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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?

 

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.

Cacti of challenges in our garden of freedom

Just a few hours hence we will be celebrating 70th anniversary of India’s independence. Of course, being a citizen of a free country is a great privilege for all of us. Therefore, we should all be grateful to all the known and unknown freedom fighters who have given us this precious gift. Now our responsibility is to make this garden of freedom better; grow new flowers of positive thoughts!
 
There is no doubt that after independence we have made a lot of progress. We are sending our satellites into outer space and even to Mars. We are not only sending our own satellites into space but those of other countries as well. Indian scientists have proved that India is second to none. Once India fought hunger with the US’ rotten wheat but today the country has become land of agricultural revolution and is helping the world fight hunger. Once potholed roads are now turning into sleek highways. We now have roads where fighter aircraft can land and take off. Once this country depended on other countries for small machines but today it is building gigantic machines.
 
What we mean to say is that the flowers in our garden are blossoming like never before. But there still are many challenges, many problems that make us worried. Food, water, education, healthcare and employment are prerequisites for a better life. But are we in a position today to say that these basic requirements of every citizen of this country is being satisfied? No, I believe! Farmers are not getting water for irrigation, good seeds for sowing and remunerative prices for their produce. They are therefore, ending their lives. Many people are not getting clean drinking water. The condition of healthcare too is not very encouraging. People are dying like cattle. One-third of the country’s population is battling poverty.
 
Unemployment is a major problem. An analysis of the data of 2015 shows that the number of unemployed in the country is about 12 crores. Of these, 25 per cent are between 20 and 24 years in age, while the number of youth between 25 and 29 years is 17 per cent. The number of women among them is very big.
Analysis also shows that 16 per cent of the youth who are getting technical education are standing in the queue of unemployed.
 
Many claims are being made for providing jobs to the youth, many figures keep coming from the government, but the reality is that the number of unemployed is increasing. Obviously, its side effects are also being felt. There is a saying that the empty mind is the devil’s workshop. Obviously, when the youth do not get employment, they are more likely to go astray. Many young people take to  crime. Why the number of stone pelters is growing in Kashmir today? If they get `700 a day to throw stones, they will naturally be inclined to do that. I have made many trips to the Kashmir Valley. From morning till evening, the youth have been found chatting at intersections. I have always been thinking why they can not get employment? My clear opinion is that if the government creates a means of employment in Kashmir, then the day is not far when the separatists will not find any stone pelters.
 
Earlier the Congress government and now the Narendra Modi government has paid attention to the skill development programme. Modiji has coined a slogan of ‘Make in India’. Of course, the work is going on, but the results are still to come. We are all waiting for the concrete results of ‘Make in India’ because it has rekindled the hopes of the unemployed for new employment opportunities.As far as the terrorism is concerned, one big cactus in our garden of flowers is also that India is at number four in countries affected by terrorism.
 
In fact, we are fighting with two types of terrorism. First, it is the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. Second terrorism is in the form of Naxalites within the country. It seems that there should be different strategies to deal with these two. Naxals can be isolated within the legal framework along with the development of tribal areas. But for the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, the government has to implement ‘zero tolerance’ policy just like Israel.
 
I will tell you an incident. The great scientist and former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was talking to children at Anand city in Gujarat. A child asked him who is the biggest enemy of the country? Kalam Sahab put the question back to the children and sought their reply. A girl named Parul said the country’s worst enemy is poverty! I also believe that unless poverty is removed from the country, the garden can not bloom.
 
There are many other cacti too. In India, the number of malnourished and underdeveloped children is around 4 million. India is 120th in the list of 130 countries in the matter of children with stunted height and low weight. There is only one bed available for 1,050 patients in hospitals. Similarly, only 0.7 doctors are available for 1,000 patients. The irony is that while our country spends only 2.1 per cent of the global expenditure on research and development, Europe’s share is 24.5 per cent.
 
Not all is well socially too. India’s secular fabric has taken a beating. What the former vice president Hamid Ansari said in his farewell address needs a serious thinking. Unity in diversity has been the strength of this country. We must salute Nehruji for giving us a framework which has guided us on the path of progress. It is very easy to find faults. Governments change but the most important thing is which path we are following. Mere rhetoric can not make a country great. Together with freedom, social harmony is one very important aspect which needs to be taken care of.
 
