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Thursday, July 31, 2014

PM Modi fast tracks government, silently

Two months since taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effected significant changes across the spectrum of governance at the Centre, almost always without media attention. While experts on the Modi model of governance say that it will take six months for the changes to be visible, and two years before a new structure of governance is completed for ignition of the economy towards 15% growth, senior officials say that the difference between Modi and his predecessors has already become visible across the bureaucracy. "The difference is much more than the cosmetic effect of coming to work early", an official disclosed, adding that "what is changing is the pace and quality of decision-making, now that we have a PM who is fully involved in both the initiation of policy as well as monitoring its implementation".
Aware that the judicial system has become a bottleneck to growth, thanks to the inordinate cost and length of time of even routine litigation, the PM is setting up a National Litigation Data Grid (NLDG) "that would give immediate online information on every case being heard across the country, as well as the judges hearing the case". This would enable monitoring and feedback by the Supreme Court of efficiency in the disposition of cases, as also give the public accurate and real-time data about the progress of cases across the country. In addition, "the PM favours the appointment of 200 additional High Court judges to reduce the backlog", according to a senior official, who adds that "the objective is to ensure speedy justice and eliminate avoidable delays in the justice system".
A colleague pointed to the PM's directive that criminal cases against MPs be fast-tracked to ensure final completion within 12 months, and said that "the PM wants a similar result in all other cases as well". Efforts will, therefore, be ongoing "to utilise both modern technology as well as additional judges to ensure faster delivery of justice during the next five years". In the meantime, cases have proceeded even against very well-connected individuals, such as Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case and Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in a case involving an ambulance service in Rajasthan.
Unlike in the past, when ministers operated as mini-PMs, running their fiefs they saw fit, not bothering about directives or advice from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), these days there is constant monitoring of all ministries and their political and departmental heads. An example was a minister hailing from Maharashtra, who had gone on a stroll outside his residence dressed in jeans and sports shirt, only to get a call from the PMO that perhaps such attire was "inappropriate" for a Cabinet minister to don in public. Another minister was queried about a huge dinner that he was in the process of holding at official expense, and was told by a PMO official that such an expense was avoidable. The dinner was called off.
Ministers are being made to justify the trips they have made by itemising the work done during such sojourns. "The purpose is to create a culture of accountability at the top", an official said, adding that "the hardest working member of the Cabinet is the PM himself, who seldom works less than 16 hours each day".
Price rise has been flagged as a major concern, especially of food items. In this context, speculators (who were allowed to operate in an uncontrolled fashion by the UPA) are sought to be curbed by the creation of a National Food Grid (NFG). This would "give accurate online data on the 3,600 mandis or major food produce markets operating across India, and thereby weaken the agricultural mafias now controlling the supply of food items from farmer to shopkeeper", a senior official said, adding that "each of these changes is coming straight from the top". According to him, Prime Minister Modi is also ordering the fast-tracking of an Agricultural Corridor from Punjab to West Bengal. Along this corridor, which would be served by modern highways and rail links, "village clusters are to be set up where vegetables and other food items could get processed", including for export. "We hope to ensure that the farmer and not the farm product mafia gets the benefit of farm prices", a senior official said, adding that "ending speculation will cool down the inflation fever that the mafias have created". He expected that "the kingpin speculators will soon be subject to prosecution for the economic crimes they were encouraged to commit when Manmohan Singh was PM".
Another boost to economic activity being proposed by Team Modi is a "Green Corridor" between Rajasthan and Gujarat, which would use solar power to generate significant volumes of electricity. Similar corridors are being considered across the country, so as to ensure an eventual transition from fossil fuels to non-conventional energy sources. Transport of people and goods across the country is being sought to be improved by identifying railway lines that can be improved to double existing speeds, while bottlenecks in highway construction are being identified for removal.
Interestingly, forest and environmental clearances that were a major block to economic activity during the UPA decade, are now going online, "with clear instructions from the PM that decisions should be taken within 24 hours", except in rare cases. Rather than freeze or roll back economic activity as was the norm during the past decade, "this will be balanced against environmental needs so that any decision will be in overall public interest", including the right of citizens to income and occupation.
