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India Reclaiming: PoK VIA WAR OR DIPLOMACY?, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 20 September 2019 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 20 September 2019  

India Reclaiming PoK

VIA WAR OR DIPLOMACY?

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

 

Both our ruling political leadership and military establishment are claiming that PoK is soon to be retrieved from Pakistani occupation. On Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Minister hinted that it is a matter of time for India to acquire physical possession of PoK. Not many days ago, Indian Army Chief said, “Army is ready to take PoK back from Pakistan. It is for the government to decide when”. The Defence Minister says, “If there will be any talk with Pakistan, it will only be about PoK, nothing else.” Finally, the policy statement on PoK came from the Home Minister in Parliament as he moved the J&K Reorganisation Bill. To a query from an MP, Amit Shah emphatically asserted, “When we talk of Kashmir, we invariably include PoK and Aksai Chin.”

 

Obviously, these statements and assertions are not mere rhetorics, nor pitching the tent high, to make Pakistan kowtow on the part of Kashmir that is with India which Pakistan has been desperately trying to take since 1947. If that be so, the prospect has tremendous international implications. Let us see how it may impact our foreign policy and strategic relations with the consequences of the action.

 

Arguably, despite the existence of International Bodies, and Laws of Nations, as prescribed by the Enlightenment political philosophers like Isaiah Berlin, the dictum of Gallic Prince still works. That is, “it is the privilege of the strong to make the weak obey”. How else one explains the shifting of the capital by Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem claimed by both Muslims and Jews to be the citadel of their respective religions? How is China trampling upon the citizens in Hong Kong demanding democratic space? How has Afghanistan become a theatre of super power rivalry since the invasion by former USSR in 1979, and proxy war launched by USA ever since?

 

There are many such instances where either military might or formidable strategic alliances allow a country to secure its objectives. This also happens due to the controversy surrounding the action. In all the examples cited in the foregoing, there are equally potent arguments from either side on the merit of their respective cases.

 

From such a perspective, New Delhi can take either the strategic alliance route of military action, or both. From the statements of the key Ministers – Home, Foreign and Defence, it appears that both the options are open. At any rate, military action is usually backed by diplomacy to manage the former. We can only reasonably pontificate.

 

Assuming that New Delhi moves sooner or later to take possession of PoK, what are the factors which may favour New Delhi’s moves? The most significant factor is the United States’ inclination to encourage or support New Delhi in PoK. There is greater possibility of USA weighing in. The US would like to withdraw from Afghanistan; the US is bleeding endlessly without any sight of any decisive end to its engagement, worse, it may turn out to be another Vietnam; so they are worried.

 

Donald Trump had made a poll promise to heavily downsize their involvement in Afghanistan. He would like to fulfil that before he goes for the second term in 2020. But Trump can do so only when there is some substitute to rein in on Taliban. Americans were counting on Pakistan to do so. As the hypocrisy and double-standard of Islamabad came to the realisation of the US, the latter diluted and almost stopped the military aid to Pakistan. At the same time, Islamabad was seduced and secured by Beijing.

 

The above geo-political scenario, added to the headache of Americans on Pakistanis. Donald Trump and the American strategic leadership has no other alternative to leaning on New Delhi; both to help them neutralise Talibans and to frustrate the Chinese hegemonic ambition in the region. It is very likely that Americans would support India in taking PoK as it would allow India physical access to Afghanistan, so said, Subramanian Swamy who apparently knows Americans’ transactional approach. It is known that Washington has been nudging New Delhi to get militarily involved in Afghanistan. It has not happened so far because of New Delhi’s reluctance and Islamabad’s resistance.

 

In the changed geo-politics, New Delhi may be inclined to heed Americans’ prodding in exchange support for PoK. Having secured the full integration of Kashmir, New Delhi would aim to take PoK as it offers vital security advantages vis-a-vis Pakistan and China.

 

How will Beijing react to it? This is most difficult to predict. Chinese are quite opportunistic. Few countries have read Chinese mind, and that is why perhaps Europeans and Americans regret building Chinese economy which turns it into a potential political threat to world peace and security. It is China which has maximum of territorial claims on other countries.

