Students’ suicide on rise

Students committing suicide are rising year after year with one in every four taking their own life due to failure in examination.

Latest government statistics showed that 26,416 students committed suicide in three years between 2014 and 2016 of this, 28.24% or 7,462 ended their own life due to not living up to their expectation on exam results. Of the total suicides in the country, students account for 6-7% while 40-45% are girl students.

In 2016, for which the latest figures are available, 9,474 students took their own life, up from 8,934 in 2015 and 8,068 in 2014. Of this, 2,403 students in 2014, 2,646 in 2015 and 2,413 in 2016 committed suicide due to failure in exams.

2016

2015

2014

Maharashtra

1350

1,230

1,191

West Bengal

1147

676

709

Tamil Nadu

981

955

853

Chhattisgarh

633

730

416

Gujarat

556

469

367

Karnataka

540

597

570

All India

9,474

8,934

8,068

Maharashtra has topped the list in 2016 as well as in previous years in student suicides. In 2016, it had 1,350 student suicides followed by West Bengal where there were 1,147 such incidents.

Tamil Nadu was at third position with 981 while Chhattisgarh reported 633 and Gujarat 556. Karnataka was at sixth in 2016 with 540 student suicides, down from 597 in 2015 and 570 in 2014.

Referring to figures of student suicides, the Ministry of Home Affairs recently told the Parliament that the government of India attaches highest importance in the matter and has approved implementation of the District Mental Health Programme in some of the districts with added components of suicide prevention services, work place stress management, life skills training and counselling in schools and colleges.

Experts said that students are increasingly in pressure and many of them could not take it. There is no institutional help available for them.

The numbers could be more alarming if one takes into account the suicide attempts by students for various reasons. Many of them go unreported, they said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 9, 2018)

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Undertrial population in jails on rise

Overcrowding will continue to haunt Indian jails with the latest government statistics showing a rise in population of undertrial prisoners.

The number of undertrial prisoners have risen to 2.93 lakh in 2016, according to latest Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data revealed in Parliament recently, from 2.82 lakh in 2015. If one takes 2000 as a benchmark, the increase in 16 years is close to one lakh.

The rise in 2016 comes after a marginal dip recorded in the previous year, the first in the past several years, compared to 2014.

The main culprits for the rise are Uttar Pradesh and four other states — Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal — that records for 53% of the undertrials across India. UP, the biggest state in the country, has topped the list for another year with 68,432 undertrials, up from 62,669, while Karnataka has 10,504 such prisoners, a rise from 9,314 in 2015.

State

2016

2015

Uttar Pradesh

68,432

62,669

Bihar

27,753

23,424

Maharashtra

22,693

21,667

Madhya Pradesh

20,618

21,300

West Bengal

15,868

15,342

Karnataka

10,504

9,314

All India

2,93,058

2,82,076

2014

2,82,879

2013

2,78,503

2012

2,54,857

2011

2,41,200

2010

2,40,098

2000

1,93,627

More details are not in public domain as the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is yet to publish the Prison Statistics India report for 2016, which was expected in the second half of last year.

Experts attribute this to unnecessary arrests by police, ignorance of law among undertrials and their inability to get a lawyer due to their poor economic conditions.

Another problem highlighted is the shortage of police escorts leading to a large number of undertrials not being produced in court for their hearings, which prolong their detentions. As per the 2015 report by NCRB, there were 3,599 undertrials who were in jail for more than five years.

Many of them are also unaware of the provision of Section 436A of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which given an undertrial the right to seek bail on serving more than one half of the maximum possible sentence on personal bond.

A study ‘Justice Under Trial: A Study of Pre-Trial Detention in India’ by Amnesty International India last year had said the country’s undertrial population is estimated to be the 18th highest in the world and the third highest in Asia. While more than two-third of prisoners in India are undertrials, it has said, the US that is estimated to have the highest incarceration rate in the world has only 20% of prisoners are undertrials.

Govt should bear full cost of motorised tricycles for disabled

Government’s reliance on MP/MLA funds to bridge the gap between actual cost and subsidy to help disabled people buy motorised tricycles have come in for criticism from a Parliamentary panel.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment believes that this formula is “not a viable option” as it depends a lot on the lawmakers’ “discretion and priorities”. The beneficiaries also “may not have access” to local MPs or MLAs to various reasons.

