themselves between the devil and the deep sea.&nbsp;It took almost two lakh deaths, and the Union health minister’s request for support from opposition in testing times, for the Congress as well those hesitant to take vaccines to realise that vaccination is mandatory to fight off the virus.</p> <p>If you look closely, only three countries are majorly responsible to manufacture vaccines for the whole world—the US, India and China. According to data analytics company, Airfinity, 3.13 billion doses can be produced in a year in India, second only to the US that can produce 4.69 billion by end of 2021. Third is China with a capacity to produce only 1.90 billion doses a year. The high cost of production in the US makes Indian-made vaccines everyone’s first choice. Even Russia struggled to keep up with the demand of its home-grown Sputnik V.&nbsp;</p> <p>It was easy for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to ask to ‘share the formula’ of the vaccine with other manufacturers. But it is imperative to understand that manufacturing vaccines means dealing with a live virus, and the manufacturing unit needs to meet certain safety standards before getting a licence. It is not your regular&nbsp;chemical&nbsp;salt-based pill whose licences could be distributed to any&nbsp;manufacturer.&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the roadblocks, the Centre took matters in its own hands and a record 81 lakh vaccines were administered on June 20. &nbsp;</p> <p>Those questioning India’s vaccine strategy should know that the whole world’s strategy was same—first comes the health workers, then the elderly and then comes the least-affected adults below the age of 45. Data shows that the virus is partial to the elderly. Of the Covid-related deaths, 88 per cent were in the age group of above 45 years. Even though infection increased in people&nbsp;below 45 years of age in the second wave, more than 60 per cent of severe cases were seen in aged men and women. This makes the vaccination strategy perfect for India, and any government would have taken the same route to save its citizens.&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that&nbsp;Delhi and Mumbai, two of the worst-hit cities, registered&nbsp;less than 500&nbsp;cases as on&nbsp;June&nbsp;27, and we see a silver lining to the dark clouds, one&nbsp;should not forget that India has controlled the worst possible calamity in recent times within three weeks, jabbed more than&nbsp;33&nbsp;crore people till date&nbsp;despite hesitancy created by opposition, provided food subsidy of Rs26,000 crore under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, and&nbsp;had&nbsp;solved the oxygen crisis in a matter of few days.&nbsp;</p> <p>With more than&nbsp;five to seven million&nbsp;doses being administered every day, it is safe to say that the&nbsp;Centre’s&nbsp;vaccination policy is a success.</p> Thu Jul 01 17:24:35 IST 2021 onus-is-on-all-of-us-not-just-narendra-modi-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India is struggling hard to cope with the havoc caused by the latest strain of Covid-19. From international media to domestic media to social media, everyone is looking for someone to blame. Easiest target? Prime Minister Narendra Modi.</p> <p><br> States in India with huge health budgets and all the paraphernalia refused to act and follow the guidelines. And here we have a leader who is working day and night to save every single life that he can, that we can, but the comparisons will not stop.</p> <p><br> None of the previous Central governments, or, for that matter, foreign governments ever had to handle what the present leadership in India is handling. So, are the comparisons even fair?</p> <p><br> Yes, there is a shortage of oxygen in Delhi, but should we only blame Modi? Does a state government with Rs 10,000 crore budget have no responsibility?<br> Similar situation was faced by Italy when the pandemic had hit the world. The world’s best health care system in the US and the UK completely collapsed when the surge hit them, and they are overwhelmed even today. Why is a country that came up with Vaccine Maitri policy being bullied with such vulturism?</p> <p><br> Everyone needs to understand that the virus, the biological warfare that is, is above all of us. Today, it is causing havoc in India and Brazil, tomorrow it could be any other country infected with another mutated variant. The truth is that the nature of the virus is such that the whole world has been caught off guard, not just Modi. Even the best of experts failed to predict its next course.</p> <p><br> Why is there so much of insensitivity? According to some reports, it is the UK variant that has wreaked havoc in northern India, but blame on the UK was nowhere to be seen. Many state governments are not responding well, and they are not run by the BJP. Take the case of Delhi. Its health budget for the year 2020-21 was Rs 9,934 crore, but this is nowhere reflected in hospitals, oxygen concentrators, ventilators and ICUs. The so-called internationally acclaimed <i>mohalla&nbsp;</i>clinic is nothing more than an outpatient department. No new primary health centres have been established in Delhi; maternal health centres in the city have been reduced from 265 to 230. Delhi had only a few hundred ventilators till a few thousand were sent under PM Cares Fund.</p> <p><br> The AAP legislators and their health minister are nowhere to be found amidst the worst hit crisis, except the chief minister, who is always on TV in some advertisement or the other. The state health ministry could have taken a collaborative approach towards the private sector, which could have resulted in better coordination and less malpractice. Rather what we witnessed was blame game on live television, which is a pity. The Delhi government also refused to implement Ayushman Bharat, the Centre’s flagship insurance scheme for citizens.</p> <p><br> However exonerative it may sound, the public, in general, is responsible for the second wave. Not masking up properly, despite repeated reminders and penalty by the authorities, violating protocols regarding gatherings, led to a situation this horrific. Hoarding and black marketing of remdesivir, charging exorbitant prices for ambulances and other malpractices are adding to the misery.</p> <p><br> We are all in it together—the media, the state governments and the people. It is not a fight that can be fought alone, certainly not by playing the blame game. We all need to keep a moral high ground, do our bit, and save as many lives as we can.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi is the favourite punching bag in victory and defeat in office or in opposition. He will bear the cross of deeds done and not done even by his opponents. Such is the governance of incompetent CMs.</p> Fri May 07 22:35:37 IST 2021 world-needs-resolution-of-ambiguities-surrounding-digital-passports-says-meenakshi-lekhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out at breakneck speed, the world awaits the largest international sporting event—Tokyo Olympics. One of the biggest challenges is the safety of players and organisers. In the run-up to the event, a problem that organisers might face is verifying whether players have been vaccinated against the virus. Countries heavily reliant on the hospitality and entertainment sector are actively seeking solutions to enable easy identification of persons who have been vaccinated against the virus.</p> <p>To tackle this, certain countries and organisations are vying for “vaccine passport” or “travel passes”, and some are proposing digital methods. These digital passports will contain health status of the passenger and inform governments whether the passenger can be allowed to travel into the country. Individuals are apprehensive about transfer and storage of this information via online portals, outside their countries. The concept of vaccine certificates is not novel. When travelling, proof of vaccination against specific diseases is a must for certain countries. Creating a digital version of physical certificates will lead to an international regulatory rigmarole. While many countries are rushing towards this new solution to help their ailing economies, one must be cautious before taking the plunge as there is no unified global understanding on issues of privacy, sensitive personal data, interoperability of platforms and transnational data transfers.</p> <p>One of the foremost issues related to generation and storage of additional sensitive personal data is data protection and privacy. Who would collect and store personal data? How much personal data would be collected? For how long would the data be retained? Which country’s law would govern this process? Who would be responsible for any violation of privacy? Which court would have the jurisdiction over any violation of privacy rights? Many developed nations do not even have a unique digital identity number for its nationals.</p> <p>India has been a pioneer in adoption of technologies for management and combating Covid-19. We are one of the few countries in the world with a single unified digital identification system. We made use of Aadhaar card for testing and vaccination against Covid-19. We also launched the world’s most downloaded contact tracing phone app—Aarogya Setu. Vaccination certificates issued in India are linked with the volunteer’s Aadhaar card and come with a unique QR code. This has resulted in India becoming a data mine.</p> <p>Over 90 per cent of phones and 70 per cent of computers are manufactured in China, and its track record of handling sensitive data of other countries remains a concern. Therefore, India needs ambiguities surrounding digital passports to be resolved before we agree to the idea of issuing digital passports.</p> <p>Moreover, not many countries have developed such robust digital systems for managing this pandemic. The question of interoperability arises as countries may not have unified identification system, and each country may have its own system of issuing of vaccination certificates.</p> <p>Instead of developing a new ecosystem, we can make use of the physical certifications with certain modifications. This can include stamping of passports, adding a certificate in the passport, or using the already existing yellow cards. It would be a much simpler way to reopen borders in the near future and make way for large-scale international events to take place.</p> <p>India can play a leadership role in providing solutions.</p> Thu Apr 08 19:59:11 IST 2021 virtual-equality <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is the first Women’s Day since the onslaught of Covid-19, and the one thing that the pandemic has forced us all into is technology. We have now realised that technology and data are not the ‘future’; they are the ‘present’. In its vision document titled ‘National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence’, the government has stressed that AI and emerging technologies must be actively used to bring about socioeconomic development in the country. Since we stand at the brink of a new revolution powered by emerging technologies and AI, it is important to start a conversation on how this impacts women.</p> <p>At the base of AI is data―every individual is a huge data entity in today’s world. While technology is improving efficiency and reducing costs of operations, we must be aware of the biases it inherits from our historical and cultural notions. Although algorithms are not inherently biased, the data fed into these systems to perform functions or predict future are biased owing to lack of diversity in data. And, women often become victims to such biases.</p> <p>There are already several examples of biases in emerging tech. Amazon found out its AI algorithm was preferring male candidates over females. Google Translate changed ‘she is a doctor’ to ‘he is a doctor’ and ‘he is a babysitter’ to ‘she is a babysitter’. AI algorithms have categorised women’s faces under ‘hair’ and ‘pretty’, and men’s faces under ‘business’ and ‘smart’. AI has also proved to be less effective in facial recognition and speech and voice recognition of women when compared with men. Even voice assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa have default female voices that perpetuate the thought of women being a default choice for subservient roles. Therefore, if historically there were fewer women engineers, then the algorithm predicts that there must be fewer women in the future, too. Feeding such data into machines will only further perpetuate gender discrimination.</p> <p>The share of women in the workforce has been constantly increasing over the years, yet they continue to be underrepresented in the technology sector. Thirty-five per cent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates worldwide are women and fewer of them continue working in STEM owing to disparity in pay.</p> <p>Worldwide, women make up only 22 per cent of the total professionals involved in AI. However, India is ahead, at 24 per cent. According to a 2019 report on gender diversity in AI research, India ranks 18 among 34 countries in the “share of papers with at least one female author” and 16 in the “unique female authors” categories. Furthermore, the average penetration of AI skills in India in specific sectors like software and IT services, hardware and networking, education, finance and manufacturing is 2.6 times the global average across the same sectors.