Meenakshi Lekhi en Sat Dec 21 17:15:53 IST 2019 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 demand-command <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Supreme Court judgment granting women officers of the Indian Army the right to permanent commission and commandant positions is historic. It is an encouraging step for serving women officers and a great motivation for young girls aspiring to join the Army. The officers had already suffered emotionally owing to stunted professional growth despite potential, lack of job security because of ambiguous status of the cadre and because they had to serve under officers who were at most six batches junior.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Contrary to the United Progressive Alliance government—under whose tenure the affidavit was filed—Prime Minister Narendra Modi envisions a bureaucracy unbiased of gender. The present judgment resonates with his August 15, 2018, announcement of granting women permanent commission. The prime minister’s word is the political will.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I took up this case in 2011 after an affidavit was filed by the then UPA government against the Delhi High Court verdict that had granted permanent commission to women officers. I did so because I strongly believe that bravery has nothing to do with gender, and a person’s placement in life should be decided on merit alone. If I, being a woman and a civilian, can be in charge of the election campaign in Srinagar, one of the most dangerous areas in the world, then why cannot an Army-trained woman take charge?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An order issued by the defence ministry, dated February 25, 2019, granted permanent commission to women officers in the Army prospectively from the date of the said order. This left the women officers who had already served the country for 25 years high and dry. The appellants had reservations that a meagre 332 (less than 4 per cent of total strength) women officers will eat up the vacancies at higher ranks. This was nothing but a predominant fear and prejudice in the minds of the male officers. The Army’s argument that women officers, considered as effective workforce till 14 years of service, are inefficient at commandant levels is the highest form of hypocrisy. The recent infamous remark by the solicitor general that male troops coming from rural areas will not adhere to women officers’ commands was irrational, to say the least.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Warfare styles are changing. Cyberspace is the new battlefield. Signal communications will have to work in the ever-increasing hostile electronic environment. Newer styles of destruction are invented every day and curbing these require more analytical skills than physical strength.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Women were allowed in the armed forces in 1992 through short selection commission, which is for a period of 10 years extendable up to 14. They are posted at various remote locations such as Kashmir, as UN peacekeeping forces in Libya and Congo and even as decoding teams on the border with Pakistan and in northeast India, with bare minimum facilities to survive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi led the first all-woman Indian crew of circumnavigators in 2018. Captain Tania Shergill led an all-men Army contingent in the 71st Republic Day parade. The argument that women have biological differences that make them less efficient for the forces did not hold any water either—senior positions do not require much muscle power when compared with junior positions, as the job profile tilts more towards supervision, strategy making and decision making.</p> <p>By passing this judgement, the Supreme Court has proved that the idea of including women in all forms of workspace can be laid into policies. The battle was against the misogynistic mindset of the bureaucracy, and it had been tackled well. But how this will affect the working atmosphere of the Army for its women is yet to be seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Feb 28 14:55:05 IST 2020 the-great-leap-forward <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, the core idea behind Budget 2020, is the way forward to construct a dynamic economy mobilised by inclusive growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The budget has kept its focus on boosting economic growth. Despite significant challenges to revenue mobilisation, the government has increased capital expenditure by 18 per cent in 2020-21.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Developing large solar power capacity alongside railway tracks and letting farmers build solar power generation capacity on unfarmable land is an excellent growth idea. The decision to shut down thermal plants will promote the renewable energy sector and strengthen India’s commitment to abide by international carbon footprint standards. Expanding the national natural gas pipeline network to 27,000km should enhance availability of natural gas across the country, while the proposed investment clearance cell should help in dealing with bottlenecks in the execution of projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A popular move in the budget was the decision to raise the deposit insurance limit to Rs5 lakh from Rs1 lakh. The decision to cut tax rates for the middle class, with the caveat that lower rates apply only to those who forgo other deductions, and the abolition of the dividend distribution tax at the corporate end were welcomed by the public. This means dividends will be taxed in the hands of the receiver, giving companies the ability to pay higher dividends. It makes manufacturing cheap, providing an incentive to global manufacturers to set up shop in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are about 4,83,000 direct tax cases pending at the income tax appellate tribunal. The announcement of a one-time amnesty for those who are fighting tax demands in various appellate tribunals will put an end to those exercises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agriculture has been given a 16-point programme of support. Farm sector budget has been raised by 28 per cent. Agricultural credit target has been raised to 115 lakh crore. Special rail and flight services for the transportation of farm produce will double farmers’ income. A ‘one product one district’ scheme for better marketing and export of horticulture crops has also been announced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government proposes to bring out a policy to enable the private sector to build data centre parks throughout the country. Quantum technology is opening up new frontiers in computing, communications and cybersecurity. An outlay of 18,000 crore for the National Mission on Quantum Technologies has been proposed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A surprise element has been the decision to list the Life Insurance Corporation through an initial public offering. This will facilitate the valuation of the corporation and may fetch the government around Rs80,000 crore, if 10 per cent stakes are released. Social media may frown, but listing on stock exchanges disciplines a company and provides access to financial markets and unlocks its value. It also gives an opportunity for retail investors to participate in the wealth so created.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The debt of the Central government has decreased by 3.5 per cent of the GDP. The World Bank’s ease of doing business index has seen India move up by 79 places. In the global innovation rankings, India has climbed up from 74th position to 52nd position. In the resolving insolvency rankings, India has reached the 52nd position, moving up by 56 places, and in the logistics performance rankings, it has improved by 10 points.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The budget capitalises on this performance by tailoring its initiatives to seek better living standards for all, yield more space to the private sector and draw investments and address climate change. Its success will be seen in the upcoming financial year with improving energy efficiency, growing ease of doing business and great advances in the condition of farmers and the general public.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Feb 14 11:34:25 IST 2020 startups-to-jumpstart-economy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A startup is a young company founded by one or more entrepreneurs in order to develop a unique product or service and bring it to market. By its nature, a startup tends to be a shoestring operation, with initial funding from the founders or their families. It is a venture in search of enough financial backing to get off the ground. Its first challenge is to prove the validity of the concept to potential lenders and investors. In order to do that, they have to make a strong argument, if not a prototype, that supports their claim that their idea is truly new or better than anything else in the market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The youth in India constitutes nearly 20 per cent of total population as per census 2011. The number is expected to rise to 30 per cent in the 2021 census. We need jobs, and startups create jobs. More than 1.87 lakh jobs have been reported by 16,105 startups recognised by the department for promotion of industry and internal trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Great ideas attract investments from Indian as well as foreign investors. This brings more money in the market, and thus helps the economy. With the abolition of angel tax and the Securities and Exchange Board of India having classified angel funds separately, it is now possible for individuals to invest in units of angel funds. This opens up a significant opportunity for platforms and fund managers who want to manage angel funds and make the