A B C D of 2015

 

Some mercurial rises and a number of steep falls always mark every year’s ledger book. 2015 was no different. An invincible BJP found itself in quandary after Bihar. GST remained a mirage while Modi – both Narendra and Lalit – sprang surprises. The outgoing year in alphabets:

A for Arun, Arvind and Azad: Arun Jaitley, Arvind Kejriwal and Kirti Azad provided the perfect climax for a thrilling year. Azad is yet to get his pound of flesh but Kejriwal is playing the comrade-in-arms to corner Jaitley in DDCA scam. Foes from Subramanian Swamy to Ram Jethmalani have come together to take on Jaitley. Who will have the last laugh, who will get the boot – Jaitley or Azad? 2016 may tell.

B for Beef, Bihar and Ban: Beef became a symbol of resistance for the liberals as right-wingers chose it as a political tool. Threat of banning anything they disliked also loomed large. Some like Mohd Aqhlaq paid with their lives. Bihar result was an answer to both as people there overwhelmingly rejected the politics of beef and ban.

C for CBI, Censor Board and Call Drops: CBI continues to be a caged parrot, believes opposition, while Censor Board remains senseless. Opposition finds fault with raid in Delhi Secretariat, investigations in Sharada scam and actions against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister. Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani added to government’s miseries with his list of banned cuss words and promotional video on Modi. People hope call drops will end in the new year.

D for Dawood and Defamation: The don remains elusive. Latest news says Dawood plans to retire and pass on the baton to his brother. Supreme Court may decide on defamation laws next year as rivals Rahul Gandhi, Subramanian Swamy and Kejriwal file petitions against the provision.

E for e-tailers: Will e-tailers kill retailers? Retailers cried foul. Demands for regulating e-tailers raised. Online buying on the rise.

F for FTII, Floods and Free Basics: Government’s move to put a B-grade film actor as the head of FTII, the prestigious Pune film institute, prompted students to protest while Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ had net neutrality activists up in arms. Floods brought out Chennai’s humane nature as well as the flawed urban planning.

G for GST: The tax reform law was still elusive as Modi government’s efforts for consensus did not bore fruit. What Modi did as Gujarat Chief Minister on GST returned to haunt him as Opposition played the same tactics.

H for Hardik Patel: Hardik sought to rock the quota boat in Gujarat giving some shivers in BJP camp. Can the young Patel trouble Anandiben, the Patel Chief Minister in Gujarat?

I for Islamic State: The IS emerges as new security challenge with youths being lured. Around 25 went to fight, six were killed. Another 150 under surveillance for their interest in the IS.

J for Juvenile: Minors among criminals suffered a jolt as Parliament rushed through a law lowering age of juveniles.

K for Kashmir: Will it be a turning for BJP and Kashmir as the saffron party is part of the government for the first time? How will BJP tackle Article 370 that grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir?

L for Land: Like GST, Land Bill remains a problem for the government. Government argues existing law scuttling development. Will people get a just deal?

M for Modi and Maggi: Narendra Modi started they year with his name etched on his suit and ended with a surprise visit to Pakistan. Lalit Modi dropped the bombshell on IPL that helped Congress and opposition to corner BJP for months. Both remain showmen. Maggi returns to Indian kitchens after a ban on food safety questions.

N for National Herald: Change in ownership of National Herald has tied Sonia Gandhi and Rahul in knots. Swamy’s allegations of fraud lands Gandhis in court on a December afternoon.

O for OROP: Finally, the One Rank, One Pension is announced but veterans remain unsatisfied. Pay Commission recommends OROP for civilians too.

P for Pollution and Pakistan: Rising pollution concerns India. ‘Go to Pakistan’ was the stock quote of right-wing rabble-rousers whenever they wanted to disagree.

Q for Quantico: Priyanka Chopra’s debut in American television. In the crime thriller, she is an FBI agent who becomes a prime suspect in a terror attack.

R for Rajya Sabha and Rahul Gandhi: Rajya Sabha became a thorn in flesh for NDA while Opposition uses it as a check for BJP’s majority in Lok Sabha. Rahul became a ‘re-loaded’ politician after his 56-day break.

S for Salman and Shahrukh: Salman Khan escaped jail in a 13-year-old drunken driving case in a High Court appeal. Shahrukh Khan faces wrath of Hindutva trolls for his comments on intolerance.

