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Isn’t even a single death from hunger a stigma?




The death of Santoshi, an 11-year-old girl from Simdega in Jharkhand, due to hunger has horrified the entire nation. The tall claims and promises of development are causing indignation. What kind of development is it that can not provide even two square meals to every citizen? Therefore, I am constrained to say that, “Mr Prime Minister and the chief ministers of all the states, please don’t do anything. Neither do we need bullet trains, nor do we want sleek and wider roads. You all simply ensure two square meals for the poor, jobs for the youths, end to the plight of farmers, irrigation for the farmland, clean drinking water to the citizens, treatment to the poor, proper arrangements to see that nobody is forced to carry the body of his child or wife on his shoulder, and see that no farmer dies while spraying pesticide! This is all which is expected of you!”
Mr Prime Minister and the chief ministers, how ironic it is that the public distribution system is being consumed by corruption, medicines are not available at government medical hospitals, the schools do not even have mats for students to sit, there is a shortage of teachers and the farmers are dying like flies. The concrete roads are falling apart baring the deep-rooted corruption and our character is being exposed before the youths. Corruption is raising its ugly head everywhere and we are celebrating Diwali? Now you all take up just one job in hand. Just ensure that the poor of the country gets bread, roof, drinking water and medical treatment. Just do that! Do not embroil us into the web of words! People remember the Prime Minister or the chief minister who does even one job properly. Don’t you feel any pain that people are dying of hunger, carrying body of their loved ones on their shoulders, and the hapless farmers who produce food for us all are embracing death?
Eminent poet Dushyant Kumar wrote nearly half a century ago:
Bhukh hai to sabra kar
Roti Nahin to kya hua?
Aajkal Dilli mein hai
Jer-e-bahas ye mudda..!
Enough of discussion and debate! We have to battle against hunger with full might now; fight against the decrepit system and corruption. When the then Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was the chairman of Rajya Sabha and Sharad Pawar was the Union minister for agriculture, food and civil supplies, I had censured the public distribution system saying that we eat the food meant for the poor and do not even feel ashamed about it? Shekhawat had then directed Pawar that he should reply to the question raised by Vijay Darda. In fact, the country still wants to know when will the disease of corruption end?
The Global Hunger Index report of the International Food Policy Research Institute has made even more clear what we are actually experiencing. India, which was at 97th position in the Hunger Index report of developing countries, has now slipped to 100th position. This means that India is third among Asian countries in terms of starvation. Ironically, our position via-a-vis number of wealthy persons is almost the same. While we are becoming more and more affluent, the ranking of most of the neighbouring countries vis-a-vis Hunger Index is better than ours. China is at the forefront at 29th position. It is  followed by Nepal at 72nd, Myanmar at 77th, Sri Lanka at 84th and Bangladesh at 88th position. Of course, Pakistan at 106th and Afghanistan at 107th position are behind us.
The United Nation’s latest report on global starvation has added another stigma. The report says that 23 per cent of the world’s hungry people live in India. Titled State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, the report has clearly stated that due to the situation in India, the international goal of elimination of hunger by 2030 has been jeopardised. The report stated that the number of malnourished people in India was 78 crore in 2015, which has increased to 81.5 crore in 2016. Do these shocking figures not scare the government? Does the government not feel pain and fear?
Studies show that 38 per cent of children below 5 years of age are malnourished in India, whose impact is felt on their mental and physical development, education and intellectual capacity. Around 51 per cent of the young women are suffering from anemia, i.e. blood deficiency. So the big question is what is the reason? Finding an answer to this question is very easy. We all know that inflation in our country is so dominant that it is difficult for the poor to make arrangements for two square meals. Leave alone nutritious food, the basic food itself is beyond the reach of the poor here. It is difficult for a labourer to eat both pulses and vegetables with bread, given the amount of wages he gets. Fruit and milk are a luxury for the poor. I believe that to overcome hunger and poverty, firstly inflation will have to be checked. And of course, we must stop the waste of food. The UN figures show that 40 per cent of India’s food is wasted. If this food is saved and given to the needy, many people can satisfy their hunger.
Before I conclude
Ratan Tata, the head of Tata Trust, has announced to give `1,000 crore and other resources to set up cancer hospitals in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. This is really a bumper Diwali gift! In fact, cancer patients from all over the country come to Tata’s Mumbai-based cancer hospital. Though they get treatment at affordable rates, the poor patients’ families find it difficult to sustain themselves in Mumbai. Tata Trust plans to provide Mumbai-like treatment to patients in their areas. This is the noblest gesture from the Tata Trust and it deserves to be extolled!