process easy for both investors and startups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With new technology, startups tend to innovate better. Swiggy revolutionised our dining experience. Flipkart connected the urban and rural India with pan India delivery of goods. Ola and Uber changed the taxi system in India. AddressHealth is changing medical services. Paytm changed the billing and payment system. And, many more startups are coming up every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Governments are intrinsically created to cater to and work with established economy. Bodies like NASSCOM, FICCI and CII are making their voice heard in a structured manner. They understand each other’s style of working. The government realises what traditional economy requires and expects from it. In contrast, startups tend to disrupt traditional economy. New technologies are used to carve out new branches in old sectors and sometimes create whole new sectors. The internet has become the backbone of the app-based services throughout the country. Change is good, and often leads to development. But it comes with its own challenges—the difficulties of venturing into the unknown, both for the startups and the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thankfully enough, India recognised this sector at a nascent stage and the hardships faced by the young and bright minds of the country. Startup India was an initiative that was launched in 2016. According to a report in Inc42, a media platform that covers Indian startups, between 2016 and 2019, as many as 15,113 startups were recognised under the Startup India programme across 492 districts in 29 states and six Union territories. Of these, 13,176 startups have reportedly created 1,48,897 jobs with an average of 11 employees per startup. Fifty-five per cent of the recognised startups are from tier-1 cities, 27 per cent from tier-2 cities, and 18 per cent from tier-3 cities. Forty-five per cent of the recognised startups have at least one or more women directors. The government made 22 regulatory amendments and approved 1,275 patent rebates in the last three years. Twenty-four Indian states have introduced a startup policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the data above suggests, transparent, nimble and open handling of the “new sector economy”will help India achieve the $5 trillion economy faster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Jan 31 11:13:23 IST 2020 model-of-inclusion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Delhi is a small city with respect to area. However, since it is a national capital and offers opportunities, people come here for livelihood, education and medical treatment. The city also offers seasonal employment to semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Hence, the prospect of livelihood increased Delhi’s population and the settlement of people in slums and unauthorised colonies (UACs).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The recent National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Act, 2019, upholds the rights of people who have spent all their life in depravation. It will confer ownership rights on 40 lakh people. Inclusiveness is the essence of public policy, and inclusion of a disadvantaged section of the society in the city-building exercise by counting them among citizens is a start.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a policy brief document prepared by the Centre for Policy Research: “UACs are residential settlements built in contravention of zoning regulations, developed either in violation of Delhi’s master plans or on ‘illegally’ subdivided agricultural land.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They exist in Delhi because post partition, the northwestern part of India experienced the settling of people from Pakistan (now Indians), especially around Delhi. The refugees initially settled in camps with no resources, then eventually settled in these colonies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About 92 per cent of those who migrated to these colonies had moved in before 1990. The literacy levels are very disturbing, with only 45.9 per cent having completed higher secondary education. The monthly family income during the time of the study ranged from Rs2,000 to Rs9,000. Only 13.9 per cent could earn more than Rs8,000. What is heart wrenching is that children also have to earn to sustain the family: 69.3 per cent of the children are made to work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per a paper titled ‘Regularising Unauthorised Colonies in Delhi, 2014’ by the Centre for Policy Research: “The first few waves of regularisation happened in the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1993, when the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) was looking to regularise 1,071 colonies, an NGO called Common Cause Society approached the Delhi High Court to question the manner in which regularisation had been undertaken. In response, the court restrained the government from regularising any more UACs in Delhi.... In 2007, the government finally put guidelines before the court. [In 2008,] the government resumed its call for applications from UACs seeking regularisation. In response, 1,639 colonies filed applications, and in September, 2012, the GNCTD announced that it had regularised 895 UACs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anna Zimmer wrote in her paper ‘Enumerating the Semi-Visible: The Politics of Regularising Delhi’s Unauthorised Colonies’: “Where land is not classified as residential according to the master plan, land prices are much more accessible. This is the situation where UACs have developed. In the investigated case, prices were less than 10 per cent of those for plots in adjacent authorised colonies.... New owners are in fact only leasing their land, house or flat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since residents purchased their houses or lands from the original landowner, most new owners obtained only a power of attorney. To address this, the act has provisions to transfer full property rights. The government, by defining who is a resident, has strengthened the socio-legal and political position of the residents. According to Section 3(1) of the act, the Centre has recognised the property rights of the residents and has regularised such transactions as required to transfer such property rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the implementation of this act, hopefully the Delhi government’s baseless rant on the issue will be put to an end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Jan 17 12:25:38 IST 2020 opposition-duplicitous-stand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The maintenance and updating of the National Population Register, an initiative of the UPA government, conducted under the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955, and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, and passed in 2008-2009, has been approved by the Narendra Modi government. It is a mandatory prelude to the census data collection for 2021. The questions arising are illogical to say the least.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The history of the census of India can be traced back to 1865 when the British government first took up this difficult task of collecting data about the demographics of the citizens of British India. They faced various problems, from numberless housing in hamlets to threat from wild animals in tribal areas. The first census of India was released in the year 1871. However, the first census of independent India was issued in 1951. At the time, the national population was only 36 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The present census data collection will commence in April 2020. However, the NPR and the census are different. The NPR process collects demographic and biometric particulars of individuals. And the processes involves door-to-door enumeration. But, the NPR differs from the census in the sense that its objective is to have a comprehensive identity database of those residing in India. The census does not identify individuals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in the 2021 census, this distinction may no longer exist as the government is said to be planning to conduct it through a mobile phone application. The introduction of data collection through mobiles is a big win for the government’s Digital India initiative, as it curbs a humongous problem of generating and maintaining hard copies of data. Misinformation in hard copies of data prevailed before the digital system was set up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the census data is maintained centrally by the Registrar General of India. And, once the NPR data are recorded and ready, these details would be maintained in a population register at levels of village or ward, tehsil or taluk (sub-district), district and state. Together, they will constitute the National Population Register, with all data at the central level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aadhaar becomes an important tool in the NPR process as the data is to be collected through a mobile application. Those with Aadhaar need not give their biometric details during the NPR exercise. The NPR data was to be matched with Aadhaar data for de-duplication. But the final formula gave NPR an upper hand. It was agreed that in case of discrepancy between Aadhaar and NPR data, NPR would prevail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been rumours about NPR being a prelude to NRIC as its timing has clashed with the much talked about Citizenship Amendment Act. False news is being spread about the NRIC. Blatant lies are being spread by the ones earlier defending the same. NPR was also updated in 2015. I am shocked and dismayed by such acts of deception. