Pratibha Patil’s vehicle woes

A request from former President Pratibha Patil has put the government officials in a bind. If they oblige, they will bend the rules and if they do not want to, they will have tread a thin line in convincing her.

Patil’s office wants clearance from the Centre for using her personal car in her hometown Pune for which government should pay for fuel and provide an official vehicle while travelling out of her town.

This, officials said, is not permissible as former Presidents could not demand both official car and fuel allowance.

After a series of correspondence with her office in the past three months, Union Home Ministry officials have now asked her to decide on whether to take an official car for her use or opt for fuel allowance and not demand both.

All started with the withdrawal of the first official vehicle allotted to her as did not like. She demanded a bigger one and as it was not allowed, she opted for fuel allowance.

Her office then started using her personal car and while she was moving out of Pune, the district administration provided her the vehicle. Now, sources said, Maharashtra government objected to her demand for official car and took up the matter with Union Home Ministry.

Following this, Patil’s Secretary G K Das wrote to Home Ministry seeking its intervention. A string of letters followed.

Das recently wrote to Home Ministry, “when the former President travels on tour by road to Mumbai and long distances, the District Collector Pune is providing government vehicles at present. It is requested that this practice may kindly be continued in future also.”

He said the General Administration Department of Maharashtra government told Patil’s office that they will issue instructions as per the Centre’s orders. He wanted the Ministry to incorporate the provision of allowing government vehicles also apart from fuel allowance  in the letter it is sending to Maharashtra.

While Das did not respond, a senior Home Ministry official said they could not offer both to her as the rules governing former President’s emoluments clearly states that ex-President should be provided official car or fuel allowance.

As per the President’s (Emoluments And) Pension Act 1951, a former President is entitled to use of furnished residence, two telephones, one mobile phone and a motor car free of charge or to fuel expenses up to 250 litres per month.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 29, 2015)

SAI spend over Rs 15 cr, but none can train there!

indian_sports-440x332-484669

Applying one’s mind before executing a project, however noble, is a pre-requisite and a Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on a sporting infrastructure in the tribal belt of Jharkhand very well amplifies it.

The Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) centre built in 47.5 acre in naxal-infested Hazaribagh for Rs 14.15 crore to train tribal sportspersons is lying idle for the past seven years after state government refused security clearance for it. The state government is also not giving SAI an NOC to hand it over to BSF, which has evinced interest in the property.

Another Rs 1.28 crore was spent on the infrastructure’s upkeep though no training of sportsperson was happening there.

It all started in December 2001 when SAI decided to set up the centre in Hazaribagh to train sportsmen from tribal areas in Bokaro, Dhanbad, Giridh, Koderma, Dumka, Godda, Pakur and Sahebganj. The plan was to built football and hockey grounds, courts for basketball, volleyball and kabbadi and athletic tracks besides hostels and other infrastructure.

Though there was warning that Hazaribagh may not be an ideal place for the centre, SAI did not give “due cognizance” to the security aspect. The SAI was allotted in June 2003 the plot free of cost by Jharkhand government on the condition that it should be transfered back if it remains unutilised.

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The work was awarded to National Building Construction Company (NBCC) and the work started in December 2003. The construction work was completed in May 2008, after exceeding the deadline by 41 months. “The delay was attributed to security concern of the workers,” the CAG said. The SAI took over the centre onlyin June 2010.

The auditor found that the centre could not be made operational for want of security clearance from the state. As the facility remained unused, the South Bengal Frontier of BSF mooted a in November 2012 proposal for wholesale transfer to them. The SAI then in January 2013 sought an NOC from the state government, which did not respond to it till December 2014 (when the audit was being done), the CAG said.

The SAI told the auditor that its Director General was pursuing vigorously with the state government authorities to resolve the issue but there was no positive movement.

Even the Union Sports Ministry has not responded to a query from the CAG regarding the issue.

“Creation of infrastructure without giving due cognizance to security issues, resulted in idling of the investment of Rs 14.15 crore and unfruitful expenditure of Rs 1.28 crore,” the CAG added.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 28, 2015)

BSF bought spare worth Rs 1.41 crore for two grounded choppers

The Border Security Force (BSF) bought spare parts worth Rs 1.41 crore from a Ukraine-based company for two grounded MI-17 choppers, the Comptroller and Auditor General has said.

In its report tabled in Parliament, the CAG said the Air Wing of BSF procured ‘Auxiliary Power Units’ (APU) for use in the two-grounded helicopters.

“These components were procured before life extension of helicopters by the manufacturer. Thus, BSF failed to ascertain future serviceability of the helicopters before concluding the procurement process leading to idling of components worth Rs 1.41 crore for almost 20 months,” the CAG said.

As per procedure, no extention is permissible on the retirement life of MI-17. Life extensions are provided only by Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) after asertaining technical validity.

The BSF Air Wing on March 2012 decided to retrieve the serviceability of its two MI-17 choppers — Z4102 and Z4104 — carrying AircraftOperationally Grounded (AOG) status. It was then decided to buy 10 spare parts, including two APUs.