</p> <p>The numbers sure look good, but equality is still no reality in AI. This is the exact reason why we need more women in STEM, emerging tech and AI―to break stereotypes and to code and reverse the systematic bias in our algorithms. The government, in its New Education Policy, has stressed on introducing schoolchildren to crucial skills such as digital literacy, coding and computational thinking through subjects on artificial intelligence and design thinking. Further, topics such as 3D machining, big data analysis and machine learning will be included in the syllabus for undergraduates to train them to be industry-ready professionals, including young women.</p> <p>Even though the government has already taken up the task to bring more women into AI and emerging tech, we, being data entities ourselves, must address the discrimination soon.</p> Wed Mar 10 12:06:48 IST 2021 pandemic-blues-learn-from-India <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As I write this column, India is driving the world’s largest vaccination programme ever performed in modern history. The two vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, are being provided to Indians free of cost. The government has decided to provide the vaccine free of cost to health care workers and people with comorbidities. It is commendable that the Serum Institute of India is producing more than 50 million doses a month. While the western world, particularly the UK and the US, is overwhelmed even after a year, India is on a route to recovery. Cases have fallen to the lowest since June 2020. Around 1.3 billion Indians are slated to be vaccinated and our preparation is setting examples in the world.</p> <p>India has trained two lakh vaccinators and 3.7 lakh people to carry out the drive on the ground. Twenty-nine thousand cold storages have been readied. The government has already vaccinated 1.04 million people. By July 2021, India is planning to vaccinate at least 300 million people, which is almost the entire population of the US. And, we would still not be done.</p> <p>India has shown a stellar performance in managing the pandemic. While many developed countries are still struggling to manage case tallies and shutting down, India has already opened its markets, and the economy is slowly bouncing back.</p> <p>India is not only driving the vaccinating programme in the country; it is also sending help to its distressed neighbours. We have donated millions of vaccines to Bhutan, the Maldives, Brazil, the Seychelles, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Countries like Dominica, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have requested India to send the Indian-made vaccines. While Moderna and Sputnik V cost $30 and $10, respectively, our very own Covishield, prepared in Serum Institute, costs only $6.</p> <p>If we go back a little, Indian opposition and international media had assessed India’s management of the pandemic to be a disaster. Ten months ago, a New York-based foreign affairs magazine predicted a ‘catastrophe for India’. Four months later, the <i>Boston Review</i> called the Indian government’s management of the pandemic a “humanitarian disaster”. In August 2020, the <i>Scientific American</i> claimed that India was in denial about the Covid-19 crisis. That Indian government was focusing on economy more than the pandemic management, it said.</p> <p>The reports of Covishield being unsafe are disproved by the fact that numerous countries are requesting India to provide them with the vaccine. A look at the present condition of the UK and the US will give you a clear picture of our standing in the world.</p> <p>The BBC reported 1,564 deaths in a single day in the UK. It is the biggest figure reported in Europe since the pandemic began, even more than Italy. As per CNN, hospitals in the UK look like a war zone. The situation in the US is pretty much the same. Around 24 million people have been affected in the US so far, that is more than 25 per cent of the global case tally. This, when these countries have the best medical facilities in the world. When compared with India, the ratio of hospital beds to population is rather high.</p> <p>Still, at present, the situation is such that from Bill Gates to the WHO chief to the US, all are lauding India’s and Prime Minister Modi’s efforts in controlling the disease and saving humanity.</p> <p><b></b><br> </p> Thu Feb 11 17:40:45 IST 2021 the-data-locker-law <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since the advent of internet technology in the early 1990s, the world is dealing with swarm drones! This is a huge leap, all made possible because of foundational technologies evolving around artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and cloud computing. Given these explorations and innovations, one thing which has become the focal point is―data. Yes, data is the buzz word, and rightly so. It is the new oil propelling the digital economy. It has gained all the more importance after the pandemic restricted physical movement across the globe.</p> <p>Now, data is not restricted to a collection for limited purposes. Rather, it is generated at an exponential rate, heavily consumed, and put to algorithmic setups to gain the minutest of the insights never imagined before.</p> <p>Given this sea of change, challenges, threats and opportunities, the data universe needed an urgent legislation to protect national security and the interests of its citizens. As a result, governments all over came up with legislative frameworks to define, categorise, regulate―and the associated intricacies to deal with―data protection. India, too, is coming up with a Personal Data Protection Bill.</p> <p>As a result of extensive deliberations, suggestions and improvements, personal data stands defined and its legal and regulatory framework for legislative scrutiny is in place, safeguarding the right to privacy of the data principal and the corresponding interplay with the data fiduciary, along with a gamut of checks and balances. Data, broadly classified under personal and non-personal heads with respective sub-classifications, are bound to have overlapping definitions, guidelines and regulations, but still, the broad classification is necessary to make sure that the entire data regime serves the objective, making it amply clear as to “who stands where”, “within what jurisdiction”, and “within what mandate”.</p> <p>At a very simplistic level, anything which does not fall under the definition of personal data constitutes non-personal data. But taking this simplistic approach as the only way to understand non-personal data is a risky proposition that could be full of pitfalls. Often, personal data is the source that leads to the production of non-personal data, when the former undergoes “anonymisation” procedures. The key distinguishing feature of non-personal data is the non-identification of the data principal. But, the risk of re-identification always remains. This possibility cannot be ruled out because today’s data economy is full of technological advances that can always make it possible―both the “backward integration” as well as the “forward integration”―to produce one from the another―that is, non-personal data from personal and vice versa. Hence the necessity for a set of legislative and regulatory frameworks for both personal and non-personal data, which shall act in unison, leaving no scope of grey areas, especially when it comes to individual’s privacy as well as sensitive data protection, which is imperative from the strategic and national security viewpoint.</p> <p>Any piece of legislation is dynamic, and goes through amendments to meet the changed circumstances as and when required. But the dynamism of data protection legislation is not going to be just one clause; rather it will be a unique and defining feature. After all, we are in a stochastic environment where digital footprints are being produced in the continuous-time domain and our ensemble as discussed above is left with a Hobson’s choice to stay put in the continuous state space, hence the course corrections have to be continuous to meet the unforeseen challenges.</p> Thu Jan 14 14:24:20 IST 2021 saffron-heat-in-jk <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The BJP, with 75 seats, has emerged as the single largest party in the District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir. It secured the largest vote share, followed by the National Conference (67), the Peoples Democratic Party (27) and the Congress (26).</p> <p>The Narendra Modi government’s quick decisions and stern actions have put some order in the perpetually chaotic valley. Winning 72 seats in Jammu and three seats in Kashmir shows that the BJP is on a firm footing. The successful conduct of elections, devoid of violence and lawlessness, is the biggest win after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.</p> <p>After threatening to boycott the DDC elections, the regional political parties voted for democratic restoration in the valley so that they could stay relevant.</p> <p>A measure of the BJP’s strong presence in the Union Territory can be had from the fact that 11 political parties, led by big regional leaders like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, with the backing of the Congress, had to come together to take a stand against the BJP’s agenda of development.</p> <p>It was for the first time that any election was being held in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, and the major takeaway is that people are urging for change in the newly formed Union Territory. People of Jammu supporting the BJP and people of Kashmir supporting independent candidates over the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration is all the evidence we need.</p> <p>The results have been disheartening for the PDP and the National Conference, which were exploiting the valley for a long time. Maintaining the special status of J&amp;K was nothing but a talisman to keep the Kashmiris in a state of euphoria over being different from the rest of the country. People did not have a choice earlier, and hence had voted for these parties.</p> <p>The DDC results have once again highlighted communal polarisation in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP won 86 per cent of 56 seats in the entirely Hindu districts and 2 per cent of 152 seats in the entirely Muslim districts. The Gupkar Alliance won 57 per cent seats in the entirely Muslim districts and just 4 per cent in the entirely Hindu districts.</p> <p>Still, DDC elections are very different from assembly polls or Lok Sabha polls, and it was the first election to the council, so no comparisons can be made.</p> <p>Decades of religious and territorial unrest will take some time to subside, but the start is overwhelming. The trust which the people have put in Prime Minister Modi and the support they have shown to his policies are the reason for a different political arrangement today.</p> <p>It is too early for the Gupkar Alliance to celebrate as they have designed their own doom. Since development was never on their agenda, Jammu has soundly thrashed them. And their footing in Kashmir is only temporary, given the fact that they won seats on the basis of bringing Article 370 back, which is next to impossible now.</p> <p>Spring may be a little further away, but Jammu and Kashmir’s frozen politics is thawing with saffron heat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 31 16:13:31 IST 2020 pay-corona-warriors <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>No city can survive by smothering its municipalities. The Delhi government owes approximately Rs13,000 crore to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. This amount is required to pay salaries of MCD employees, including health care workers who are called corona warriors for tirelessly working during the pandemic. Delhi was one of the worst hit states. Doctors, nurses and other group IV employees under MCD departments were working overtime during the lockdown. But none of them have been paid their salaries, for months, now.</p> <p>The Delhi High Court had directed the Delhi government to clear all dues of MCD employees before Diwali 2020. However, the Arvind Kejriwal government has been repeatedly ignoring the court’s directions and playing blame-game with the Central government. It is its trademark move to shift focus from its responsibilities.</p> <p>The issue of late payment or non-payment of salaries to MCD employees is not new. On April 16, 2018, the High Court had told the Delhi government to disburse the amounts with effect from November 1, 2017, and not make it an “ego issue”. It had observed that despite having the funds, the government did not appear willing to implement the recommendations of the 4th Delhi Finance Commission (DFC ), under which the civic bodies had been allocated more funds than they were receiving at the time.</p> <p>On May 21, 2018, when the Delhi government sought a review of the court’s decision, the bench did not stay the order, and asked the state to pay within one month the amounts to East Delhi Municipal Corporation and North DMC.