T for Transgender: Krishnagar Women’s College in Nadia district of West Bengal got its first transgender principal while Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan, a young Odisha government officer, declared she was a transgender. Arun Jaitley also goes against general mood and support demands for decriminalizing gay sex.

U for U-turn: Opposition alleges U-turn in every government move.

V for Vyapam: Scam almost cost Shivraj Singh Chouhan his job. Several accused in case found mysteriously dead.

W for Writers: Writers rose in revolt with ‘award wapsi’ against rising intolerance.

X for Xiaomi: The Chinese mobile company manages to win hearts of Indian consumers.

Y for Yechury: Energetic Yechury elected as CPI(M) General Secretary. He wants a change in strategy. Will his Polit Bureau colleagues agree with his line of action?

Z for Z security: The craze for status symbols continues. With new government in place, several try to get security. Some are successful while many others still hopeful.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 30, 2015)

3k beggars have degree or above

Around 3,000 Indians with graduation or above are begging on the streets, according to latest Census figures. Of this, 410 have degrees in technical field.

Though this number is miniscule compared to the 3.27 lakh beggars counted during the Census, it showed that highly qualified people were forced out of the comforts of their homes due to various reasons.

The census report on ‘Non-Workers by Main Activity, Educational Level and Sex’ released recently showed that there are 2,600 people who have graduation and above other than technical degree who can be categorised as beggars or vagrants. Of this, 745 are women.

Another 410, including 137 women, have technical degree or diploma equal to degree or post-graduate degree.

West Bengal has the highest number of ‘qualified’ beggars – 540 with degree and above and another 34 with technical degrees or above. UP has 540 with degree and above and another 34 with technical degrees or above.

Maharashtra has the highest number of beggars with degree in technical subjects at 61 followed by Andhra Pradesh 55. Karnataka has 125 beggars with qualification above degree and 44 with technical degrees.

Kerala, the most literate state in the country, has 24 with degree or above and 5 with technical degrees.

None of the north-eastern states, except Assam and Manipur, and Union Territories of Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chandigarh and Lakshadweep has beggars with technical degree.

On the whole, 78.66 per cent (2.92 lakh) of the beggars were illiterate while 79,415 were literate. The number of those with qualification up to matriculation was 53,963, matriculation and below degree 10,058 and diploma holders 195.

West Bengal has the highest number of 75,083 beggars, which include 44,628 women while UP followed it with 57,038, including 21,093 women. Andhra Pradesh (26,478), Bihar (25,857), Maharashtra (22,737) and Assam (20,314) are other states that have higher number of beggars.

Beggars have been clubbed under non-workers category, which numbers 72.89 crore. Among the non-workers, students are 30.51 crore, those who are engaged in household work are 16.56 crore and pensioners 1.37 crore.

 

State

 

Total Beggars

 

Women Beggars

 

West Bengal

 

75,083

 

44,628

 

Uttar Pradesh

 

57,038

 

21,093

 

Andhra Pradesh

 

26,478

 

12,288

 

Bihar

 

25,857

 

13,274

 

Maharashtra

 

22,737

 

9,689

 

Assam

 

20,314

 

13,711

 

Karnataka

 

10,682

 

5,079

 

All India

 

3,72,217

 

174492

 

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

Aviation in 2015

An airline bounced back from near death, three others started flying and a low-cost carrier got listed in bourses, bringing cheers to the civil aviation sector this year but unveiling of a national policy that could propel reforms remained a work in progress.

The civil aviation policy could soon see the light of the day but all eyes would be on how it deal with the demand for scrapping the controversial 5/20 Rule that makes a domestic airline to complete five years of operations and have a fleet of 20 aircraft to start international operations.

While there is the promise of a business-friendly policy in early 2016 with tax sops, fliers will have to spend more on tickets due to the introduction of a two per cent cess to fund government’s regional connectivity plans.

SpiceJet, which was on the verge of closure due to financial problems last year, sprang back to business with the entry of its original promoter Ajay Singh while Vistara, a joint venture of Tatas and Singapore Airlines, took to the skies in January this year. Air Pegasus and Trujet also started services this year.

Another positive for the sector was the entry of IndiGo in the Bombay Stock Exchange, the first for an airline in last nine years. The airline, which firmed up its order for 250 ‘A-320neo’ aircraft of Airbus, raised over Rs 3,000 crore from the capital market.

Air India also did not make much negative news this year as it was slowly picking up pace on its turnaround plan with a new man – Ashwani Lohani – at its helm. Jet Airways, which also placed an order with Boeing for 75 fuel-efficient 737 Max single-aisle aircraft, subsumed its low-cost arm Jetlite into the main brand.

