Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Fresh elections the only way out in Jammu & Kashmir

akb (005)The Governor of Jammu & Kashmir Satyapal Malik on Wednesday night swiftly dissolved the state assembly, at the end of a day-long drama in which traditional political rivals People’s Democratic Party and National Conference joined hands with Congress to explore formation of a new government.

On the other hand, People’s Conference led by Sajjad Lone staked claim to form government claiming support of BJP and several dissident PDP legislators. The Governor swiftly put an end to all such machinations and speculations by dissolving the state assembly.

In a late night statement, the Governor said “The impossibility of forming a state government by the coming together of political parties with opposing political ideologies including some which have been demanding dissolution of the Assembly, whereas the experience of the past few years shows that with the fractured mandate that is there is there in the Assembly, it is not possible to form a stable government comprising of like-minded parties.”

It may be recalled that the BJP withdrew support from Mehbooba Mufti’s government on June 19, and Governor’s rule was imposed the next day. At that time, the Assembly was not dissolved, and it was kept under suspended animation. Six months of Governor’s rule would have ended on December 20, after which President’s Rule would be imposed in accordance with provisions of the Constitution.

There were reports of revolt among PDP MLAs, with Muzaffar Beg, once a close confidante of Mehbooba Mufti, hinting at leaving the PDP with nearly 18 supporters and joining hands with Sajjad Lone and BJP. This could have come as a fatal political knock for Mehbooba’s party.

In desperation, Mehbooba opted to join hands with her political rival Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and Congress, and wrote a letter to the Governor claiming the support of 56 MLAs. On the other hand, Sajjad Lone too staked his claim to obstruct Mehbooba’s move.

The Governor played a masterstroke at night and abruptly dissolved the assembly, ending all possibilities of government formation. Clearly, the formation of an elected government seemed impossible without horsetrading among MLAs. Fresh elections seem to be the only way out from the present imbroglio.


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Why our civic system is in a complete mess?

AKB (005)You must have noted that whenever there is heavy downpour in a metropolis, whether Delhi, or Mumbai, or Chennai, or Kolkata, or in a state like Kerala, the entire civic system collapses. You might be wondering why?

Today, I will touch upon the sorry state of affairs in Bihar’s capital, Patna. On Saturday, a 10-year-old boy Deepak fell into an open drain, and for the last four days, NDRF and SDRF staff are trying their best to trace the missing boy. The boy has just vanished. The rescue staff is unable to enter the drain, because it has come to light that the drain was never cleaned, even once, in the last 35 years. Moreover, no map of the drain is available with the civic authorities. The drainage pipe is almost five feet in diameter, but it is chock-a-bloc with four feet width of garbage. Over the years, broken liquor bottles seized during prohibition raids and dead animals have been stuffed inside this drain.

This raises serious questions about our entire civic system. The drain has been in existence for 50 years, but in official records, there is no mention of the drain, nor any map available. The NDRF and SDRF rescue staff fail to understand in which direction they should proceed to rescue the boy.

India TV reporter Gonika Arora traced Rajeshwar Prasad, the engineer under whose supervision the drain was built. He has now retired, but says that the drainage system was built by the Public Health Engineering department. Nobody can say authoritatively in which direction the drain falls into the river Ganga that flows near Patna.

If the boy had not fallen into the drain, nobody would have bothered about this 50-year-old drain. Bureaucrats are now busy pinning blame on each other, but we surely need to cleanse up and restore the system. We may have to do basic restructuring and fix accountability. Otherwise the system can collapse any day because of ignorance and negligence.

Meanwhile, our hearts go out to Deepak’s father, who is a fruit vendor, and his mother, who still believes that her son is alive. But the system appears to be helpless in tracing her son.

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Air pollution in Delhi NCR could have been avoided 8 years ago

akb_1 (004)On Monday, while inaugurating the Western Peripheral Expressway connecting Kundli with Manesar and Palwal in Haryana, bypassing Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pertinent point. Modi said, the expressway should have been ready 8-9 years ago ahead of the Commonwealth Games during UPA rule, but because of delays, the cost overrun went up almost three times the original estimate.

Modi said, the delay in building this peripheral expressway is a clear case study of how to waste public money. Early implementation could have avoided air pollution. The new peripheral expressway will result in nearly 50,000 trucks and vehicles going off the roads of Delhi, thereby reducing traffic congestion, road accidents and smoke pollution.

Mere diversion of trucks from Delhi’s road is not the only solution to bring about improved air quality. Paddy stubble (parali) are still being burnt by farmers in Haryana and Punjab causing air pollution in the national capital.

Experts from IIT Kanpur have come up with a solution to bring about artificial rains through seeding of clouds with silver iodide. Artificial rain could clear up smog that envelops Delhi during winter. China has already experimented with cloud seeding successfully.

