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Opinion

Poverty not a curse, sterling efforts needed to be wealthy

Mukesh Ambani has added a feather to India’s cap by figuring among the richest in the world.

Vijay Darda

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Let me tell you a story of Mukesh Ambani’s vision. Reliance Group has a huge petroleum refinery in Jamnagar, Gujarat. A large area was lying barren around it. Mukesh Ambani felt that if trees and plants are planted on this land, the pollution of the refinery can be absorbed. When Mukesh Ambani decided to plant mango orchard on 600 acres of barren land, people harboured serious reservations about the success of his project.

The soil of Jamnagar and the moisture there has salinity and the winds blow at a high velocity too. In such a situation, would it be right to plant a mango orchard? This was the question in everyone’s mind, but Mukesh Ambani had decided and insisted that only mango orchard would be planted there. That was in 1997. Today, after 23 years, the salinity of the soil has been controlled, the winds have been taken care of and there are more than 1.5 lakh mango trees of about 200 species. Mangoes from this orchard are being exported all over the world because of its unmatched quality. The name of this mango orchard in Jamnagar is ‘Dhirubhai Ambani Lakhibag Amrayee’. For your information, let me tell you that the word ‘Lakhibag’ was the name of a mango grove developed by Mughal Emperor Akbar near Darbhanga in Bihar.

I told you this story so that you can understand how important it is to have vision, devotion and dedication to your work to become rich. After all, Dhirubhai Ambani started his journey from zero and built a big empire on his own. After that, one of his two sons raised his empire and the other collapsed on the ground. It is clear from this that even if you get a huge wealth by luck, you do not necessarily climb the stairs of success. It takes strength, concentration and balance to climb. Just one mistake is enough to fall! Let’s just think of Tata-Birla, Ambani-Adani, Hinduja, L N Mittal or Sajjan Jindal, Singhania, Anand Mahindra, you will find that their family started from zero. Infosys is an excellent example of our times. Narayan Murthy had laid the foundation of Infosys with a capital of only Rs 10,000. Adani started from the very bottom. Today, their success stories are for all to see. It is obvious that all this does not happen by sheer luck. For this, action and vision are required.

Many people continue to criticise industrial and business groups indiscriminately. Be it Ambani group or Adani group or someone else. People do not miss any chance to say that the government has always been ‘favourable’ to them. To me, these are all stupid and meaningless outpouring. No one can become ‘Kuber’ only with ‘favours’. For that, capacity needs to be increased manifold. Do not discuss what kind of house Ambani lives in, by which aircraft he travels, how many vehicles he has and how the wedding took place in his house. If at all, discuss that Ambani has given work to millions of hands. India has advanced in the world of technology. Do you know that while some people swindled Rs 15 lakh crore of the banks, Mukesh Ambani does not owe a single rupee to any bank! Consider why Mukesh Ambani flourishes in every sector he enters? Be thankful to all these industrialists that they have played and are playing an important role in the country’s progress. When I see the tricolour waving at The Pierre, a Taj Hotel in New York, my chest swells with pride. Isn’t it a matter of pride that Tata bought a global brand like Land Rover?

I have close proximity to almost all the industrialists I am referring to here and I know their lifestyle very closely. Humility, spontaneity and focus are their greatest assets. They have not become rich in a day. They have achieved this position through hard work. Therefore, do not curse poverty. Poverty is not a curse at all. Poverty can be transformed into prosperity by sterling actions and efforts. I know hundreds of such administrative officers who were born in a poor family but are occupying high posts today. Babasaheb Ambedkar was also poor but due to his talent, he is remembered with reverence all over the world today. Our former President APJ Abdul Kalam is the biggest example of this. His father was a fisherman and Kalam used to sell ‘beedis’ as a child. He became the best scientist in the world and also adorned the country’s highest position. Lal Bahadur Shastri rose from poverty to become the Prime Minister of the country. M S Kannamwar who once sold newspapers, became the chief minister of Maharashtra. People like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg have also risen from the state of extreme poverty to reach the summit. Former presidents of America, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, hailed from very humble origins. Elsewhere across the world, there have been many prime ministers, presidents, industrialists, great writers and scientists who were born poor, but they overcame their poverty through their ability and reached the top. So don’t accept poverty as a curse, take your steps, develop your potential. Success is waiting for you! The need of the hour is dedication, out-of-the-box thinking and perseverance… So what are you waiting for!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha. vijaydarda@lokmat.com

I congratulate Mukesh Bhai that he has not only joined the select list of wealthiest persons in the world with his devotion, dedication and vision but also made the country proud. True, if the capabilities are utilised to the full, one can scale the summit. Mukesh Bhai has proved his mettle and ability in every field.

