The Indian Express | 2 months ago | 08-01-2023 | 11:40 am
AS THE BJP and Trinamool Congress trade charges over a Central team visit to West Bengal to check irregularities in the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, heat has been rising over another Union government scheme in the state, ahead of its coming panchayat polls.December 26 marked a year since the payment of MNREGS dues to West Bengal were last cleared by the Centre, with the TMC government raising the issue repeatedly.Recently, the NREGA Sangarsh Morcha, which raises issues connected to the scheme, accused the Centre of withholding over Rs 7,500 crore of MNREGS funds to West Bengal. It added that non-payment of wages of those who took up work under the rural employment scheme was a violation of their fundamental rights.The Centre has cited “non-compliance of Central government directives” for withholding the funds. Targeting the Centre over this, founder member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan Nikhil Dey also took up the matter, tweeting: “The Centre says the state is corrupt — so cut funds off! Who suffers?”Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has written several letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising both the delay in payment of MNREGS as well as GST dues to the state.In a letter sent in May last year, Mamata sought the PM’s intervention for release of both MNREGS and PM Awas Yojana funds, adding: “In West Bengal, wage payment is pending for more than four months as Government of India is not releasing funds to the State to the tune of nearly Rs 6500 Crore-Rs 3000 Crore against wage liabilities and Rs 3500 Crore against non-wage liabilities.”In November, she said: “I personally met the Prime Minister and spoke to him on the matter. Will I have to touch his feet now?”The same month, West Bengal Panchayat Minister Pradip Majumdar met Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh in Delhi and, after the meeting, expressed hope of MNREGS funds being cleared soon. However, the money remains stuck.Majumdar told The Indian Express, “We have been asking for funds but the Centre is not keen to look into the matter.”The BJP said the TMC government was itself to blame for the delay, on account of “rampant corruption” and “mismanagement of funds”. “The Centre is ready to release funds. But first the state government has to give an account of the funds already released. If the state fails in this, why would the Centre send more funds?”The party said the people know “the truth”. “They know that TMC leaders and workers misuse the Centre’s funds. They even changed names of the Centre’s schemes and passed them as their own… But the Centre does not want to stall the development of the state, and we believe everything will be cleared in due time,” BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh said.However, the matter is unlikely to be resolved soon. Asked why the Centre stopped the release of funds to Bengal, a Rural Development Ministry official said this was following reports of “irregularities” in the scheme’s implementation in the state. “Besides, the state government was not sending action taken reports. Despite several communications from the Centre, the state did not plug the leakages.”Asked when the pending dues of West Bengal would be cleared, the official said it depended upon compliance of rules by the state government.State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury accused both the TMC government and Centre of playing with the lives of people. “The Centre must clear the pending funds. The state also has to ensure that such funds are properly utilised. However, both are playing politics for own benefit ahead of the panchayat polls. We always say that the two parties have a tacit understanding,” Chowdhury said.The CPM also slammed the CPM and BJP, saying their politics had left hardworking people without their earnings. “It is due to the rampant corruption of the TMC government that we are witnessing this,” senior CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said.
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.
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.
The first session of the newly elected Meghalaya Assembly is set to conclude on Tuesday without a consensus among the non-treasury benches on who will assume the role of the Leader of Opposition.This deadlock is a result of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the two largest Opposition parties, insisting on the position. Both parties, with five legislators each, have written to Speaker Thomas A Sangma to put forward their claims.The recently concluded Assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate but the National People’s Party (NPP) led by Conrad Sangma emerged as the single-largest party with 26 seats in the 60-member House.After a few days of uncertainty, the NPP formed the government by stitching up a coalition with the BJP and several other regional parties, including the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was the second-largest party with 11 seats.Andrew Simons, the commissioner and secretary of the Meghalaya Assembly, said the final decision rests with the Speaker. “Since both sides have claimed, it will be taken up soon,” he said. Simons said that since the two parties had the same numbers, factors such as seniority would be considered by the Speaker before making a final call.The other alternative is for the parties to come to an understanding with each other and make an arrangement. However, both the TMC and the Congress are, for now, refusing to relent.Congress Legislature Party leader Ronnie Lyngdoh said, “At the national level we are not together with them. If they reach out to us, we can approach the high command, but they haven’t.”Meghalaya TMC vice-president James Lyngdoh also put the ball in the court of his party’s high command. “Our president has already written to the Speaker. We will discuss with the party leaders.”The other Opposition party is the newly formed Voice of the People’s Party that has four seats. The regional outfit has said it will not align with either the Congress or the TMC as it wants to be “independent”.