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"Whole country needs Assam’s Pronam Bill "

The neglect of the elderly is on the rise and many of them are forced to spend their twilight years in the old age homes. In such a situation, the Assam Assembly has passed the Pronam Bill that stipulates that 10 per cent of the salary of those government employees who leave their parents or handicapped brother or sister to fend for themselves, will be deducted and the same will be given to their parents or handicapped brother or sister. This Bill is exemplary.
Last week, the Assam Assembly passed the Bill which is unprecedented in itself. Now, if the parents or handicapped brother or sister of an employee of Assam government complains that they have been deserted, 10 per cent of the salary of that employee will be given to the parents or handicapped brother or sister every month! After the Assam Assembly passed this Pronam Bill, the Assam government made it clear that such a Bill will be brought soon for the public sector companies, private companies, central employees, legislators and ministers working in Assam. Preparation is on for drafting and tabling such a Bill.
Naturally, the question arises as to what forced the Assam government to do this? The answer was given by its minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in the Assembly itself. He said that incidents of neglect of parents and their going to the old age homes are on the rise. Biswa’s statement is 100 per cent correct.
India has been such a country where the elderly of the family have always been adored. They have always been respected. However, under the influence of Western lifestyle, this new kind of emerging mindset is hurting the time-honoured institution called family. In such a situation, a society is emerging which is considering the elderly as a burden on the family. The matter begins with the neglect of their needs and ends up with the elderly being sent to the old age home. It’s not just about middle-class or poor families. I have seen many rich people indulging in such a behaviour towards their parents. This is the reason that the number of old age homes is also increasing in India. You will be surprised to know that the ministry of social welfare of the Central government has no definite knowledge of how many old age homes are there in the country.
Yes, the government has this data that by 2030, the percentage of the elderly people above 60 years of age in the total population of India will be 12.5 per cent. This figure has also been received by the Indian government from the report of United Nations Population Fund. This report says that by 2050, the number of elderly people in India will cross 20 per cent. At the global level, the population of the elderly could reach 15 per cent by 2050.
When concern was expressed on the pitiable condition of the elderly in the world, we were assuming that this transition of western countries would not affect us because we have a tradition of strong family here. Our children grow up listening to tales and stories from their grandmothers. The values within the family are strong, but the time has shattered our illusion. An organisation called HelpAge International Network of Charities released Global Assessee Watch Index after serious survey on the condition of the elderly in 96 countries of the world, which brought the reality to the fore. In this survey, Switzerland was accorded the first position, Norway was accorded the second, Sweden third, Germany fourth, Canada fifth and India ranked 72nd. It means that Switzerland is the best place for the elderly. India is in a very bad condition.
Unfortunately, India has not taken any special initiative to improve the situation. Several schemes have been launched but they do not seem to have any special effect. There is a huge class of daily wagers in India that depends on its daily earnings for living. How can such a class collect funds for old age? When body becomes weak, the elderly become dependent on their children. In such a condition, if children consider them burden, it is natural that the situation will worsen. How ironic it is that every parent gives his children everything they want. If the child falls ill, the parents spend sleepless nights, but when the same children grow up they consider their parents a burden!
Argentina was the first to attract attention of the world to this issue in the United Nations General Assembly. At the initiative of the United Nations, the world started celebrating International old age day on October 1 every year. 1999 was also celebrated as the International Veterans Year. We Indians also celebrate this day. You will also be able to see pictures of people sharing the fruits in the old age homes, but when the stories of these old people come out, it leaves us startled! In fact, we first have to pay attention to the financial condition of the elderly. Usually, all western countries have provided adequate pension for the elderly so that they do not have to depend on anyone for their needs. Yes, the biggest problem of elderly in the West is loneliness. Our country has both these problems -- economic and even loneliness! It is necessary that for the elderly, a policy should be framed at the national level so that they do not face financial problems. All the states and the Central government should take the same step which the Assam government has taken.
It is worth mentioning that in a country where there has been a tradition of equating parents to God, where the example of Shravan Kumar is often cited, why in this country known for sacrifice, love and belongingness, the condition of the elderly so bad? We have been observing the ideals of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna; the Ramayana, the Geeta and the Mahabharat have been guiding us, but then we are weaning away from our cultural ideals today, why? From the Western culture, we should accept good things and not learn anything that will destroy our culture.
Before I conclude
President Ram Nath Kovindji was in Nagpur on Friday. He spared some time for me despite his busy schedule. We met and had a great deal of talk. We have been together in the Rajya Sabha and he has always showered his friendly affection on me. During my meeting with him in Nagpur, I realised that there is no change at all in his nature despite reaching India’s highest office. Equally humble and gentle with the same sensitivity as before. This is the specialty of a good person!

