Author: Bhimashankar Sanga

Shouldn’t the PMO lead by example by paying its dues to Air India?

The Central Information Commission (CIC), being a quasi-judicial body had the jurisdiction to hear an RTI plea filed by activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra under section 18 of the RTI Act in presence of PMO & the Ministry of External Affairs on 3rd January. In his RTI plea, Lokesh Batra had sought information about expenses incurred on foreign air travel by the Prime Minister.  The primary concern of this RTI activist was the delay in the payment to cash –strapped Air India.

The stone-broke, deep in the red – Air India had a consolidated debt of Rs.51,367.07 crore at the end of 2014-15 fiscal. It posted successive losses of at Rs.5,490.16 crore, Rs.6,279.6 crore and Rs.5,859.91 crore in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively. The carrier is surviving on  Rs.30,231 crore  financial bailout package cleared by the previous UPA govt. When the national carrier is neck deep in loss, delay and non-clearance of bills from the highest office in India-PMO is simply unacceptable.

The bills that are “under process” and “not received” keep piling up with each passing quarter.

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 Air India has also not been proactive and upbeat in recovering dues from the PMO office.  It is not very keen to recue itself even when the demand for flights is sluggish and oil prices are rising North.   There exists a lacuna in the recovery process of all government agencies like MTNL, BSNL, ITDC, BESCOM etc. The government agencies has shown lack of will towards recovering dues  owed to them by various political parties, politicians and high offices.  In 2003, Indian Youth Congress owed a sum of Rs.2,91,958 to ITDC.  Though recovery proceedings were initiated under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 and to obtain recovery certificate under Section 14 thereof, but no steps had been taken for execution of the said recovery amount and certificate. Similarly in 2013, MTNL and BSNL had initiated the process of recovery of its dues from as many as 194 ex-MPs under Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.To assist them in their recovery process, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats had provided bank accounts of those ex-MPs. In spite of all the assistance and legal structures, recovery was not done.

Air India needs to learn from Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) which took a stern decision to cut power supply to former Queen Mother Ratna Rajya Laxmi Shah for not paying outstanding bill of 37 lakh rupees. NEA had similarly cut power lines of Gyanendra Shah, the last monarch of Nepal.

The utter disregard displayed by high offices & political masters towards clearance of government agencies’ dues had been condemned in the past by Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court in its decision – W.P.(C) No.4912/1998 & CM No.12564/2003 has issued  a directive to government agencies to discontinue the existing facilities like electricity , phone, rail/ air travel etc.,  in case of non-payment for these services for over three months. The very fact that the high court took 18 years to hear the PIL filed by Krishak Bharat shows the kind of negligence, resistance and reluctance involved in the issue of repayment of dues.

When air travel repayment is not done by an office like PMO without compunction, it lowers its own stature in the eyes of public.  A common man, who struggles to make ends meet, let alone enjoy any luxuries, will never leave utility bills unpaid for months. Will the ordinary citizen be able to ever get away with something like this? Air India has to ensure that PMO pays up all dues within a time frame, including penal levies and interest. PMO, on the other hand should pay their bills promptly to set an example for others and also to restore people’s faith in them.

 

 

Why Government is right in demanding proof of parking?

In a recently held press conference, urban development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu announced that aspiring car owners should mandatorily produce parking space certificate in future.   This move’s raison d’etre is to regulate the sale of cars by coercing car owners to produce proof of parking space. It is also aimed at unblocking side streets and allowing driving access to side streets .Our current hodge-podge parking enforcement is ineffectual. Nobody is immune to the horrors of mismanaged parking system. The busy streets clogged with parked cars engulf sidewalks and denies the safe passage for passengers. Undisciplined parking chokes up streets and is also responsible for traffic congestion. Arbitrary or whimsical parking slows down traffic and also gobbles up expensive real estate space which causes economic hemorrhage for the country.

This ‘proof of parking’ regulation was first enacted in July 2010 in the mountainous Himalayan state of India- Sikkim to control the ballooning vehicle population. In the following month, its neighboring state Mizoram issued a notification to mandatorily produce parking space availability certificate before one intends to purchase a car. The onus of issuing parking certificates after physical verification of the sites was swung back to the superintendent of police in-charge of traffic.  The state governments have all the power to adumbrate or chalk out all the details of ‘proof of parking’ implementation, and whether to implement it at all.  This suggestion of producing ‘parking certificate’ was made in 2009 by Maharashtra government’s additional pleader Shashi Nair in the Bombay High Court before division bench of Justices Bilal Nazki and V K Tahilramani. Sunder Committee report had suggested amelioration to the Act point 29 of   Central Motor Vehicles Act, in 2011 by proposing to mandatorily furnish proof of parking space at the regional transport office (RTO). Center, however did not accept the proposal then.