The Enviroment Pollution Control Authority chief Bhure Lal had said a week ago that artificial rain in Delhi NCR is being planned, and some newspapers had floated the date of cloud seeding at November 21, but till now, there is hardly any sign of such preparation.

Cloud seeding will have to implemented in close coordination between the Indian Meteorological Department, Indian Space Research Organisation and Directorate General of Civil Aviation. India TV reporters spoke to senior officials in IMD, DGCA and the Delhi government, but these officials expressed ignorance about the artificial rain plan. If at all there is such a plan, it will have to be implemented fast in order to give relief to Delhiites from air pollution.


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Time to eradicate monkey menace in Delhi’s VVIP Lutyens Zone

akb 1India TV on Friday night telecasted a detailed report on how our politicians and bureaucrats working and living in Lutyens Zone are facing monkey menace. Several politicians described on camera how monkeys are making life hell for them.

I personally know many of the ministers, MPs, bureaucrats and judges, who told me how it has become a daily problem for them to shoo off the monkeys from their residences and offices. But because of the dread of being made a laughing stock in public, they do not air their grievance in public.

These simians bite people, break household goods, and even attack guests and outsiders, but the VVIPs refrain from airing their problem in public. A few years ago, local authorities had called in ‘langurs’ to shoo off the monkeys, but there was a big hue and cry from animal lovers, particularly Maneka Gandhi. Later some guidelines were framed and the VVIPs are now unable to take any action in violation of those guidelines.

Some of the politicians have hired people who can mimic the voices of ‘langurs’ to scare off the monkeys. In Rajya Sabha, some members raised the monkey menace issue, and the Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu revealed that he was himself a victim of this menace.

Now that the winter session of Parliament will begin, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has issued an advisory to MPs how to tackle the monkey menace. This advisory may not be of much help and the MPs would be best advised to approach animal rights activist Menaka Gandhi to seek a durable solution.

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How to curb the menace of stray cattle on highways

AKBSeveral states in India are facing the menace of stray cattle loitering on main roads and highways in recent years. The menace has spread to such an extent that most of the road accidents that take place at night, occur due to stray cattle.

According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in Punjab alone, there was a 38 per cent spike in road accidents in 2016 due to stray cattle. Forty-three per cent of such road accidents involved fatalities. More than 300 persons have died in Punjab in the last two and a half years in road accidents caused due to stray cattle.

Same is the case in Uttar Pradesh. India TV reporter on Thursday night showed stray cattle running berserk in the face of oncoming vehicles on Lucknow-Sitapur highway. Soon after dusk, farmers leave their cattle on highways, causing problems to motorists.

The situation has come to such a pass that policemen in UP, MP and Punjab have started fixing fluorescent light reflector bands on the horns and necks of stray cattle. In UP, policemen in Siddhartha Nagar and Etawah districts were found busy fixing light reflector bands on stray cattle to warn oncoming vehicles at night. This is a time taking process and it is not an easy task to fix light reflector bands on bulls and cows. Fixing of fluorescent light reflectors on stray cattle can prevent road accidents to a large extent, but this is not a permanent solution.

The Centre and state government will have to think over the larger issue of cattle protection and ensuring safe travel on highways. Though the state governments in MP, UP and Rajasthan have made announcements to build gaushalas for tending to thousands of stray cattle, much remains to be done on the ground level.

Official statistics say, there are more than 19 crore cattle in India. Out of this, more than 18 crore cattle live in rural areas, while more than 70 lakh cattle live in urban areas. Both in villages and in metros, farmers abandon their cows on roads after they stop giving milk. ‘Gau raksha’ organisations who have been vocal about preservation of cattle should also think and come up with a reasonable plan to curb the menace of stray cattle on roads.

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Time to spruce up major temples across India

akb (004)The Uttar Pradesh government has launched an ambitious plan to clear up roads leading to the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi by acquiring land and removing encroachments on the corridor leading to the temple complex. The plan is to build a wide corridor leading to the temple so that devotees can easily visit the shrine and pay obeisance.

Kashi Vishwanath shrine is revered by millions of Hindus across the world. I have been to this holy temple many times, but the roads leading to this temple were so narrow, chock-a-bloc with shops, flower vendors and beggars, that I used to have a tough time reaching the shrine. During the rainy months, the lanes and roads near the temple used to be covered with mud and slush. Like others, I also used to think the true prayers to Lord Vishwanath would be to clean up these roads and develop the entire complex. I am happy to note that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken up the plan to clean up the area surrounding the temple. Similar beautification plans should be undertaken for other famous temples in India.

I want to cite here an example of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The roads leading to the Golden Temple used to be crowded with shops and vendors. During the Shiromani Akail Dal-BJP regime, the shops and buildings cluttered on the roads were removed, and a beautiful corridor was built. I hope other temples in India will follow this example.


