The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 08-01-2023 | 05:40 am
The Mamata Banerjee government has bagged the best performance prize from the Union government for its ‘Duare Sarkar’ programme.State Finance Minister Chandrima Bhattacharya received the award from President Droupadi Murmu at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on Saturday morning.Mamata’s brainchild ‘Duare Sarkar’ programme won Platinum Award in the ‘Public Platform’ category of the 2022 ‘Digital India’ Awards as it has been considered the best among 800 projects in the country.The award was announced by the Narendra Modi government through a press release issued by the Union Ministry of Information and Technology.The recognition is considered significant as it came amid frequent clashes between the state and the BJP-led Centre on various issues, including the allocation of funds.According to Nabanna sources, the fifth phase of the ‘Duare Sarkar’ programme is currently underway. In all, it has had 3.6 lakh camps, and 6.6 crore people have received various government services under a single umbrella.Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also launched special ‘door-to-door government’ drive and mobile camps for the people of marginalised and tribal-dominated areas in the state.After receiving the prize, Bhattacharya said, “Bengal BJP criticises our government every day, but their government cannot deny our success and that is why they gave this platinum award.”TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “We send ‘Duare Hatasha’ (Depression at doorstep) for the state BJP.”However, BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said, “We will continue our protest against this government. Every day there is a bomb blast in the state. Besides, the state sank into corrupt practices. We will continue our protest against this.”
THE committee under Finance Secretary TV Somanathan, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, to relook at pension may not recommend a solution where the gains made over two decades are reversed, The Indian Express has learnt.That’s the big-picture sense from conversations with officials who have to balance the imperatives of politics in a pre-poll year and a reform that has withstood the pressures of time — and partisanship.There are options.One, increase the government contribution to the pension corpus of its employees from the current 14 per cent to such a level that the employee can expect 50 per cent of her last drawn basic pay as pension upon retirement.Indeed, one of the models being looked at is the Andhra Pradesh government proposal which has a “guarantee” that employees will get 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension.Officials said the government may also explore ways to make good for the increase in payout (dearness relief announced twice every year increases the pension by a certain percentage taking care of the rise in living expenses) as it happens under the old pension scheme (OPS).The NDA lost elections in 2004, the year NPS was implemented. But the Congress carried it forward. After a decade, when NDA returned under Modi, it consolidated the gains. But in 2019, just before elections, NDA hiked government contribution. Now, a fresh review again just ahead of 2024 polls.Whatever the formula that’s worked out, one thing is clear.The committee and its mandate mark a sharp turnaround in the Modi government’s support of the new pension system (NPS) — where contributions are defined, and benefits market-linked — which came into effect in January 2004, just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections.“There was no question of any looking back when the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi returned to power. His political conviction in pension reforms and fiscal conservatism meant the NPS was there to stay,” said an official.And yet there was no escaping the politics.In fact, the BJP’s electoral loss in May 2004 may have nothing to do with pension reforms – the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was convinced of the economic rationale behind the move. But the party’s 10-year loss of power, between 2004 and 2014, is a memory that still stalks North Block.This when, in 2009, BJP’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections had not deterred the Congress from staying the course on pension reforms. With Manmohan Singh at the helm, and P Chidambaram as Finance Minister, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government earnestly implemented the NPS, exhorted states to follow suit, and also introduced a Bill to develop and regulate the pension sector. This was one of the many reforms that earned bipartisan support.There were four good reasons the government reformed the pension sector at the time it did: i) with increasing life spans, pension bills were ballooning, putting to risk future finances of the Centre and states, ii) a safety net for a very small percentage of workforce was being funded ironically by even the poor taxpayer, iii) inter-generational equity – the next generation footing the bill for the previous – presented a difficult-to-ignore moral hazard, and iv) India was at the cusp of a 50-year demographic dividend opportunity beginning 2005-05 with the best working age population ratio (workers or those in the 15-64 age group age/ dependents or those under 15 plus 65 and over).However, after the first five years in power, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre did not take any chances. Just before Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it increased the employer’s contribution to NPS to 14 per cent of the employee’s basic pay every month from 10 per cent earlier; the employee continued to contribute only 10 per cent of her basic pay.The timing was not lost on those keeping a tab on BJP’s economic thinking; this came into effect from April 1, 2019.Now with just a year to go for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is acutely aware of an altered economic and social landscape. The straws in the wind have been there for the past couple of years.Low growth that precedes the pandemic, job and income losses during Covid-19, stretched financial resources of people due to medical expenditure, and high inflation – which works like a painful tax on the poor, have highlighted the inadequacy of safety nets for a bulk of the country’s people. The political class cannot be blind to this. To discount the giveaways in recent Budgets by even fiscally prudent states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as an election freebie will be drawing a wrong message.It is in this backdrop that government employees are demanding a return of the old pension scheme. At least five states (Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, JMM-led Jharkhand, and Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab) have done so, having already notified the old pension scheme.The Congress win of the Assembly elections in Himachal, which most attribute to its promise to bring back OPS, has made the BJP leadership anxious. In Maharashtra, protests by state government employees prompted the Eknath Shinde government, whose finance minister is BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, to set up a committee and address the NPS shortcomings. Some national employee unions continue to protest too, giving calls for rallies demanding restoration of OPS.Then, there is the insider bias. A section of senior IAS bureaucrats – who have the political executive’s ear – feel their juniors who joined service after January 1, 2004, can’t be left to the “mercy” of markets while seniors retire with the assurance of a continuously rising pension kitty.This conversation on NPS has been in the top echelons of power for a while now. Not that the Prime Minister is not aware of these noises around him. But if his preference for fiscal prudence is an indication, he will be happy only with a solution that doesn’t put the future of state finances in jeopardy.
