Independence Day was celebrated with the expected pomp and circumstance, with a measured speech to the nation by President Ram Nath Kovind and one more robust and rousing by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They ticked the right boxes, from the need for religious tolerance, equal rights and privileges for all India’s citizens, irrespective of faith and ethnicity and income, the need to remember the great sacrifices made by leaders and ordinary people alike who brought freedom to the country and help create the platform for subsequent achievements.
Prime Minister Modi drew particular attention to the common threat posed by international terrorism to India and the world and vowed to meet the threat with steadfast resolution. He said defence and security would be the principal priority of his government’s concern, with reference to Kashmir, promising that development in the troubled State would receive the government’s attention going forward (TV channels, August 14,15, Telegraph, Hindu, Times of India August 14).0
A film from the freezing and forbidding heights of the Siachen Glacier was shown on a domestic TV channel was a stirring experience for viewers, much moved by the sacrifice of the troops guarding the frontier against the enemy and withstanding the pitiless cold and myriad other challenges posed by Nature to life and limb. Over 1,000 soldiers have perished – many succumbing to the elements – in the line of duty, ever since April 1984, when the confrontation unfolded.
On the deeply negative side is the scandalous negligence of the Uttar Pradesh BJP-led ministry, which led the deaths of scores of children because oxygen supplies to the hospital were suspended by the contracted supplier despite repeated reminders to ministers and bureaucrats, as the unpaid bill kept mounting. The Telegraph (August 15) in its lead front-page report included detailed evidence of dates and extracts from letters from the vendor to the authorities without the slightest response. Driven to the wall, the vendor cut off supplies. The State government pinned the blame on Rajiv Mishra, Principal of the Baba Raghav Das Medical College, who has since resigned. The blame game is an odious subterfuge, as the newspaper revealed Mr Mishra repeated appeals the government department concerned to pay these outstanding dues, to no avail. Eventually, the transaction was passed but rthe government accountant’s failure to take the final procedural step – a matter of a few minutes – ended in suspension of oxygen supplies, with tragic consequences. The vendor stated subsequently that supplies of oxygen are not withheld despite non-payment of longstanding dues. Whatever the truth young lives were lost due to negligence and squalor.
Catering to the poor
The callous attitude exposes the vulnerability of the poor sections of Indian society to the whims of authority. Mr Mishra’s correspondence with bureaucrats and ministers exposed their falsehoods. Those responsible for this avoidable tragedy must be made accountable for their actions, otherwise tom-tomming on equality and social justice will be fraudulence.
Police, CRPF, BSF gallantry awards
Jammu and Kashmir Police men and officers of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CPPRF) and men and officers of the Border Security Force were awarded gallantry medals – some posthumous – for outstanding bravery in the line of duty against terrorist groups.
Men of the Andhra Police Commando unit were similarly honoured for outstanding courage in tackling and eliminating armed Maoists on the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border earlier this year (Times of India August 14).
CBI officer honoured
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Superintendent Nandu Kumar Nair received the President’s Medal for tracking down the assassin and his accomplices in the murder of Maharashtrian rationalist Narendra Dabholkar and bringing them to justice. The conspirators belonged to an extremist group called the Hindu Janajgriti Samiti, has been outlawed by the Maharashtra State government. (Times of India August 14)
Gorkhaland strike called off
The indefinite hunger strike of the Gorkha JanmuktI Morcha (GJM) since June 22 has been suspended by its leader Bimal Gurung, following the appeal of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for a dialogue of all stakeholders including the West Bengal government. The strike has brought no tangible dividends for the Hill district and the Hill people of north Bengal, caused needless administrative and economic disruption as the State government was amenable to talks provided violence was abjured.
The demand for a separate Gorkhaland clearly commands widespread support of the Hill people in the Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong district of north Bengal, but there are multiple parties demanding the formation of a separate Gorkha state to be carved out of West Bengal. However, the GJM and its leader Bimal Gurung are left facing searching questions from rival Hill parties, since it was the GJM that called the indefinite strike and called it off without consultation with other Hill parties, wedded firmly to the formation of a Gorkha province or state. (Times of India August 14).
Radcliffe restored Nadia to India
When it was officially announced that Nadia district had been awarded to East Pakistan at Partition by the Boundary Commission headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe the news was received with gloom and not a little despair. Undaunted, Saumish Chandra Roy, son of the Maharaja of Nadia, wrote to Sir Cyril as follows: ‘The Hindu faith accords to Nabadwip [in Nadia] a very sacred position and is believed one of Hinduism’s holiest sites. Sir Radcliffe understood the significance and corrected a wrong. At the stroke of midnight August 18, 1947, a chunk of Nada, including Nabadiwip was reverted to India.’
Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, having perused the documents, permitted Nadia to celebrate Independence Day on August 18! (Times of India August 14).
India’s economy is now over 40 times the larger than it was in 1950-51 in real terms; Indians have over 10 times more income in real terms; Rising consumption demand has led to faster growth in imports than exports; Foreign exchange reserves are presently $384. 319 billion, from $1.261 in 1950-51; India is the world’s seventh largest economy but five times smaller than that of China.
Miles to go
India has miles to go before reaching the uplands of a fully developed nation. Poverty levels may have decreased noticeably in the past two decades but they are still unacceptably high; famine and acute food shortages may have been eradicated but malnutrition among children and adults are visible in stunted growth. Education levels are uneven at primary, secondary and tertiary levels and affordable health care is yet to reach an acceptable standard for the poor and underprivileged sections of society. (Business Line August 14).
India-Turkmenistan discuss transit routes
India and Turkmenistan discussed way and means to establish transit routes for trade in talks between Road Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari and Turkmenistan Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov in New Delhi earlier this week.
High on the agenda was India’s joining the Ashgabat Agreement involving Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in a Transport and Transit Corridor. The meeting comes within days of Minister Gadkari’s visit to Iran, where he announced that the Iranian port of Chabahar, in whose construction India has been the prime investor, would be operational next year. Turkmenistan, with its vast gas reserves is the Depository State of the Ashgabat Agreement. Iran, Oman and Uzbekistan, with Kazakkhstan joining the group later, are founding members.
India has decided to join the Ashakabat Agreement subject to the approval of its founding members. It is a move of considerable economic and strategic significance as it enables India to bypass Pakistan to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and thence to Armenia and the North-South Transport link to the Russian Federation (Business Line August 14).
Speeding up disinvestment
The Cabinet has set up a panel to be chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to speed up disinvestment in central public sector enterprises. The new mechanism will empower the secretaries on disinvestment to take policy decisions on procedural issues and consider fresh methods, where necessary, for effective implementation of decisions already passed (Mint August 17).
L&T sells unit to UK firm
Larsen & Toubro, the Mumbai-based mega engineering company has sold its subsidiary L&T Cutting Tools Ltd to IMC Metalworking Companies BV, owned by Berkshire Hathaway for Rs 74 crore. The sale is part of Larsen & Toubro’s strategy to exit non-core businesses (Mint August 17)
‘Make in India’ metros get government nod
The Cabinet has given its approval of metro rail policy framed by the Urban Development Ministry. The policy is designed to promote ‘Make in India’ initiative in metro rail projects, said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Metro projects in 13 cities are at various stages of planning and appraisal (Business Line August 17).
NIA raids 12 Kashmir sites
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) conducted searches at 12 locations belonging to separatists and hawala operators in the Kashmir Valley. The locations are spread over Srinagar, Handwara, Kupwara and Pulwara,’ said a NIA spokesman. Among those arrested were Srinagar businessman Zahoor Ahmad Watali, senior aide to Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani (Hindu, Times of India August 17, 18).