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Controversy over Rafale deal should now be put to rest

aaj ki baat_frame_71699 (002)The Supreme Court, in a lengthy hearing, in two sittings on Wednesday, heard the Attorney General and counsels for petitioners the pros and cons of the French Rafale jet fighter aircraft deal, and later reserved its order. Senior officers from Defence Ministry and Indian Air Force also came to the court to reply to technical queries from the bench headed by Chief Justice of India Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

The entire controversy that has gripped the nation for the last several months is now fast moving towards a final conclusion. But there are points which needs to be pondered over.

In an exclusive interview to an Indian news agency, French company Dassault CEO Eric Trappier demolished most of the charges levelled by Congress President Rahul Gandhi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Reliance ADA owner Anil Ambani in the Rafale fighter deal. Trappier clearly said that it was his company’s decision to select Reliance as offset partner. Moreover, there is not only one offset partner in this deal, but thirty companies who are offset partners.

The Dassault CEO also revealed that his company has initially invested Rs 40 crores in the joint venture formed with Reliance, and the entire investment would come to Rs 360 crore in the next five years. This goes completely against Rahul Gandhi’s charge that the Prime Minister “benefitted” Reliance to the extent of Rs 30,000 crore. Nobody knows from where Rahul Gandhi got this figure. He seems to be the best person to reveal his source.

Eric Trappier also revealed in the interview that Indian Air Force has bought 36 Rafale aircraft from his company at a price which is 9 per cent less compared to what was decided during UPA regime. Thirdly, it was the public sector company HAL which declined to become an offset partner in the Rafale deal. In other words, there was no pressure from the Indian government on Dassault to give the offset partner contract to Anil Ambani’s company.

The Dassault CEO also disclosed that the first Rafale fighter aircraft will be handed over to the Indian Air Force by September next year, and it would be equipped with radar warning system, helmet mounted signal, radio altimeter and Doppler radar, while the missiles that will be fitted to the fighter aircraft are part of a separate deal with missile manufacturers.

Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders had been demanding to know the exact price at which each Rafale aircraft was bought. The government has already conveyed the price in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court.

Rahul Gandhi has been saying in public in most of his rallies and press conferences that the Modi government has not replied to his charges. The Prime Minister chose not to react, but the Finance Minister, Defence Minister, and even the IAF chief, have replied to most of his charges in public.

Now that the ball is in the Supreme Court, it would be better if this controversy is now put to rest, in the national interest.

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PM Modi is changing the face of Varanasi

aka_frame_69283 (002)Varanasi, the eternal Indian city, has attracted pilgrims and tourists from across India and other countries of the world for centuries. The city is considered a seat of learning for the ancient Hindu way of life. The Adi Guru Shankaracharya visited Kashi in the 8th century for a rigorous religious debate over Hinduism and philosophy.

However, since independence, this ancient city always remained neglected as far as civic amenities and modern infrastructure were concerned. Things have changed for the better in the last four and a half years, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi nurtured his parliamentary constituency with gusto. Nowhere are the cobwebs of live electric wires in the lanes and bylanes of Kashi. In a concerted action, electric cables were laid across the city, and the cobwebs of electric wires, that presented an ugly face of the city, have vanished. There were perennial problems related to potholed roads and erratic power supply. Most of these problems have been solved on a war footing.

The ghats of Varanasi, on the banks of the holy river Ganga, which used to present an ugly sight, have been cleaned up, and the smiles are back on the faces of the people of Varanasi. Kashi was selected four years ago as the partner city to the ancient Kyoto city of Japan. Kashi may not have become Kyoto, but it can claim to be well on the path towards modernity.

Changing the face of a holy city is not easy. Faith and religion come in the way, and there are obstacles at almost every point. Yet, the march towards progress goes on. On Monday, the Prime Minister dedicated a four-lane highway to Babatpur airport, and inaugurated a multi-modal terminal, which received a container ship from Haldia, West Bengal. This container ship was the first to arrive via Ganga river from Bengal to Varanasi.

The holy river Ganga is being cleaned up on a war footing, and flyovers and highways are being built. It is not easy to preserve the ancient heritage of Kashi, and yet march towards modernity and progress. What matters is: if intentions are clear, and one has a strong will, the picture can change. The only question that remains in the mind of the people is: if so much could have happened in four years, then why nothing much was done in the last 50 years?

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No sympathy should be shown to Maoists and their sympathisers, Urban Naxals

Aaj-Ki-Baat_frame_1123 (002)On Friday, the Chhattisgarh police reported that Maoists have dug up numerous spike hole traps fitted with iron rods inside, to stop polling staff and security personnel from reaching polling booths. Several such spike hole traps have been found by the Cobra battalion of CRPF which is carrying out anti-Maoist operations in the state.