 

New Delhi will have to continue to work hard in isolating China. My concern, which I have expressed in this column more than once, is that New Delhi, at times, gets lulled into comfort and complacence on India-China relations. All these ‘swing and stroll’ diplomacy with China may be continued, but at the back of our mind, we must realise China is a potential threat to India.

 

The other stakeholder in the region is Russia. New Delhi seems to have suddenly rekindled the old love and friendship with Russia, which was getting closer to its past foe China. In any case, Moscow has been a solid supporter of New Delhi on Kashmir. We can safely assume that Moscow would extend that unflinching support to our action on PoK.

 

In terms of realpolitik, New Delhi would have to use both military and diplomatic route in reclaiming PoK. It has to explain to the world that entire Kashmir legitimately belongs to India by the Treaty of Accession signed by then King and endorsed by the Kashmir Assembly. That is how other princely States acceded to India. Pakistan has no claim whatsoever. It was our benevolence, respect for international law, and some would call it Nehru’s naiveté that created the room for controversy. Now New Delhi wants to complete the historical task that remains unfinished.

 

In parenthesis, one could also say, like the Governor of Kashmir does, the people in PoK will demand to reunite with their brothers and sisters as they see the development in the Indian part of Kashmir.

 

New Delhi therefore, needs to keep the focus on the well-being of Kashmiris, both in India as well as PoK. The Kashmiris must feel their future lies in India. Hence, the restoration of normalcy in Kashmir is an urgent priority. To be sure, New Delhi is seized with this.---INFA

 

Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

National Language: ANOTHER PANDORA’S Box By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 19 September 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 19 September 2019

National Language

ANOTHER PANDORA’S Box

By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

In the series of efforts launched by the BJP government to promote unity and integrity of the nation, it has now turned attention to the question of a national language for multi-linguistic India. More than the issues like “one nation, one poll”, “one nation, one Constitution”, “one nation, one ration card”, or “one nation, one curriculum”, entry into the language question is likely to invoke instant and passionate public reaction.

 

Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking on Hindi Day in the capital, opened the debate on the need for a national language. He said that Hindi is the only language that can unify the country and steps should be taken to promote it, thus opening another Pandora’s Box.

 

He claims that his object is to halt the overwhelming influence of English in the country. While asserting that unity and diversity is the strength of our nation, he said that “a national language is needed so that foreign languages do not overpower our own”. He was speaking in the Rajbhasha Award ceremony -- a fit place to enthuse the audience with the idea “Let us make Hindi the most widely used language in the world” as reported in the media.

 

The Home Minister also linked Hindi with Mahatma Gandhi, a tactical remark, in the context of Bapuji’s 150th  Birth Anniversary. Promotion of Hindi is for realising the dream of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel of one language for the country. He reminded the people that Hindi is the “heart and soul of our freedom struggle”.

 

Of all socio-economic issues that divide people, the one about national language stands unique in the sense that the pro and anti groups do not concede or even listen to each other’s point of view.  It is indeed a highly emotional question, much more than religious attachment. It raises questions of numerical size, comparative development, adaptability to contemporary use, richness of literature, age of the language, etc, --  factors  that intensify irrelevant comparisons and introduce linguistic divisions where they are not present.

 

In this controversy, different terms are being used interchangeably without clarity in their meaning like national language, official language, link language, regional language, and common language. Apart from this, there is medium of instruction.

 

BJP’s optimism that Hindi or any other language can be the uniting factor for the nation is reasonable and can be worked out if that language is spoken by or understood by a big majority -- say three-fourths of the population. In a vast country with over one billion population, even if three-fourths speak the same language, the other one-fourth is also large and cannot be pressurised to learn a new language.

 

Our uniting factor is our culture, our way of life transcending linguistic barriers. Extraordinary effort is required to elevate Hindi to the status of a uniting factor. That effort should receive voluntary cooperation of the people of India. Till that time, Hindi will have to wait patiently.