</p> <p>When an organisation is unable to pay salaries to its employees, it signals doomsday. The MCD has been brought to this situation because of constant interference of the Kejriwal government and non-cooperation in collection of taxes.</p> <p>The fourth DFC recommended that around Rs600 crore shall be granted to NDMC and around Rs400 crore to East DMC for civic facilities. The Delhi government stated that these dues were paid but the picture is still not clear. As per the fifth DFC, the government accepted that 12.5 per cent of its total tax collection would be diverted to Delhi’s five civic bodies. This new format was to be implemented with effect from April 1, 2016. This meant that the employees would get arrears as well. However, the government has not paid its dues of even the fourth DFC since November 1, 2017, let alone arrears of the fifth&nbsp;DFC. This is the amount that is rightfully being demanded by the BJP members, who are now protesting outside Kejriwal’s residence.</p> <p>Before 2014, states used to receive 32 per cent of budgetary allocations from the Centre. In 2014, when a chief minister of Gujarat became the prime minister, he hiked the budgetary allocations of states to 42 per cent.</p> <p>We have seen Kejriwal urging the Central government to give him control of Delhi Police to prevent crime in the city. But, ironically, he is unable even to care for state subjects that are in his hands through municipal departments. Even though the BJP has majority in the MCD, it is the state government’s duty to ensure proper funding to civic bodies. The ill-intended disownment of the MCD for political gain has affected employees, pensioners and their families the most.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Dec 17 22:59:45 IST 2020 why-not-one-nation-one-election <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of ‘one nation one election’ on the eve of Constitution Day, which was also the 12th anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. Simultaneous elections were the rule until 1967. But, following cessation of some legislative assemblies in 1968 and 1969, and of the Lok Sabha in December 1970, elections to state assemblies and Parliament were held independently.</p> <p>A working paper that the Law Commission brought out in April 2018, after Modi re-floated the idea in 2016, said that at least “five Constitutional recommendations” would be required to begin simultaneous elections. The final decision is yet to be taken.</p> <p>Currently, elections to the state assemblies and the Lok Sabha are held separately, whenever a government’s five-year term ends or whenever they are dissolved. The terms of legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha may not coincide with one another. For instance, Bihar had elections in 2020, whereas Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, West Bengal and Kerala will go to the polls in 2021. To address the problem of premature dissolution of legislative assemblies or Parliament, the Election Commission has suggested that no-confidence motions should be made more constructive.</p> <p>The ‘one nation one election’ idea will involve the restructuring of the Indian election cycle in such a manner that elections to the states and to the Centre synchronise. This would mean that the voters will cast their votes for electing members of the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time, or in a phased manner, as the case may be.</p> <p>Simultaneous elections would have numerous benefits for the nation. First and foremost, it will reduce the expenditure. The Bihar polls in 2015 cost the exchequer Rs300 crore. About Rs152 crore was spent on payment for vehicles, fuel, setting up booths, tents, barricading and printing poll documents. A major poll expenditure was on security arrangements for free and fair elections. It cost around Rs230 crore for the Madhya Pradesh government to conduct the assembly polls in 2018.</p> <p>Second, it will increase the voter turnout. It is often seen that voters take Lok Sabha elections much more seriously than assembly elections and local polls. Simultaneous elections would mean a single and much more efficient voter list and the maximum population coming out to vote. Third, there would be more time and headspace for administration. If there is an election every year, it takes up a lot of time to plan and execute political campaigns. Elections all over the country once in five years would take up less energy, and allow governments to focus on development and administration for the remaining time.</p> <p>There are other benefits such as curtailment of harmful effects of vote bank appeasement. With elections around the corner, most political parties resort to gimmicks to win voters or destroy the reputation of other parties.</p> <p>There are certain arguments against ‘one nation one election’: national and state issues being different; lack of consensus among national and regional parties; the need to cut short or extend the terms of certain state governments; violation of constitutional provisions; negation of democracy by trivialising regional issues; and the likelihood of politicians becoming complacent. Another concern is that holding simultaneous elections will affect the judgment of voters. This seems to underestimate the intellect of the voters. Indian voters have time and again proved that they vote sensibly and are not fooled by false promises anymore. The Bihar election result is a live example of this. Here is hoping that this noble idea will be realised in 2024.</p> Thu Dec 03 18:21:26 IST 2020 why-stop-the-cbi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has always been perceived as an extremely effective agency, which is entrusted with significant probes into corruption and moral turpitude. After the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra withdrew general consent for the CBI to probe cases in the state, now the Punjab and Kerala governments have proposed to follow suit. Curiously, the Kerala government’s proposal comes after the CBI started probing the alleged irregularities in its Life Mission project. It is therefore evident that the Kerala and Punjab governments’ efforts have more to do with protecting the treasure troves of the mafias in the states, and less with any purported commitments to Indian federalism.</p> <p>The CBI derives its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. The procedure of granting general consent is governed by section 6 of the Act, which prohibits an investigation by the CBI unless the concerned state consents to it. Once general consent is accorded by a state, there exists no need for the CBI to approach the state government on an ad-hoc basis for further permissions for investigations. Unfortunately, this section has been turned into a political weapon by various state governments. They use it to stop the CBI from unearthing potential scams under their watch.</p> <p>Though there has been much clamour surrounding the need to empower the CBI with a pan-India jurisdiction, a statutory void prevents the same. The L.P. Singh Committee of 1978 recommended that a comprehensive legislation be drafted to remove the deficiency of not having a Central investigative agency with a self-sufficient statutory charter of duties and functions. Further, during the trial of Coalgate scam, the Supreme Court castigated UPA-II for having failed to ensure functional autonomy for the CBI—something that had previously been echoed by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007).</p> <p>The CBI, in its current form, is impeded by the requirement of needing state-wise consents to investigate any crime in states other than Delhi. The obvious reason for this scheme appears to lie in our Constitution, where “policing powers” have been reserved for the states. A notable exception to this rule is if the Supreme Court directly transfers an ongoing investigation to the CBI, such as what happened in the recent Sushant Singh Rajput case.</p> <p>India’s experiment with the National Investigation Agency could be encouraging for the CBI. Much like the CBI, the NIA is a Central investigative agency. But unlike the CBI, the NIA has nationwide jurisdiction to function as a counterterrorist task force. The Congress-led Chhattisgarh government moved the Supreme Court earlier this year to declare the NIA unconstitutional for violating India’s federal structure. The irony is that the Congress-led UPA enacted the NIA Act, in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.</p> <p>With the CBI spreading its tentacles around corrupt governments, the supposed need “to protect India’s federal structure” is being reinvigorated by the same governments. Such arguments have been consistently shot down by the courts when they have authorised central agencies to investigate “transnational” crimes having ramifications on India’s sovereignty, security and integrity. Could it be said that the burgeoning corrupt enterprise in states like Kerala does not have transnational repercussions? If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then the CBI should not be denied entry under the guise of protecting federalism.</p> Thu Nov 19 18:35:10 IST 2020 the-sellers-agenda <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Delay by e-commerce websites to comply with the government’s order to label the country of origin on all products will discourage the idea of self-reliant India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Chinese incursion in Ladakh, renowned engineer Sonam Wangchuk called for a national ban on made-in-China products. His appeal grew into a national sentiment, and news of boycott of Chinese products started pouring in from all parts of the country. A number of Chinese-owned mobile applications like TikTok and PubG were banned in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hundreds of thousands of products manufactured in China are sold in India, earning huge profits. The import of many products is dubious. Products sold through e-commerce retailers like Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal do not mention the country of origin. Omission of the truth is a lie. Country of origin refers to the place of manufacture, not the country from which it is shipped to India. For example, if a Chinese product reaches India through Nepal or Singapore, it should still mention China as the country of origin. This would let buyers make an informed decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The e-commerce companies were given time till July to comply with the order. Initially, the government was keen to make it mandatory from August 1, but online retailers pushed back, saying the deadline may not be feasible. They submitted that they needed eight to nine months to complete this task. The companies are also demanding a clarification on how to mark products whose parts are separately produced in one or multiple countries and are assembled in another. This looks like another delaying tactic, as directions are clear in the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011 or the Packaging Rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is felt that there is pressure from Chinese companies to delay the implementation of the order. Especially in view of the sales during the Hindu festive season. A Chinese social media giant investing $6.2 million in Flipkart right before the festive season has fanned the flames. Amazon also sources much of its products from China at highly competitive prices and its junk-influx of plastic products is pre-eminent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The revised deadline to comply with the order was September 30, but the e-tailers in turn passed the plate to individual sellers, complicating the matter even more. Marking some products with “origin not known” could have allowed consumers to identify Chinese products, but the intent seems to be lacking. The government has requested the court to issue a directive to e-commerce companies to provide an option to refine search results for “made in India” products, but that too is yet to see the light of day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marking country of origin is not a fresh idea that sprang up after the India-China stand-off. The Packaging Rules regulate pre-packed commodities in India and mandate labelling requirements prior to the sale of such commodities. On June 29, 2017, the government approved certain amendments to the Packaging Rules to be effective from October 1, 2018. The key provisions clearly included declaration of country of origin, along with MRP and best before date. E-commerce websites are under the purview of the Packaging Rules along with the (Indian) Information Technology Act, 2000. So, a demand of eight to nine months now holds no water.