India-Japan friendship foretells dawn of new era

Looking back at the history, the cultural relation between India with Japan was established in the sixth century only when Buddhism reached there. Since then, the relations have been good. There is no mention of any acrimony in the pages of history. Rather, during the freedom struggle of India, the Japanese royal army had cooperated with the Azad Hind Fauj of Subhas Chandra Bose in every way.
After independence, the foundation of good relations with Japan was laid by our first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and after that all the prime ministers tried to make relations even better. However, when India conducted a nuclear test in Pokhran, many countries of the world including Japan had imposed several restrictions on us. Following this, the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had sent a non-governmental all-party delegation to Japan, in which I was also involved. We told Japan that we are a country that follows the principles of Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavir and our nuclear programme is aimed at ensuring durable peace. Later, Japan understood out point of view. During our visit, we realised that despite the old relations, there is not as much attraction for India in the younger generation as it should be. There is an  atmosphere of indifference towards India in tourism or other sectors there.
However, it should be expected in the new era that the Japanese youth should develop an attraction towards India. There is a growing friendship at the government level. In December 2006, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh had visited Japan. At that time, many agreements were signed  between the two countries in the areas of defence cooperation and partnerships in other areas. In 2008, there was an agreement between Japan and India, under which Japan assured a $450 billion aid for the Delhi-Mumbai High Speed Train corridor. It is in the context of the same agreement that the foundation of the bullet train to run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai has been laid. There were several summits between former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe was also our guest at the Republic Day celebrations of 2014. Here I would like to tell that Shinzo Abe is also a very good person. I have got good fortune of proximity and friendship with him, and I have seen him from close quarters. He is a fantastic host. He has immense respect for India. Therefore, the graph of friendship is rising.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi understands that India’s friendship with Japan is very important in this era, so he chose Japan for his first visit outside of the Indian subcontinent.
He won over Shinzo Abe with his warm-hearted gesture. Since Japan’s relations with India are equally important, they also responded in equal measure. Economic cooperation between the two countries is also very important. Japanese companies such as Sony, Toyota and Honda have established their plants in India and have played an important role in the development of India. Suzuki, along with Maruti, started the automobile revolution in India. Japan has been a significant contributor to the construction of significant projects ranging from Delhi Metro to the Golden Quadrilateral and the North-South and East-West Corridors.
Indeed, Japan is as much important for us as India is important for Japan. India is not only a huge market with huge potential but the partnership between India and Japan with regard to relations with China is very important too. There is a sea border dispute between Japan and China. Situated in front of the city of Shanghai in China are Japanese cities like Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Nagasaki across the sea. China has staked its claim over large parts of the sea, which Japan calls illegal. China poses a grave threat for Japan through North Korea. China also has a border dispute with India and the controversy has erupted many times. That is why the India-Japan friendship remains an irritant for China.
The frustration of China is constantly visible through its media. It is trying to convince India that India should not form any group against China. China clearly feels that India, Japan, America and Australia are banding together so that India can get more attention than China in Asia. There is nothing wrong in China thinking so. Last year, India, Japan and the United States of America together conducted a joint war drill in the South China Sea. It is worth mentioning that China is engaged in developing many illegal islands in the South China Sea. This joint war drill in the South China Sea amidst the growing tension is considered as a threat by China. Here, in response to China’s One Belt One Road project, India and Japan are looking forward to make the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor a reality.
One aspect of the friendship between India and Japan is that both have two different but important capabilities. Japan is ahead in technology and India can lead. Obviously, Japan and India want to jointly share their capabilities with each other. China knows that the new era will emerge from the friendship of India and Japan, so it has put Pakistan in its lap to disturb India. I believe that howsoever hard it may try, China can not stop the development journey of India. The alliance of India with Japan, America and Australia is going to be a big challenge for China.
Before I conclude
The country is angry with the constant surge in prices of petrol and diesel. People are not able to understand that when the price of petroleum has almost been half as compared to 2012-13 in the international market today, why the price of petrol is spiralling? Already, the prices of fuels in India are so high because of 45 to 52 percent taxes. It is arguable why petrol and diesel are not being included in the GST. The highest rate of GST is 28 per cent and this obviously will reduce the prices of fuels.