Amidst deepening tensions between the ruling and Opposition parties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his party members on Tuesday morning that they should focus on spreading positive information about the central government’s social security programmes as the Opposition is indulging in a ‘below the belt’ attack against the government after their debacle in the Northeast elections.“The Prime Minister said the Opposition is nervous after the BJP’s impressive performance in the recent elections in the Northeast. They had a similar reaction after BJP’s Gujarat victory too,” said a source who was present in the meeting.“The PM told us that the Opposition will attack us more as they are rattled by the repeated victories of the BJP. The more we win, the harsher will be the attack. Now they are worked up because of our wins in Gujarat and Northeast,” said an MP who was part of the meeting.While the BJP won a simple majority in Tripura, it formed governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya with the NDDP and the NPP, respectively.Sources said PM Modi addressed the BJP MPs for the first time after the budget session resumed on March 13. The budget session has witnessed abrupt adjournments and acrimonious scenes with the Opposition protesting the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi and demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Adani issue.The Prime Minister was referring to the ongoing tension between the Opposition and the ruling party over Gandhi’s disqualification after being convicted in a defamation case by a Surat court. The Opposition has closed ranks against the government over the issue. Both Houses of Parliament have been disrupted and no major business, except budget formalities, was transacted.The PM is learnt to have told the MPs that the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign has helped improve the sex ratio in Gujarat and that they should focus on the implementation of social security schemes to win the hearts of people.The BJP MPs were also asked to focus on the 100th episode of Mann Ki Baat next month and the ninth-anniversary celebrations from May 15-June 15, sources said.
For many Muslims breaking fast in mosques around the world this Ramadan, something will be missing: plastics.The communal experience of iftars – the after-sunset meal that brings people of the faith together during the holy month starting on March 22, 2023 – often necessitates the use of utensils designed for mass events, such as plastic knives and forks, along with bottles of water.But to encourage Muslims to be more mindful of the impact of Ramadan on the environment, mosques are increasingly dispensing of single-use items, with some banning the use of plastics altogether.As a historian of Islam, I see this “greening” of Ramadan as entirely in keeping with the traditions of the faith, and in particular the observance of Ramadan.The month – during which observant Muslims must abstain from even a sip of water or food from sun up to sun down – is a time for members of the faith to focus on purifying themselves as individuals against excess and materialism.But in recent years, Muslim communities around the world have used the period to rally around themes of social awareness. And this includes understanding the perils of wastefulness and embracing the link between Ramadan and environmental consciousness.The ban on plastics – a move encouraged by the Muslim Council of Britain as a way for Muslims “to be mindful of [God’s] creation and care for the environment” – is just one example.Many other mosques and centers are discouraging large or extravagant evening meals altogether. The fear is such communal events generate food waste and overconsumption and often rely on nonbiodegradable materials for cutlery, plates and serving platters.While the move toward environmental consciousness has gained traction in Muslim communities in recent years, the links between Islam and sustainability can be found in the faith’s foundational texts.Scholars have long emphasised principles outlined in the Quran that highlight conservation, reverence for living creatures and the diversity of living things as a reminder of God’s creation.The Quran repeatedly emphasises the idea of “mizan,” a kind of cosmic and natural balance, and the role of humans as stewards and khalifa, or “viceregents,” on Earth – terms that also carry an environmental interpretation.Recently, Islamic environmental activists have highlighted the numerous hadith – sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that provide guidance to followers of the faith – that emphasise that Muslims should avoid excess, respect resources and living things, and consume in moderation.Although present from the outset of the faith, Islam’s ties to environmentalism received major visibility with the works of Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and a series of lectures he delivered at the University of Chicago in 1966. The lectures and a subsequent book, “Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man,” warned that humans had broken their relationship with nature and thus placed themselves in grave ecological danger.Nasr blamed modern and Western science for being materialistic, utilitarian and