 

In truth, India stands united with multiple languages and unity will grow stronger and stronger with more and more scope for their promotion. Pride in one’s language and its achievements are unshakeable sentiments in India and also get hurt at the slightest offence. There is of course genuine difficulty for Hindi-speaking population to put itself in the place of non-Hindi people, particularly those far away from the Hindi heartland to realise the implications of HM’s speech.

 

National language is the term commonly used when talking about a language that is spoken in a country. It denotes a connection between a territory and a language spoken there. A number of Constitutions mention national languages, but in a different meaning. The term is also used in a region crossing political borders. National language is used for symbolic purposes in a nation’s flag or emblem. It represents the national identity of a country. Many countries have found it difficult to determine their national language, and very often, it is confused with official language.

 

An official language is the one used for official purposes, i.e. in official documents and proceedings, police and court reports, etc. A national language is also the official language in a country, but an official language is not necessarily the national language. In Singapore, for example, there are four official languages -- English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, but only one national language -- Malay. Kenya’s national language is Swahili, but official language is English.  Arabic has dual role in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.

 

Official languages are mentioned in many Constitutions and have a unique legal status. In many African countries, indigenous languages are given official status and their use promoted. Noteworthy in this connection is the US Constitution, which mentions no official language and grants no linguistic rights and obligations. Despite being a melting pot, there is strong sense of identity, which rests on progress and development.

 

So also, the Constitutions of Australia, Denmark, Gambia, Uruguay and many others do not mention national or official language. Some others like Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden constitutionally protect minority languages.

 

Canada, South Africa, and Belgium, which have linguistic groups cherishing a distinct identity need constitutional protection. The Constitution of South Africa gives official status to 11 languages, but like Zambia and Zimbabwe has no national language. South Africa recognises linguistic rights of individuals and groups as fundamental. Japan, the Netherlands, and Myanmar have not adopted any language as national or official.

 

A link language is a “semi-technical” term used for a language that is used for communication between two or more linguistic groups like Swahili in South Africa. Hindi is able to take this place easily between a Gujarati and Marathi because of their proximity to Hindi areas, which facilitates learning without effort, but meets resistance with Tamil or Telugu.

 

Link languages grow on their own and are not promoted by policy interventions. Necessity is said to be the mother of inventions; so also, it is the mother of absorption of languages. People are generally bilingual in border areas between linguistic States in India without anybody’s promptings. Hindi is growing in its role as link language due to increasing contacts and communications. No other Indian language has had this opportunity. Those in favour of linguistic unity have to wait.

 

In Europe, French served as the “lingua franca” -- a mixture of Italian and Southern French -- in 18-19th centuries and English has taken that place today. International organisations such as the WHO, World Bank and others have promoted English because of its global spread and not by any deliberate promotion.

 

With such variegated pattern in the linguistic world, India can better strive to strengthen its unity and integrity with several factors other than language since its very mention raises protests and offers a strong bond for a new Mahagathbandhan. The DMK has already stirred up an anti-Hindi call to unite political parties. Since there is no compromise solution, the wiser way is to build unity by encouraging all languages equally.

 

BJP leaders cannot be unaware of possible reactions to any proposal to push Hindi with official machinery directly or indirectly. The Home Minister must only be testing the atmosphere and must have got the result. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

   

 

Rising Desertification: HALT LAND DEGRADATION, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 18 September 2019 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 18 September 2019

Rising Desertification

HALT LAND DEGRADATION

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

Desertification has emerged as a critical problem across the world, specially due to climate change and global warming. This has led to increase in droughts in most countries. As regards India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the country’s commitment to raise the target for restoring degraded land from 21 million to 26 million hectares by 2030, while speaking at the recently-concluded 14th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification held in Delhi.