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former home minister P. Chidambaram had sanctioned crores of rupees for this exercise during their regime. Their duplicitous stand regarding the NRC and the CAA shows their desperation to pull down the Modi government. It is important to ask the opposition party how following the general proceedings as per the law is against the secular fabric of the nation. The fear instilled in Muslims by the opposition party is worth condemning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During World War II, when persecuted Jews were offered citizenship by some countries, was a similar offer made to other religious communities or was it against Christians? Let the writ of logic and reason run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Jan 03 14:40:53 IST 2020 citizenship-amendment-act-is-constitutionally-unchallengeable <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ONE HISTORICAL</b> wrong has been rectified with the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019, which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have migrated to India after facing religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. Pakistan had failed to abide by the Delhi Pact of 1950 (known as the Nehru-Liaquat pact) and protect the minorities’ human rights and right to worship. After 70 years of inaction, India has finally corrected the wrong thanks to the resolve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the clarity of thought displayed by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was furore in Parliament led by the Congress, but the amendments made to the Citizenship Act, 1955 do not put any Indian community at a disadvantage. It has, however, been asked why only Muslims are excluded from CAB. The answer is a counter-question: how can one be religiously persecuted in a state that practises the same religion? These three countries are Islamic states, unlike India which is not theocratic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The argument that the Ahmadiyas in Pakistan deserved inclusion in the CAB is misplaced because attacks on them are sectarian in nature, not religious persecution. Besides, one must remember that Ahmadiya Muslims had voted en bloc to go with Pakistan, a nation created on the basis of religion. Many of them have migrated to the UK and are vocal against India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sectarianism had led to genocide in East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Considering the sectarianism and ethnic violence in Pakistan today, the country seems to be witnessing the same “chain of events” as of the 1970s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hindus in Pakistan began coming to India from 1947. One of them, the dalit leader Jogendra Nath Mandal, had migrated to Pakistan on the assumption of peaceful coexistence there, but his dreams soon shattered. He documented the persecution of Hindus in Pakistan while resigning as minister of law and labour from the Liaquat government and returned to India. Many such “red flags” were raised about the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan. Had India then adopted a proactive approach, the need of the new legislation would not have arisen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Empirical evidence of the “receding rate” of minorities in the three countries explains their concerns of minorities. Where did these people who formed 20 per cent of the population vanish? Shouldn’t the UN High Commissioner for Refugees feel compelled to look into such “industrial-scale” extinction?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is well justified to treat these three countries as a “bloc” and to assimilate religiously persecuted persons from there overstaying in India (with constitutional safeguards pertaining to northeastern states in place). Article 11 of our Constitution allows Parliament to exclusively deal with laws, rules and regulations with regard to Indian citizenship. Citizenship amendment addressing religious persecution specific to this bloc is an exercise entirely different from making amendments on the basis of religion under the Citizenship Act. When we talk about Articles 5 to 11, it is clear that citizenship is a legal right and not a fundamental right. It is also clear that it applies to foreigners and not Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By virtue of Article 11 Parliament alone has the authority to make and regulate laws pertaining to citizenship. This falls in the realm of policy and is constitutionally unchallengeable. People from any religion can apply for citizenship; there is only some laxity in time in the new legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are 46 Islamic theocratic states, but no country for “Indics”. Hence India becomes the default option for them. This is the “Civilisational Obligation” of “India, that is Bharat,” as mentioned in Article 1 of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sat Dec 21 17:14:01 IST 2019 finding-a-way-together-to-fight-the-plastic-menace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You wake up and brush your teeth with a plastic toothbrush and with toothpaste from a plastic tube. All your kitchen supplies—from tea and bread to ketchup, flour and noodles—come in plastic packaging. We all remember the viral video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nostril. Our country is full of such problems and more.</p> <p>In its ‘Fact Sheet on plastic waste in India’, The Energy and Resources Institute states that the seas off Mumbai, Kerala and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are among the worst polluted in the world. Toxic metals like copper, zinc, lead and cadmium contained in plastic debris have an adverse effect on the coastal ecosystem, it states. In 2014-2015, India’s per capita usage of plastic was 11kg. We use so much plastic that our cattle eat it and die of complications. I believe that this apathy to the suffering of the once-revered animals is compounded by the lack of awareness regarding proper disposal of plastic. In 2015, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar told the Rajya Sabha that the total plastic waste, collected and recycled, was estimated to be 9,205 tonne per day; 6,137 tonne remained uncollected. Single-use plastics that we use for an hour or two takes 1,000 years to decompose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quoting Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reports, TERI states that plastic contributes to 8 per cent of the total solid waste collected in the country. Households generate maximum plastic waste, of which water and soft drink bottles form the bulk. In India, around 43 per cent of manufactured plastics is used for packaging purpose and most are single use.</p> <p>In March 2018, the ministry of environment, forest and climate change notified the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018. The amended rules lay down that the phasing out of multilayered plastic is now applicable to those that are “non-recyclable, or non-energy recoverable, or with no alternate use”. The amended rules also prescribe an automated central registration system for producers or importers or brand owners, and that it should take into account ease of doing business for producers, recyclers and manufacturers. The centralised registration system will be evolved by CPCB. While a national registry has been prescribed for producers with presence in more than two states, a state-level registration has been prescribed for smaller producers or brand owners operating in one or two states. In addition, Rule 15 on “explicit pricing of carry bags” has been omitted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This Gandhi Jayanti, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call to end single-use plastic (SUP) in India by 2022. An advisory was issued to all government bodies to ensure that they follow the guidelines and eliminate SUPs in all spheres in a phased manner so that the multi-million rupee industry of plastic production and its related means of earnings are not impacted in a shocking and haphazard manner. The advisory had a very positive effect as all government offices stopped using SUPs like styrofoam and straws since the date of its issuance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we get to the grassroot level, a major chunk of SUPs is produced by corporate giants to package processed food like potato chips, chocolates and soft drinks. A system should be created so that the plastic produced is monetised for the consumers. For example, consumers should be able to give back plastic wrappers to the company that produced it at a minor cost so that it becomes the responsibility of the said company to recycle it. It is a great way to initiate sharing of responsibility by the whole community to make this world a better place to live for humans and other species.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Dec 06 14:20:00 IST 2019 the-happiness-goals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a list of 17 key socioeconomic goals adopted by United Nations member states in 2015 as part of a joint effort to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched in 2000 by 189 countries. The USP of SDGs is that they are integrated in nature, and all goals are interconnected and inter-consequential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The basic difference between MDGs and SDGs needs to be understood. MDGs focused on U5MR (under five years child mortality rate), HIV, widespread illiteracy and gender inequality. The aim was to bring down the statistics by at least half, and concentrate on extremely poor and underdeveloped pockets of the world. SDGs, on the other hand, focus on all 193 countries, and urges the world to bring extreme poverty, hunger, gender inequality, health concerns, and environmental concerns to an empirical zero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an interesting Indian tangent to the SDGs. The Atharva Veda has a hymn called Bhumi Sukta (63 verses) which says that earth is for all living beings and all have to work in harmony with nature to create ideal living conditions. It adds that the feeling of spirituality needs to be there. Until then, SDGs cannot be accomplished. Every small element contains infinite force within itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Integral humanism requires fulfilling one’s own responsibilities as a starting point to fulfil societal responsibilities.