However, all was not well in the sector with fliers complaining about rise flight fare, especially those booking on spot and during festival season. The issue found its echo in Parliament several times with Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P J Kurien even saying the airlines were “extorting” passengers.

There were calls for government intervention in regulating airfare but the Civil Aviation Ministry rejected any such move. A DGCA study earlier this year had shown that most of the tickets sold by airlines are “not at exorbitant price”. The report by the DGCA after analysis the airfares of scheduled domestic airlines on 18 routes in 2014 showed that the competition among the operators is helping in containing the fares.

On the policy level, the government took back its decision to privatise four airports in Kolkata, Chennai, Jaipur and Ahmedabad despite inviting bids.

Airport security was another issue highlighted by a Parliamentary Standing Committee following a violent incident between CISF personnel and AAI employees in Kozhikode airport in which one person was killed.

With increasing terror threat perception, it also wanted CISF to take over security of all airports in the country. At present, eight out of 26 hypersensitive, 19 of 56 sensitive and 12 out of 16 normal airports were not under the security cover of paramilitary force CISF.

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

Challenges ahead for security estd

Decimating every possible chance of Indian youth being lured by outlawed Islamic State (IS) will be high on the security establishment’s agenda in the new year along with tackling terror exported from across the border and insurgency in the north-east.

The authorities will also have to keep a close watch on the communal situation, which could slip out of the hand if both the political and security apparatus do not remain vigilant. With right-wing groups on a shrill campaign, the government will have to remain on toes to ensure that no untoward incident takes place.

Though the IS has not been able to get much traction in India, security agencies will not like to leave anything to chance and would try to plug all loopholes. The cyber space is being watched as pro-IS elements are active on social media and even posting propaganda in regional languages.

At present, there are around 15 Indians fighting for the IS while two have been killed. Around 150, mostly from South India, are being watched. The government is now adopting counter radicalisation mode to tackle the issue.

Though the country has not witnessed any major terror incident or naxal attack this year, security experts feel that the north-east could witness flare-up in 2016 like the June 4 attack on Army convoy in Manipur where NSCN (Khaplang) insurgents killed 18 soldiers.

It is to be seen how the north-east theatre evolve with NSCN(IM) coming on board for a framework agreement that could lead to a peace accord. Though Home Ministry did not play a major role in its formulation, it would have to ensure that other parameters remain stable for its effective implementation.

NSCN(K), which had unilaterally walked out of a ceasefire agreement earlier this year, may try to execute some strikes and it would be a huge task for the establishment to ensure that the region does not fall into chaos. A pragmatic political solution would be in the best interest.

While north-east could keep the security system busy on one side, it could not loosen its vigil on naxal front. Though Union Home Ministry boasts of declining nasal incidents, Maoists are not yet a defeated force. Experts are taking the figures with a pinch of salt, as they believe it is because of force’s not engaging them frontally.

Another area of concern would remain Pakistan sponsored terrorism through Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other outfits.

While internal security scenario would keep the establishment busy throughout, Home Ministry will also have a Herculean task of making states take up tasks related to modernisation of police forces even as Finance Ministry has reduced allocation for several reform programmes.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs said in April this year that expenditure on salary and ration eat up maximum of budget allocation earmarked for central police forces and police organisations. It had also said modernisation of police scheme is suffering due to insufficient funding.

The ambitious Crime and Criminals Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), aimed at linking police stations across the country and making a national database on criminals, has to be put on track.

Another task is to take forward the establishment of the Rs 500 crore India Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) to tackle cyber crime.

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

When Atal complained against Pranab

They may share a “great equation” but when Pranab Mukherjee was chosen as Finance Minister in 1982 in Indira Gandhi government, BJP patriarch A B Vajpayee did not find it proper.

The reason was that Mukherjee, now the President, was not a member of Lok Sabha, according to a new biography ‘Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Man of All Seasons’ written by journalist Kingshuk Nag.

vajpaye-bharat-ratna-L

Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister who is celebrating his 91st birthday on Christmas, had a knack of raising issues that would “never occur” to anybody else, the book said.

When Mukherjee was first appointed as the Finance Minister in January 1982, he wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jhakkar “complaining about the appointment”.

“The burden of his argument was that Pranab was a Rajya Sabha member and, being a member of the Upper House, was not entitled to vote on financial, budgetary and public expenditure proposals. However, it is the Finance Minister who presents the budget in the Lok Sabha,” the book said.