Although news reports have appeared about the PM meeting Aadhar boss Nandan Nilekani and continuing the Aadhar program opposed by the BJP earlier, "in reality the scheme being finalised is not the same as Aadhar", according to an official. Instead, what will get created is a database of "bona fide citizens", which will be handed over to the Ministry of Home Affairs to create a National Population Register, "so that there is a clear record of every genuine citizen" as distinct from those who have entered the country illegally. "The data will be used to ensure that welfare benefits reach only those for whom they are intended", rather than ending up in the pockets of politicians and officials, as has been the norm till now.
Importantly, keeping in view the need for food security, field trials have been cleared for 21 genetically modified foods, to supplement the five already okayed, which include brinjal, rice and cotton.
The Land Acquisition Bill passed by the UPA "has made it impossible to set up a large-scale industrial unit in India", according to a senior official. Accordingly, changes are on the anvil that would lower the proportion of those affected consenting to land being acquired from 80% to 50%, while the definition of those who are "project affected" has been limited to husband, wife and children rather than — as previously — the extended family. Also, the "lapse clause" will be removed, so that those setting up units do not invest funds in the fear that the land will someday get reclaimed by the original owner. The officials stressed that this list, although long, is "only indicative, and there are many more such innovations being considered".
The expectation is that within six months, the removal of the blockages created during the UPA period will result in an acceleration of overall growth to the double digit number in two years. "The Prime Minister may not be visible on stage or on television screens, but the effect of the change of government is being felt across the Central bureaucracy", said an official, who added that on 15 August, Prime Minister Modi will for the first time "reveal the road map for what he and his team propose to achieve during their tenure in office".
Article credits-The Sunday Guardian
"True Knowledge means silence "

India needs a new Look West policy

I wish Will Durant was with us today. The last section of his great work, The Story of Civilization begins with The Age of Reason, which he chronicles until the Napoleonic era. I wonder how he would document the present retrogressive U-turn in the story of our civilisation, returning to the medieval pre-renaissance age of religious fundamentalism, and the triumph of barbarians. What comes foremost to my mind is the situation in the Levant and Middle East that has steadily been deteriorating in this direction for several decades now, converting cradles of great civilisations into graveyards of irrational jihadi extremism through the likes of ISIS and Hamas.
This week in Parliament, there was a discussion on the violence that has erupted and escalated between the Palestinians and the Israelis for some time. My friend Ghulam Nabi Azad, who opened the discussion on behalf of the Congress party, was heard in great silence. I too, heard him with great patience, though tormented all the time by the unfairness of his entire presentation. Throughout his speech, there was not one word of empathy for the six million Jewish people who were burnt alive in the furnaces of Hitler, or an honest recall of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem standing to attention beside the German Fuhrer enjoying salutes from the mass murderers employed by the German state. The only words I can use to describe them are that they were monsters wearing human hoods.
India had welcomed the Jewish people into our ancient pluralist society in the Malabar coast, much before the Christian era, where they settled peacefully and profitably, just as it had welcomed Arab Muslim traders several centuries later. The ancient state of Israel that had existed thousands of years ago was created anew in 1948, not by militant Jews or Zionists, but by a near unanimous vote of the United Nations. During the earlier British mandate years from 1922 to 1948, British rulers had encouraged Jewish immigration into Palestine and by the end of the mandate their population had grown to 30%. The United Nations rightly resolved that there shall come into existence two independent states of Israel and Palestine to coexist in peace and economic cooperation. Let us remember that the British partitioned India for a much smaller proportion of Muslims. While the Hindus and their political representatives in India accepted Pakistan, the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states did not. They attempted a military infanticide of the newborn state of Israel, and foolishly the Muslim Palestinians within the borders of Israel joined the jihad, thereby committing treason punishable by death.
India granted full recognition to the state of Israel, de facto and de jure. Arrangements had been finalised for the settling up of an Israel embassy in Delhi, but Jawaharlal Nehru went back on his promise on the advice of the venerable Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Israel suffered the indignity of having only a consul to represent it, confined to Mumbai with no permission to enter Delhi.