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The e-commerce world is large and uncontrollable, and the government is proactive to tighten the noose around them so that the consumers can make smart choices and are not lured into saving a few bucks at the cost of national security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Nov 06 16:26:23 IST 2020 striking-the-right-notes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, I came across an article targeting the Narendra Modi government. I am startled at the ignorance, and enraged to see the hard work of my government go unnoticed. Ignorance was bliss once, but publishing an article to misinform people falls under the category of illegal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The intentions of the Narendra Modi government, since 2014, have been crisp and focused, and, after six years of hard work, the results are for all to see. Enough has been said about the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, which was independent India’s most historic decision, or the ban on triple talaq that irked the alternate Muslim law-making institutions for empowering their women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, a number of micro-policies, which are not found in sensational news headlines, have touched every single life. You could not have imagined paying your vegetable vendor, or the next door grocer, through digital banking. Digital India initiatives like the BHIM app and Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana were created with an intention to link every Indian to the banking system.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government had the guts to replace the 64-year-old Medical Council of India with the National Medical Commission and bring transparency in the medical education field. This was an area crying for reform for years. The intention was to end corruption.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The launch of Swachh Bharat Mission changed the way Indians perceived their own image internationally. It had a huge impact on the psyche of the rural population that believed nothing could change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ayushman Bharat Scheme revolutionised medical treatment in India. It was launched, as recommended by the National Health Policy 2017, to achieve the vision of Universal Health Coverage. This initiative has been designed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and the underlying commitment is “leave no one behind”. It helped 10.74 crore families get treatment in government and private hospitals. It is a shame that it could not be implemented in Delhi because of non-cooperation of the state government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had already mentioned various policies launched for the benefit of farmers in my last column. The PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna, crop insurance scheme, farmer pension scheme, launching of e-NAM, the latest agro bills, integrated management of public distribution system under one nation one card and Svamitva Yojana to create a record of land ownership in rural areas showed the government’s intention towards farmers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government recruitment system has been simplified through the establishment of National Recruitment Agency. Rural employment opportunities are being provided through Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojan and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana-lll. The government created Jal Shakti ministry and launched Atal Bhujal Yojana for managing water with an intention to care for the environment. Hunar Haat, Honey Mission, and numerous other missions, under the newly formed skill development ministry, have become successful in providing employment opportunities at national as well as international markets for thousands of master craftsmen, skilled labourers and artisans. The allocation of a separate Harmonised System (HS) code for Khadi will help in creating its unique identity internationally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government has hit the right notes with public with all the work it has done. It has touched base with all relevant areas that are directly linked with citizens. The intentions of this government have always resided within the hearts of the citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Thu Oct 22 16:41:00 IST 2020 educate-the-farmers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The agitation against the new laws allowing farmers to market their produce outside the agriculture produce market committee (APMC) <i>mandis</i> is odd. The idea of unrestricted agricultural market access to corporates is the brainchild of the UPA government. The new laws are nothing but implementation of recommendations in the third report of the National Commission on Farmers, chaired by M.S. Swaminathan, in 2006. The commission found that there was a need for private <i>mandis</i>, and marketing linkages should be established through contract farming.</p> <p>The commission had recommended that the minimum support price (MSP) shall be at least 50 per cent higher than the average production cost.&nbsp;While finalising the National Policy for Farmers, the UPA did not accept this recommendation. However, the Modi government&nbsp;declared in the Union&nbsp; budget 2018-2019 that MSP shall be at least one and a half times over the cost of production, thereby increasing farmers’ income.&nbsp;Even a high-level committee of chief ministers—including chief ministers of non-BJP-ruled&nbsp;states of Madhya Pradesh and Punjab—had suggested&nbsp;limiting&nbsp;the powers of APMC, and using&nbsp;market reforms and the Contract Farming Act to ensure corporate sector participation to further facilitate export-oriented production. These were the basis for the farm reform bills to get passed in Parliament. A classic case of the Congress proposes, Modi disposes.</p> <p>The Modi government has always been a torchbearer of farmer-first approach. However, even with an increase in MSP (minimum of 50 per cent and maximum of 150 per cent)&nbsp;during Modi regime, smaller farmers in some&nbsp;states&nbsp;are unable to get MSP from the middlemen. And, they are&nbsp;forced to sell their produce at meagre&nbsp;prices because of hooliganism and local political influence.&nbsp;As per&nbsp;a&nbsp;NITI Aayog report, less than 30 per cent of the farmers had&nbsp;received MSP for their produce&nbsp;in 2017-2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>Neither the producer, nor the retailer, nor&nbsp;the customer reaps the benefits&nbsp;of MSP.&nbsp;Instead, the middlemen end up gaining a major chunk,&nbsp;which has a snowball effect forcing&nbsp;the farmers to take loans from the middlemen or from banks. Many farmers could not repay&nbsp;their loans, fell into debt trap and committed suicide.&nbsp;Harassment of farmers was part of the system.</p> <p>Contrary to&nbsp;the opposition’s claims, APMCs and MSP are&nbsp;still very much&nbsp;in place, and&nbsp;will&nbsp;continue to&nbsp;run in the new system. However, only the farmer can decide whether he wants to sell directly to the retailer or enter into a contract with a buyer.&nbsp;But, if we analyse the opposition’s moves in the past two years, we see&nbsp;a&nbsp;pattern of using social media and paid media to spread misinformation to malign the Union government.</p> <p>Only the middlemen of the APMC <i>mandis</i> and the local goons backed by political parties will gain from the current protests. Punjab and Haryana are the epicentres of the protests and it is not hard to understand why. As states are not permitted to levy market fee/cess outside APMC areas under the new laws, Punjab and Haryana could lose an estimated Rs3,500 crore and Rs1,600 crore, respectively, each year.</p> <p>Agricultural system in India is used to the APMC system, hence some resistance is expected. The only way to stop these protests is to educate the farmers. If the farmers understand the actual law, rather than believing rumours, their grievances will wither away. Government representatives should conduct more seminars to educate the farmers about positive effects of the new laws. The new system will create a prosperous and exploitation-free agricultural sector.</p> Fri Oct 09 18:22:32 IST 2020 more-hits-than-misses <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a saying: A thief believes everyone else is a thief. That is the case with the so-called liberals and anti-government elements in India right now. Our prime minister exudes power and enjoys popularity like no other, which has led the anti-government lobby to unite and criticise the government. Yes, the situation is not ideal when it comes to keeping the spread of the novel coronavirus in check. But then which country has been 100 per cent successful in containing it? None.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The success and failure of any government are measured by the response from its citizens and its status compared with other countries. India has performed better than even developed countries with the best of health care systems. Another aspect is the quasi-federal structure of India. India does as well as its states do collectively, as they are the implementing agencies of Central policies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has touched a recovery rate of 80 per cent, up from 60 per cent in early May, and accounts for nearly 19 per cent of the total global recoveries—the highest in the world. India’s Covid-19 fatality rate is only 1.6 per cent of the total cases, which is one of the lowest in the world. Barely 0.2 per cent of the total active cases need ICU care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our health department took on the humongous task of providing adequate health facilities to citizens. The pandemic, in a way, forced the government to prioritise health care infrastructure like never before. In early March, when India had recorded only a handful of cases, 52 labs were authorised to carry out Covid-19 tests. As on September 19, the number has gone up to 1,771, of which 1,152 are government-owned labs. The idea was to have a testing centre in each district to minimise Covid-related travel, and we have achieved that barring a few exceptions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 7, the Medical Council of India directed medical colleges to set up labs that were biosafety level (BSL) 2-compliant, and informed that a failure to do so would result in them being derecognised. By August, 293 of the 540 medical colleges had BSL-2 facility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is ample focus on the standard of testing, too. The Indian Council of Medical Research hopes to have a BSL-2 lab—one that can run the RT-PCR tests—in every district. Wherever there are public or private medical colleges, their labs are being upgraded to BSL-2. Through the PM-CARES fund, 02,000 crore was allocated to supply 50,000 ‘Made in India’ ventilators to government-run Covid-19 hospitals. The number of beds for Covid-19 patients increased 14 times since June. India could not achieve these in the last 75 years but did so in the past five months and is proud of the work done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government also passed the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, making any verbal or physical assault against doctors, nurses or other health care providers a punishable offence. The government’s zero-tolerance attitude towards such offenders initiated this legislation, which is being applauded by the health care community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been more hits than misses in the management of Covid-19. By increasing the number of beds, ventilators, testing centres and PPE kits, India not only was able to display a good record on the global scene, but also pushed its local industry to produce the relevant machinery. These developments will go a long way in the betterment of the health infrastructure in India. Focused and effective measures for early identification through high and aggressive testing, prompt surveillance and tracking, coupled with standardised high-quality clinical care, have resulted in this globally acclaimed achievement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Sep 25 17:22:23 IST 2020 tiger-tackling-dragon-in-style <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India has banned 118 more Chinese apps, dealing another blow to China’s earnings from the huge Indian market. These apps not only are profitable to the Chinese tech companies, but also pose serious issues of questionable collection of personal data of users.