Need to transform Indian Railways

When India’s first passenger train between Bori Bunder (Mumbai) and Thane was flagged off on April 16, 1853, there were only 400 people on board and three engines named Sahib, Sindh and Sultan were used to pull the 14-coach train! Today, more than 2.30 crore passengers travel by Indian Railways every day.
This number is only slightly less than the Australian population (2.40 crore). Of course, Indian Railways has made a lot of progress, but comparatively, China has made a lot more progress than us. When we got independence in 1947, India had 53,596 route kilometres of rail network, which has now increased to 66,787 kilometres. That is, we added only 13,191 route kilometres of rail network in 70 years. In 1945, China had 27,000 kilometres of track which was half the length of track we had. But China now has 88,000 route kilometres of rail network. China has reached number two position after the US vis-a-vis rail tracks. In the last one decade alone, it laid about 20,000 kilometres of rail line. Russia is at number three followed by Indian Railways at number four.
The US, China and Russia, and all the countries in Europe have achieved the target of zero accident, but  in India accidents occur anywhere, anytime. A large number of people are killed and injured. So the big question is, what is the reason behind it? The Indian Railways claims that 70 per cent of accidents are due to human error and this is true as well. Official statistics show that in the last three years, 361 train accidents occurred, out of which 185 accidents were caused by the errors of the railway employees. So are these accidents occurring  due to the pressure of work on the employees? It seems to be so because 2.25 lakh posts of employees in group C and D categories, considered to be the backbone of Indian Railways, are vacant. Of these total posts, 1.22 lakh posts fall in the safety category. Actually, the railways have not paid attention to the staff crunch. When the era of economic liberalisation began in 1992, the Indian Railways had a total of 8,000 trains and 18.5 lakh employees. Today, the number of trains has gone up to 20,000 while the number of employees has come down to 13 lakh.
This is a matter of human error! Now look at what is the condition of the rail tracks of the Indian Railways? In 2012, the Kakodkar committee had stressed the need to replace 19,000 kilometres of railway tracks with immediate effect. In terms of replacing tracks, there is actually a great backlog.
Former Railway Board chairman A K Mittal had made it clear to the Parliamentary Committee that it is necessary to replace 5,000 kilometres of track every year but only 3,000 kilometres of track is actually replaced. Obviously,  about 2,000 kilometre is added each year to the 19,000 kilometres of track that Kakodkar had talked about.
The reality today is that the financial condition of the railways is delicate. When we got independence, the railways’ share of freight transport was 80 per cent, which has now come down to 32 per cent. 70 per cent of the railways’ earnings come from freight trains while 30 per cent comes from passenger trains, catering and advertising. Exactly opposite, the trains carry 70 percent of passengers. Obviously, due to the population explosion, the pressure on the passenger trains has increased. Today, nearly 150 trains are running on the route on which 100 trains were supposed to run vis-a-vis the capacity of the tracks. Obviously, if more trains run on the tracks, they will cause attrition, needing immediate replacement!
Today, 3,000 bridges need to be rebuilt. The Hansraj Khanna Inquiry Committee had clearly said that the bridges that are 100 years old need to be constructed again, but the economic constraints has come in the way here too!
It is highly unbecoming for any developing country to say that it does not have money! Transportation is the country’s soul. The entire development cycle revolves around it. If the transport system is not up to the mark then how will the farmers take their goods from one place to another? Today, there is a lack of rail line in most parts of the country, including the North-East.
In the North-East, rail tracks are needed strategically too but every time lack of financial resources becomes the stumbling block! If the government wants, it can adopt some other way too. For instance, parts of the railways can be privatised as many countries of the world have done. Finances can also be arranged from public participation. The railways also owns the largest amount of land in the country. Money can also be generated by utilising that land.
The government will have to understand that providing safe and better rail travel is its social responsibility. The government can not brush aside its responsibility by stating that it lacks money. Especially, the safety and comfort  can not be overlooked. The distasteful catering and filth characterise the Indian Railways. In fact, the need of the hour for the railways is to change. Use state-of-the-art aluminium wagon. Use the latest system of safety and security! The is the least country expects from Modiji!
Before I conclude
Abhishek Patel has really done an amazing thing! He is a head-constable at Chitora in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh. He got the tip-off that a bomb has been planted in school. At that time there were 400 children in school. There was no bomb disposal squad! Patel thought that the life of more than 400 children was more precious than his own life. He picked up the 10 kg bomb on his shoulder and carried it to a deserted place a kilometer away. But I am surprised that the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced cash prize of only Rs 50,000. Prizes worth crores of rupees are squandered on those winning matches and medals, but only Rs. 50,000 for this hero?