Goverment-owned ALIMCO (Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India) manufactures motorised tricycles at a cost of Rs 37,000 while the government provides a subsidy of Rs 25,000 once in ten year for disabled people from deprived sections.

While noting that the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has no proposal to meet the entire cost “due to constraint of funds”, the panel acknowledged that beneficiaries covered under the scheme is not in a position to meet the cost difference and is deprived of the benefit.

Even if somehow they could approach MPs/MLAs, there is no guarantee that they would get the requited amount from them. Also, funding from this source depends lot on the discretion and priorities of the concerned MP/MLA,” it said as it asked the Department to approach Ministry of Finance for more money to meet the extra financial burden.

The multi-party panel headed by BJP MP Ramesh Bais was also critical about the subsidy being given only once in ten years for buying motorised tricycles citing the poor condition of roads in the country.

Considering the “condition of roads throughout the country is not so good, particularly in rural areas”, it recommended that disabled should be given subsidy once in five years rather than the existing ten years. The poor condition of roads not only results in shorter span of motorised vehicles but also gradually increases the maintenance cost within 5-6 years, it said.

“As most of the PwDs (Persons with Disabilities) covered under the scheme come from deprived and poor section of the society, it is very difficult, if not possible, for them to meet the increased maintenance cost of motorised tricycles,” the committee said the existing norm of providing subsidy in ten years is “unjustified and needs to be reviewed”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jan 8, 2018)

Counterfeiters fast to copy Rs 2,000 notes

The Rs 2,000 note is in existence for just about a year but counterfeiters have not lost time in faking it — police across the country have seized around 38,000 fake notes in the past one year with Gujarat topping the list.

The speed with which the fake currency racket started printing counterfeit Rs 2,000 notes could be gauged from the fact that authorities seized 3,199 such notes within 50 days of its existence — between 9 November 2016 when it was introduced and 31 December 2016.

Official statistics show that 34,728 fake notes with a face value of Rs 2,000 each was seized in the first 11 months of 2017 with Gujarat topping the list in both years.

While 6,397 notes were seized in Gujarat since demonetisation was announced on 8 November 2016, the north-eastern state of Mizoram had seizure of 5,827 notes followed by Uttar Pradesh (5,243), West Bengal (2,876) and Kerala (2,648).

Karnataka also finds a spot in the top ten list with a ranking of nine. The seizure was 1,831 such notes, including 255 in the first 50 days of the introduction of the notes.

Officials said the seized fake notes of Rs 2,000 and other denominations are of “low quality, such as scanned or photocopies of genuine notes”.

Rs 2,000 fake note seizure between Nov 9, 2016 and Nov 30, 2017

STATES

No of Rs 2,000 fake notes

Face Value

Gujarat

6,397

Rs 1.27 crore

Mizoram

5,827

Rs 1.16 crore

Uttar Pradesh

5,243

Rs 1.04 crore

West Bengal

2,876

Rs 57.52 lakh

Kerala

2,648

Rs 52.96 lakh

Telangana

2,313

Rs 42.26 lakh

Punjab

2,086

Rs 41.72 lakh

Delhi

1,918

Rs 38.36 lakh

Karnataka

1,831

Rs 36.62 lakh

Tamil Nadu

1,826

Rs 36.52 lakh

All India

37,927

Rs 7.58 crore

Another interesting point is the continuing seizure of Rs 1,000 notes, which were rendered illegal after demonetisation. This year 66,284 notes of Rs 1,000 denomination has been seized with Delhi (40,363) and Gujarat (22,515) topping the list.

Overall, police forces seized 2.66 lakh fake notes of various denominations, which has a face value of 18.80 crore, this year till November.

The statistics for the first 11 months itself has crossed the 2016 figures on face value. While the number of notes seized was higher at 2.90 lakh for the whole of 2016, the face value was lesser at Rs 16.55 crore.

However, the number of cases have come down to 658 this year from 1,217 in 2016. Senior officials claim that it was due to strong vigilance set up that act as a deterrent.