</p> <p>Where do we stand?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, like other nations, has introduced major interventions to address these issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The percentage of people living below poverty line has declined from 45.35 in 1993 to 37.2 per cent in 2004-05, to 29.8 per cent in 2009-10, to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12. The poverty gap ratio in rural and urban areas has declined from 6.08 per cent in 2004-05 to 2.70 per cent in 2011-12.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government of India has undertaken many reforms in the country against the backdrop of SDGs, launching ambitious schemes such as the National Food Security Act, 2017, the National Nutrition Strategy and the National Nutrition Mission, which have the aim of promoting convergent approaches that reflect the multidimensional nature of food and nutrition insecurity, and addressing inequalities related to gender, age, disability, income, caste and region. This goal is closely linked with zero poverty, as decrease in poverty leads to increase in purchasing power of food, leading to an improvement of India’s rank in the hunger index.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>SDG’s Goal 8 is to ensure decent work and economic growth for all. To achieve this, India has launched programmes like Make in India, Startup India, Skill India and Digital India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>​Our government is also committed to reducing the emission intensity of GDP by 33-35 per cent by 2030, and to boosting renewable energy capacity to 40 per cent by 2030. We want to ensure that 40 per cent of electricity requirement is met through non-fossil fuels. An ambitious target of generating 175GW of renewable energy by 2022 has also been set.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage, the prime minister launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on October 2, 2014, which has been a huge success throughout the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union government has crafted relevant policies, many of them innovative in nature, to ensure that all sectors work in an integrated manner to achieve the highly ambitious SDGs and to improve India’s international rankings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Nov 22 11:38:30 IST 2019 legalisation-of-abortion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After a long battle, Ireland finally legalised abortions. The verdict came after the infamous case of Savitha Halappanavar, who died after doctors refused to perform an abortion, even though she had complications. The doctors tried to prevent a miscarriage and were waiting for the natural outcome. So her condition worsened. The heartbeat of the foetus was strong. This prevented the doctors from performing an abortion.</p> <p>The decriminalisation of abortions is a historic win not only for women’s rights but also for human rights. Giving birth and taking care of a child is a huge responsibility for parents in general and mothers in particular. Thus, the interference of governments is more of a violation of privacy than regulation of society.</p> <p>India also has strict laws relating to abortions. Section 3(2)(b) restricts the length of pregnancy termination period to 20 weeks, and it requires two medical practitioners to confirm that continuance of pregnancy would subject the foetus, or the mother, to considerable risk. It is applicable in case of pregnancies exceeding 12 weeks, but not 20 weeks. Another section, 3(2)(a), requires that in case of pregnancies not exceeding 12 weeks, abortion can be performed only if a medical practitioner forms an opinion that continuance of pregnancy would endanger the mother or the foetus’s life.</p> <p>There was this incident of denial of termination of pregnancy by the Supreme Court, after a 19-year-old mentally challenged orphan girl in Chandigarh was raped by a security guard. The girl’s pregnancy was detected in May 2009. A four-doctor multi-disciplinary board, with one psychiatrist, recommended that although she is physically fit, the continuation of pregnancy can endanger her mental health. The High Court of Punjab and Haryana, on these recommendations, ordered medical termination of her pregnancy. The NGO appealed against this order, and the Supreme Court ordered the girl to continue with the pregnancy. Such laws lead to unsafe abortions by women, putting their lives in danger.</p> <p>According to the data provided by WHO, every year, between 4.7 to 13.2 per cent of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion, and around 25 million unsafe abortions were estimated to have taken place worldwide each year—almost all in developing countries.</p> <p>The government, on August 2, 2019, told the Delhi High Court in an affidavit that it was working on a draft legislation to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The bill had been sent for inter-ministerial consultation. The High Court was informed by the government that is it working on a draft legislation to amend the MTP Act, 1971. This came into being after activist Amit Sahnu filed a petition pressing the government to amend the existing laws. The demands include increasing the safe period for legal abortions from 20 weeks to 24-26 weeks in a scenario of risk to the wellbeing of the mother and the foetus.</p> <p>The right to abortion must be seen as an extension to the reproductive rights as well as human rights. In a suo motu PIL filed in Bombay High Court, the court used the pro-choice perspective and ruled that the life of an unborn foetus cannot be given more importance than the life of the woman. The ruling that the unborn foetus is not entitled to human rights establishes that women’s rights, which include reproductive rights, are the mainstream part of human rights.</p> Sat Nov 09 12:50:42 IST 2019 modi-tribute-to-the-mahatma <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The essence of Gandhian thought lies in the execution of the ideas propounded by Mahatma Gandhi. Cleanliness and sanitation are ideas that reflect the essential beauty of Gandhian values and, hence, the honest implementation of these are a test of one’s commitment to such values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In our scriptures, cleanliness is equated with godliness. Yamas (moral principles) and niyamas (rules) are the first two of the eight steps of Ashtanga yoga described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; shauch (cleanliness) is the first niyama for a yogi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Islam, too, much emphasis has been placed on cleanliness that is not only restricted to ritual ablutions, such as wudu and ghusi performed during prayers, but also on toilet etiquettes and environmental hygiene. In Christianity, the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Leviticus, serves many instructions on personal and collective hygiene.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hence, our religions collectively mandate cleanliness for the faithful and emphasises that an unclean man is not able to stand before God. In this background, the emphasis of Mahatma Gandhi on cleanliness and sanitation becomes important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On many occasions, Gandhi ji said that cleanliness and sanitation were more important in India than independence. Gandhi ji, when he was still a practicing lawyer in South Africa, had come to attend the annual Congress session for the first time in 1901 in Calcutta. There, he was appalled to see the sanitary condition in the camp where people openly defecated in the veranda and in open spaces outside their rooms. When he contacted the volunteers, they said it was the job of the Bhangis to clean up the area, not theirs. Gandhi ji, still in his western attire, arranged for brooms and started sweeping the filth leaving everyone gaping in awe—though no one came to join him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, after the death of Gandhi ji, that spirit of cleanliness which he tried to instil so laboriously in the Congress, had vanished from its grain and the successive governments that came to rule after independence only paid lip service to the cause of public sanitation. Thus, it was important to reconstruct the broken chain of Gandhian efforts to make cleanliness and sanitation a mass movement again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this context, the efforts of our prime minister, who began Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on October 2, 2014, with the idea to make cleanliness a mass movement, becomes important. The fact that within the five years of launch of the mission the government constructed 10 crore toilets covering around 60 crore of Indian population, along with increasing sanitation coverage to 98 per cent of the rural areas, is a living testimony to the fact that Prime Minister Modi meant it in words and action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By adopting and implementing Gandhian ideas, the prime minister does not intend to claim ownership of Mahatma’s legacy or to use it for promoting his narrow political interests, as the successive governments had been doing so far, rather with this, he intends to inculcate the true spirit of Gandhism into the collective psyche