 

In fact, experts fear that land degradation would become impossible to reverse. Apart from having adverse health implications, this is expected to render land unproductive and unfit for agriculture. Modi rightly referred to the need for augmenting water supply, enhancing water recharge, slowing down water run-off and retaining moisture in the soil to tackle the menace of desertification. Experts believe that if proper emphasis is accorded on ‘global water action plan’, this may serve the twin objectives of water conservation and land restoration, leading to achieve ‘land degraded neutrality’, which India is expected to achieve by end-2019.

 

In the meantime, a recent study conducted by the Indian Institute Meteorology (IITM), revealed that during El Nino years, pollutants from South Asian countries can amplify the effect of the climate cycle on the monsoon, worsening an ongoing drought situation. The study stated that severity of droughts during El Nino years was amplified by 17 per cent due to changes in aerosol pollution (a cloud or solid or liquid particles). It further pointed out that pollutant loading in the Asian Tropopause Aerosol Layer -- a high altitude layer of pollutants -- reduced the amount of solar radiation in the monsoon region, thereby aggravating the severity of drought by further weakening the monsoon circulation. 

 

Increase in industrial emissions from India and China added millions of metric tonnes of aerosols into the atmosphere and this aerosol emission will have an adverse impact on the severity of droughts over the monsoon region,” observed Dr. Suvarna Fadnavis, of IITM. Meanwhile, the study found that El Nino led to a decrease in rainfall over India, with a monsoon rainfall suppressed by 2 mm to 6 mm per day. Added to this is the effect of aerosols and the decrease in rainfall of around 17 per cent over Central India.

 

Delving into the causes of desertification, the rise in droughts is primarily due to mismanagement of water resources where not enough rain is being recharged or water used inefficiently and inequitably. Though there are frequent floods, the sheer inability to plan for drainage as also lack of concern to protect the forests on watersheds or the near criminal act of building and destroying the flood plains. 

 

The fact that temperatures are increasing, intense heat events are being witnessed in many parts of the world. There is more heat and dust everywhere as emissions continue to increase, specially in big cities and industrial towns. In the South Asian sub-continent, temperatures have spiked to unimaginable levels. As is agreed by experts, high temperature means less moisture on the ground, leading to desertification.

 

There are reports of deaths every year from heat waves and in 2008, over 500 people died in northern Indian States from dust storms. For the past decade or so, every year the temperature increase is higher than the previous year, as per WMO records.  

 

One may refer here to a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2019 that rightly indicted modern agricultural practices for using more and more chemicals, pesticides etc. and adding to GHG emissions. The need to increase productivity in countries like India and Pakistan to feed an ever-expanding population as also to boost up earnings of the farming community has necessitated this use, along with calling for a change in diets.

 

The desertification convention signed way back in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio may not have seriously been considered by member countries. Desertification was not a global issue at that time but now the situation has changed. Today, it is undoubtedly a major problem and needs cooperation between nations. Experts believe that the crisis is becoming more and more deadly as temperatures continue to increase and intervention is required to ensure that this spiral does not get out of hand

 

The answer to the causes of desertification is the need for massive green cover as also checking over withdrawal of groundwater and judicious irrigation practices. No doubt, trees are being planted, reports of which we often read in the media. But this is precious little compared to felling of trees and destruction of forests that is occurring in most countries, including India.

 

As regards water efficiency, there is need to point out that people in India, specially in the eastern and north-eastern parts, misuse water as this natural asset is available in abundance. But the problem is acute in the western and southern parts of the country. Thus, there is need for a massive awareness campaign for judicious use of water as also ensuring utmost water efficiency as has been done in the case of tree plantation. 

 

A point that needs to be emphasised is that land degradation or droughts primarily affect the poor and the economically weaker sections who mostly reside in rural areas. As has been stated repeatedly at various international conferences, the poor of the world, who are generally voiceless, are the victims of human induced disaster as they lose livelihood and become shelterless, thereby going against established notions of sustainable development. 

 

Most governments with a centralised governance system are not quite aware of the problems that people face at the grass-root levels due to desertification, land and soil degradation etc. Unfortunately, there are umpteen resolutions as well as big promises, both at the global or national levels, with no real intervention in remote areas where the actual problem persists.