They said strengthening the security at international borders using new surveillance technology, deploying additional manpower for round the clock surveillance, establishing observations posts along the international border and erection of border fencing and intensive patrolling have also helped in tackling the menace.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 31, 2017)

Urgent Task for CBI: Reclaiming Public Faith

The World War II was on and British rulers in India found that the spiralling war expenditure has opened a new avenue for the public servants to siphon off public money. They realised the existing police machinery was in no way capable of unearthing malpractices and came up with a Special Police Establishment in 1941 to deal with corruption and bribery in transactions connected to the War and Supply Department. Later, independent India too felt the need for a central agency, which would investigate cases of corruption as well as financial frauds and violation of central fiscal laws among others. It built on the 1941 order, which in the meantime saw several changes and improvements, to set up the CBI in 1963. Since then, the CBI was on the receiving end for its omissions and commissions. But, for all right reasons and that’s the irony!

Adding insult to injury to the CBI is the latest 2G verdict where the special court rejected every single claim of the investigating agency and freed all those accused of corruption and causing loss to the exchequer. This is not the first time that the CBI is finding egg on its face. Whether it is the Bofors, fodder scam, coal scam, the Jain diaries, Lakhubhai Pathak case or the disproportionate assets cases against Hindi heartland leaders – to name a few – the CBI has always been found wanting. The March 2008 Parliamentary Standing Committee report on ‘Working of CBI’ acknowledges that there have been “big events or scams rocking the nation” where CBI is said to have restored public faith in the system. But it goes on to add that whether CBI has been able to fulfil the expectations of the public and its legal mandate is debatable. “There has been erosion in the confidence which the public reposed on CBI in certain matters,” it said. The situation has not changed in the last nine years or one could say it has worsened over the years, with even the Supreme Court describing the CBI a “caged parrot”. Then CBI Director, Ranjit Sinha, was taken off the supervisory role of 2G investigation while he was later found to have discretely met several people agency’s under scanner at his residence!

CBI_Central_Bureau_investigation_CBI-770x433

What ails the CBI is no more a complex question as the previous experiences have answered it in detail. The officialdom would point to shortage of quality investigators, the burgeoning vacancies and rising number of cases in their kitty as the bottlenecks that pull them behind. But one of the biggest reasons why the CBI fails is not acknowledged by them but by the public and courts – lack of functional autonomy and political interference. The Supreme Court judgement in Vineet Narain case (1997) amplifies it. Inertia of the CBI was a recurrent theme in the judgement. “Inertia was the common rule whenever the alleged offender was a powerful person,” the SC observed in the landmark verdict. It said this made it necessary for them to take measures to ensure permanency in the remedial effect to prevent reversion to inertia of the agencies in such matters.

A close reading of the 2G verdict would show how CBI fell into inertia. The special CBI judge notes the growing lack of enthusiasm in the prosecution and the investigating agency. The 1997 judgement also points to a general impression gaining ground that the central agencies are subject to extraneous pressures and have been indulging in “dilatory tactics” in bringing the guilty to book. It also talks about the need for a proper prosecution to follow a proper investigation. Twenty years have gone after the verdict, the situation remains same. The Vineet Narain judgement had laid down the norms to protect the integrity of the central agencies like CBI and Enforcement Directorate but now the time has once again come to have an analysis of how the central governments sabotaged it.

Using CBI for political gain or purposes is not just a party’s sin. The entire political eco-system participate in it using their favourites posted in the agency. If there was no appeal in the Bofors case, there was no appeal in the acquittal of BJP president Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin fake encounter case too. While a Congress government dilly-dallied on Bofors, the CBI did not bother about an appeal against Shah during the BJP rule. However, within hours, the CBI was ready with a decision to appeal against the 2G verdict. Another example is the disproportionate assets case against Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav or the one against his BSP counterpart Mayawati saw twists and turns according to the political churning in Delhi and elsewhere.

There is an urgent need for the CBI to reclaim its credibility. Public may still demand a CBI inquiry into murder cases and all, but they have stopped trusting the country’s premier investigating agencies when it comes to corruption by the high and mighty. They should re-read the statues and the 1997 judgement and stand up for truth and integrity.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight on Dec 31, 2017)

China, Russia worse on jobless rate in comparison to India

India is positioned 12th among 37 “major” Asian countries when it comes to unemployment among people above 15 years but it has a better record compared to China and Russia.