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Opinion

MILKHA SINGH WAS AN UNDISPUTED BHARAT RATNA

Pankaj Vohra

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Milkha Singh would go down in history as independent India’s unchallenged sporting hero, whose feats inspired millions of our countrymen, making him a living legend. Despite facing acute hardships and a troubled childhood, the ‘Flying Sikh’, as he was fondly called, attained great heights, not achieved by any sportsman during his golden era. He was an icon whose name and fame cut across generations and made him into one of the best-known Indians of all times. The closest examples of anyone from another field who have attained this kind of reputation over a period of time and sustained it, can be perhaps Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi.

A modest man with no pretensions, Milkha was a role model for the best-known woman athlete, P.T. Usha, who like him also obtained the fourth position in the Los Angeles Olympics, 24 year after the flying Sikh lost in a photo finish at Rome. On hearing about his demise, P.T. Usha paid her most sincere homage to him, describing him as her idol. In fact, Milkha’s success story is also a tribute to the Indian Army, which supported his efforts, with not too many facilities available at that time. His story was such that a few years ago, Farhan Akhtar decided to make a movie on him and played the lead character of the distinguished athlete.

Milkha Singh was, without any doubt, a Bharat Ratna and successive governments ignored him for the highest civilian honour in his lifetime, though no one from the field of sports deserved it more than him. Sachin Tendulkar has been worshipped like a God by his fans, but before conferring the Bharat Ratna on him, the UPA government should have considered Milkha Singh. Sachin has achieved innumerable records, but if a person from the field of cricket was to be chosen, both Sunil Gavaskar, arguably the best Indian batsman ever, or Kapil Dev, who led India to its first World Cup victory, should have been chosen. This is not to discount Sachin’s contributions but to underline that he would have qualified for the honour in any case at some point, but there were others who could have been also considered.

There are sportspersons who have outclassed themselves despite several limitations. In the field of hockey, Major Dhyan Chand, his brother Roop Singh and K.D. Singh Babu besides Balbir Singh of the Western Railways and former skipper Ajitpal Singh, were all exceptional sportsmen as well; the first three accomplished a lot before India became independent. P.T. Usha, Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu, Sania Mirza, P. Gopichand, Prakash Padukone, Ramanathan Krishnan, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Abhinav Bindra are amongst a galaxy of sportspersons who have brought glory to our land. However, Milkha Singh was the lone ranger, whose name and fame stood out. In fact, there were so many jokes that were coined featuring him, which showed how popular he was.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has announced the setting up of a Milkha Singh Chair at the Patiala Sports Institute, something which should have been done during his lifetime. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be honouring public sentiments if he bestows the ‘Bharat Ratna’ on this Bharat Ratna. It would be the most deserving award to a person whose determination and hard work made him a part of the legion of superheroes. May his soul rest in peace.

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Opinion

Why universities are not ready for online degree programmes

As of now, there may be very few universities in the country which can honestly fulfill all technical, academic and social requirements of full-fledged online degree programmes.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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Higher education all over the world is undergoing an enormous amount of transformation in all its multi-dimensional aspects. This includes engagement with new emerging frontiers of knowledge, developing its interdisciplinary perspectives, research and innovation covering both fundamental and applied aspects across different subjects, impact of technology on the process of teaching and learning, to name a few. Besides, the cost of higher education has also been increasing in leaps and bounds resulting in the emergence of low-cost models to make it accessible to a greater number of people. It is a fact that almost all the developing economies are considerably impacted by consideration of cost, massification, equity and quality of higher education. The Indian higher education cannot be an exception to this global development. It is obligated to take appropriate measures to provide access to quality higher education to a large number of aspirants using conventional as well as other possible technology mediated modes of teaching and learning.

Indian higher education system thus far has largely been based on Face-to-Face and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) systems of delivery. While the former accounts for about 88% of the total enrolment, the latter accounts for the remaining 12%. The ODL system, which is in vogue since the sixties, is currently in use in as many as 91 universities which includes one Central university, 13 State Open Universities, and 77 state universities. Although the system of higher education has progressed considerably since independence, it is still at the threshold of the initial phase of “massification” with only 26.7% of the Gross Enrolment Ratio, which is several notches lower than the world average of 34.45%. So, there was a long felt need to look up for alternative models of delivery, something deeper and if not altogether new, then relatively so. It has gradually led to the idea of exploring the potential of online mode of delivery in higher education as it is believed to serve the dual purpose of being used for offering regular degree programmes and for short-term professional development programmes.  

The idea of online mode of delivery in Indian university system was mooted by the UGC in 2016. It was based on the premise that to begin with, universities could offer up to 20% of the course contents through online mode, outside the conventional mode, using technology-driven teaching and learning with credit accumulation and credit transfer. It was considered that this measured transition would provide good opportunity to the universities to have sufficient experience in developing multimedia enriched e-courseware in four quadrant format and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), video lectures and modules besides developing and organising necessary infrastructure that would be the basic requirements to run online programmes. And, if this transition yielded good results only then some select universities could be given concurrence to offer full-fledged online degree programmes.  