 

Therefore, there is an urgent and imperative need to get serious and delve deep into the crisis, specially in the Asian countries, including India, and chalk out a framework that must be adopted at their national level. Also cooperation and collaboration between nations at the regional and global levels for technology sharing could go a long way in tacking desertification. With India taking over the Presidentship of the Convention, reviving degraded land is imperative to increase agricultural production and productivity and this is specially relevant for South Asian countries. Thus, it is recommended that the onus is now on New Delhi to revive lands in a phased manner. Sooner the better!---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Cow Politics Back: MILKING POLL BENEFIT, By Poonam I Kaushish, 17 September 2019 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 17 September 2019

Cow Politics Back

MILKING POLL BENEFIT

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

Gau mata politics is once again back with a bang. “Some people, the moment the words gai and Om fall on their ears, their hair stands on end….. They think the country has gone back to the 16th and 17th centuries ……It is people with such views who leave no stone unturned to destroy the country, ” asserted Modi at the launch of the National Animal Disease Control Programme in Mathura last week. Predictably, the Opposition rushed in to milk the political fallout accusing the Prime Minister of turning a blind eye to people being killed in the name of the bovine. Either way, the Holy cow has becomes a hot potato!

 

Certainly, this was music to the ears of our Hindutva Brigade who perceived it as NaMo being in sync with their thinking. Of using it as a potent symbol of threat to the Hindus from minorities communal bashing, pushing cow protection and cow rights legislation along-with banning its slaughter, religious sacrifice or eating beef as an integral part of its cultural and religious agenda.

However, it seems Modispeak on Gau mata is not so much about the fate of the holy cow as it is about cynical political competitive politics. Having re-discovered the cow’s brand equity as a good vote-catcher among the majority community, the BJP has adroitly woven the bovine into its development tapestry which brought it power at the Centre and in 19 States. Today, it enjoys pride of place in its long-term strategy and is included in its poll manifesto in various States.

Ably sponsored and pushed by Saffron-robed Ministers, netas and swamis who have upped the ante by making it the cause célèbre for their and the Party’s ambitious needs, a panacea to consolidate majority votes and milk it in the race for power in the forthcoming elections in three States Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand. 

Ranging from protecting the bovine, setting up the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog for “genetic upgrading of cow resources, conservation, protection and development of cows and their progeny, promoting a cow tourism circuit which will pass through places that breed indigenous cows, a Ministry dedicated to cow protection, setting up a gaushala in every panchayat, cow sanctuary and imposing a 20% cow cess on liquor etc.

More. The idea of the cow has crowded out all else. Wherein cow-centredness --- politics, society, morality, science, economics, livelihoods and the lack of them are all focused on the revered bovine. Four examples: BJP-ruled UP has budgeted Rs 600 crores for protection and welfare of cattle and cow shelters, has started an ambulance service for cows and a Rs 750 crore Rashtriya Gokul Mission.

The Uttarakhand Law Commission has recommended changes in the state’s Protection of Cow Progeny Act 2007 to declare cow as ‘rashtra mata’ and setting up veterinary centres for stray bovines. In Haryana, any person abandoning his/her cattle may be slapped with a hefty fine. Maharashtra has set up a Gau Seva Aayog  as part of a new initiative to protect cattle seized by the police and initiate legal action.

Pertinently, the Congress too has jumped on the bandwagon and is trying to reposition itself to match the BJP’s Hindutva cow plank for future electoral battles. Over the past few weeks, the Party has been systematically espousing concerns for Gau mata. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath said he could not see the bovine suffer on the streets and vowed to set up 1000 shelters. His Rajasthan counterpart Gehlot plans to seize vehicles transporting illegal cows and honouring those who adopt them. 

In fact, various other Opposition-ruled States too have jumped on the protect-the-cow bandwagon and are extending the Cow Slaughter Ban Act to bulls and bullocks, notwithstanding this has evoked criticism. Some have taken off beef from the menu as trucks carrying cattle continue to be attacked by rightwing activists. In Delhi the AAP Government is building advanced cow shelters which will be clubbed with old-age cow homes.