India has an estimated unemployment rate of 3.6% in 2017 and only Bhutan with 2.4% and Nepal with 3.2% have a better record when it comes to its neighbours. Bhutan is ranked seventh and Nepal is at ninth position.

This was disclosed by Minister of State for Labour Santhosh Kumar Gangwar in a written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. The statistics were based on the modelled estimates of International Labour Organisation in 2017 while the Ministry has said that the unemployment rate in 2015-16 was 3.7%, up from 3.4% in 2013-14.

Country

Unemployment Rate (%)

Rank

Cambodia/Qatar

0.3

1

Myanmar

0.8

2

Bhutan/Kuwait

2.4

7

Nepal

3.2

9

India

3.6

12

China/Sri Lanka

4.6

17

Russia

5.3

19

Pakistan

5.9

23

Afghanistan

8.5

26

Oman

16.9

32

Interestingly, several Gulf countries where Indians go to find jobs have worse unemployment rate compared to India. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a 3.8% unemployment rate while Saudi Arabia has 5.5%.

As per the list provided by the Ministry of Labour, Cambodia and Qatar with 0.3% has the lowest unemployment rate followed by Myanmar (0.8%) and Thailand (1%).

China, the communist behemoth in Asia, and another neighbour Sri Lanka have a joblessness rate of 4.6% and ranked lower at 17th while Vladmir Putin-led Russian Federation has an unemployment rate of 5.3%.

Pakistan is saddled with an unemployment rate of 5.9% while war-ravaged Afghanistan is grappling with a whopping 8.5% rate. The highest rate is recorded in Oman at 16.9% while strife-torn Yemen has 16%. Jordan, an otherwise prosperous country, has an unemployment rate of 14.9% while the The Islamic State-hit Iraq also has a very depressing number at 14.8%.

Gangwar said employment generation and improving employability has been the priority of the NDA government.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 28, 2017)

2018: Will finally Air India go to private hands?

If domestic aviation market reaching a new high by flying 10 crore passengers this year, 2018 will have the big story in Air India when the government disinvest its stakes in the national carrier.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) under Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is burning the midnight oil to finalise the contours of the strategic disinvestment of the national carrier, which has amassed a loss of over Rs 50,000 crore.

The industry will be keenly watching the developments on Air India early next year and how much money the government would earn through divesting its stakes. There will be intensive bidding for the national carrier and the winner may end up marching ahead with a substantive slice of the market.

AI_VTEDF_20112010_1_Small

It was just a week before the government decided on disinvesting Air India on June 28 that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the country’s aviation regulator, came up with a figure that lit up the industry’s mood. It said, for the first time in country’s aviation history, domestic carriers flew more than one crore passengers (in May) in a month.

This feat was repeated again in November at 1.05 crore and it led to breaching another landmark. This time, Indian carriers carried more than 10 crore fliers for the first time in a calender year.

Then came the rolling out of Regional Connectivity Scheme or UDAN to connect otherwise unconnected small towns by air. Fares were capped at Rs 2,500 crore for a one-hour-long flight as per the scheme and around 80 unused or under-used airports were connected.

If these presented the rosy picture for the sector, all was not easy for the carriers and their staff. Fliers were becoming more aggressive and staff were at the receiving end, airlines claimed while passengers faulted “uncouth” behaviour.

History was created when the government came out with a ‘no-fly list’ for the first time after repeated incidents of misbehaviour with airline staff. The slapping of an Air India airport manager by Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad triggered an avalanche of protests, leading to the government finalising the contours of putting erratic and violent fliers on the check.

However, such incidents did not deter the airlines from expanding their fleet. Market leader IndiGo announced its plans to 50 ATR turbo-prop planes, a deal that could run into USD 1.3 billion at list price, with an aim to tap the regional aviation market. SpiceJet, GoAir and Jet Airways are also expecting more planes in their fleet next year.

Next year could see better finances for the domestic airlines. Credit rating agency ICRA has recently said that domestic airlines are expected to reduce losses this fiscal ending March riding on healthy seat occupancy coupled by a moderation in capacity, rise in tourism demand and economic environment.

However, it has warned that inadequate aviation infrastructure, which has constrained the performance of airlines, remained a bottleneck. This would be one area where the government would have to work on.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 28, 2017)

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