But because of the emerging demand of the university system, the UGC has brought out an integrated Regulations to enable universities to offer full-fledged online under-graduate and post-graduate programmes in 2020.  Any university, which is accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.26 and above on a 4-point scale, or having NIRF ranking in top 100 in two of the three preceding years in the university category, can offer three under-graduate and ten post-graduate online programmes without the prior approval of the UGC, in those disciplines which it offers in the conventional mode. In addition, there is yet another category wherein the university will have to take the prior approval of the UGC if its NAAC’s score falls between 3.21 and 3.26 or if its NIRF ranking in top 100 is only in one of the two preceding cycles.  The Regulations, however, prohibit online delivery of such programmes which require practical or laboratory work as a curricular requirement, except in cases where practical component is limited to programming and coding including software tools. There are also certain other stipulations like faculty requirement, development of in-house instructional materials, active engagement of learners, conduct of proctored examinations, etc, which are to be complied with by each university planning to offer programmes in online mode. 

There can be no two opinions that online learning now is extending its scope and reach with implications for making it a lifelong endeavour. Possibilities of developing and offering online, blended or hybrid models of learning are becoming a reality across the globe with choice of space and time and accumulating credits for acquiring a formal degree of the university. But there are serious issues of quality, like availability of tech-savvy teachers, quality of instructional materials, requisite infrastructure, broadband connectivity, and accessibility of middle and lower middle-class students to smart devices and internet connectivity. Since these online programmes are going to be from amongst non-science subjects and at a lesser cost, a larger number of students opting for them might come from poorer backgrounds with different kinds of post-enrolment requirements. These are extremely concerning issues that have no easy fixes and thus require thoughtful examination. 

It may be pertinent to mention here that there are a number of leading universities of the world which have not yet considered it fit to offer online degree programmes because of quality considerations. Although these universities have developed a wide range of online courses in the form of e-courseware, MOOCs, video lectures and modules, they make them available to those who want to broaden their knowledge on a particular topic, free of cost, without seeking any formal degree. Accordingly, joining such courses does not require any formal academic qualifications as a prerequisite. There are other sets of leading universities that are offering online courses only to complement their campus-based degree programmes and not for the award of full-fledged degrees.

The best course of action would have been to give careful attention to details besides drawing lessons out of the experiences of those leading foreign universities which are offering online courses for broadening of knowledge and honing of skills, and not for award of degrees. Online education can certainly provide opportunities of learning to a wide spectrum of learners and help increase the GER. But an incremental increase in GER sans quality is of little consequence. It is understood that the UGC has cleared as many as 38 universities which can offer full-fledged online degree programmes without the approval of the Regulators. It seems to have been done far too early and on a far too large a scale. Universities should have devoted a little more time to developing real expertise in online delivery by continuing with a blended or hybrid mode of delivery for a while. Some of these universities ostensibly are going to be academically and professionally naïve in the extreme.

These universities will have to make a big push on the technical front not only to make online programmes a success but also to widen the scope of their sustainability. Most of the universities may not be fully equipped in terms of basic technical infrastructure as well as technology-oriented workforce. The first and the foremost requirement of the universities would be to carry out customized Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to facilitate hassle free learners’ registration with provision of authentication, document verification and payment gateway. They will have to develop an appropriate dashboard that can provide quick access to all the stakeholders. It should be able to provide quick reminders to everyone, from the administrator to mentor to learners, to complete the task in a time-bound manner. They will have to set up a center having e-learning facilities including video-studio for recording, editing, and enriching lectures through animations and simulations. Universities will have to create their own Learning Management System (LMS) with user friendly features and provisions for both synchronous and asynchronous interactions to ensure seamless delivery of course contents and organisation of discussion forums. They may have to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven LMS with adaptive learning and adaptive assessment features to provide personalized learning experiences.

LMS integrated with analytical tools and other applications will have to be effectively used to analyse learner’s engagements in different activities to provide timely feedback besides ensuring the authenticity of the learner and mitigating the participation of proxy learners. This aspect of the LMS is going to be extremely critical not only to combat unfair means but also to ascertain real engagement of learners for the purpose of having their fair assessments. The LMS must be accessible in all devices, especially mobile devices, to enable all kinds of learners to use it without any technical glitches. The universities will have to put in place a robust system of proctored examination to ensure transparency, objectivity and credibility of their degree programmes.