inhuman, claiming it had destroyed traditional views of nature. Nasr argued that Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, scientific tradition, arts and literature emphasize the spiritual significance of nature.But he noted that numerous contemporary factors, such as mass rural-to-urban migration and poor and autocratic leadership, had prevented the Muslim world from realising and implementing the Islamic view of the natural environment.Scholars and activists expanded on Nasr’s work through the 1980s and 1990s, among them Fazlun Khalid, one of the world’s leading voices on Islam and environmentalism. In 1994, Khalid founded the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, an organisation dedicated to the maintenance of the planet as a healthy habitat for all living beings.Khalid and other Muslim environmentalists suggest that Islam’s nearly 2 billion adherents can participate in the tasks of environmental sustainability and equity not through Western models and ideologies but from within their own traditions.Partnering with the United Nations Environment Program, Khalid and other leading scholars crafted Al-Mizan, a worldwide project for Muslim leaders interested in Muslims’ religious commitments to nature.“The ethos of Islam is that it integrates belief with a code of conduct which pays heed to the essence of the natural world,” Khalid wrote in “Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity, and the Climate Crisis.” Going beyond an eco-Ramadan Environmental crises disproportionately affect the world’s poorest populations, and academics have highlighted the particular vulnerabilities of Muslim communities around the world, such as the victims of devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022.By highlighting Islamic principles, policies and community approaches, academics have shown how Islam can represent a model for environmental stewardship.This push for environmental consciousness extends beyond Ramadan. In recent years, Muslims have tried to introduce green practices into the shrine cities in Iraq during pilgrimage seasons in Ashura and Arbaeen.This has included awareness campaigns encouraging the 20 million pilgrims who visit Arbaeen annually to reduce the tons of trash they leave every year that clog up Iraq’s waterways.Quoting from Shiite scholarship and drawing on testimonials from community leaders, the Green Pilgrim movement suggests carrying cloth bags and reusable water bottles, turning down plastic cutlery, and hosting eco-friendly stalls along the walk.Muslim-owned businesses and nonprofits are joining these wider efforts. Melanie Elturk, the founder of the successful hijab brand Haute Hijab, regularly ties together faith, fashion, commerce and environmentalism by highlighting the brand’s focus on sustainability and environmental impact. The Washington, D.C., nonprofit Green Muslims pioneered the first “leftar” – a play on the word “iftar” – using leftovers and reusable containers.These efforts are but a few of the diverse ways that Muslim communities are addressing environmental impact. The greening of Ramadan fits into a broader conversation about how often communities can tackle climate change within their own frameworks.But Islamic environmentalism is more than just the dispensing of plastic forks and water bottles – it taps into a worldview ingrained in the faith from the outset, and can continue to guide adherents as they navigate environmentalism, a space where they may otherwise be marginalized.📣 For more lifestyle news, follow us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook and don’t miss out on the latest updates!
A single-judge bench of the Karnataka High Court on Monday dismissed the bail plea of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa, 72, in a bribery case filed earlier this month by the Karnataka Lokayukta police. The BJP MLA was arrested by the Lokayukta police a few hours after the bail plea was dismissed.The case was filed by the Lokayukta police after the MLA’s son Prashant Madal was caught red-handed on March 2 while allegedly receiving a bribe of Rs 40 lakh from a businessman for awarding a tender for the supply of raw materials to the state-run Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Ltd (KSDL), which was then headed by Virupakshappa.The Lokayukta police told the high court that the KSDL managing director had given a statement which revealed the active participation of Prashant in the tender process at KSDL at the instance of Virupakshappa despite Prashant not being connected to the KSDL and being an employee of another government department.