In Japan, Parking space certificate or Shako shomei sho has to be compulsorily obtained from local police while registering a car, or while changing address.  This parking law was enforced 55 years back in 1962.  Japanese law gives the leniency of leasing a parking space, instead of owning a parking space. This law was enforced to prevent clogging of narrow Japanese streets with parked cars. On-street-parking is irremissibly banned in Korea’s island province of Cheju, though it is not implemented across South Korea. Philippines, China, Bangkok, Singapore etc. are trying to enforce similar parking laws to improve their transport systems.

As the income of the middle class is rising, their aspirations and standard of living is also rising. This has resulted in people buying cars more than ever in Indian history. India now has 18 cars per 1000 citizens.

India’s automotive industry is one of the largest in the world and accounts for 7.1 per cent of the India’s gross domestic product (GDP). According to a SIAM report, India’s automobile industry produced a total 23,960,940 vehicles including passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, three wheelers and two wheelers in April-March 2016 as against 23,358,047 in April-March 2015, registering a marginal growth of 2.58 percent over the same period, last year. Here, passenger vehicles include cars, utility vehicles and vans.

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India is the sixth largest car manufacturer in the world from 2010 till 2015 – after China, US, Japan, Germany and South Korea, according to the annual reports shared by the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles (OICA)

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According to Ministry of Road Transport and Highways data,  the number of registered cars that hit the road are increasing rapidly year-after-year.

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Our country’s infrastructural growth is stagnant and is not coping up with the unrestrained increase in purchase of cars and vehicles. Increase in consumerism has also put enormous pressure on road transport.  For example, Pune has more than 25 lakh registered two and four-wheelers, but has parking space available is only for 1,800 vehicles. Roads in residential areas and cities suffer from capacity constraints as their length and width are fixed. There is an addition of approximately 1 lakh vehicles per day which results in scarcity of parking space and traffic congestion.

Top 10 cities of India contribute 50% car sales in India. Delhi had the maximum number of cars in 2015 followed by Mumbai,  Bangalore , Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai ,Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Jaipur and Cochin.

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The below table shows the number of cars sold per thousand people in each of these cities. Delhi boasts of 25 cars per 1,000 people. Mumbai has 10 cars per 1000 people; Bangalore has 13 cars per 1000 people etc. Different estimates show that the number of cars in India will increase to about 35 cars per 1,000 population by 2025. This would amount to about 45–60 million cars on our roads and in some cities more than 300 cars per 1,000 population.

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Indian road transport caters to 1.25 billion people with a share of 4.8% of the GDP. Parking on streets causes vehicular congestion and traffic delays. According to a study conducted by Transport Corporation of India (TCI) and IIM-Kolkata, road congestion, traffic delays and additional fuel consumption due to poor road conditions and frequent halts leads to economic losses which are estimated at $21.3 billion per year.

An average compact sedan is about 5 3/4 feet wide, while the average height is slightly less than 5 feet. A sedan’s length averages just more than 17 feet (518.16 cm). A car’s parking space equates to the real estate market value of Rs.2-5 lakh on an average, in cities. Local municipal body is denied of this amount as the parking space is freely enjoyed by vehicle owners and shop owners. If we assume that the unauthorized parking of cars would be around 30 km, then the total real estate value of unauthorized parking belt would be around 289 crore. That’s a huge economic loss to local municipality. This calculation does not take into account losses due to traffic delays, additional fuel consumption etc.  To understand the loss in perspective, assume an annual rental of 10% of real estate market value then the Municipal body forgoes a hefty amount of more than 28 crore as annual rental revenue. This small chunk of additional revenue will definitely help the municipal body in multiple ways.

Government can plug these economic losses by enacting ‘proof of parking’ law. However, it has to ensure that loop holes such as circumventing the address of the car owner must be strictly addressed. There is a remote possibility that verifying parking spaces might spawn another source of graft and corruption. Government should make sure sufficient resources are provided to the agencies responsible for parking enforcement. Local traffic police, RTO and local bodies should undertake frequent checks of primary and secondary roads for illegally parked vehicles. This law will help to stop the economic hemorrhage caused by illegal parking.