On academic fronts, universities will have to redesign the curriculum to ensure its compatibility with the requirements of online delivery. The first and foremost requirement would be about redesigning outcome-based curriculum which ensures mapping of graduate attributes that are in sync with the needs and requirements of both the global market and the society. It would require proper structuring of syllabi with inbuilt hierarchy, development of good quality learner centric and multi-media enriched e-content in four quadrant MOOC format, quality reading materials in the form of e-courseware, short duration video lectures, well designed assignments in the form of projects, quizzes, term papers, provisions for synchronous and asynchronous interactions to enable students to participate in online discussions and forums, home assignments and criterion-referenced and norm-referenced tests to assess real potential of students. Universities will also have to make digital library resources available, provide links for open education resources and MOOCs and list of related publications as per the requirement of the programme to encourage self-learning. Apart from all that, they will have to provide professionally trained mentor teachers who will have to guide and counsel students at every stage of the programme. Universities will also have to design assessment tools for both formative and summative assessments. While they can use the Learning Management System (LMS) for formative assessment, they will have to use proctored examination for summative assessment along with provisions of verifiable online certification and award of diplomas and degrees. 

Universities will have to make doubly sure that their programme administrators or the mentor teachers do not treat the online programmes as an auto-play video courses. It will require tech savvy teachers who are fully conversant not only with the ICT empowered pedagogies and virtual interactions but are also capable of mentoring the students by engaging them effectively throughout the programme. This would require a teacher-student ratio much lower than what is proposed (1: 250). This would call for the organisation of regular orientation programmes for the faculty in collaboration with experts in e-learning and technology mediated teaching and learning.

As of now, there may be very few universities in the country which can honestly fulfill all technical, academic and social requirements of full-fledged online degree programmes. And, even when they do meet those professional requirements, there would still remain a serious concern of ensuring that no student, irrespective of his or her geographical location, has any kind of deprivation with regard to access to tools and devices needed for wholesomely benefitting from online modalities. Although it seems less threatening, if universities are going to seize this opportunity to maximise their resources, like some of them did through their ODL programmes in the past, then it may be equally worrisome. This transition obviously is going to be as much a difficult challenge for the universities as for the Regulators. It is not going to be a piece of cake for either of the two. But since they have already moved in this direction, now the onus lies on them to set standards and institutionalise full-fledged online degree programmes by justifying all the essential academic, technical and social requirements, failing which it would be nothing short of a misadventure.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

THE ECOLOGICAL REVIVAL OF RAM RAJYA

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While the building of the mammoth temple at the Ram Janambhoomi in Ayodhya has garnered all attention. The attempt is to revive the ‘Ram Nagari’ in totality and not just confine it to a temple.

Scriptures say that it was Raja Ram who turned Ayodhya from a mere administrative centre of the kingdom to a vibrant capital city, an urban hub. “Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram was very well aware of the elements of life— the Panch Mahabhoot. To keep the city in a live condition and for life to exuberate in its full potential, he designed the space for all 108 elements which contributed to the making of the Panch Mahabhoot (five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space). And this was done by making a space for 108 Jalashay (waterbodies) well within the city limits to create water sovereignty for the whole city,” says Mahant Pawan Kumar Das Shastri.

Following the apex court judgement and resumption of the work at the temple site, it was felt that Lord Ram cannot be welcomed in an ecologically degraded city. Thus, Ayodhya Development Authority and Ayodhya Nagar Nigam together envisaged a move for the government-citizen partnership to revive and rejuvenate the city ecologically.

The outcome of this initiative is Jal Dhar, the attempt to identify and resurrect water bodies in and around Ayodhya, the lifeline of Ram Rajya. Expertise for executing the project came from a reputed NGO, Community Friendly Movement (CFM), which is credited with creating/reviving many water bodies in the country’s most arid district, Jhabua, in Madhya Pradesh. Challenge in Ayodhya was, however, different. The area was not arid, rather riverine and it had a network of water bodies, which had got encroached upon over a period of time thus leaving a trail of polluted ponds and frequent urban floods.

A painstaking study of land records, done by a group of local citizens under the leadership Acharya Ram Prakash Pandey, gave an estimate that 108 ponds existed in Lord Rama’s city, many of which had practically vanished and others were in a state of absolute distress. These natural water bodies that are the charging points of the aquifer system ensuring water ecological balance were in deep stress and needed urgent attention.

Water hyacinth covered lake surface, drains released in ponds, making them a breeding ground for mosquitoes, waterborne disease, and floating non-biodegradable waste. Last December, it was decided that the revival of these ponds was to be made part of the citizen’s initiative, duly supported by the government agencies by the way of in-situ rejuvenation.

The 108 water bodies of Ayodhya were geotagged through the campaign #KahanHaiMeraTalab and #AaoBachaLePaani on social media including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Ayodhya residents came out in full support and in a matter of one week, all the ponds (locally called Kunds) were identified along with their cornerstones. It was stressed to the citizens that from the Vedic times, humans lived in harmony with nature but the degradation of human values led to erosion of natural resources. The campaign was to start course correction and regain natural wealth.