In September 2012, BSF sanctioned Rs 1.41 crore for buying two APUs from Ukraine-based Motor Sich, JSC as it was the original equipment manufacturer. The deal was completed in May 2013 when the APUs were supplied.

During inspection, the CAG found that the BSF did not approach the Indian Air Force or OEM for life extension of the two choppers before initiating the procurement process.

“Thus the BSF concluded the procurement process for the APUs even before ascertaining the technical viability and sustainability of the machines for future operations. As a result, the APUs procured at a price of Rs 1.41 crore were rendered idle for almost 20 months while the helicopters continued to be on AOG status as on November 2014,” the CAG report said.

The auditor also did not found any merit in BSF’s argument that the components were used in two other choppers which were flying with APUs loaned from Air Force. This “would appear to be a fait accompli rather than the resulty of a well conceived plan”, it said.

The CAG also found fault with the force for not cancelling the order when it found that the selected choppers were not going to be retrieved.

It also added, “the contention of the BSF that the new APUs can be given to IAF in lieu of APUs taken on loan is a poor rationalisation of an inappropriate decision, which ultimately led to idling of expensive components”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 26, 2015)

Jailors to edit docus shot in prisons!?

Outside the prison plenty of young men gathers when it starts to get dark in Kota, India, Wednesday, 2 april, 2008. Patrick Malluzzo wrongly imprisoned in India on a drugs charge.

Filmmakers shooting documentaries inside prisons will have to deposit Rs one lakh as security and leave their recordings with Jail Superintendents for three days to let them delete objectionable portions.

This is part of a fresh guideline issued on Friday to streamline the entry of filmmakers, journalists, activists and researchers after a controversy erupted over a BBC documentary — India’s Daughter — directed by Leslee Udwin on the December 16 gangrape case in which she interviewed convicts in Tihar jail.

Viewing “very seriously” the unauthorised meetings with prisoners or visitors misusing the permission to meet their own benefit, the Union Home Ministry said entry is not ordinarily allowed but permission could be granted to any individual, journalist or others for making documentaries, doing research, writing articles or interviews.

The state governments will decide on the applications after checking whether the article or documentary creates a positive social impact or whether it is related to prison reforms. While an Indian will have to apply 30 days before the date of visit while a foreigner will have to do it 60 days before.

The visitor will have to sign a declaration that he will abide by the guideline and deposit Rs one lakh, which could be forfeited if any guideline is violated. One may face legal action also for violation of undertaking. However, the state government can dispense with or modify this requirement in case of research studies undertaken by students.

For filmmakers, only camera and tape recorder or equipments directly connected with the purpose of the visit will be allowed. Tripod, mobile phones, papers, book and pen should not be allowed. Jail Superintendent or in his absence, the second most senior official, should accompany such teams and intervene on-the-spot if he feels that an interview is not desirable.

“After the visit is complete, the visitors shall handover all their equipments like Handycams, Dictaphone, Camera, tape recorder  or any other equipment to the Jail Superintendent for a period of three days. All precautions should be taken to ensure that the visitor does not leave the jail premises with the recordings. The Jail Superintendent then shall see/hear all the recordings carefully and if he finds anything objectionable, he shall delete that portion.  The said equipment after careful scrutiny/editing may be returned after three days to the visitor,” the guidelines said.

Before the release of documentary or article or research, the final version should be submitted to state government for NOC.

Inmates rest at a workshop, where mannequins are produced by prisoners working for the Giotto cooperative, at a state maximum security jail in Padova, December 17, 2007. Picture taken December 17, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (ITALY)   BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE

** Submit application at least 30 days before the date of visit. 60 days for foreigners. In case of article by print media, application may be submitted 7 days before

** Jail Superintendent should send the application with his comment to state, which should consult IB. Consult MEA or MHA’s Foreigners’ Division in case of foreigners’ applications

** Visitor should submit security deposit of Rs one lakh. Students doing research could be given relaxation.

** Handycam/Camera/Recorder can be allowed but no tripod, pen, paper, book

** Jail Superintendent should accompany the visitor. He should intervene if he feels a certain video clip or an interview is not desirable.

** Visitors should hand over all their equipment like camera, recorder and other equipments for three days.

** Jail Superintendent should see/hear all recordings. He should delete portions that are objectionable. Equipment could be returned after three days.

** NOC needed for release of documentary, article, research paper.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 25, 2015)

Media Gag on MHA reporters

MHA-MEDIA 1

It may not be smooth sailing for media persons while looking for news in Union Home Ministry with officials being asked not to entertain journalists without appointment.

Though officially it is “just streamlining” the communication system, the new media guidelines is aimed at ensuring that no leaks of information happen. However, journalists covering the beat have raising voice against the order.

Union Home Secretary L C Goyal had on earlier occasions pulled up officials on leakage of information about deliberations in internal meetings.

There were gag orders in other ministries also, most of them unofficial. The NDA government was accused of keeping media at a distance and engaging them only when it wants.