Vajpayee’s argument was that there is a “patent anomaly arising from the appointment that the member who pilots the finance bills and appropriation bills will not be entitled to vote for it”.

“As a natural corollary, the Finance Minister has always been a member from the Lok Sabha. This is so axiomatic that there is no dispute about this,” Vajpayee is quoted as saying. Mukherjee’s job was saved because the Speaker “struck down the argument”.

Interestingly, 30 years down the line, Vajpayee himself appointed a Rajya Sabha member Jaswant Singh as his Finance Minister in April 10, 2002. Present Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is also a member of Rajya Sabha.

Other prominent Finance Ministers who were Rajya Sabha members were Manmohan Singh in 1991, who later became Prime Minister, and Yashwant Sinha in 1990 in Chandrasekhar cabinet.

The book goes on to say that at a personal level, Vajpayee and Mukherjee shared a good friendship and the “two would, at times, go for walks together”.

The book also refers to Vajpayee’s regard for the Congress leader by citing an exchange between another BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi and Mukherjee.

Mukherjee had entered into an argument in the House about the practices of Hindu Gods. Joshi challenged him but Mukherjee quoted Sanskrit hymns with their English translations.

“Atal told Pranab, I warned Joshi not to take ‘pangas’ with you on religious matters. He does not know that you have deep knowledge of the scriptures,” the book said.

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

Emotional Rhetoric will not help lawmaking

When the parents of Nirbhaya and so many people get emotional, we can’t even think what was going on in their minds. And I don’t even want to think about it. As I said, before we come to the rationale, there is this emotion involved and I cannot myself give any guarantee what would I have done. I would have, probably, taken out a gun and shot him.

— Derek O’Brien in Rajya Sabha during Juvenile Justice Bill debate on Dec 22, 2015

Emotional rhetoric and irrational logic seem to have forced Rajya Sabha to clear a law on dealing with heinous crimes committed by minors. None appeared bothered about lawmakers falling into a trap that is called public mood that was bordering the regressive. Parliamentarians definitely need to gauge public mood and act accordingly but it does not mean succumbing to lynch-mob attitude.

Trinamool Congress MP O’Brien was the best example. Two days before he spoke in Rajya Sabha about the possibility of him spraying bullets into a sexual predator, he said in a TV show that it would do no harm if Parliament takes some more time on the bill that was prescribing lowering the age of juveniles in case of heinous crimes. He felt that a Rajya Sabha Select Committee could do detailed deliberation and further fine-tune the legislation. But on the floor of the Upper House, his party changed stand and did not want to wait. Congress also raised their hands in support though its Lok Sabha MPs had raised concerns. Except for the CPI(M) that insisted for a cautious approach, none wanted to be on the wrong side of public opinion after the release of juvenile convict after three years of imprisonment in Nirbhaya case.

The issue of sufficient punishment for child offenders was raised following the gang rape cases of Nirbhaya (Dec 2012), Mumbai Shakti Mill (July 2013) and Guwahati (September 2013). There was hue and cry that the juvenile accused in these cases were going with lighter punishment. Except for some, all wondered how a teenager could go almost scot-free. Concerns raised by experts and child rights activists fell on deaf ears. Parliament appeared not to have discussed the concerns raised by Standing Committee or Justice J S Verma Commission with regard to treating children in the age group of 16-18 years with regard to crimes like rape and murder.

Government brandished National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) statistics before Parliamentary panel to support the case for a tougher law. The Women and Child Development Ministry tried to make mountain out of a mole from the 1.2 per cent crimes committed by juveniles but the panel did not buy their argument and went with experts who said the NCRB data on juvenile crimes has been highly misrepresented. It felt that it would be “highly retrograde” step likely to serve no purpose. The panel also noted the NCRB figures were those of FIRs registered and not convictions. A perception also gained that there was increase in number of rapes and murders by minors, which were found not true.

However, the panel argued that juvenile crime was a miniscule proportion of total crime committed and that the same was not significantly increasing. It was amused at the Ministry “very comfortably” choosing to ignore views of stakeholders.

Parliament also missed an opportunity to discuss the socio-economic situation of the juveniles in the country and how they are landing in crimes. A latest Union Home Ministry statistics placed in Parliament showed that around 55 per cent of juveniles apprehended in 2014 belonged to families with an annual income less than Rs 25,000 or less than around Rs 2,100 per month. MPs will miss the woods for trees if they tend to address the complex issues involved in a four or five hour discussion in the arc light of TV cameras.