The first such initiative was taken at Lal Digghi Talab, which is located in the upmarket Civil Lines area. One of the city’s main drains fell in this pond. The filth in water choked aquifers, which did not allow water to seep into earth, making it stagnant and a source of urban floods during the rainy season. To overcome the problem, a pump house had been installed to drain out the water and pump it into the main sewer line. In December last year, the municipal bodies in collaboration with CFM started what’s called the Vedic treatment of water. It’s an integrated process that involves the treatment of water using Ayurvedic ark (plant extracts) specially prepared and customized as per the need of the specific water body.

“The process of treatment involved installation of a freshwater tank to dilute the ark (concentrate) created specifically for the water body and releasing it in the pond before sunrise. The whole process requires a very small electrical charge to resuscitate the water ecology and induce aerobic reaction leading to the increased dissolved oxygen level in the water. Once the process is initiated, the viscosity of water improves and the clogged aquifers start to open,” says Saurav Ghosh, of CFM.

“As the city prepares for the onset of Monsoon, the process of removing encroachment and preparation to catch the rain where it drops, and when it drops, is going on in full swing in Ayodhya,” says Vishal Singh, Municipal Commissioner and Vice Chairman, Ayodhya Development Authority. “Having encouraged people with Vedic inspirations, it was decided to use the Vedic sciences to clean the ponds, which yielded great results,” adds Singh.

After just a month of treatment, the natural aquifers became functional and started recharging the water table. Since the water had started to seep into the earth, there was no overflow making the pump house redundant. The work is now set to begin on the other water bodies.

However, it is not to be a one-time affair but the initiative is to create structures for the sustainability of these water bodies, and here comes the concept of connecting the 108 Kunds to 108 Agnihotra or Yajna Kund. Thereafter appoint a scholar as caretaker, who additionally would be training and helping people in performing Vedic rituals.

This scholar will not only perform yajnas but also ensure the care of Prakriti (nature) in the local ecosystem to ensure operation and management for sustainability of the rejuvenated Kund. By taking care of water, plants, animals, and humans around the Kund, the scholar will be Mool Srota (fundamental connect) to establish the missing link to serve nature. “The management and care of precious water, water reuse and knowledge propagation will go hand in hand to make Ayodhya ready to welcome Raja Ram and his devotees,” says Pandey.

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Opinion

HOW PM MODI INTEGRATED J&K WITH INDIA

Sanju Verma

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the most popular and powerful leader in post-independent India. On the socio-political front, the historic step of abrogating Article 370 which came into effect in 1950, and Article 35-A, which came into effect in 1954, figure high on the list of his achievements.

President Ram Nath Kovind declared the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The move came after both houses of the Indian Parliament passed a resolution in this regard.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 370 read with clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the President, on the recommendation of Parliament, is pleased to declare that, as from 6th August 2019, all clauses of the said Article 370 shall cease to be operative,” an official notification said.

This meant the separate constitutions of Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be in operation. With the State constitution rendered inoperative and Articles 1-2 applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government got the power to redraw the map of the erstwhile State. The Union Territory of Jammu-Kashmir got a new status comparable with that of Delhi and Puducherry, the only two other Union Territories to have legislatures of their own. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir became Lieutenant Governor.

What was Article 370? Article 370, was a ‘temporary provision’ that granted special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir. Under Part XXI of the Constitution of India, which deals with “Temporary, Transitional and Special provisions”, Jammu & Kashmir had been accorded special status. All the provisions of the Constitution which applied to other States did not apply to J&K. According to this Article, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications, Parliament needed the J&K government’s concurrence for applying all other Indian laws. Thus J&K’s residents lived under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to other Indians elsewhere in the country. As a result of this provision, Indian citizens from other States could not even purchase land or property in Jammu & Kashmir.

However, with Kashmir’s special status gone, people from anywhere in India can now buy the property and permanently settle in the state. A separate Union Territory was created for Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh region was also given the status of a Union Territory, albeit without legislature. In a masterstroke, the Modi government, by revoking Article 370 and Article 35-A, mainstreamed Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, with the rest of India, as Article 370 was always discriminatory in more ways than one. With its revocation, the ball was set rolling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to flee their homes in 1990, in one of the most horrific genocides in 1990.

The Modi government, on January 7, 2020, approved an industrial development scheme worth Rs 28,400 crore, for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, to give a fresh thrust on job creation, skill development, and attracting new investment. Its outlay is until 2037. Smaller units with an investment in plant and machinery up to Rs 50 crore will get a capital incentive up to Rs 7.5 crore and get capital interest subvention at the rate of 6%, for a maximum of seven years. What makes the scheme unique is the GST linked incentive that will ensure less compliance burden without compromising on transparency.