This storm of hatred will erode democracy

Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and now Gauri Lankesh..! There is a commonality among these four; that they were free-thinkers and expressed their thoughts with courage and zeal. All four of them have this similarity that the people who feared their freedom of thought, killed them in a cowardly manner. The only difference is that after the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, there was a storm of hate in the social media; it was flowing earlier but its intensity has never been at this alarming level.
After the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, people naturally expressed their anger. Thinkers, litterateurs, journalists and enlightened citizens have, in decent words, flayed those who want to destroy the freedom of thought through terror. It is surprising that many people did not even like the idea of flaying the killers of Gauri. The self-proclaimed supporters of neonationalism created such an outrage on social media and started using such a language which I can not even mention in this article. The atmosphere of gruesome abusive behaviour has started. Thinkers do not use abusive language. So those who condemned the killing of Gauri thought it prudent to keep quiet. It seems that this attempt to suppress the voice of resistance is a new story of a new era. It is being attempted that if someone dares to speak against a particular ideology, he or she should be insulted in such a way that he will think it better to keep quiet. Will India’s democracy run like this?
Under Article 19(1) of Indian Constitution, all citizens have been given freedom of expression. In the Article 19 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration, it has been clarified that every person is free to exchange ideas and information. It is clear that democracy will survive only if the citizens have the freedom to express their views.
We all agree that there are thoughts which are opposed to some other thoughts. It is the desire of every thinker that those who believe in different ideologies leave their beliefs and agree with the new ideology, but it is not necessary that this always is the case! In such a situation, if freedom of thought is being attacked then I believe that this is an attack on the democracy.
India is one of the countries in the world where people  belonging to different communities, castes, ideas, beliefs and different customs live. We are so big that the culture of one part of the country does not match the culture of the other. What you see in the North-Eastern states and the ideology that you believe in are different from the southern part of the country or western part. How can you think that people of the South should follow Eastern India or people of Eastern India should start thinking like people of western India? Actually, diversity is the biggest identity of India. Respect for diversity has only kept us united. If we try to attack this culture of diversity and want to see everyone in our own manner then there will be resistance that can be dangerous for the country.
I have a clear belief that freedom of expression can not be an unnecessary freedom. But I also believe that thoughts can only be fought with thoughts, not by the bullet! You shot Gandhiji dead as you did not agree with him, you gunned down Indiraji as you disagreed with her and you killed Rajivji as you did not agree with him too! There are countless killings in the name of ideology! How can any civil society tolerate such a behaviour? Trying to get people to toe the line using abuse, baton and the bullet, is actually going to take people back to the time when they lived in the clan.
The ancient tribals used to behead people of another tribe and decorate their severed heads in their homes. Are we returning to the same tribal mindset?
There is no doubt that there should not be any immediate allegation on the killing of Gauri Lankesh. But it is also not right that Gauri Lankesh should be abused for her ideology. And who are hurling the abuses? These are people who have no social status. These are lumpen elements that have got access to free social media and they are misusing the medium writing thoughtlessly. So the question is: Will the peddlers of hatred continue to spread the poison of hatred? Should there be no action against them? We have a cyber cell that can take legal action, but when the whole system has been compromised how can you expect them to deliver the goods? The government should think about how to stop the storm of hatred because this storm of hate is hell-bent on eroding democracy. If there is such a storm in the name of caste and religion, how will our country become great?
Before I conclude
A couple in Surat donated the heart of their 14-month-old dead child Somnath Shah and gave new life to three-and-a-half year old Aradhya from Navi Mumbai. There can be no greater donation than this in the world. It is very inspirational. Of course, the inclination of people towards organ donation has increased but our country is still far from reaching the decent target in this matter. Thousands of people die as they do not get organs. The precious life of such people can be saved from organ donation.