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In response, China said that India’s ‘discriminatory’ measures violate World Trade Organization’s rules, and it urged India to correct its “wrong practices”. This a sign that every single step taken by the government of India affects China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy to jeopardise the enemy, by cutting off its financial backing, has been successful and has already left Beijing sweating. The change in India’s FDI policy in May 2020, to specifically filter out Chinese investments through automatic route, kept a check on China’s domination in the Indian market. Based in a communist country, most Chinese companies have a political backing, and they have larger agendas than just profit-making. Capping FDI on Chinese companies saved the pandemic-battered Indian market from Chinese domination. The move was followed by banning 59 Chinese apps, and propagation of the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign by the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Approximately 14 per cent of India’s imports, amounting to billions of dollars, come from China. As per Acuite Ratings &amp; Research, India can substitute 25 per cent of these imports by locally made products in sectors such as chemicals, automotive components, bicycle parts, agro-based items, handicrafts, drug formulations, cosmetics, consumer electronics and leather-based goods. This, without any additional investment in infrastructure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi Jinping sees India as an enemy, and his key foreign policy objective is to reduce India’s role, growth and presence on the international platform. It is also visible that China does not care for its international image. After a successful informal meeting of the two leaders in Mamallapuram last year, the Galwan Valley incursion is nothing short of a betrayal. China wants to wage a war against India on one hand and continue trade on another, but it will have to decide on its choices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s ban on apps and restriction on Chinese investment have led to similar demands in many European countries. Germany has already suspended an automatic route for Chinese investment. Japan, Malaysia and Australia have plans to divert their trade relations from China. The UK passed a new citizenship law for residents of Hong Kong, thereby making it easier for them to get British citizenship. Australia is on its way to formulating a similar law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With strong support from the US and other global players, and strengthening of the MSMEs, toy, leather and automobile industries, India is capable of becoming self-reliant, and, more importantly, free from depending on China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the strategies were not working, the Chinese defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, would not have insisted on meeting his Indian counterpart thrice in the last 80 days. China’s attempt to change the status quo on the southern bank of Pangong Tso, even as military-level talks are under way, is a clear violation of agreements and will not be tolerated at any cost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maintaining a peaceful yet firm relation with a neighbour as aggressive as China is like walking a tightrope, yet the tiger is tackling the dragon remarkably well. How can we trust the Chinese who are ‘seeking peace’, when in reality they are working to get a piece of Nepal, Bhutan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Bhutan and further more!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Sep 11 18:15:42 IST 2020 improving-learning-competence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India is one of the few countries that have brought out policies in alignment with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015.</p> <p>The National Education Policy, 2020, (NEP) is yet another historic step towards realising the SDGs. The NEP has been carefully crafted to give our children the best of both worlds: the rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge, and the modern ideology of providing freedom to choose. The pursuit of knowledge (<i>jnan</i>), wisdom (<i>pragyaa</i>) and truth (<i>satya</i>) is overtly visible in the policy.</p> <p>The NEP lays emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacities—both the foundational capacities of literacy and numeracy and higher-order cognitive capacities, such as critical thinking and problem solving—but also social, ethical, and emotional capacities and dispositions. With the quickly changing employment landscape and global ecosystem, it is becoming increasingly critical that children not only learn, but more importantly learn how to learn.</p> <p>The education system of India needed overhauling for long. We were following a 10+2 scheme of education, which will now be replaced by a pedagogical 5+3+3+4 system. Currently, children in the age group of three to six are not covered in the 10+2 structure as class one begins at age six. In the new 5+3+3+4 structure, a strong base of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) from age three is also included, which is aimed at promoting overall learning, development and well-being.</p> <p>The policy also honours native Indian languages and promotes teaching in mother tongue/regional languages up to class five to ease society’s fixation with English as a medium of education, and often as a measure of competence.</p> <p>The best feature of the policy is abolition of the stream system which forces children to study a pre-fixed set of subjects at the plus two-level by choosing either science, commerce or humanities with marks earned through mug-and-puke methodology. The glamorisation of the sciences as a stream and the hierarchical nature of the streams belittled other sets of qualities. This policy is a step ahead to place all subjects in horizontal boxes, rather than vertical, where no subject is superior to another. The NEP will also give freedom to choose individual subjects, say physics with geography, or accountancy with chemistry, at the +4-level to create a unique skill set for each individual. This will not only ease the pressure on students to prove their worth by taking up science at plus two-level but also thrash the rampant system of demanding cash by schools to grant science stream to students with low scores in their high school examination.</p> <p>Minorities are also comparatively underrepresented in schools and higher education. The NEP acknowledges the importance of interventions to promote education of children belonging to all minority communities, and particularly those communities that are educationally underrepresented.</p> <p>The NEP has been launched with a goal to improve learning competence of individuals. The NEP envisions a significant increase in public investment in education by both the Central and state governments. The proposal that the Centre and the states should work together to increase the public investment in education sector to 6 per cent of GDP at the earliest is unique in its own right. This will prove to be extremely critical for achieving high quality and equitable public education system that is truly needed for India’s future economic, social, cultural, intellectual and technological progress and growth.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament </b>•&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> Thu Aug 27 17:03:23 IST 2020 beginning-of-a-harmonious-phase <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is neither anti-secular nor anti-dalit. In fact, August 5, 2020, will be marked with a golden stamp in Indian history as Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for Ram Mandir at the birth place of Lord Ram. The <i>bhoomipoojan</i> by Modi was the end of a civilisational exile, and the beginning of a new India, with its ethos entrenched in an ancient value system.</p> <p>Our model of governance is rooted in the<br> principles of Ram Rajya. August 5 was a historic day that lifted the spirits of the country from a pandemic-induced negativity.</p> <p>The construction of Ram Mandir cannot be branded as anti-secular because our Constitution does not discourage celebration of a religious activity. Rather, it strives to protect the religious sentiments of every individual. The Constitution does not promote agnosticism or atheism. It promises every individual the right to practise and preach his or her own religion within legal limits.</p> <p>We must note that the religious aspect of the Ayodhya dispute was not taken into consideration by the Supreme Court; instead, it treated the matter as a mere land dispute. Incidentally, the birth places of all religious figures in the world are well-protected—be it Bethlehem, Mecca in Saudi Arabia or Lumbini in Nepal. What could be a greater proof of India’s secularism than the fact that the birth place of the most revered Hindu god was treated as a mere land dispute? I cannot understand how celebrations of building a temple can be considered anti-secular or against the constitutional idea of a secular India.</p> <p>A staunch Hindu, I believe that construction of a mosque at the land allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board will not insult any Hindu in any manner. In another narrative, in a bid to undermine Hindu consolidation, some people have raised the issue of discrimination by upper caste Hindus against lower caste Hindus. They ignore the fact that the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra has a dalit, Kameshwar Chaupal, among its 15 members. He has been entrusted with the responsibility of supervising the construction of the temple. He is the same person who performed <i>shilanyas</i> for Ram Mandir in November 1989. And a dalit family was given the first <i>prasad</i> of the <i>bhoomipoojan</i> ceremony. It was sent to Mahaveer, a dalit, by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.</p> <p>I suggest that the so-called liberals put the bitter political mobilisations over religious issues behind, and look forward to inclusive governance. The construction of the temple is the logical result of the Supreme Court judgment; it should mark the end of an older, hostile phase of India and the beginning of a fresh, harmonious phase.</p> <p>India has a large population of Hindus who were historically wronged by invasions and destruction of their places of worship. So, there was a wave of happiness throughout the country on the auspicious groundbreaking ceremony.</p> <p>Lord Ram is the most venerable religious figure for Hindus, and his birth place has the greatest significance in our culture, texts and sentiments. There is no aspect of an Indian’s life where Ram does not inspire. His ideals of an inclusive, just and harmonious state are still instilled in every Indian and continue to influence us. It is unwise to malign the image of <i>maryada purushottam</i> Shri Ram with taunting words like anti-secular, unconstitutional and discrimination. We eagerly wait for the completion of the temple that will lead to a just and ideal Ram Rajya in our country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lekhi is member of Parliament • <a href=""></a></p> Thu Aug 13 14:12:07 IST 2020 crushed-from-within <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The disagreements between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot have added weight to a sinking ship: the Congress.</p> <p>Recent political developments in Rajasthan have been dramatic. The Congress government there, which was formed on a small majority, is struggling to survive.</p> <p>Gehlot’s removal of Pilot from the ministry has direct links with the party’s high command in Delhi, as the waning leadership is unable to keep its core players satisfied.</p> <p>A major reason for Pilot’s revolt is his desire to be declared the face of the party in the Rajasthan assembly elections of 2023. He also wants the high command to reward his supporters with either ministries or positions as head of corporations, besides the removal of Avinash Pandey as the general secretary and Congress in-charge in Rajasthan. Pandey’s loyalties are to Gehlot.</p> <p>A few months ago in Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath of the Congress resigned as chief minister and the BJP returned to power, thus reducing the Congress footprint in the country. The exit of this 15-month-old Congress government came a year after the party had lost its government in Karnataka, where it had played second fiddle to the Janata Dal (Secular) despite having more numbers in the assembly.</p> <p>In Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia was at loggerheads with Nath and Digvijaya Singh, another Congress veteran, ever since the government was formed there. Scindia ran out of patience with the Congress, as the party made Nath the chief minister despite Scindia leading from the front in the assembly elections. Scindia’s supporters wanted him to be the party president in the state after being denied the post of the chief minister.</p> <p>Scindia, who has always maintained his stand as a public servant, threatened to hit the streets if the state government failed to waive farm loans, as promised in the party manifesto. But, to his disappointment, nothing worked in his favour, which must have forced him to leave the party. Finally, when it came to the crunch, Nath tendered his resignation by avoiding the crucial floor test ordered by the Supreme Court.</p> <p>Uncertainty looms large over the government in Rajasthan, and the Congress is in power in only four other states—Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, where it is just a fringe player assisting bigger allies, and the Union territory of Puducherry.</p> <p>But it is a leadership crisis that is plaguing the Congress, and the party is experiencing a battle between the young and the old guard. The young leaders are feeling uneasy and are joining the BJP where they feel their efforts will be recognised under its strong leadership.