Who is responsible for death of 34 farmers?

Every government claims that it is sympathetic to the issues of farmers, but the reality is that the farmers are still deprived of their rightful dues. Politicians ask for votes in the name of farmers and become farmer-leaders. They get elected to the State Assemblies or the Parliament on the strength of the farmers. But once elected they do nothing except deceiving the farmers. In this country, a farmer is called Annadata but his condition is not hidden from anyone. It is ironical that the deaths of 34 farmers due to the ill effects of pesticides did not move the State or the Central government.

 Neither the government nor the leaders understand that any country becomes great only when it protects the interests of its farmers. But we have never made meaningful efforts to make the farmers prosperous! Commission after commission is constituted to go into the problems of farmers. The reports of the commissions see heated debates in the State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha so that the news and photos are published prominently in newspapers and aired on TV channels. Those resorting to such tactics later derive sadist pleasure of having befooled the farmers! After debates, the reports are consigned to the files that keep gathering dust. Can the government similarly take for granted any other class of society? Does the government find the uneducated farmers weak enough to keep befooling them! Is this the idea that underlies the step-motherly treatment meted out to the farming community?
I believe that in the last 70 years, farmers have made this country self sufficient in foodgrain through their hard work. There was a time when we used to depend only on imports but now our country exports foodgrain and other agriculture produce. In spite of this, the government never thought of giving any concession to the farming as an industry. Land is acquired from farmers at a cheaper rate to establish industries. These industries get round the clock water supply, electricity and all other logistical facilities, in addition to the credit facility. The government leaves no stone unturned to promote and market the industrial products at home and abroad. Ministers and officials travel abroad for the purpose.
I am not against providing facilities to industries, but I have a question as to why the government does not provide the necessary facilities to the farmers too? The government does not arrange for better farming training, high quality seeds, safe pesticides and adequate water supply for irrigation. Our governments have never imagined that a cluster of farmers’ land should be formed. Farming never gives profits in pieces and that is why in many countries 10,000 to 20,000 acres or more land is clustered for cultivation under the cooperatives. The division ratio of the profits also corresponds to the same. Actually, the government has never paid attention to modern farming. Our farmers are condemned to get poor quality of seeds, face water shortage, drought, and not get remunerative prices for their produce. Many a time the condition becomes such that the farmer leaves his crop in the field because the money required to cart the crop to the market is more than the money he gets after selling the crop! Has any government ever thought about it?
The bank does not hesitate to write-off bad debts amounting to `13 lakh crore to `15 lakh crore in this country. Nobody objects to this kind of profligacy. But if a farmer owes a few thousand rupees to the bank, his property is seized. I have no hesitation in saying that big projects were launched in the name of irrigation and most of them became victims of scams as thousands of crores of rupees went down the drain. The reports of the inquiry commissions have been suppressed. The scamsters are moving freely.
The cumulative effect of this kind of lopsided priority is that today the farmers are committing suicide across the country. Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region has earned notoriety due to farmers’ suicides. It is unfortunate that the region had to witness the day when pesticide used by the farmer to protect his crop took his own life! What an irony? The pesticide that is banned worldwide is sold here. What is the agriculture ministry of our country doing? A case of murder should be filed against all those who are selling this dangerous pesticide. But this will not happen because the government itself shields the guilty.
If there is an incident in a school, its directors are put behind the bars in no time; if a patient dies in a private hospital the directors are sent to jail and if there is an accident in a factory, the factory owner is jailed. But despite a spate of rail accidents, no officer or top railway officials have been jailed. This attitude is not right. The government should have the same attitude towards the culprits, be it an official of the government department or the private sector!
Before I conclude
The daughters of our country are really doing amazing things. In the World Wushu Championship in Russia, CRPF head-constable’s daughter Pooja Kadian won the gold medal for India for the first time. Wushu is a kind of Chinese martial art. World Championship is being held every alternate year since 1991, but it is for the first time that India won the gold medal. Congratulations Pooja Kadian!





"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!