 

Disconcertingly, the gau rakshaks have taken Modispeak as a cue to continue minority bashing under the garb of cow protection, whereby, any action taken to protect the cow is justified, even if it means taking the law into their hands. The last few years stand testimony to horrific lynching and killing in UP’s Bulandshahr and Dadri, Haryana’s Ballabhgarh and Gujarat’s Una etc. The charges? Beef eating, killing a cow, carrying beef etc.

 

While patronage and ideological indoctrination is one reason for the spiral of vicious violence, the vigilantes get away with murder as leaders look the other way and justify any action taken to protect the cow, even if it means taking the law into their hands resulting in the Government reaping political capital by inciting communal passions. A win-win situation for both.

 

Notably, cow protection has been a live political issue for long in the country and hotly debated.  Even the founding father had debated the issue at length. Article 48 reads: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.

 

Gau raksha was included as a Directive Principle of State policy. However, the Directive Principle does not provide for a total nationwide legislative ban on cow slaughter, which the Hindu fundamentalists have been demanding for long. Several agitations have taken place since 1966 when Parliament was sought to be gheraoed, resulting in police firing and deaths.

As many as ten Private Member’s Bills have been tabled in the Lok Sabha between 1985 and 2006. In 1979 the Janata Dal Government tabled an official Bill and Indira Gandhi wrote to States to enforce a ban. Two National Commissions studied the issue. But there is no Central Act.

Certainly, the Gau mata is sacred to Hindus and is revered as Kamdhenu and Matrika. Every bit of the cow is useful. It helps sustain rural economy, gives milk and even its urine has miraculous medicinal value. Therefore, it has a central place in religious rituals as well as free rein to roam in streets. Over the years, a majority of States have passed controversial slaughter laws which make killing local cows illegal.

Consequently, we have a wacky hodgepodge of cattle laws according to leaders’ political appetite. While some States have banned cow slaughter, others allow killing of old or sick cattle, several kill, ban or no ban and not a few require a “fit for slaughter” certificate, several kill, ban or no ban and not a few require a “fit for slaughter” certificate.

 

In the final analysis , people are now conscious of the fact that religion should not be mixed with politics In our political quicksand our leaders underscore once again there is no ‘sacred cow’ when it comes to garnering votes whereby it suddenly transformers into a political Kamdhenu. Clearly, they must desist from reducing the sacred bovine to a religious plank, political ping-pong, poll gimmick and profitable business in the quest for power, Mr Prime Minister. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

Toll Tax Extortion:SCAM SINGES ECONOMY, by Shivaji Sarkar, 16 Septembre 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 16 September 2019

Toll Tax Extortion

MEGA SCAM SINGES ECONOMY

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

It is time, rather most opportune time, to do away with road toll and review the levy of infrastructure cess of Rs 9 per litre. With massive swindling of toll money, non-deposition of collected funds with IL&FS and NHAI, it has developed into the largest of the scams. A moot question is: why the toll is being continued despite exposure of mega bungling?

 

On an average NHAI collects Rs 60 to 65 crore as toll every day -- Rs 23625 crore a year is the modest assessment. Besides, over Rs 2.5 lakh crore a year is collected from infra cess on petrol. The issue is serious as despite massive collections or extortions from the common man the economy is showing no sign of improvement. The International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank have estimated fall in growth.

 

The IL&FS funding for the road projects lost Rs 91,000 core as per official estimates as the concessionaires who were supposed to pay back through toll collections did not do so. It has affected a number of banks, non-banking organisations and others.

 

The issue of NHAI losses reportedly has singed one of the highest offices and has taken toll of a senior most bureaucrat, who protested. It is said that he not only wanted a probe but also a review for giving up the highway toll. The PMO is said to have asked the NHAI to discontinue construction of road and monetise assets.