</p> <p>The Congress leadership is steadily crumbling in the hands of its nepotistic leaders. It has not looked beyond the Nehru-Gandhi household in 40 years, except during 1991-98 when P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri took over the charge.</p> <p>In the event of the demise of a national party like the Congress, regional outfits that have grown at the cost of the Congress will emerge as the opposition for the BJP.</p> <p>The last seven Lok Sabha elections have seen the steady rise of the BJP, and consequent decline of the Congress. Yet, whatever little hope that is there for the Congress is being killed by its nepotistic leadership and the continuous failure of trust of its major players in the regional political arena. With internal clashes brewing in Chhattisgarh and Punjab as well, it will be an uphill task for the Congress to remain relevant in national reckoning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Thu Jul 30 18:25:47 IST 2020 transgenders-in-uniform <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a major push for gender reform, the Union home ministry is set to allow transgender persons to join paramilitary forces like the CRPF, the BSF, the CISF and the ITBP. We have already received approvals from the BSF, the CISF and the ITBP.</p> <p>The decision is in line with the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, notified by the Central government in December 2019, under which no establishment can discriminate against transgender persons in matters relating to employment, recruitment and promotion.</p> <p>The transgender community has for long been the most neglected part of society. So much so that they are denied the basic human right to exist within the respectable confines of society, thereby pushing them to maintain their own secretive subculture in an almost parasitic way. They often support themselves by begging, through sex trade and petty businesses. The only times they are allowed into the ‘respectable settings’ are during child birth and wedding functions, where they earn their livelihood, and two minutes of limelight and respect.</p> <p>Not all transgender persons are identified at birth; some realise their identity as they grow up and find themselves caught in a wrong body. They often face harassment for their choices of attire, demeanour and behaviour. With minimal support from families—who tend to disown them because of societal pressure—no medical facilities for sex-change surgeries and lack of means to earn a respectable income, they are forced to live under shackles of poverty, relying on pre-defined roles to earn a livelihood.</p> <p>According to a study published in <i>The Diploma</i>t, 51 per cent of transgender persons in India have faced some sort of physical abuse at the hands of either their own families or in the form of mob-lynching. The widely believed stories about their magical abilities to curse or bless, their make-up smeared faces and gaudy clothing mask the stories of sex trade, exploitation, cruel and dangerous castrations, and constant humiliation. They lead a life of broken reality where they crave for respect and inclusion in society. Eleanor Roosevelt and her team drafted the most visionary document ever that was adopted at the UN General Assembly in Paris in 1948—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNHR). It sensitised the world about conscience, kindness, and equality for all.</p> <p>Japan was the first country to recognise the third gender, when it passed an act in 2003. Even though it was a controversial law, as it mentioned gender identity could be a disorder, it still put the issues of transgender persons in the forefront. Later, the UK, Spain, Uruguay, Argentina and other countries followed suit and introduced their own versions of recognition of the third gender by law.</p> <p>In India, the Supreme Court gave a historic judgment in National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India case, declaring transgender persons to be the third gender that had the right to self identification, making them eligible for reservation in jobs and educational institutions, which later transcended to the passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in August 2019.</p> <p>It is pertinent to mention that transgender persons enjoyed a special status in ancient Hindu society. Lord Ram brought transgender persons from the forest into the city symbolising their respectful inclusion. Lord Krishna let Shikhandi, a male born in a female’s body, take part in the Kurukshetra war. With the decision to let transgender persons take up leadership roles in paramilitary forces, the government is returning to the community its right to command respect, transforming its broken dreams into reality.</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Thu Jul 16 17:31:00 IST 2020 funding-rajiv-gandhi-foundation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The shocking revelation that the Communist Party of China donated money to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), in 2006-2007, has put a giant question mark on the Congress-China alliance. This was at a time when a Chinese official had remarked that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory.</p> <p>Rahul Gandhi’s comments against the Narendra Modi government were already giving anti-national vibes when this news broke.</p> <p>Apparently, a Memorandum of Understanding&nbsp;was signed between Communist Party of China and the Congress in 2008 for exchange of high-level information, details of&nbsp;which are unknown. Natural questions arise as to why a country that had betrayed the Congress in the past was contributing to a foundation that belonged to a family. How did RGF utilise these funds? Also, what information was exchanged with China? I smell one more apex-level scam from the controversial Congress, but this time around it involves our arch-enemy China.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nehru-Gandhi-ruled Congress has demonstrated an unnerving callousness with regard to national security and interests.</p> <p>The shady transactions in RGF do not end here. The analysis of annual reports of RGF shows that several Central government ministries, including home affairs, health and family welfare, and environment and forests have donated to RGF. Public sector undertakings like SAIL, LIC, Oriental Bank of Commerce and ONGC, too, have contributed to RGF. All this was carried out when the Congress was in power at the Centre between 2006 and 2013. It is a matter of national interest&nbsp;as to why public funds were being diverted to a private organisation which can easily be branded as a personal joint account of the Gandhi family, as it is chaired by Sonia Gandhi, and&nbsp;has&nbsp;Rahul, Priyanka Gandhi&nbsp;Vadra,&nbsp;Manmohan&nbsp;Singh and P. Chidambaram as trustees.</p> <p>Guess what, the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, too, donated money&nbsp;to RGF, which makes no sense whatsoever. The PMNRF directly releases money for the welfare of the citizens. Then, why was it donating to RGF? If the intention of RGF was to work for literacy, science, women and children, as mentioned on its website, I am surprised why they could not improve facilities on the ground the regular way when the Congress was in power. The usage of a fund to evade taxes and secure black money is not a new concept, and RGF is its perfect example. Obfuscation is a hobby for the Congress.</p> <p>If we dig deeper, we find that Manmohan&nbsp;Singh, as the finance minister in 1992, tried to divert Rs 100 crore to RGF. Though the proposal was dismissed later, mala fide&nbsp;intentions of the Congress government can clearly be judged by this action. Even the first chief information commissioner was a former secretary of RGF who ruled that it does fall under the ambit of RTI.</p> <p>It does&nbsp;not end here. The&nbsp;Jawahar&nbsp;Bhawan&nbsp;was provided to RGF by the urban development ministry under the Congress-led government for free, even though the property was worth Rs100 crore in 1995.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress’s soft reaction against the Chinese government and&nbsp;Rahul’s secret meetings with Chinese officials during the&nbsp;India-Chinese stand-off&nbsp;at&nbsp;Doklam&nbsp;raise many uncomfortable questions for the opposition, and so does RGF’s transactional history. An official&nbsp;probe will yield the reality of RGF projects. But do we still need to decipher Congress’s Chinese connect?</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Thu Jul 02 19:35:25 IST 2020 support-from-agriculture <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Union government is eyeing the positive growth in the agricultural sector to revive the Covid-19-battered economy. The agricultural sector accounts for almost 16.5 per cent of our GDP. Farmers, as a community, have kept the agricultural engine running. They have quietly harvested wheat, the main rabi crop, in north and central India, and even managed to notch up early kharif planting, topping last year’s figures. This can also be owed to the fact that the government had exempted farmers from the lockdown.</p> <p>The year 2019-2020 saw India’s agricultural sector grow by 11.3 per cent. According to NITI Aayog, this is the first time since 1980-1981, when farm sector growth has exceeded that of non-farm by such a wide margin. That farming activity has been relatively unaffected is also captured by the fact that retail fertiliser sales rose 45 per cent year-on-year in April.</p> <p>In the 2020 Union budget, the Union finance minister had said that steps would be taken to replicate zero-budget farming—that promotes use of locally available cow dung, cow urine, pulse flour and jaggery instead of chemical fertilisers and pesticides—in all of India, taking cue from a few states that practice it. Union government has also introduced appropriate new laws or amended old ones to firmly integrate farm markets across the country.</p> <p>We are moving towards stepping up our game to increase the export of agricultural produce as well as aquaculture to a level where we compete with global players like the United States, the Netherlands and China. We have the resources, but the major issue with Indian agricultural market is that it is fragmented. Every state has its own laws when it comes to sales of produce. The Narendra Modi government is trying to facilitate better coordination between states. Our farmers and supply chains are reorganising themselves to address a global market under the aegis of the Agriculture Export Policy, 2018. Commodity-specific administration bodies can be set up; promotion of agriculture clusters as well as contract farming will boost exports. Demand for basic agricultural produce in domestic market—arising from Covid-19-induced closure of lakhs of eateries—has decreased, and will not rise to pre-Covid-19 levels for at least a year. The extra produce can be exported.</p> <p>A strong performance in agricultural exports would mean better price realisation for farmers, increased awareness regarding good agricultural practices and consequently greater trust on quality.</p> <p>The different government agencies need to work in a coordinated manner to improve the quality of the entire food supply chain. While reforms in Agriculture and Produce Market Committee and contract farming may address long-standing concerns about farmers getting fair prices, a systematic initiative to address the logistics issues will make our agricultural exports hassle-free and more competitive. Developing the right kind of sea protocol for perishables is crucial to increasing exports. Better coordination between exporters and government bodies is required. Agencies like the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority and the Marine Products Exports Development Authority, which pursue market access request for India’s agricultural and aquaculture products, should be better-equipped.</p> <p>We need an aggressive approach in promoting Indian produce like basmati rice, ethnic and organic foods, herbs, millets and bamboo products to grab a larger market share in countries where these products have large demand.</p> <p>India has primarily been identified as an agricultural country. It is no wonder that in a pandemic-hit period, our roots will support to push the economy forward.</p> Mon Jun 22 08:24:45 IST 2020 support-dont-mindlessly-criticise <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The economic stimulus package of Rs20 lakh crore, announced by the Narendra Modi government is one tight slap on the faces of all his critics. The package was followed up by a series of announcements intimating how and where the funds will be utilised for the four Ls—land, labour, law and liquidity. It is a comprehensive package that has touched upon major sectors of the Indian economy, along with encouragement to supporting sectors. It is a clearly defined leap towards economic reforms that will help India become self-reliant and resilient.</p> <p>The Covid-19 virus has changed the face of the world economy. Import and export sectors have experienced a cascade effect. Self-reliance or ‘Atmanirbharta’ is the only way to be now. The prime minister is hell-bent on realising a dream that any economy strives to achieve, a sense of self-sufficiency and least dependency on imports.