This is manslaughter! Will anyone be sued?


After three consecutive train accidents in Uttar Pradesh, stampede on the Elphinstone Road railway station foot-over-bridge (FOB) in Mumbai has rocked the nation. This incident has raised several questions. The biggest question being whether this incident is just an accident? Is this not clearly a case of  manslaughter?

Several MPs alerted the railways twice in a year and wrote letters about Elphinstone Road railway station FOB. Many people too tried to draw attention of Indian Railways through social media that the condition of this FOB was horrible. It is so narrow and the crowd is so much that a major accident is waiting to happen, people had pointed out. But the officials of the Indian Railways ignored this warning. 

The ministry of railways which brags about making available milk aboard the train over a tweet, turned a blind eye to this warning. The top railway officials sit in their posh office not too far from this FOB, but everyone ignored the warning. Now the ministry of railways is saying that tender has been issued to widen the FOB. So the question is whether the ministry of railways was waiting for the accident to happen? Did it need the manslaughter to happen to galvanize the railways to reconstruct or widen the FOB?
The point is against whom will the action be taken for this manslaughter? Will the case of murder be registered against the top railway officials? When a child was murdered in a Delhi school, a case was registered against the directors of the school who resided in Mumbai. If there is an accident in a factory, a case is registered against its owner. If the owners and directors are put in jail in such cases, the question that arises is why no case has been filed against the railway authorities so far?
Around 2.30 crore passengers travel every day through 8,000 railway stations in the country. And if the top officials of the railways are so careless, it is clear that the lives of 2.30 crore passengers will always be in danger, which, in fact, already is. About four hundred rail accidents have occurred in the last three years and 185 of these accidents have been caused due to the negligence of railway employees and officials. 
When the accident involving Utkal Express occurred in Uttar Pradesh, only a few senior railway officials were transferred. No murder case was registered against them. Just imagine, if an officer is careless at one place, he will be equally careless irrespective of where he is sent or posted. All such officials should be put behind bars. Had this incident occurred in some foreign country, all the officials responsible would have been in jail by now. Here, the government washes its hands of its responsibility by paying compensation. Well, for your information, let me tell you that the bullet train we are bringing here has been running in Japan for more than 50 years now but there has not been a single accident yet. We need to learn vigilance and security from Japan.
The fact is that our railways is not paying attention to security and vigilance. There are about 3,000 railway bridges in the country which need to be reconstructed immediately. Of the 1.21 lakh railway bridges in the country, 75% have outlived their utility. Most of them were built over 60 years back and many rail bridges are even over 100 years old. In 1998, the Hansraj Khanna committee also said that a task force should be set up for railway bridges so that the bridges could be rebuilt within five years. It is more than 19 years but the report of the Hansraj Khanna committee has not seen the light of the day. Many bridges have weakened over the years.
The reality is that for many decades no initiative has been taken to restructure the railways. In 2015-16, a huge investment of `8.56 lakh crore was planned for five years. In the Rail Budget of 2017-18, creation of National Rail Safety Fund with a corpus of `1 lakh crore was proposed. However, the reality is that the investment which the railway needs is not available. There is a perpetual grouse that adequate funds are not available. In fact, we talk more and deliver less.
Imagine what would be the condition of the families of those killed on Elphinstone Road railway station FOB. Shraddha Varpe, a resident of Kalyan, was the sole support of her handicapped father. She lost her life in the stampede. Young Mayuresh used to go to office by motorcycle to avoid the crowded local trains. But to avoid rains, he took local train that day and died in the FOB stampede. He was the only bread earner for the family of five. There are several other similar heart-rending stories that have been haunting us since the day of stampede.
I firmly believe that the top officials of the Indian Railways are fully responsible for the calamity that has befallen these families. A case of manslaughter should be registered against them! Unless stringent action is taken against the officials of Indian Railways, such incidents will continue to happen. To be honest, once the railway authorities realise that they will end up in jail for negligence, many accidents will be curbed.
Before I conclude
The Under-17 Football World Cup will be inaugurated in India this week. The competition is among 24 teams from around the world. The Indian team is being led by Manipur’s Amarjeet and the whole country has pinned its hopes on him. In recent times, the Indian youth is showing great interest in football and this is certainly a positive sign. I congratulate the Indian team and hope that it will win the glory and become world champion!








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.