Going cashless is the way forward but are we ready for a cashless society?

 

Refugee Crisis in Hungary

Hungary, a central European country got united with EU in 2004 and is in the Schengen zone since 2007. Hungary, being a part of visa-free travel zone attracts millions of migrants coming from the Middle East, Kosovo, Albania and Africa though the Balkan region.

Hungary has the history of defending itself for centuries from the Islamic horde esp. the Turk. In line with its history, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pledged to keep all illegal Muslim immigrants out of Hungary. In order to stem the flow of illegal Muslim Immigrants, Hungary has erected a gargantuan 13-foot razor-wire border fence along its southern border with Serbia.  This 173 km fence along with heavy duty patrolling cut off one of the biggest entry points for illegal freeloaders into the European Union. Nevertheless, a steady stream of asylum seekers continued to enter Hungary from different route, i.e. from Croatia. Now, they have begun erecting a fence along its border with Croatia.

Hungary’s hostility towards immigrants and its act of constructing fences was strongly condemned by U.N.  U.N excoriated the fence by calling it as “Iron Curtain”, a famous phrase once used by Winston Churchill to condemn the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe.

Hungary’s resoluteness in weeding out illegal immigrants is highly exhortatory. This might set an example for its neighboring countries. It might also set off a chain reaction of building fences to secure their borders and minimize the economic, cultural, political and societal impact of allowing this scourge across their borders. EU countries will realize the importance of stopping illegal immigration sooner or later. It just takes one to light the fire and spark a global trend. For instance, Norway has fortified its arctic Russian borders with 200m long, 11 feet high steel fence to snuff out the influx of thousands of refugees. Slovenia is starting to seal its Schengen borders of EU. The other three of Visegrad Four(V4)- Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia also need to go through a major swamp draining. It’s not just the European countries that are building fences; even Saudi Arabia is building border fences to stop illegal immigration. So far, building fences has proven to be an effective means to keep illegal immigrants at bay.

According to Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjártó, as many as 35 million migrants’ exodus might flood and destabilize European countries as a result of Angela Merkel’s ‘open door policy’. 66,000  Muslim illegals tried to infiltrate into the EU via Hungary’s border with Serbia in the first half of 2015. Hungary has been barraged with 120,000 illegal Muslim immigrants in 2015, triple the number in 2014. There has been a fulminant influx of Kosovars along its southern Serbian border. The number of Kosovars asylum seekers has outnumbered the Syrian asylum seekers in the first quarter of 2015. Apart from Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis are trying to enter Hungary via Serbia. The question that remains unanswered is – Why don’t they ever try to get into a Muslim country like Turkey?

According to the EU- Turkey refugee pact, Turkey is asked to absorb millions of Syrian refugees flooding EU. EU is counting on this accord to curb the influx of migrants coming from Middle-East or Asia. This deal is not good enough to contain this mass immigration. The freeloaders who have sneaked into Europe are not for asylum, but are looking for citizenship, handouts, freebies etc . This phenomenon will push nations to bankruptcy.

Hungary, through its tough stand seems to have violated asylum rules also known as the Dublin Regulation which was first drafted in the early 1990s. The regulation mandates an EU country to process migrant’s claim in the EU country they first set foot on. Violating the Dublin Regulation will have a damaging effect on its neighboring countries. It puts pressure on neighboring countries to absorb waves of pouring refuges. Austria, for instance has ceased to process asylum requests so that its neighbors are forced to take in more refugees.

Western Europe’s ‘willkommenskultur’ and multiculturalism have been destroying and degrading thousands of years of preserved European values and culture. Eastern European countries need to wake up to this reality. Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, the Czechs, the Slovaks etc. are not in favor of  taking illegal Muslim immigrants in. These countries reeling from the surge of Muslim freeloaders have to slam shut their borders. The Muslim freeloaders who are waiting to reach the welfare meccas of Germany through eastern European countries need to be bounced back. Will ricocheting immigrants among themselves from border to border resolve this exigency?  All of these eastern European countries need to adopt an unified approach against this invasion. They should cooperate among themselves to force out this massive population shift at its Turkish source. Once this happens, Hungary and other eastern European countries will be able to focus on growth and development.

 The Hungarians are well aware of a refugee settlement pact . The current refugee crisis that they are experiencing is nowhere close to the pact and is a sort of invasion on their land.