 

Former NHAI Chairman Brijeshwar Singh has said that the authority is piling a huge debt of Rs 1.78 lakh crore up from Rs 40,000 crore in 2014. Another top official has said that NHAI is totally log jammed by an unplanned and excessive expansion of roads and it is mandated to pay much higher cost for land acquisition and construction.

 

According to the Ministry of Finance’s revenue collection estimates, the Centre collected over Rs 2.579-lakh crore by levying cess and taxes, on the petroleum products in FY19. This is a massive jump from the gross revenue collection of around Rs 88,600 crore in 2013/14. In FY18, the collection was Rs 2.016-lakh crore.

 

The latest NHAI bid offer is of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. A simple question is where is this massive collection from cess going to? Since the cess collection at Rs 9 now, during the five years is about Rs 10 lakh crore, where is the need for NHAI to set up a non-transparent, if not corrupt, toll system? Who do they want to feed?

 

There is yet another irrational annual raise of 5 to 10 per cent in toll rates. It is estimated that average toll rates have gone by 250 per cent in nine years. Logically, every year toll should get reduced as the cost is progressively recovered. This apart, misbehavior at toll plazas almost regularly leads to law and order situations. Recently, at a toll plaza in Ghaziabad on NH 91, a commuter was charged over Rs 11 lakh on his credit card. Luckily, he did not have the limit. Plus, such roads must be traversed by ministers to see how dilapidated is that highway like most others.

 

The Government’s audit departments have raised objection to many toll practices. The crowded toll gates cost Rs 87,000 crore a year, including additional fuel cost of Rs 60,000 crore, to the nation in time lost and additional fuel expenses, according to an IIM, Kolkata study in 2011-12. It is more than the toll collected a year.

 

The IIM conducted the survey on 17 routes, including, Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Bengaluru.  On an average for a journey of 2000 km six hours are lost at toll gates. There has been little improvement since. The toll gates remain chaotic despite the so called RFID tag. At many gates these do not work and manual clearance cause long jams.

 

According to NHAI, commuters can pass a toll plaza free of cost, should they spend 2 minutes and 50 seconds in the queue. There is total waiting time of 3 minutes. But if one insists on it at a toll gate, it would be a miracle if he can save his life from the concessionaires’ goons.

 

The ministers often say the greatest untruth that roads could not be built unless people pay. The reality is people are paying everyday in the name of infrastructure cess of Rs 9 per litre or Rs 90 per ten litres on petrol. They pay exaggerated toll tax at every gate. Each toll payment is at least 60 per cent more than it should be. At each toll gate one wastes a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes leading to additional fuel cost and time.

 

For instance, before the toll was levied on Delhi-Jaipur highway, it would take approximately six hours to travel. Now it takes not less than seven hours. And if it is Ghaziabad-Aligarh, it takes not less than three hours. None of the roads have the normal quality.

 

Recently, the NHAI has been slapped a fine of Rs 750 crore in an arbitration case, which requires the authority to pay West Haryana Highways Projects, a private company that widened the National Highway between Delhi and Haryana border connecting Rohtak. The total cost of the project was Rs 586 crore. The developer also charged Rs 4 crore for supposed loss post demonetisation. It is strange when the entire nation suffered most developers got handsomely paid by the NHAI. The developer did not even pay the engineers employed by it and that cost was added to NHAI costs.

 

During demonetisation, the NHAI paid Rs 922 crore for supposed loss. It appears that it has not been managing its affairs properly and public money is being swindled away. According to NHAI, the concessionaires do not pay almost one-third of the collections. In other words, its losses are gains for concessionaires. Since most toll gates are managed by influential people and a sizeable contribution goes to various poll funds, nobody wants to do away with a cash cow. Governments apparently ignore the inflationary effect of the high, irrational toll taxes because it benefits those close to power.

 

Rationally as tolls are developing into large scams and about Rs 2.5 lakh crore are being collected a year through infra cess, the government should do away with all toll collections and remove the toll gates. It would be a great saving, pace up movement and lubricate the economy. Of late, the PMO has taken note of the NHAI irregularities. The country should hope that better sense will prevail and sane decisions will be taken.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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