of the nation for the gradual betterment of society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sat Oct 12 11:21:06 IST 2019 ready-for-the-fight <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With the recent announcement of elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, the season of elections is once again back. These will be the first elections to be held after the Lok Sabha elections in April-May in which the BJP and its allies had won a resounding victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This victory was built on the twin strength of the Modi 1.0 government—a spectacular performance in governance that delivered results to the common man on the ground in a clean and transparent manner and an assertive leadership of the prime minister that saw the prestige of the office soaring to a new height. Now, with state elections round the corner, both the reputations remain intact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Haryana, it was in 2014 that the BJP came to power for the first time on its own, winning 47 out of 90 seats in a triangular contest involving the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal. The party gave the mantle to Manohar Lal Khattar, the first non-Jat leader from the state to become a chief minister in 18 years. He led Haryana from chaos to development, while balancing the Jat and non-Jat aspirations in the highly polarised state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, as he completes his first term, his challengers are virtually eliminated—while the Congress is shattered by intense factionalism, the INLD has been driven to virtual oblivion. The municipal elections of December 2018, the Jind Assembly bypoll in January and the Lok Sabha elections, where the party won all 10 seats in the state, are only a precursor of the final picture to emerge after the assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Maharashtra, the NDA had registered an impressive win in 2014, winning 185 seats out of 288. This gave the BJP the first ever opportunity to have a chief minister from the party. The leadership was given to Devendra Fadnavis, a man who had risen from the ranks. Like Khattar in Haryana, he led an impressive government in Maharashtra, taking the alliance partner Shiv Sena successfully on board. Here again, the Congress-NCP are in bad shape and hence they do not stand a chance in the battle. I have no doubt that the BJP-Sena alliance will win the elections with more than two-third majority in the assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Fadnavis and Khattar were dark horses in 2014. Yet, they managed to win the hearts of the masses. Moreover, Haryana and Maharashtra are two states dominated by farmers, where farm distresses have often been projected by the media to be a major factor in the polls. They have stood solidly with the BJP all through this. This only indicates that the people want nothing but performance, and where performance matters, no one can beat the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the state elections, the BJP has got many things to talk of apart from its spectacular record of governance. The growing stature of India under the effective leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one such aspect that will certainly find resonance with the electorate. The global acquiescence to the Indian position on Article 370 is not something accidental; rather long diplomatic efforts have preceded it silently. The unprecedented Howdy Modi event in Houston last week is just a reflection of those emerging equations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, in a nutshell, the BJP is all geared up to enter the electoral fray while the opposition, especially the Congress, is back to their normal ways of negativity. I wish they had learnt the lessons the people have successively given to them over the past years through electoral drubbings and moved on to positive ideas. But, as Groucho Marx said, politics is the art of looking for troubles where there are none; the Congress seems to have perfected this art.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Thu Sep 26 16:49:30 IST 2019 republicanism-in-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Democracy is much more a moral commitment to the established republican principles than a mere theory of political governance to be practised as per exigencies. In the modern political context of India, however, it is just the reverse, where most of the political parties, that claim to be democratic, are hardly so in practice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If one finds a situation of crisis in the political morality of our modern times, it has much to do with the nature and character of political parties in India, most of which are feudal in structure and dynastic in functioning. This not only throws the principles of democracy in the air but also runs against the grain of republicanism. The BJP, though, not only stands out with a shining exception to the crisis but also comes up as a democratic lodestar that has carried the ethos of democracy in the nation all through its long journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After independence, the Congress, because of being the direct inheritor of the euphoria and the goodwill generated during the independence movement and afterwards, remained the mainstream political thought and choice of the majority. Jawaharlal Nehru, with his undisputed stature in the Congress, had, inadvertently, left no scope for emergence of the second rung leadership in the party to such an extent that everyone asked—“After Nehru, who?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, soon the question began to settle down as Nehru had begun the consistent political grooming of his daughter, Indira Gandhi, by making the latter his political secretary, dropping sufficient hints for the future; later he appointed her as the head of the women’s wing of the Congress in 1953, and subsequently the national president of the party in 1959—an appointment that saw her presiding over an aggressive movement in Kerala, leading to the unfortunate dismissal of the first elected communist government in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lal Bahadur Shastri proved to be a brief hyphen between Nehru and Indira, as his sudden demise facilitated that providential inevitability—the ascendance of Indira to the chair of the prime minister, with the help of K. Kamaraj, who, for the second time, had sabotaged all chances of Morarji Desai, the most deserving veteran in the Congress, to become the prime minister. Thus began a long tradition of family rule that over the period gave the Congress its defining character. The rot in the structure is so much that after Rahul Gandhi abdicated from the position of the party president in August this year, the party could not find a substitute outside the family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even regional parties like the DMK, the TDP and the National Conference have their own dynastic structures where sycophancy, servility and submissiveness determine the fate of the cadre in the organisation, instead of ability and performance. None of these national or regional parties could put an objective structure in place where younger generations with talent or abilities could reach to the top solely on merit and substitute leaderships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is where the BJP stands out. It is the only party that carries the proud sentiment of republicanism in its DNA and that reflects in its hierarchical structure and functioning. The structure of the party keeps throwing new and promising persons from the cadre to the higher ranks where they are mentored for bigger roles and given the right atmosphere to realise their potential. This is the only party where a booth-level worker, distributing pamphlets and writing slogans on the walls for the party in his formative years, can expect to reach to the top and become its boss one day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder, despite the successive loss of stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar and Ananth Kumar in quick succession, the party has survived the jolt and moved on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Thu Sep 12 15:41:32 IST 2019 recession-unlikely-to-hit-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We learn from history that we do not learn from history. Post the 2008 recession, the global community had the opportunity to take structural measures in their respective economies, and to not repeat the mistakes of the past decades. But, the world forgot the lesson, and the global community today is once again facing the prospects of recession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US, buoyant over the economic recovery and growth in the first half of this decade, had taken up some reckless policy measures. President Donald Trump took to the populist route after he came to power, following a turbulent political campaign, and unleashed income tax cuts and concessions to the industries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It paid for sometime and industrial growth picked up, but eventually the benefits started bottoming out and a panicked Trump administration had to increase the interest rates. This, naturally, affected demand and growth. Further, Trump’s tariff wars with China led to the opposite of what he originally intended; it led to a slowdown in the industrial production of his own country as the cost of imports, especially steel, rose. The industrial production has now hit the negative side for the first time in the decade. This led to a slowdown in the economy and it would affect the prospects of Trump negatively in the next elections, which in turn would further make him press a series of more panic buttons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the problem is that the US