</p> <p>When the first case of Covid-19 hit the country, not even a single PPE kit was being manufactured in the country. But, within a span of less than two months, an average of 1.5 lakh PPE kits was manufactured locally. This impossible task was being realised by the hard work of the Central health ministry, with support from local industry. The critics, backed by the opposition, are trying hard to paint a dreaded picture, concentrating on a few negative cases.</p> <p>Due to the monetary help provided by the government, crores of poor, directly or indirectly, are being free-fed on a daily basis since the beginning of the lockdown. Financial assistance of Rs34,800 crore, using digital payment infrastructure, was provided to some 39 crore beneficiaries. The 20 lakh crore package includes Rs1.7 lakh crore for providing free foodgrains to the poor and cash to poor women and the elderly.</p> <p>The medium, small and micro enterprises are the backbone of Indian economy as they not only constitute 24 per cent of the GDP from service activities, but also provide employment to approximately 120 million people. They promote inclusive growth by providing employment opportunities in rural areas, especially to the weaker sections of society. The finance minister has announced Rs3 lakh crore emergency working capital facilities for businesses, including 45 lakh MSMEs.</p> <p>In another step towards Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, no global tenders will be allowed in the government sector for up to Rs200 crore. The Centre also announced a scheme to provide homes to migrant labourers and urban poor at affordable rent. It has extended the interest subsidy scheme for middle-income families till March 2021 to boost housing demand. The Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme was also extended up to March 2021 and it will benefit approximately two lakh middle-income families. There was also the announcement of the one-nation-one-ration-card scheme to allow migrant workers to access public distribution system benefits from any fair price shop across the country. The schemes have proved that the government has its heart in the right place, caring for all with utmost sensibility and sensitivity.</p> <p>Apart from these, there is a series of other schemes and benefits that have been announced by the government, like a booster for animal husbandry and fisheries department for the holistic growth of the nation. The sad state of affairs is that the opposition chooses to stick to little loopholes it can find in the larger good of the country and spread make-believe stories against the Modi government in a constantly failing attempt to revive its sunken ship. It is high time the opposition realises that working with the Modi government to rebuild the nation in these testing times will be a smarter idea than to mindlessly criticise the policies and make oneself a laughing stock.</p> Thu Jun 04 18:04:36 IST 2020 short-term-service-long-term-gain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The proposal by the Union government to induct civilians into the Army for a three-year tenure is truly a game-changer and a far-sighted one. However, it requires detailed analysis and deliberation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The idea certainly aims at overcoming deficiencies at various ranks. Thus augmentation of depleted manpower would be possible. In addition, this would attract more youth to join the Army, so that it becomes a young, lean, mean and efficient fighting force. In the Kargil conflict, officers and jawans with less than three years of service showed exemplary maturity and commitment, not hesitating to even sacrifice themselves for the country. Also, reduction in defence pensions, which make up around 30 per cent of the defence budget, could be a factor behind the implementation of short-term induction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though some western countries have a concept of short-term induction, comparing India with them would be unfair because of the magnitude of challenges faced by India on multiple fronts—the most volatile being the dragon factor and the terrorist sanctuary of Pakistan. Nevertheless, countries like Israel have proved that three years of military service is an adequate period, both for individual grooming and for the force to genuinely benefit from the jawan’s or officer’s services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there are a few key factors to consider. The line of work for three-year commissions should initially be towards support and logistic services. It would be wise to not put them in the infantry, artillery or armoured units. The respect that an officer commands from his men would be greatly affected when it is known that he is going to leave them soon. In field areas, terrorist-infested areas and insurgency-prone areas, it takes a long time for a soldier to really get a feel of the terrain, understand the enemy, carry out analysis of threats, get used to daily life and the frequent gunshots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three years is too small a period for someone new to make a significant contribution to service and to keep the morale of his men high. Moreover, his objectives may be short-sighted and his focus may be more on self (to come out safe and sound in three years) rather than on the critical objective to be established in the line of duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, it would be ideal for the Army to take in three-year recruits, train them in support services, groom them well, identify the exceptional ones and offer them a three-year extension. They can then be routed to the fighting units, and the soldier who is now well-settled into the ethos of the Army, in addition to his basic field work experience, will be able to contribute to the Army in a more significant manner. The best among them may be offered an option of another three-year extension, after which the most suitable soldiers can be offered a permanent commission. This would ensure that soldiers first get a solid grounding in the Army for a couple of years and those who choose to stay on will remain in the Army purely owing to passion and professional excellence and hence will go beyond the call of duty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Provision may also be made to give short-term recruits quotas in educational institutions for postgraduate studies and also for employment opportunities in public sector undertakings. In addition, it would be wise to give them an opportunity to attend a short-term recruit job fair, represented by private companies, giving them suitable opportunities for employment.</p> <p>Young friends, spend at least three years in the Army and you will keep winning for the rest of your life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri May 22 17:06:12 IST 2020 more-than-just-buildings <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Supreme Court has refused the petition seeking a stay on construction of the Central Vista project that aims to revive the Central Secretariat offices and the Parliament. In his refusal of stay, Chief Justice S.A. Bobde clearly mentioned there was no urgency for the project to commence and nobody was going to do anything during the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite that, there was a strong reaction by the opposition, calling it a Rs20,000-crore project that overlooked the Covid-19 fiscal requirement. The source of this estimate remains unknown. There has been absolute transparency in the process and the official estimate is close to Rs7,600 crore. Considering that the Central government pays Rs1,000 crore annually as rent for its scattered offices, you can assess the project’s efficiency in the long run. Add to it the costs for daily travel allowance, number of vehicles to be bought and maintained, and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe the opposition party is aware that allocation and utilisation of funds takes place in a phased manner. The idea of linking the Central Vista project’s funds and Covid-19 is a propaganda to defame the prime minister and the Central government when the whole world is praising Indian authorities for tackling the pandemic efficiently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Central Vista project will prove to be an extension to the identity of the nation. The infrastructure of the Parliament building, North Block and South Block has great history. But the structures are old and do not cater to the needs of the functioning of modern India. They will be turned into a museum for the purpose of sentimental value, but a new structure will facilitate smoother movement of information across ministries. The Central government offices are scattered across 47 buildings in Delhi. For example, the finance ministry is in North Block, but the CBDT and CBIC—two essential tax bodies—have their headquarters around 10km away in South Delhi. Also, the Central civil services rules mention the stipulated carpet area of office space designated to ministers and subsequent officers, which is not being met for most of them. The Secretariat has grown considerably over the years and temporary setups have been installed to accommodate staff within the corridors. There are not even enough rooms to accommodate all the members of Parliament. The number of Lok Sabha constituencies is also expected to increase due to reorganisation, and their staff deserve at least an office within the Parliament. The century-old structure poses a safety and security concern for all Central government employees and the data that is stored within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The setting that we work in is more than just buildings. They are symbols of the autocratic rule by the tyrannical British government. The layout is the exact opposite of what a central law-making body of a democracy should look like. There are large rooms for senior officials, positions held by the British at the time, and barely any space for the subordinate staff that was mostly Indian. The whole system reeks of the Indian ‘chalta hai’ attitude, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is strictly against.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Independent India could not afford to rebuild such powerful structures during its initial years. However, this was long due. After close to 75 years of independence, and with the withering of the colonial hangover, the project has more than just physical benefits. It will give a sense of Indian-ness to its citizens, who will be well represented by a structure that we can proudly call our own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri May 08 19:15:41 IST 2020 cushioning-the-blow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 40-day lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 has led to a sudden increase in expenses and a drop in revenue for the state. Even though we cannot stress enough the necessity of this lockdown, it does come at the cost of economic difficulties. The virus has affected the entire spectrum of the economy. Manufacturing units are shut, the share market is plummeting, demand for non-essentials is close to zero and traders, especially small ones, are fighting for their existence.</p> <p>The Reserve Bank of India has come up with liquidity-boosting measures to cushion the blow on the economy. RBI governor Shaktikanta Das vowed to do “whatever it takes” to sail through this crisis. The central bank has cut the reverse repo rate under the liquidity assessment facility (LAF) by 25 basis points to 3.75 per cent. This is a further reduction from the 4 per cent reverse repo rate announced on March 27. This will discourage commercial banks from parking cash with the RBI and increase lending capacity, thus, increasing liquidity in the market. Changes in the repo rate, however, are not suggested since the inflation is anticipated to be lower in the following months.</p> <p>Another major announcement was that of conducting a second round of targeted long-term repo operations (TLTRO) for an initial amount of Rs50,000 crore. The move is expected to help refinance non-banking financial companies and micro finance institutions to maintain healthy cash flow to the small and medium enterprises. The earlier TLTRO scheme mostly catered to public sector units and large corporations. Funds provided by NBFCs to real estate companies will be given similar benefits as of the scheduled commercial banks. This means that the date of commercial commencement of operations of real estate projects can be deferred for one year for reasons outside their control.</p> <p>Also, Rs50,000 crore has been released to NABARD, SIDBI and NHB to enable them to meet sectoral needs. This again will help in refinancing the regional rural and co-operative banks. These banks cater directly to agricultural labourers and other daily wagers who are currently in dire need of financial assistance. The government is expected to continue this cash flow for the foreseeable future.