MHA-MEDIA 2

According to the Office Memorandum, the Additional Director General (Media) will be the “single point for dissemination” of all publicity material to media, including clarifications sought by media.

The guidelines also said that release of information to media would be done only with the approval of Home Secretary.

Another point in the guideline virtually restricts the movement of journalists in Union Home Ministry, located in North Block.

“The information flow to media persons will be arranged in Media Room No 9. Media persons will be asked by ADG (Media) that they do not have briefing/meeting with officers other than in the media room,” it said.

At present, journalists with Press Information Bureau (PIB) could meet officers directly after approaching their personal staff. There were no restriction on their movement in the Ministry.

Joint Secretary M A Ganpathy, who is the Ministry spokesperson, has been told to brief media only on “need to do” basis. The ADG media “will also proactively monitor content” related to MHA in social media platforms and electronic media for suitable response.

“There is no restriction on media. We just do not want reporters to throng the corridors of North Block,” a senior official said.

While the UPA Home Ministers P Chidambaram and Sushilkumar Shinde used to conduct monthly press conferences, present Minister Rajnath Singh has met media very rarely.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 24, 2015)

Deaths due to spurious alcohol rose by 339 per cent

mumbai-hooch-tragedy-toll-rises-to-84-34-victims-still-undergoing-treatment

Deaths due to consumption of spurious alcohol jumped by 339 per cent last year with Maharashtra and Karnataka finding a place in top five states where cases of illicit liquor are high.

While there were 387 deaths in 520 cases in 2013, the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2014 said, it rose to 1,699 last year in 1,797 cases. Of the 1,699 deaths, two are transgenders while 107 were women.

The western state of Maharashtra topped the list with 359 deaths, the report released on Friday said.

It came three weeks after a hooch tragedy in Maharashtra’s Malvani in which over 100 people died. Malvani tragedy figure will be included in the next report to be published some time mid-2016.

Chhattisgarh followed Maharashtra in cases (119) and deaths (156). Punjab (118), Haryana (117) and Karnataka (111) had the same number of cases and deaths.

Among the union territories, Puducherry had the highest number of 95 deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor. This Union Territory has one of the lowest rates for alcohol.

The national captial of Delhi had 19 deaths in this category.

Deaths due to inhaling poisonous gases were also high in Karnataka where 100 such incidents were reported in which 102 were killed. The state was only behind its southern neighbour Tamil Nadu where 410 cases were reported and 355 were killed.

Among these, two each cases in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were due to inhaling carbon monoxide.

Across India, 711 people died due to inhaling poisonous gas in 809 incidents. (Article Ends)

Deaths Due to Consumption of Spurious/Illicit Liquor

State

Case

Deaths

Maharashtra

452

359

Chhattisgarh

119

156

Punjab

118

118

Haryana

117

117

Karnataka

111

111

Total (across India)

1,797

1,699

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 22, 2015)

Farm loans and crop failure major reasons for farmer suicides

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Inability to repay farm loans and crop failure accounted for more than one third of farmers’ suicides in the country last year, according to a latest government report.

While bankruptcy or indebtedness was the reason for 20.6 per cent suicides among farmers, 16.8 per cent took their own life due to crop failure.

The ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2014’ report showed that 5,650 farmers, including 472 women, committed suicide last year out of which 1,163 cases were related to repaying loan and 952 due to crop failure.

The farmers were facing crop failure besides their crop falling victim to natural calamities. Inability to sell their produce also was another reason for them to take their own life.

“There may be public posturing by the government that they would not allow farmers to suffer. But nothing is happening on ground. The cost of production is increasing but the government is not supporting farmers by providing adequate minimum support price. Also, the majority of farm loans are also going to the privileged,” Vijoo Krishnan, National Joint Secretary of All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), told Deccan Herald.

46153-suicide

While 965 committed suicide due to the troubles in repaying crop loan, another 22 committed suicide due to loans they took for buying equipment like tractor and pump set.

Another 176 could not withstand the pressure of repaying non-agricultural loans, which might have taken for meeting the expenses for farming.

Maharashtra topped the list in both these categories.

According to the report, 857 farmers in Maharashtra committed suicide due to failure in repaying loans. Telangana had 172 such cases and Karnataka a distant third at 51.

Once again emphasising the distress in Maharashtra agriculture sector, the report highlighted that the state had the highest number of 352 farming related suicides, which included 350 suicides related to crop failure. Telangana had 295, Madhya Pradesh 119 and Karnataka 106 incidents.

Another worrying sign was the suicide of 59 farmers, who were below the age of 18 years. Of this, 26 committed suicide due to crop failure.

22

** 5,650 committed suicides in 2014

** 5,178 male and 472 female

** Highest incidents of 2,568 farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra followed by 898 suicides in Telangana and 826 in Madhya Pradesh

** Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh account for maximum female farmers’ suicides

** Farmers belonging to 30-60 years of age group account for 65.7% of total farmer suicides

** 10.3% of farmers who committed suicides were senior citizens.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 21, 2015)

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