is not alone; many global economies are facing the looming clouds of recession over their respective economies. Germany has already admitted the inevitable with finance minister Olaf Scholz pledging €50 billion to ward off recession. However, with China, to whom Germany sells most of its valued merchandise, already facing the heat of a downturn, such cash infusions may not be productive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, already reeling under the lowest industrial production in 30 years—at 4.8 per cent—and fighting off a severe domestic debt crisis, is, unlike in 2008, not in a position to play the sheet anchor role to stabilise the global economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This leads us to the obvious question. Does India, too, face the danger of recession? With rate of unemployment being high, job losses across many sectors happening fast and slowdown in the demand, as reflected in the layoffs in the automobile sector, many have started voicing the concern. They cite contraction in the quarterly year-on-year GDP growth rate, combined with deceleration in the domestic and foreign institutional investment rates, and sluggish consumer demand as obvious signs of recession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, my answer to the question is a big no; India is not likely to slip into recession because most of our macro-economic parameters are currently strong, especially the inflation that is quite under control, giving us enough leeway to play with monetary and fiscal measures. The government is already on warpath to boost the confidence in economy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Technically, recession is defined as slowdown in the GDP growth in three consecutive quarters. So, even if the April-June (Q1) figures show a negative trend and projection of Q2 happens to be slightly lower, there are strong indicators to support the view that the economy would improve successfully in the quarters ending Q3 and Q4, leading us again to a path of strong growth. Hence, caution would be a better approach to apply in the situation than panic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Aug 30 11:44:44 IST 2019 an-iron-laugh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hardly anyone, on the morning of August 5, would have imagined they were set to witness the undoing of Article 370, an emotive political issue that created historical divides across the subcontinent. But, as in life, politics too has its surprises. And, as long as you have a Narendra Modi and his no-nonsense adjutant, Amit Shah, at the helm, there will be surprises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid an unprecedented display of grit and will power, the Modi government undid a constitutional provision that was long preserved in the annals of post-independence India as an inviolable territory. Any talk of venturing into that territory invited threats of violent repercussions. However, the government has taken the bogey of the threat head-on and managed to diffuse it into thin air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Article 370 was a junky relic from the past, a result of the political ambitions of Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru’s perilous concessions to him, even at the cost of national interests. Over seven decades of political machinations by local politicians in Kashmir and the Congress at the Centre had turned the article—a purely temporary and transient arrangement—into a permanent feature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>History is witness to the day Article 370 was introduced in the drafts as Article 306A, on October 17, 1949, by the special representative of the state, Gopalaswami Ayyangar. It was vociferously opposed by the Constituent Assembly members. Nehru got the inkling, so he did not want to face them. From his foreign trip, he persuaded Sardar Patel, who, despite his strong opinions against it, obeyed his prime minister to get the article inserted into the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was no basis for conceding any special status to Kashmir as no other Indian state had been accorded such privilege. But, Sheikh Abdullah, who constantly conspired against Maharaja Hari Singh, the sovereign ruler of Kashmir, was instrumental in pushing for the article.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru’s affinity to Abdullah was so high and so inexplicable that, even during the attacks by Pakistani forces on Kashmir in October 1947, Nehru refused to talk to the maharaja, who had sent an urgent emissary to the interim PM for help. Instead, Nehru asked him to talk through Abdullah. Such blatant erosion of the maharaja’s authority by Nehru passed the political legitimacy to Abdullah through the back door. When Nehru realised his folly and fell out with him in 1953, much of the damage had been done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As has been well documented and well articulated by Home Minister Amit Shah, the special status to J&amp;K has favoured only a few political families, their cronies and the separatists, while the common man languished in poverty. Leaders with vested interests in Article 370 misguided the locals into believing that the article was the link to keep the state united with India, and that once it was gone, J&amp;K would separate from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a big a lie. The link of J&amp;K to India was the Instrument of Accession, and Article 370 was a constitutional arrangement to enlarge the sovereignty of India over the state through the will of Parliament. Parliament has now chosen to amend the will, in the same way the Congress has done 44 times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Article 370 was a fraud on the Constitution of India. It was not only a means to keep the state permanently alienated from India but also an abridgment of the sovereignty of the nation. That is why the BJP, and the Jana Sangh before it, talked of abrogating it. All it needed was the iron-willed leadership of a Modi and a Shah to do it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The full integration of the last state into the Union of India is now complete. Our ancestors who struggled hard for the removal of Article 370 must be having the last laugh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sat Aug 17 17:37:09 IST 2019 opposition-wants-to-play-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ongoing budget session of Parliament, that also conflates the customary monsoon session into it, shall be remembered not only for holding one of the highest number of sittings in the very first session of any Lok Sabha, but also for completing its legislative business in an unprecedented manner. By extending the session of Parliament by ten more days, the government has set an ambitious target to pass at least 35 bills before the House breaks on August 9.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lok Sabha has cleared some landmark bills that were long pending for action. Some of the prominent ones among those passed from the Lok Sabha are the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019; the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019; the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2019; the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019; the National Medical Commission Bill, 2019; the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2019, and, of course, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, popularly known as the triple talaq bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment Bill), this time, seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, to declare, inter alia, any individual as terrorist who is found to be involved in terrorist or disruptive activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is important to understand why it has been done. What is the purpose of adding the word ‘individual’ in the existing act? There is a larger purpose behind it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Designating a person terrorist will help the state freeze the funds and other financial assets or economic resources of such persons, groups, undertakings and entities, including funds derived from property owned or controlled directly or indirectly by them. The purpose of the asset freeze is to deny such designated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities the means to finance terrorism in the country for so long as they remain subject to the sanctions and are not de-listed under the established procedures. This measure will effectively cripple the designated terrorists and will force them to shut down their activities, institutions and terror camps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a very important change brought in by the government that will help it fight terrorism in the country in a very effective way. But, as usual, the opposition is uncomfortable with this measure without any convincing reason. The opposition wants to play a China; they want to put their own “technical hold” on designating such individuals as ‘terrorists’, who are found to be indulged in terrorist activities and who are the enemies of the state, much in the same way as China obstructed the UNSC for long from designating Masood Azhar as ‘terrorist’, exercising what it called, a “technical hold” on the proposal. I want them to remind that even China has backed off from its position and has agreed to designate terrorists as terrorists. So, what makes those opposition leaders still persist with their own “technical hold”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I want the opposition to understand the strong mandate of the people of 2019; people want strong actions against terrorists. People want terrorists to be given a taste of their own medicine. This government is committed to doing that. We want to strike fear in the hearts of