After the abrogation of Article 370, various public outreach programmes have been undertaken with the intent to take more than fifty central schemes to all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For decades, the Abdullahs and Muftis treated this region as their personal fiefdom. The fact that in the recent district development council (DDC) elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest standalone Party, winning 75 seats and making inroads into hitherto impregnable areas like Srinagar, Bandipora, and Pulwama, is a clear vindication of Modi’s development-oriented politics. DDC elections, conducted in eight phases, saw an average voter turnout of over 51%, showcasing that there is genuine interest among the people of the valley to take part in the electoral process, because they foresee development and better quality of life for themselves and their future generations going forward. Even in the Panchayat elections held in 2018,the average voter turnout was 71%, marking the strength of grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2015, while announcing the ambitious Rs 80,000-crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir, from the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, PM Narendra Modi made a passionate mention of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, and Insaniyat”, as in, Kashmiri culture, democracy, and humanity. “Kashmiriyat ke bina Hindustan adhura hai”, said Modi (Without Kashmiriyat, India is incomplete). The mega package that was to change the face of the militancy-hit region and draw the disillusioned back into the mainstream has been a resounding success. On the jobs’ front, over 3000 jobs were created for Kashmiri migrants in the last eighteen months. Financial assistance of Rs 578 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was provided to 12,588 displaced families (of the 36,384 families) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Chhamb. Land was acquired for an IIT and an IIM in Jammu and the two AIIMS in Jammu and Awantipora in Kashmir respectively.

Power projects have moved at a fast pace. The Pakal Dul 1,000 MW project and the Srinagar-Leh transmission line are on course. Of the 28 small hydropower projects estimated to cost a total of Rs 2,000 crore, several projects have either already kicked off the ground or will do so soon enough.

The Rs 80,000 crore package consists of 63 major development projects being implemented by 15 Central Ministries. More than 79% of the total package has already been sanctioned and over 40% of the development package has either been released or utilised. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as the Patni-top or Syama Prasad Mookerjee tunnel, is not only India’s longest highway tunnel but also Asia’s longest bi-directional highway tunnel. The tunnel stretching 9.28 km, inaugurated by PM Modi in April 2017, is a huge achievement that is set to transform how different regions of India are connected across various terrains. The tunnel has reduced travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two to four hours, reducing the distance by 31 km, which in turn has resulted in a huge reduction in the consumption of fuel. The Modi government estimates a reduction of Rs 27 lakh of fuel consumption per day, on average. Further, the tunnel is impervious to natural calamities such as landslides and avalanches which are common in the region. The core advantage the tunnel offers is permanent connectivity to the Kashmir valley, which was hitherto only intermittently connected.

The fact that Jammu and Kashmir has always been high on the Modi government’s priority list is best amplified by PM Modi’s launch of the Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine (SEHAT) scheme, on December 26, 2020. The scheme will cover the remaining one crore population which has not been covered under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. With the launch of the Sehat scheme, Jammu and Kashmir are among the first in India to achieve universal health coverage. Currently, under Ayushman Bharat PM Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), which gives eligible beneficiaries a free health cover of Rs. 5 lakh, over 30 lakh people are already covered in Jammu and Kashmir.

An uneasy calm that had prevailed in the valley after the revocation of Article 370 and 35-A, has now paved way for higher business confidence and greater stability, with militancy and separatism, taking a backseat. Abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A have made it possible to implement the 7th pay commission recommendations and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) rather than the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which was in vogue all these years. Under Article 35-A no outsider could bag a government job. Earlier, companies were forced to hire only locals. Revocation of the above Articles has levelled the playing field in Jammu and Kashmir. No investor was willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institution, or private hospital since he or she could neither buy land or property. Their wards could not get government jobs or admission to colleges. In so many decades, there are barely any major national or international chains that have set up hotels in a tourist-centric region like J&K, preventing enrichment, resource generation, and job creation. But on August 5, 2019, Prime Minister Modi’s government reset the clock, undoing all the misguided wrongs of the jaded Nehruvian era in an unprecedented, epochal decision of abrogating Article 370 and 35-A. The rest is history. Recently,in a Clubhouse discussion, senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, notorious for being a loose cannon, said that the Congress Party would consider restoring Article 370 if it came to power, forgetting that the revocation of the said Article is full and final and cannot be undone. Also, the Congress Party has been reduced to a puny, fractious Party and cannot come back to power, as India is done with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts.