Before I conclude
The name of Davinder Singh Kang of Punjab may be new, but this 26-year-old player is the first Indian athlete to reach javelin finals at the World Championships. No one had earned this privilege before. In a team of 15 players, only Kang tasted success. I congratulate Kang wholeheartedly. He is certainly the new hero of the youth.

 

 

 

 

Why are children’s lives so cheap?

Some four years back, there was a huge hue and cry when 35 children died within five days at BC Roy Hospital in Kolkata. Four years later, hardly anyone remembers that incident! At that time, the government had also constituted a three-member committee to investigate, but who remembers that the committee acquitted the hospital authorities! Now there is a storm about Gorakhpur tragedy. The matter of Gorakhpur is slightly different from Kolkata. The cause of death was lack of oxygen here while in Kolkata there was a case of negligence in medical treatment.

 
As far as the case of deaths of children in Gorakhpur is concerned, I consider it not only carelessness but a case of mass murder. It is ironic that the hospital administration knew that the supply of oxygen will be affected. Nevertheless, no immediate concrete steps were taken. The firm which was supplying oxygen, had warned seven times because the hospital was not making payment of the outstanding bill of more than Rs. 68 lakhs. Media reports also said that the principal of the medical college was seeking bribe in lieu of releasing payment to the company supplying oxygen. Payment was delayed due to non-payment of bribe. It makes me wonder how a person can risk the lives of innocent children for a small amount of money? If these reports of the media are true then, in my eyes, that person should be tried for murder.
 
However, no such initiative has been undertaken by the state government. Shamefully, efforts were made to cover up the case of children’s death due to the shortage of oxygen supply. It was sought to be projected that children did not die due to lack of oxygen but succumbed to various diseases! But investigative journalism bared the government’s farce. When the government realised that the lie would not work, effort was made to suppress the matter by suspending a couple of officers.
 
However, the death figure of 35 children in 24 hours and 63 children in 5 days in Gorakhpur became public as it was  triggered by lack of oxygen supply to the hospital. However, grim reality is that every month in districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjoining Bihar, hundreds of children die due to the disease called encephalitis.
The main reason for encephalitis is the contaminated food and water along with mosquito bites. Along with this, it spreads like an infection. Most children succumb to this disease in these areas. The state and the central government are concerned about it. Encephalitis is not only claiming lives, but thousands of children are also getting crippled. Though the vaccination campaign has been going on since 2007, it is still incomplete. The cases of corruption in the course of vaccination drive crop up more often than not. The result is that the disease cannot be controlled. Fifty per cent of those who suffer from this disease succumb and 20 per cent of those who survive are devastated because of the irreversible damage to their body and nervous systems.
 
Developed countries of the world have almost overcome this disease but our death rate is increasing by the year. The biggest reason for the death of our children is the poor condition of health services. You would be surprised to know that our country spends only one per cent of its GDP on healthcare. There are many schemes going on in the name of health but the reality is that the death of children in this country has not been checked. This figure can frighten you that in our country, 7.30 lakh children die within one month of their birth and no more than 10.50 lakh children survive for just one year. Out of every 1,000 children, 48 die. The reason for this is the absence of cures for  various diseases.
 
This figure seems incredible, but it is entirely true that over 8,000 children have died in Patna’s largest government hospital over the last five years! The condition of government medical system in other states of the country is almost the same. The hospitals in the urban areas are just fine but in the villages, the situation is quite serious. The irony is that nobody is concerned about it. Neither the central government nor the state governments are taking any concrete action to ensure effective medical treatment for poor people and to contemplate how lives of the poor children could be saved. The children who are saved from various diseases are not completely healthy because they do not get nutritious food. Have you ever thought what its consequences would be? When the children are malnourished, they will continue to remain victims of malnutrition till they reach the threshold of youth. In such a situation, how can we imagine a better future? It is said that children are a form of God. It is ironic that while we squander crores of litres of milk on God, millions of children go hungry and crave for a few drops of milk.
 
Before I conclude
Those who have a very short physical stature have done India proud in Toronto. In the dwarf’s Olympics, World Dwarf Games, the Indian team has won 15 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 12 bronze medals. It is no less than winning a medal in any Olympics but the fame they deserve and should have got was missing. We need to change our attitude.