</p> <p>The RBI has increased the limit for short-term credit under the Ways and Means Advances (WMA) for the April-September period. The WMA limit for the Central government has been raised to 02 lakh crore from an earlier revised Rs1.2 lakh crore. The limit of Rs2 lakh crore is the highest ever and a sharp jump compared with the Rs75,000 crore limit in the same period last year. WMAs are a temporary loan facility provided to the Central and state governments to enable them to meet temporary mismatches between revenue and expenditure. The Centre released Rs17,000 crore to procure PPE kits and other medical equipment. The Centre and states are in critical need of funds that can be accessed quickly, and WMAs will prove to be quite resourceful.</p> <p>The RBI has also put restrictions on dividend payouts for the fourth quarter of the 2019-20 financial year by scheduled commercial banks. This will again increase liquidity. Stressed asset resolution timeline has been extended by 90 days, which will provide time and breathing space to lenders and borrowers.</p> <p>The world economy is experiencing a contraction due to Covid-19. However, the International Monetary Fund has projected a growth of 1.9 per cent in India’s GDP, the highest among the G20 nations. With these well-planned measures by the RBI and a fiscal boost expected by the finance ministry, the Indian economy is in safe hands even in these testing times.</p> Thu Apr 23 18:05:06 IST 2020 be-responsible-and-patient <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Tablighi Jamaat congregation risked the lives of millions in the name of religion. It is nothing less than an act of treason. Despite the orders banning any gathering of more than 200 people at one place, more than 2,000 Muslim clerics from all over the world gathered at the Alami Markaz Banglewali Masjid in New Delhi. They further dispersed to all parts of the country to preach. They took with them the deadly coronavirus acquired from foreign delegates at the meeting. Over 1,023 confirmed cases have been linked to the Tablighi Jamaat as on April 5, 2020.</p> <p>The people involved in this whole scenario showed utter negligence towards their duty as citizens. The explanation offered by them is that there was a lack of proper guidelines from concerned authorities. As a matter of fact, by the time the clerics started to travel across the country, the World Health Organisation had already declared Covid-19 as a pandemic and our prime minister had already announced the observance of Janata Curfew on March 22.</p> <p>The Delhi government, too, ignored the grave situation. At the moment, rigorous contact tracing exercise should be conducted to stop the further virus-spread by this “super spreader” event. The Delhi government also failed to provide adequate arrangements for migrant labourers. Meanwhile, stone pelting and spit attacks on health care professionals and police were reported in Indore, Madhubani, and Bhilwara. These incidents display the irrational behaviour of some of our fellow citizens. Such incidents may demoralise the frontline soldiers of this war against the pandemic. The peculiar case of one Kanika Kapoor, a Bollywood singer, came to light amid the Covid-19 panic. Despite the self-quarantine advisory, she attended various parties, exposing the attendees to the risk of transmission.</p> <p>These incidents compel me to wonder where we are moving to as a community. Do we not take our fundamental duties seriously? I feel that we are taking our able leadership and efficient administrative system for granted. Roaming around streets and not following social-distancing advisory has become the new definition of “cool” for some people.</p> <p>If we look at the measures taken by the Union government, they have been drastic and effective. Swift decision to lockdown the country for 21 days was necessary and was well-timed. Section 144 was implemented. Food packets and free ration are being distributed to help the homeless. The PM-CARES fund was set up to raise money to manage the pandemic. Doctors have been provided with free insurance up to Rs50 lakh. The police machinery is tirelessly working to ensure that the public follows the guidelines to minimise spread of the virus. Railway coaches are being set up as isolation wards. In Delhi, various community kitchens were set up to provide food to the helpless migrants. Aarogya Setu mobile app has been launched to track the spread and create awareness about Covid-19.</p> <p>Independent India is facing such a situation for the first time. The last time we were forced into a situation like this was in 1918 when the Spanish Flu spread throughout the world. The British government, as per reports, did not take effective measures to control the epidemic in India, and the flu killed 18 million Indians. We are lucky that we have a government that is hell bent on saving its citizens. The mighty, developed countries have surrendered to this virus. We are still in a better state. Yet, some have failed our country by their irresponsible behaviour. It is every individual’s responsibility to follow social guidelines with utmost sincerity and patience to win this war.</p> Thu Apr 09 16:24:25 IST 2020 the-fight-is-on <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Covid-19 outbreak has brought the world to a standstill. Sweeping changes are necessary to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The interplay between the outbreak and the steps meant to vanquish it reveals a cruel paradox—the faster ordinary economic life shuts down, the faster the health crisis can be solved and faster people and businesses may gain the confidence to return to normalcy.</p> <p>Contact tracing is of utmost importance to fight the pandemic on the ground. The government has been working tirelessly to contain the coronavirus and have succeeded in delaying its community transmission. As I am writing this, we have only 415 positive cases and eight deaths. I feel we have done a commendable act by learning from the mistakes of Italy, Spain and the United States.</p> <p>In the United Kingdom, the idea of letting low-risk residents be infected by the virus as a way of generating immunity seems misplaced and disastrous, and it is a lesson to be learnt. The Janata Curfew implemented on March 22 was a success and I think even a lockdown of few hours went miles towards containing the coronavirus in our country. The country expressed gratitude to the health care workers and all those who are on the frontline in providing essential services in these dangerous times. In a move worthy of applause, the Gujarat government banned spitting in public to minimise the spread of the virus. This is the time to enforce no-spitting campaigns in public places.</p> <p>The dreaded third phase of the coronavirus spread is here, and the only effective ways to stop it are self-isolation, avoiding physical contact and maintaining good hand-hygiene. Section 144 has been imposed in various parts of the country. A complete lockdown is important because the wildfire-like situation leaves us with little or no time to make a daily wage labourers understand the importance of social distancing. Once it reaches the lower economic strata, we will start to face a horrifying situation.</p> <p>A major consequence of a lockdown is zero employment for daily wagers. State governments should take measures to distribute excess grains stocked in Food Corporation of India storage units through the public distribution system. They also need to create isolation wards and testing facilities in private hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>A quick revisit to the Indian format of living is also commendable which promotes vegetarianism, minimum contact with strangers, washing hands and feet before entering homes and the ayurvedic medicine system that stresses on strengthening immunity rather than the allopathic way of treating the symptoms.</p> <p>The prime minister’s decision to hold an emergency videoconference with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation leaders on combating Covid-19 was out-of-the-box thinking. The SAARC emergency fund has already been set up and will be operational by the time this piece goes into print. The fact that he made the videoconference available live indicates his desire to reach out to the public of SAARC countries and to support the strict actions being taken by respective governments. The cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016—after the Uri attack—had left the bonhomie of the south Asian cooperation faded, but the tragedy of Covid-19 may provide an opportunity for India to demonstrate its compassionate face to secure a region at peace with itself.</p> <p>Prime Minister Modi’s foreseeability can be assessed from the launching of Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014. It was allocated Rs12,644 crore and Rs12,300 crore in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 Union budgets respectively. The spread of the virus is a reminder that being environment friendly is not a short-term choice, it should be a way of life much like our ancient Indian culture.</p> Thu Mar 26 18:14:51 IST 2020 getting-closer-to-the-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The recently concluded visit of US President Donald Trump to India has reinforced the bet on a longer-term convergence with the US, elevating the relationship to a comprehensive global strategic partnership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s visit has brought about a major defence partner agreement and Indo-Pacific alliance agreement. The US has supplied India with the latest lethal weapons and advanced technologies. It has extended financial assistance, trade concessions and market access on priority. It has extended political and diplomatic support at international platforms like the United Nations, World Trade Organization, the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the Financial Action Task Force, the European Union, the World Bank and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has signed the deal to buy US military equipment worth three billion dollars. This will largely contain attacking helicopters. Another deal with ExxonMobil will see India import more liquified natural gas (LNG) from the US. This will majorly increase clean fuel usage in the country, along with reducing dependency on the Middle East for our fuel requirements. With this deal, India targets to achieve 15 per cent share of gas in the energy basket in 10 years, compared with the present 6.2 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During Trump’s visit, the significance of 5G wireless network and its requirement to be a way for freedom and progress was discussed. The US Federal Communications Commission Chairperson Ajit Pai, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Chairman R.S. Sharma and Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash conducted meetings to propel the matter. 5G is the next generation of wireless technology, and if this materialises between the two countries, it will boost data speeds and propel the Internet of Things, with the potential to bring radical changes in agriculture, manufacturing, health care and education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The history of the Indo-US relationship has been a bumpy ride. After India’s independence from the colonial rule, India launched the Non-Aligned Movement. Even though the Congress government at the Centre maintained a non-aligned stand, the tilt was more towards the erstwhile USSR. On the other hand, the US-Pakistan alliance was a major peeve. A dramatic turn occurred in the 1990s—the Cold War ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and US-Pakistan relations plummeted, because of the latter’s clandestine nuclear programme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final blow to the US-Pakistan relations came with the 9/11 attack in the US, and it gave way to positive ties between India and the US. India and the US inked the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, an initiative that changed a three-decade US moratorium on nuclear energy trade with India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Narendra Modi coming to power, the Indo-US relations are at an all-time high. Former US president Barack Obama invited Modi to the White House, and Obama accepted India’s invitation as chief guest for the 68th Republic Day celebration in 2015. A few months later, India and the US signed the documents to renew the ten-year Defence Framework Agreement. In 2018, India and the US inked the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which gave India access to advanced communication technology used in US defence equipment, and allowed real-time information sharing between the armies of the two countries. The deal was under talks for over a decade, and it finally came into being.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi and Trump enjoy massive popularity in their respective countries and have been able to share the same in respective foreign lands as well. The Howdy, Modi! event was a huge success in the US and Namaste Trump saw around a million people cheering for the global leader at Motera Stadium. Though the trade deficit agreement is under discussion, it is safe to say that we have finally found a close ally in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Mar 13 15:04:26 IST 2020