J&K’s special status had thus far even shielded it from the applicability of Article 3 of the Constitution, which provides for re-drawing state boundaries or the creation of a new State/UT. But all that is in the past now, as Jammu and Kashmir which are UTs now are at the cusp of a sharp economic turnaround. Remember, Article 370 and 35-A empowered J&K to be a near-autonomous State since it limited the Centre’s authority to just external affairs, defence, finance and communication. This provision even allowed J&K to have a “Sadar-e-Riyasat” for governor and prime minister in place of a chief minister till 1965, as well as its own flag and constitution. Hence revoking Article 370— which was in any case, always temporary and transitional as per Part XXI of the Constitution— was long overdue. Before the revocation, the Union government needed the concurrence of the State government to even declare a financial emergency in the State, under Article 360.

As per the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019, in place of this special status, all the provisions of the Indian Constitution will henceforth be applicable, which will help in mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35-A, which comes under Article 370, proscribed and prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the State, buying immovable property, acquiring land, applying for government jobs, or any kind of scholarships, aids as well as other public welfare projects. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will now be treated as one, with no discrimination between permanent residents and non-permanent ones.

Article 35-A also referred to as the Permanent Residents Law, had thus far barred a woman (belonging to the state) from any property rights if she marries a person from outside the state. The provision also extended to the children of such women as they did not have any succession rights over the property. The revoking of this Article ended the age-old discrimination against women of J&K, who chose to marry outsiders.

The Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 has ensured stability, market access, and predictable laws in the state, to help develop an ecosystem that will give better rewards to the skills, hard work, and products of the people in the region.

“In today’s world, economic growth cannot happen in a closed environment. Open minds and open markets will ensure that the youth of the region will put it on the path of greater progress. The integration gives a boost to investment, innovation, and incomes,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said post the revocation of the discriminatory Articles.

“Better connectivity, better linkages, and better investment will help products of the region to reach across the country and the world, leading to a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity to the common man,” the PM added. And with the slew of infrastructure projects underway in the region, that is precisely what is happening.

It needs to be mentioned here that Jammu and Kashmir had received 10% of all Central grants given to States over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only 1% of the country’s population.

In contrast, Uttar Pradesh making up about 13% of India’s population received only 8.2% of Central grants in 2000-16. That means J&K, with a population of 12.55 million according to the 2011 Census, received Rs.91,300 per person over the sixteen years between 2000-2016, while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs.4,300 per person over the same period. Why did J&K not see any substantive development despite receiving a disproportionate amount of Central assistance? Well, funds alone cannot guarantee good governance if the political will is lacking and an enabling ecosystem is missing. In one historic sweep, the Prime Minister, on August 5, 2019, by mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, ensured that the region could prosper like any other without being beholden to a corrupt and conniving political class represented by the Abdullahs and Muftis who had used the special status of J&K to only accord special privileges unto themselves.

The fact that the Modi government truly abides by the dictum of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Vishwaas”, can be gauged from the inauguration of mega hydropower projects in Jammu on January 3, 2021. Memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were signed with National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to attract Rs 35,000 crore of investments besides ensuring a 24-hour power supply in the UT.

January 3 was a historic day as mega hydropower projects to make J&K a power surplus region in the country were inked. MoUs were signed for implementation of 850 MW Ratle HEP and 930 MW Kirthai-II HEP; execution of Sawalkot HEP (1856 MW), Uri-I (Stage-II) (240 MW), and Dulhasti (Stage-II) (258 MW) will further transform the economic landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. In the last 70 odd years, J&K was able to generate only 3504 MW energy. But in the next four years, the UT will generate additional 3,498 MW of electricity to ensure energy security of the region.

The 19 distribution and transmission projects inaugurated on January 3, 2021, would enhance the ease of living in the region, in addition to playing a significant role in raising per capita incomes, industrialisation and employment generation in J&K. The national average of electricity in rural areas is 20 hours and in urban areas is 22-23 hours, across India. J&K too will reach that milestone if the pace of development is kept steady. With locals being trained and given employment in NHPC ventures, J&K will see a new dawn of energy sufficiency and thereby inclusive development.

Indeed, J&K is taking a quantum leap from being power deficit to power surplus, in the next four years. Clean, affordable, and reliable energy is the key for industries, businesses, and society to grow. The Modi government has a well-laid out plan to effectively harness the hydro energy resources of J&K, to double the energy generation by 2024.The construction work on the Ring Road project, the widening of the National Highway from Pathankot to Jammu to make it six-lane from four-lane as well as the acquisition of land for the landmark Katra-Delhi Expressway road corridor have started in earnest in the Jammu region. Out of seven Centrally funded medical colleges, Jammu received four and Kashmir, three. As for recruitment to government jobs, hereafter the selection will be made purely based on written test, without an interview. Those including the Gupkar Alliance, who are raising a hue and cry against revocation of Article 370 are merely habitual pessimists, with rapidly declining political relevance. PM Modi’s aspirational and inclusive brand of politics is set to herald the winds of change in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, so that everyone has a shot at growth with a better quality of life.