“If the company pays crores of rupees as commission or bribe, one cannot expect good quality raw materials to be supplied and the very process followed by the tender accepting committee of accepting the lowest price and good quality of raw materials will be frustrated,” Justice K Natarajan said in his order.There was no question of Prashant approaching the complainant with a demand for a bribe if there had been no demand from Virupakshappa, the then KSDL chairman, the court said.The single-judge bench of the high court had on March 7 granted anticipatory bail to Virupakshappa on the grounds that there was no mention of the demand or acceptance of bribe by the MLA in the police complaint.On Monday, the bail plea was dismissed after the Lokayukta police produced material to show Virupakshappa’s direct involvement in the bribery and corruption at KSDL, which he headed till March 3. The Lokayukta police also told the court that Virupakshappa needs to be interrogated in police custody since he was evasive in his replies during regular questioning.The MLA’s bail plea was dismissed even as a hearing began in the Supreme Court on an appeal filed by the Lokayukta police against the anticipatory bail order.Businessman Shreyas Kashyap, who is a partner in a firm named Chemixil Corporation, allegedly told the Lokayukta police in February this year that he was asked by Virupakshappa to pay a bribe of Rs 1.2 crore to be cleared for a contract to supply 5,100 kg of Guaiacwood oil, and 29,520 kg of Abbalide, as raw materials to KSDL.Kashyap allegedly struck a deal for payment of a bribe of Rs 81 lakh for the supply contracts by Chemixil Corporation and Delicia Chemicals, with an initial payment of Rs 40 lakh to Prashant. The negotiations for the bribe payments with Prashant were reportedly recorded on a smartwatch camera by the businessman to prove that it was a genuine case of corruption.The Lokayukta police laid a trap on the basis of the businessman’s complaint and Prashant, who is a Karnataka Administrative Services official and the chief accounts officer of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board, was allegedly caught red-handed by the police on March 2 while accepting an initial bribe amount of Rs 40 lakh.A total amount of Rs 2.02 crore of bribes from KSDL suppliers was found in the possession of Prashant when he was caught at his private office in central Bengaluru while an amount of Rs 6.10 crore was seized from the residence of Virupakshappa, a close associate of former Karnataka BJP CM B S Yediyurappa.The Lokayukta police investigation has found that KSDL awarded contracts for the supply of raw materials at over 50 per cent profit margins to firms run by friends of Prashant.The Lokayukta police have also accused officials of a firm identified as Karnataka Aromas Ltd of paying bribes to the tune of Rs 90 to be given supply contracts by KSDL. Two field employees of Karnataka Aromas Company, Albert Nicola and Gangadhar, are among the six people named in the bribery case against Virupakshappa and Prashant.
Union Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday came down heavily on Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi over some controversial remarks about her made by Youth Congress President BC Srinivas during a recent event organised by the Congress.“Shabd Rahul Gandhi ke hain, sanskaar Sonia Gandhi ke hain, bas zuban Yuva Congress ki hai (The words are Rahul Gandhi’s, the values are Sonia Gandhi’s, only the mouth belongs to Youth Congress),” she said.“Shabd Rahul Gandhi ke hain, sanskar Sonia Gandhi ka hain bas zubaan Yuva Congress ki hain” says Union Minister Smriti Irani on the reported “gungi-behri” remark on her by the President of Indian Youth Congress Srinivas BV pic.twitter.com/AIX1CLXfaB— ANI (@ANI) March 28, 2023“I am saying this because he’s not the first Youth Congress chief who is making indecent comments… Jab tak ye do hain, tab tak Congress ka neta jo promotion chaahega, woh is praakar ki abhadra tippiniya karta rahega (Till the time these two are here, any Congress politician who wants a promotion will continue making such indecent comments),” Irani added.The remarks in question were made at the Congress’ ‘Sankalp Satyagraha’ on Sunday (March 26). In a purported video clip of the speech, he can be heard saying in Hindi, “The BJP means inflation. These same people in 2014 used to say that there is inflation witch which has been made to sit… Smriti Irani has become a little mute and deaf. That witch (Daayan)… Inflation witch (Mehengaai Daayan) has been made a darling and made to sit in the bedroom.”Congress has become a cesspool of misogyny , hatred for women especially if she comes from a humble background & defeats an entitled dynastFirst abuse OBC, then courts, then throw papers at Speaker; abuse journalists now abuse women!Time & again, Congress has abused those… pic.twitter.com/8KwU01a9tH— Shehzad Jai Hind (@Shehzad_Ind) March 27, 2023The BJP has come out strongly to attack Srinivas over the clip. Party spokesperson said that Congress has become a “cesspool of misogyny”.“First abuse OBC, then courts, then throw papers at Speaker; abuse journalists now abuse women! Time & again, Congress has abused those who have risen up to the top by strength of their hard work – they called Rashtrapati as Rashtrapatni; they said Draupadi ji has evil mindset; they abused even the mother of PM; they chanted ‘Modi ki Kabr’ khudegi. The words are from BV Srinivas but the soch (thought) is of Rahul Gandhi. Will Priyanka & Sonia ji take action on him? Is this ‘Ladki hoon lad sakti hoon’ or a party of such disgusting misogynists?” he tweeted.Meanwhile, the Youth Congress has reacted strongly to the charges, claiming BJP leaders were sharing a doctored video of he speech made by Srinivas to tarnish his and the party’s image. “It is nothing but a disinformation and fake news campaign initiated by BJP supporters and office bearers,” it said in a statement.