Playgrounds Needed to Save Children from Killer Game

It is believed that the blue whale comes to the seashore to die or commit suicide. In the name of this blue whale, a Russian student Philipp Budeikin has created the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ game. This game comprises 50 challenges. The player has to complete a task every day. There are strange tasks, right from climbing a crane to running a knife or blade on their hands and feet.
Although this game was created and uploaded on the internet in 2013, it drew the attention of the world in 2015 when cases of children’s death started coming out. In 2016, 16 Russian girls committed suicide while completing the game and rocked the world. Philipp was arrested after a meticulous investigation. He told the police that he was a student of psychology but was expelled after he could not to do well. Following this, he created this game.
Today the situation is such that children have ended their lives while completing the tasks given in this game, in many countries of the world including Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Italy, Kenya, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, America and Europe. India too is no exception. On July 30 this year, a 14-year-old child in Mumbai jumped to death from a high-rise building. On August 10, a class VII student in Indore was about to leap from the third floor of the school when he was caught by other school children. On August 10, the police saved a 14-year-old boy in Maharashtra. He had left for Pune by bus to complete the final task of the game. On August 12, a class X student of Midnapore in West Bengal committed suicide. Even in Dehradun, a child was about to end life when he was saved. In all these cases, the child’s classmates informed that the child was involved in completing the challenges of internet games.
After such cases started surfacing in the country, the Indian government got alarmed and asked Google, Facebook and Yahoo to remove all related links to the Blue Whale game with immediate effect. The National Child Rights Protection Commission also appealed to the teachers and guardians to keep an eye on the behaviour of their children. Other countries across the world also got alert.
To fight this Blue Whale game in Brazil, a group has developed a ‘Punk Whale’ game in which positive tasks are given. But the point in question is why such a situation has arisen in the first instance? I believe that parents are also responsible for this to a great extent. I would like to give the example of South Korea where more than 80 per cent of the children have got trapped in the internet games in such a way that they do not know the outside world.
They do not even know the children in their neighbourhood. Such children are becoming victims of psychological disorders. And therefore, a campaign is now being undertaken for such children in South Korea and they are being introduced to the games of playground. The situation is that the campaign will take many years to succeed.
As far as our country is concerned, the biggest problem is that children are being strongly influenced by western living. They are greatly attracted to Hollywood films and internet games. The reason for this is that parents do not pay attention to children. They do not encourage children to play physical games. They think that the child is busy on the computer and is not bothering them. They do not understand that this situation of comfort is creating a big crisis for the future. They do not even like their children to go to the playground and come back home with clothes stained with soil!
When we used to be students, outdoor games used to be part of the curriculum which was strictly followed. Even today, the school time table includes playing sports. There are sports periods, but the moot question is how many schools have playgrounds? Everything happens on paper, but the reality is different. The Union minister of state for youth affairs and sports Vijay Goel himself has admitted that there are no playgrounds in 6,50,000 schools in the country. Actually, our governments are so indifferent about sports that there is no synergy between the Centre and the state. The availability of the playground is considered to be the responsibility of the state government.
Although a committee has been set up to link sports and physical education to school education and develop a course related to it, all of us know how many days it takes for the report of our committees to come and what happens to that report! The reality is that if the children are to be weaned away from the internet games, they will have to be given an option.
Firstly, playgrounds will have to be made available. Similarly, the children will have to be educated that playing in the field will keep their body fit, develop their brain, enhance their social skills, help them focus and learn teamwork, besides increasing their resistance power. After all, the glory of victory is also achieved by playing in the field.
Before I conclude
I salute the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) which saved the lives of thousands of people during the floods in many parts of the country. The NDRF which was constituted inducting personnel and officers from the BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP and Armed Forces has done a great job in a short span of just 10 years. Whether it is earthquake or flood or any other crisis, this force achieves its goal of saving human lives and their belongings with vigour and valour.