the terrorists. Terrorists must be terrorised by the state. That is the only way to secure the citizens and to protect them from fear, anxiety, loss and insecurity. Hence, I would advise the opposition leaders to not stand in the way of that noble action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Aug 02 16:07:57 IST 2019 ndiac-billaiming-to-create-strong-arbitration-friendly-jurisdiction-within-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The past fortnight has been very important in Parliament as many important bills, including the Union budget 2019-20, were tabled in the Lok Sabha. However, out of all bills tabled for discussion, I would single out the The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill, 2019, for special mention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill, 2019, seeks to establish an autonomous and independent institution, called The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre (NDIAC) at New Delhi, for a better management of the arbitration process in India. It is again a landmark initiative of the Modi government that must be seen in its totality. The bill, in fact, is in continuation of a series of steps that has been taken by the Modi government to make India a global economic power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is important to understand the need of the bill and what it aims to achieve. The bill aims to institutionalise, regulate and streamline the corporate dispute resolution process which will have a cascading effect on the Indian economy and the global perception about “doing business” in India. For an international business entity, dispute resolution in its country of operation is as important as the setting up the business because it has a considerable impact on its overall operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arbitration is the settlement of a dispute arising out of a contract between two parties by a neutral third party, without resorting to formal litigations or court actions. The arbitrator, often an expert on the matter, hears both the parties, analyses the contract and makes a decision that is binding and enforceable through courts. The arbitration process is confidential, cheaper and speedier than the normal litigation process. Thus, arbitration offers an alternative dispute resolution system that is relatively less cumbersome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At present, India has an estimated 3.1 crore cases, both civil and criminal, pending in its courts. Hence, an arbitration case would invariably take a back seat in Indian courts. Moreover, the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996—the existing legislation to regulate arbitration process in India—was an inadequate legislation that did little to address the issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As per a NITI Aayog paper by Bibek Debroy and Suparna Jain, India takes as much as 1,420 days to resolve a dispute and the cost is 39.6 per cent of the overall claim value! Globally, India is ranked at 178 among 189 economies on the ease of enforcing contracts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This called for urgent reforms towards creating a strong, arbitration-friendly jurisdiction within the country to make out-of-court dispute resolutions easy. As a first step in this direction, the Union government brought the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015. The present legislation to set up the NDIAC at New Delhi is a further step that seeks not only to create the required institutional arrangement to improve the arbitration structure in India but also to make New Delhi an international hub for alternative dispute resolutions by attracting experts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NDIAC Bill fits into the Modi government’s ambitious goal of making India the third largest economy in the world. The bill, when turned into legislation, will make India an investor-friendly country with an institutionalised arbitration ecosystem that would be robust and cost-effective for all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sat Jul 20 14:58:56 IST 2019 water-conservation-need-of-the-hour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Someone said, “If you don’t want mental hydration then think about water conservation.” The need to conserve water was never more pronounced than it is now, when most of India is experiencing a shortfall in monsoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>June 2019 was the fifth driest month in the past hundred years, when the rainfall over the Indian subcontinent was recorded less than 112.1mm, as against the normal long term period average of 166.9mm. This has led to water shortage in large parts of the country, especially in central and southern India. Many important reservoirs across Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have dipped to a critically low level of 77 per cent, leading to water crisis in these regions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unless a water conservation plan is not started in a mission-mode across the nation, many important human settlements in the country may go completely dry, leading to a wide-scale demographic re-settlement and existential strife. That is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi began the Jalshakti Abhiyan with the hashtag “JanShakti4JalShakti”, to urge every citizen of India to join hands to save every drop of water. It was befitting that the prime minister addressed the urgency of water conservation through his first ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio broadcast after assuming office in his second term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Across regions, India will experience water shortage in view of the uncertainties of monsoon and extreme weather influenced by climate change. Further, increased pollution of water bodies through industrial discharge and flow of untreated urban sewage into rivers and lakes have further reduced the availability of water fit for human consumption. Hence, the prime minister has rightly urged people to make water conservation a people’s movement in the way they did with the Swachh Bharat. In this regard, his recent letter to all village heads, urging them to promote conservation of water in their respective areas, was well appreciated by village heads. Conservation, protection and augmentation of water resources have to be made a people’s movement where governments need to act as facilitators in the mass public exercise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is estimated that as much as 92 per cent of rainwater is let off to discharge in the sewage lines. Thus, a major portion of the rainwater is not being used to recharge the heavily depleted groundwater sources. The people in urban centres, on the other hand, are used to a lifestyle where water keeps flowing 24 hours in their bathrooms, swimming pools, gardens, jacuzzis and fountains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It calls for an integrated approach to conserve water by not only promoting water conservation technologies but also initiating a mass sensitisation drive to make people aware of the gravity of the situation and to stop the sinful misuse of water.</p> <p>How rainfall is not a factor behind the availability of water in a given area if proper conservation methods are adopted by society is evident from the fact that Jaisalmer, one of the driest regions of India with scant rainfall, is self-sufficient in water, whereas Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya, which receives heavy rainfall, isn’t.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It calls for an urgent and immediate need of water conservation by society, both in the rural as well as in the urban areas, by using both the traditional and the modern water conservation techniques.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jul 06 11:47:46 IST 2019 time-for-mamata-to-shun-sectarian-ideology-and-politics-of-appeasement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After the high of a long and draining election campaign, followed by celebrations of an incredible electoral victory, it was time to get back to the earthly ways of life. It was time to get back to work, to routine, to normalcy and to the people. To put it simply, it was time to get back into the grooves and to begin performing once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been among those fortunate who got re-elected to the biggest panchayat of the nation. However, each one of us in politics knows well that winning an election is not easy. It requires winning the trust of the people you work for. Such trust eventually comes from performance, at the individual and collective levels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in order to perform in a meaningful way, you need to go back to the people, and understand their needs and find solutions. You need to engage with them and make them active participants in the process of development aimed at their own betterment. That is the basics of democracy and electoral politics. So, heading back again to the people in my constituency and to work for their various needs in this new innings gives me a sense of pleasure and fulfilment. It gives me a chance to renew the trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The best thing to emerge from the last election is that electoral victories in India can no longer happen on emotive or sectarian calls; people look to performance. Now, the people’s representatives will have to perform and prove themselves to get re-elected. This is the best thing to happen to democracy and this, certainly, is the biggest achievement of the Modi government. However, it seems the message is still not getting across to some politicians in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata Banerjee is one such politician who seems to have completely missed