 

 

 

Global escalation is a warning bell

The continuation of atmosphere of tension between different countries is nothing new. Many countries are also fighting against each other. In many countries of the world, civil war-like situation is prevailing, but some of them have brought about reconciliation and the situation has become normal. You will find many examples of sporadic incidents, but never after the World War II was such escalation of tension witnessed globally as is seen now. The equations between powerful countries are changing rapidly.
 
 In fact, it is all about the fact that three countries - the US, Russia and China - are engaged in proving themselves as a super power. Before 1991, the US and Soviet Union were two super powers in the world. The world was divided into two camps. After this, the Soviet Union got disintegrated and was replaced by Russia, but it did not have the status of a super power. The US remained the only super power and it still holds that status. But in the recent years Russia has made itself strong under the leadership of Putin and even China has emerged as a great power. Now both of them are executing all sorts of moves to prove themselves a super power. Russia and China have joined hands with each other behind the curtain to pull the rug from under the feet of the US.
 
Please note that a small country like North Korea is firing one ballistic missile after another and simultaneously saying that it can attack any city in the US anytime. Obviously, it has got the support and strength from China. The US is unable to do anything because if war breaks out, South Korea, which is living under its shadow, will be devastated. This is what China is looking for. It wants to stop the US from indulging in any kind of interference in the South China Sea by using North Korea as a tool. But will the US sit quiet? There is no chance because the US has to retain its status of being the world’s only super power. It can go to any extent to retain that title. Clearly, the possibility of a war between North Korea and the US can not be ruled out. The big question is what will China do in such a situation?
 
China and Russia have made another move. Wherever there are anti-US governments, both of them have made good penetration. For example, these two countries are openly supporting Syria and Iran because the US faces chronic hostility from Iran and the US is intent on the removal of Assad in Syria. Consider another example: Russia and China have used veto power against the US and its allies in the United Nations Security Council. China used veto power 6 times in Russia’s interest. Here, Russia used veto 11 times. In 2012, both of them used the veto against the UN’s four resolutions on Syria.
 
The US also understands this situation. Therefore, it has extended the hand of friendship towards India and India has reciprocated appropriately. But is it just the right step for India to join hands with the US? I believe that even if Russia is getting closer to China, it will not leave India. Russia and India are old and time-tested friends. Therefore, there is a need to further strengthen this friendship. The strengthening of commitment to the non-aligned movement initiated by Nehruji to take the country forward, is the need of the hour. We have to maintain friendship with Russia and also have friendship with the US. Our situation is such that we can not align with any one side! China has put Pakistan in its lap and is trying to surround us. If we remain close to Russia, it would be a bit difficult for China to harass us. The US is a new friend but it can not be fully trusted. We should not forget that only Russia had cooperated with us in the 1971 war. The US was then with Pakistan!
It was because of the trust on Russia and the relevance of non-aligned movement that after Nehruji, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi or even Atal Behari Vajpayee too did not change the policy and maintained independent identity of the country. The time is important for India as it is progressing economically fast. Many countries want to see India as a super power and are supporting it too mainly because it is a democratic nation. As for Russia and China, they are the countries of rulers. Moreover, India has always advocated for world peace.
 
After Donald Trump became the President, for some time it seemed that the relationship between the US and Russia could improve, but in a few days it became apparent that this kind of friendship is not going to happen. Russia was accused of trying to influence the US presidential election and the US Congress imposed many restrictions on Russia. Russia has also ordered more than seven hundred US diplomats to leave the country. Now the situation is that the US defence minister Ash Carter has categorically said the Russia is becoming a big challenge for his country. He has also said that in view of the aggression by Russia, the US defence ministry will propose a four-fold increase in the US defence budget for Europe. Now the amount is $78.09 lakh, which will be increased to $3.4 billion. This means that the war cry is becoming audible.
 
However, there is also a possibility of war. The way China and Pakistan are united, it is the biggest sign of danger for us. China is threatening us and Pakistan has kept waging proxy war against India. China also wants that Pakistan and India should go to war so that  the latter will become weak. In fact, it is a tough time for our foreign policy and defence policy. We should be aware!
 
Before I conclude
I am surprised by the news that we have released as much carbon dioxide by August 2 this year as the ocean and the jungles of the earth can digest in one year. This means whatever carbon dioxide we will release after that, it will exploit the stores of our resources. It is also said that considering the amount of resources we have been using at present, one earth will not be enough for us. We need 1.7 earths! Now there is no new earth available! Obviously, in our greed we are engaged in destroying the earth with great alacrity.