Normally, questions would arise as to why the Maoists laid spike hole traps instead of mines. The answer is simple: security personnel are now equipped with land mine detectors, and to avoid these, the Maoists have resorted to traditional methods of tribal hunters by digging up spike hole traps. Such spike hole traps are difficult to detect. The victims are not only security personnel, but common people who are unaware of such traps.

Since Maoists do not have sympathy for the common man, and they do not bother killing innocents and even photojournalists, there is no need to show sympathy towards them. Security forces should mercilessly carry out operations to eliminate these Maoists. Moreover, no more sympathy should be shown to ‘urban Naxals’ sitting in cities and universities, armed with laptops, and carrying out anti-national conspiracies. They too should be shown their right place.

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Effects of demonetization

akbFinance Minister Arun Jaitely has rightly said that demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes on November 8, 2016 by the Modi government has resulted in widening of tax base. More than twice the number of people are now in the tax net. It is also true that large amount of currency notes lying in homes returned to banks. Huge amount of cash that was being transacted in trade, entered the formal banking system. The demonetization move boosted the finances of banks. It is also true that with the expansion of digital economy, it has become easier for authorities to keep track of most of the transactions. These are matters which economists and financial experts understand very well.

From a political perspective and from a common man’s point of view, demonetization raised the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the poor masses. The poor felt that Modi has struck at those who were sitting on piles of black money in cash. When poor people saw rich farmers, real estate owners and moneylenders scurrying to exchange their currency notes, they forgot their own problems and appreciated Modi’s move.

The result was: in the assembly election that followed in Uttar Pradesh, Modi and his party swept to power. In subsequent elections too, Congress and other opposition leaders raised a lot of hue and cry against demonetization, but the campaign lacked fire.

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Why Yogi Adityanath restrained himself from speaking much on Ayodhya temple dispute

AKB (1)Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, for the second year in a row, organized a fabulous Diwali celebration in the holy town of Ayodhya on Tuesday. The difference this year was: South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-Sook took part in the celebration, dressed in a gorgeous saree. More than three lakh diyas were lighted on the banks of the holy river Saryu, and the entire town of Ayodhya wore a festive look, with roads cleaned up and widened, and the entire town was illuminated, with a water laser show thrown in.

Addressing a gathering on the occasion, Yogi Adityanath announced the setting up of an airport in Ayodhya to be named after Lord Ram, a medical college to be named after Lord Ram’s father King Dashrath, and renaming of Faizabad district as Ayodhya. He did not speak about the installation of Ram statue, but on the issue of building a temple on the disputed site, he spoke in measured tone.

Yogi Adityanath said, everybody knows what the entire nation wants (a Ram temple at his birthplace), and no force on earth can do injustice to Ayodhya.

Yogi is a constitutional functionary, and he spoke to the extent he was expected to, in his constitutional capacity. Yogi maintained the gravity of his position, but the most important part of his speech was that he has sought to bring Ayodhya on the world tourist map.

If the streets of Ayodhya are cleaned up every year before Diwali, grand Diwali celebrations are held every year, if there are good hotels and a world-class hospital and an airport, nobody can stop Ayodhya’s march towards progress and modernity. There could be no bigger gift than this for the people of Ayodhya. Let there be good governance on the lines of Ram Rajya. The building of Ram temple at his birthplace is a foregone conclusion, which nobody can prevent, and that is what the chief minister wanted to convey.

Happy Diwali!

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Taj Mahal is not a religious place, it is a mausoleum

Aaj Ki Baat 5th NovThe Archaeological Survey of India has barred offering of namaz at the mosque inside the world famous Taj Mahal premises, except on Fridays, in compliance with a Supreme Court order given in July this year. Since the Taj Mahal is closed for public on Fridays, local Muslim residents are allowed to offer namaz at the mosque only on Fridays between 12 noon and 2 pm, without any entry fee. On other days, any visitor, who had bought an entry ticket, could offer namaz at the mosque until now. On Sunday, the ASI officials locked the ‘vazu tank’, where namazis clean themselves before offering prayers.

The local Imam and the Taj Mahal Intezamia Committee has questioned the ASI order saying that namaz was being offered for the last many years, and there was no reason why it was being stopped. The ASI has said that it was only complying with the Supreme Court order.

The apex court, in its order, has clearly stated that the Taj Mahal was one of the seven wonders of the world and the monument should be preserved. The bench of Justice A K Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan had then questioned, “Why for such prayers, they should go to Taj Mahal? There are other mosques also. They can offer their prayers there.”

One basic fact should be noted. The Taj Mahal is not a religious place, it is a monument, a mausoleum. Hence the issue should not be viewed from a religious point.

Secondly, the Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful monuments of the world, it needs to be carefully preserved. It is part of our national heritage and it is the responsibility of all Indians to ensure that this heritage is preserved. The Supreme Court, after due consideration, had given the order and the ASI is only implementing it. There is no point in opposing this order.

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