the writing on the wall. She still believes in the old school of politics where sectarian ideologies, backed by organised violence, are the formulae to win elections. She has been doing that for years and, in the absence of a strong and effective opposition in West Bengal, has been winning successive elections. However, her brand of politics has developed visible cracks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata’s sectarian ideology and her politics of appeasement have left the civic administration of Bengal plagued with anarchy and lawlessness. The common man is suffering because of the organised loot and terror unleashed by the local syndicates—a euphemism for an organised system of extracting money from the local people by the Trinamool Congress goons, in exchange for facilitating various services to them. However, times had changed and Mamata could hardly realise this until the BJP had pulled the rug from under her feet by winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In politics, you cease to grow if you fail to learn from your mistakes. A seasoned leader keeps his ear to the ground and adapts to the changing trends. But, Mamata seems to be stuck in the old rut. The various post-election incidents in Bengal, where violence and terror is being resorted to as a means to settle political scores, is reflective of her old mindset. The only means to survive and play a long innings in politics is—Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. However, Mamata seems to have overlooked this important lesson. She must punish the goons, no matter what religious belief they may hold, and provide safety and security to everyone in the state without discrimination. Terror must be substituted with performance. Else, the people of Bengal would give Mamata a befitting reply in the days to come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sat Jun 22 11:15:32 IST 2019 big-message-from-a-big-win <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 2019 elections, defying all speculations, resulted in a massive victory for the BJP-led NDA in the Lok Sabha. The landslide victory happened due to conversion of a humongous, yet silent, pro-incumbency undercurrent running across the nation—a gigantic Modi wave that few could foresee or imagine. This grand victory of the BJP and the NDA has many messages hidden that need to be understood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, the victory is historic as it is for the first time in the history of Indian democracy that people have given a decisive mandate in succession to any non-Congress political party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, the massive victory to the BJP and the NDA has been the result of the people’s acceptance of the politics of development, as opposed to the politics of negation. The masses showed their preference to those who worked for them and brought transformative changes in their lives through genuine and honest efforts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, the electorate gave a decisive blow to the politics of lie and deceit, rejecting all false narratives built around lies, negativity and falsification of reality. Had demonetisation or GST been so bad as they were made out to be by certain political sections, the BJP would have been routed in the elections. Thus, there is a distinct message for many political parties and formations in the results—spreading lies and falsifying good work may cost you your political space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fourth, people have learnt to be wise and discerning while casting their vote. The citizens have learnt to vote purely on the practical considerations of life. Odisha sums up the situation well. Here, the Odiya voters voted overwhelmingly for a BJD government in the state, but they had no qualms in pressing the lotus button on the next EVM meant for Lok Sabha, as they wanted to have a strong government in Delhi. The same thing happened in Chhattisgarh. Such perspicacity in the vision of the electorate makes democracy stronger and mature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fifth, good governance is a great leveller. It has the capacity to bridge the deepest divide as seen in the election results when the famed division of the Indian society, along its various competing fault-lines, melted away. The mythical caste divisions of society, in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where grand alliances were made on the sole arithmetic of castes and religions, have been decimated. The BJP won 46 of 84 Scheduled Caste seats and 31 out of 47 Scheduled Tribe seats. The appeal of good governance has bridged all those divisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sixth message that the result throws is that of continuity. The masses have overwhelmingly accepted the policies and programmes being followed by the government and would obviously like most of them to be continued and taken forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The seventh important message is the importance of organisational strength and network. The resounding victory to the BJP is as much a result of party’s organisational strength as anything else. A well-oiled organisational machinery, operating under the enterprising leadership of Amit Shah, proved too much of a fight for others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the results showed that nationalism is the dominant ideology of the young and emergent India and patriotism the defining character. The charm and appeal of a strong leadership, as displayed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been the biggest factor that weighed on the mind of young electorate, who voted for him in overwhelming numbers. Nationalism is, and will remain, a factor in electoral politics for a large section of electorate from this point onwards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Fri Jun 07 16:55:15 IST 2019 lok-sabha-poll-results-lessons-for-the-opposition <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India, being the largest democracy in the world, has always been observed keenly by the global community—on how such a complex process of electioneering is conducted in the country with such ease and success. To conduct such a massive official exercise in a geographical region that has glacial and desert climates within a range of 1,500km, and that sees a diverse population of 1.3 billion, is not a mean task.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The general elections of 2019 had been unique in a number of ways. First, the sheer size of the electorate—90 crore voters, which is equal to the combined population of the European Union, the USA and the Philippines. With overall voting turnout at 67 per cent, it means that more than 60 crore people voted in the 17th Lok Sabha elections—which is equal to a combined population of the European Union and Japan! The number of first time voters alone was 8.4 crore, which is more than the total population of Iran, whereas the number of voters in the 18 to 19 age group was 1.5 million, equal to the population of Zimbabwe!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, this election has been the costliest election on earth till date with the estimated expenditure to the government exchequer being Rs 50,000 crore ($7 billion)—25 per cent more than the 2014 elections. In the 2016 US elections, the cost of the combined presidential and congressional elections was $6.5 billion. However, the figure mentioned is only the government expenditure; it does not include the expenditure incurred by candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The official records for money seizures during the election period has been a mind-boggling Rs 3,500 crore, out of which the cash component alone was to the tune of Rs 840 crore. This shows the volume of money flow that this election witnessed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, this election has seen a massive expenditure on social media which, according to some studies, has been around Rs 5,000 crore—a grand leap from 2014 when such expenditure was only Rs 250 crore. Most of such expenditures happened on account of promotions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp by the candidates. Some experts believe that the 2019 election was the first election that was fought largely on WhatsApp, as candidates and their supporters shared videos and audios to the chosen target groups with instant success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fourth, this election was probably the most bitterly fought election in the history of India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the one side, had been pitted against a grand coalition of opposition parties on the other side. Modi has been the object of mocking, slur and personal attack long before the general elections. However, such slur and bitterness against Modi had increased multifold during the election campaigns that saw him being branded as ‘Hitler’ and ‘chor’. Even his benign spiritual trip to Kedarnath, where, after a long political campaigning, the PM chose to spend some quiet moments in a holy cave, went on to become an object of vilification. However, such vilification has not gone down well with the electorate which has answered strongly with their ballot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The best way to deny the obvious and to belittle achievement, is to negate it. The opposition, led by the Congress, did its best to negate the development works of Modi by weaving a matrix of lies around him. However, the answer given by masses through the ballot must open their eyes. The voters’ mandate has nailed their lies. The lesson for the opposition is that, in a democracy, lies can never replace performance as the dominant political philosophy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lekhi is member of Parliament •</b></p> Sat May 25 16:00:15 IST 2019