The panel was clear the juvenile justice system (prior to the new law) was “not only reformative and rehabilitative in nature but also recognises the fact that 16-18 years is an extremely sensitive and critical age requiring greater protection”. The government chose to ignore the wisdom of the select MPs. And MPs in Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, failed to submit the bill to another rigorous test to ensure a better law, as the high-octane campaign on Nirbhaya case bind them in a knot. They also forgot that one line that the panel, without naming any incident, highlighted: Some incidents of juvenile crime, though a cause of serious concern, should not be the basis for introducing drastic changes in the existing juvenile justice system.

Justice Verma Committee also went in length on dealing with juveniles but the bill does not seem to imbibe its right sense. Among other points, the Verma committee pointed out that recidivism among minors were on the decline and it did not see any reason to reduce the age.

However, these concerns were overcome by a shrill campaign which in a way called for retribution rather than rehabilitation of the child who have taken a wrong turn. It is better late than never to learn that society progresses not by revenge or retribution.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight section on Dec 27, 2015)

More than half of juveniles belong to poor families

More than half of the minors apprehended for crimes belong to families having a monthly income less than around Rs 2,100, the Government said on Tuesday as Rajya Sabha MPs discussed ways to tighten laws on juveniles.

The figures provided by the Union Home Ministry in Lok Sabha showed that the number of such juveniles is increasing year after year. While 52.8 per cent juveniles in 2012 were in this income group, it rose to 55.6 per cent in 2014.

Of the 48,230 juveniles apprehended in 2014, 26,809 minors belonged to families with annual income of Rs 25,000 while it was 21,409 out of 39,822 in 2012 and 21,860 (50.2 per cent) out of 43,506 in 2013.

On the other hand, only 439 or 0.91 per cent of the juveniles belonged to families with an annual income of over Rs three lakh or Rs 25,000 per month. In 2012, there was 0.84 per cent in the income group while it was 0.55 per cent in 2013.

It will be interesting to note that annual income of 92.28 per cent of families of juveniles in 2014 was less than Rs one lakh, buttressing the point raised by child rights activists that one cannot ignore their socio-economic condition that could have played a part in them committing crimes.

Bihar has the highest number of juveniles (4,912 out of 6,404) who belong to the Rs 25,000 income category followed by Gujarat (4,020 out of 4,647).

On percentage wise, Gujarat’s 86.50 per cent juveniles are from the poorest of the poor strata while it has just three juveniles whose families have annual income of more than Rs three lakh.

Other major states that have higher number of juveniles with annual income less than Rs 25,000 are Madhya Pradesh 3,827, Maharashtra 3,087, Rajasthan 1,362, Delhi 1,252 and West Bengal 1,063.

Of the 640 juveniles apprehended in Karnataka in 2014, 303 belonged to families with annual income below Rs 25,000 while there were no juveniles whose family had more than Rs three lakh annual income.

In a written reply, Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said rules focus on rehabilitation and social reintegration of children to help them in restoring their dignity and self-worth and mainstreaming them through rehabilitation within the family where possible. “Long-term institutional care is to be the last resort,” he said.

Juveniles by Family Income IN 2014

 

State

 

<Rs 25k

 

Rs25k-50k

 

Rs 50k-1L

 

Rs 1-2L

 

Rs

2-3L

 

>Rs 3L

 

TOTAL

 

Bihar

 

4,912

 

617

 

365

 

214

 

87

 

209

 

6,404

 

Gujarat

 

4,020

 

394

 

170

 

54

 

6

 

3

 

4,647

 

Madhya Pradesh

 

3,827

 

2,152

 

1,245

 

315

 

172

 

91

 

7,802

 

Maharashtra

 

3,087

 

1,810

 

1,698

 

463

 

155

 

15

 

7,228

 

Rajasthan

 

1,362

 

860

 

425

 

219

 

135

 

40

 

3,041

 

Delhi

 

1,252

 

687

 

462

 

134

 

10

 

2

 

2,547

 

Karnataka

 

303

 

 

193

 

115

 

24

 

5

 

0

 

640

 

All India

 

26,809

 

10,813

 

 

6,887

 

2,506

 

776

 

439

 

48,230

 

All India (2013)

 

21,860

 

11,885

 

6,494

 

2,296

 

626

 

240

 

43,506

 

All India (2012)

 

21,049

 

10,360

 

5,458

 

1,972

 

648

 

335

 

39,882

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 23, 2015)

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