The collective military attack against Israel by all the surrounding Arab states and Palestinian forces in 1948 proved a humiliating debacle for them, and a disaster for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, from which they have not recovered till today. They are still living in miserable refugee camps, forced upon them because of a fanatical political leadership which is blind to reality. For the benefit of my friend Ghulam Nabi Azad and those of his ilk, let me recall something deeply imprinted in my memory. I was in Germany during the summer of 1967, when once again, surrounding Arab states had put together their military might acquired at enormous expense of wealth to wipe Israel off the world's map. I watched a television interview of Ahmad Al Shukeiri, a veteran diplomat elected as first Chairman of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), with a mandate to establish a Palestinian entity. A journalist asked him what he and his forces would do after entering Israel and subjugating the Jews. I still remember his blood curdling, jihadist response: "We'll allow the survivors to go back to the countries from where they came." And then he menacingly twisted his moustache and proceeded, "But Inshallah there will be no survivors." It is since then that I have ceaselessly been a supporter of Israel and its survival as a free people within secure borders and a democratic government, something almost unknown to the Arabs in the region.
This war of 1967 came to be known as the Six-Day War, an Israeli military miracle that ended in a massive and humiliating defeat for the invaders. Ahmad Al Shukeiri himself was discarded and Egypt lost Gaza, which it had earlier grabbed after the dissolution of the All Palestine Government in 1959, plus the entire Sinai Peninsula. Jordan lost the West Bank and Syria the Golan Heights.
Slowly the sensible part of the Arab world realised that their dreams of destroying Israel had become their worst nightmare. Gradually, subsequent negotiations came to accept Israel's right to exist. Fatah, which has been in occupation of the West Bank, has recognised the state of Israel, but Hamas that controls Gaza has not. Egypt, being politically the most mature, signed a separate peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and was the first Arab state to recognise it. Israel returned to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula along with all its expensive Israeli investment. Even today, Egypt does not sympathise with Hamas, and has closed the tunnels opening into Gaza, that are Hamas' lifeline. And if Egypt and Israel can live in peace, then why cannot the Palestinian state as well? Frankly, there is no other solution.
I am a genuine friend of both the Israelis and Palestinians. I have arrived at some firm conclusions about their future, which I must record for the benefit of those who share my concerns. My prescription is that:
1. All the states surrounding Israel must accord Israel recognition, both de facto and de jure.
2. All these states must be bound by treaties of perpetual peace and economic cooperation.
3. The international borders of Israel must provide it complete security to the satisfaction of the Security Council.
4. The United Nations must guarantee the immunity of Israel from any external aggression.
5. Israel will necessarily withdraw from almost all the areas that have come into its possession as a result of the aggressors' defeat in all the wars started by them to wipe Israel off the world's map.
If these conditions are fulfilled, I have no doubt that Israel will reconcile to the Corpus separatum for Jerusalem under an international regime, on the lines of the United Nations resolution of 1948.
There is then the vexed question of the return of the refugees who left Israel in response to the call of jihad by the neighbouring countries. According to the law of Israel and the law of every civilised state, they all are guilty of treason and if apprehended, liable to be sentenced to death. Every person who wishes to live in Israel must owe allegiance to that state. Any refugee who sincerely swears by the Holy Quran that he will be a loyal citizen of Israel and not commit acts of treason or terrorism against it, may well be allowed to return. This, however, is incumbent upon a host of confidence building measures, and it would be totally unreasonable of the international community to persuade Israel to accept potential traitors as Israeli residents. After having survived jihadic infanticide, Israel is not likely to commit political suicide.
I believe that the real enemies of the Palestinians are not Israel or the Jewish people or the US government. Their real enemies are those who have kept them in miserable refugee camps. A small fraction of the Saudi and Iranian wealth could have provided civilised conditions of existence, reasonable prosperity and wholesome occupations for all the Palestinians. An industrial Palestine would have been an economic competitor with Israel. The real enemies of the Palestinians are the Hamas, the Fatah, the Hezbollah, and the surrounding governments. The poor, misguided Palestinians are helpless pawns in the political chess of the Middle East.
Coming back to the Parliament debate, after hearing the first speaker from the ruling party whose presentation was incompletely articulated, and repeatedly interrupted, I left the House realising that an expelled member of the BJP would not be better off.
As for what the Hon'ble Minister for External Affairs said in Parliament, as reported in the newspapers, and what Hon'ble Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote the following day,
Real enemies of the Palestinians are those who keep them in miserable refugee camps.
Article Credits Hon.Advt.Ram Jethmalani "The Sunday Guardian"