The writer is an economist, BJP national spokesperson, and bestselling author of ‘Truth&Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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ANALYSING INDIA’S ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE GOALS

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Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues concern and impact every company, irrespective of where the company operates. Environmental issues range across climate change, carbon emission concerns, waste management, pollution (air and water). Social issues range across labour issues, modern slavery, under-the-table sourcing practices, product liabilities, privacy concerns, data security. Governance issues range across business ethics, corporate culture that shapes how a company functions and its organisational practices, board impact, enterprise risk framework, and the granularity of the organisation disclosures.

The term ESG was first coined in 2005 in a landmark study initiated by United Nations, titled ‹Who Cares Wins.” Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) refers to the three core themes in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company. These criteria also help in determining the future financial performance of companies.

In recent years, investing in sustainable companies has been associated with ‘doing good’ investors. ESG is no more just that or about ‘investing plus sustainability’. It is now the way of responsible investing. It is no more a ‘nice to have’ special project in a firm; it is rather a ‘must make it part of the organisational DNA’ culture and board imperative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the importance of social commitment, environmental championing, and governance values of companies. Many companies have taken up the cause of social impact, as a spontaneous response to the suffering all around. These showcase the companies’ true values and commitment to a mission.

SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIAL LICENSE

Sustainability is specific to a company, or an industry, and a country. Companies need to measure their positive and negative impacts, identify the baselines, and disclose in a transparent and consumer-friendly manner. Regulatory requirements of such disclosures have compelled the act of disclosures, but not necessarily the spirit and details of such disclosures. To really achieve sustainability, it has to be a top-down, company-wide cultural effort.

A social licence simply refers to the acceptance of an organisation by the community in which it operates. In other words, an organisation can carry out its business, simply because of the confidence the (local) society has that it will behave well respecting all rules and traditions, with accountability, and in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The ‘social license to operate’ is made of these three elements:

• Legitimacy: the extent to which an organisation operates by the ‘rules of the game’ (the norm of the community, even if they are informal or not coded as law).

• Credibility: the organisation’s ability to provide true and detailed information to the community and fulfil all its commitments on time, without reminders.

• Trust: this aspect of highest quality of a relationship takes time and effort to nurture and sustain.

Organisations that think that social licence is something that they can ‘pay for’, end up with issues of their credibility at stake. Companies with questionable processes often try and buy such credibility by giving out community grants (in the form of social funds). This kind of transactional nature of the behaviour would break the trust that the community has with the organisation.

Even a broken relationship can be mended or healed by carefully rebuilding that trust. Trust assumes that all parties involved would nurture the relationships, based on mutual respect and highest levels of probity.

The social license of profit-making entities has to be a full-time engagement. Organisations, that champion their community initiatives, usually have their best and senior resources overseeing those initiatives. Such organisations ensure that their boards are appraised regularly of the initiatives, however small the projects could be in their balance sheet. It is the guiding principles of those initiatives which matter and not the project-cost-outlay!

Boards usually have governance expertise on business matters. At the beginning of this millennium, climate change became a global debate.

It took time for it to percolate to the corporate world as a serious topic that could impact their ‘future business as well as ‘future of business’. With ESG standards gaining momentum across stakeholder groups, Boards are discussing the following things :

• Societal changes and evolving expectations of the society

• Adapting the corporate brand promise in alignment with ESG objectives

• Various risks including Global risks, country risks, and corporate risks.

• Reputational issues

• Disruptive elements in their industry/geography

• Global momentum on ESG and expectations.

GRASSROOTS DISCUSSION

Conversations around ESG need to move out of specialist journals, multilateral institutions› annual summits, and corporate board rooms to classroom debates, panchayat discussions, and populist mass media across various languages!

A productive ESG thinking depends on building initiatives that are authentic, inclusive, actionable, and focused on driving a real-world result, not just an ESG rating or award.

ESG is not a revolution, but more a mindset evolution. This might be a good starting point for you to think of your ESG journey ahead:

• Do all your stakeholders know your ESG goals? Are all of them aligned in the mission ahead?

• How do you improve the existing ESG standards?

• Do you know of the parameters that make up your firm’s ESG score or ratings?

• How do you improve on the existing processes that impact the ESG performance of your firm?

• How do you compete with the global benchmarks?

• How strong is your social licence to operate, in the locations your firm operates and serves customers?

• How do you communicate about your ESG initiatives— both to your internal stakeholders and the external world? After all, perception is a new reality.

• You might have ‘goodness’ as a value. Is it reflected in each of the stakeholder behaviour and processes within your firm?

In this transformational journey to make the world ‘good’, every voice counts, and every positive act matters. Capital, human capital, and social capital have to come together for sustainable and impactful ESG outcomes.

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GEO-ECONOMIC RELEVANCE OF THE HISTORIC STILWELL ROAD

The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.

Jajati K. Pattnaik

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The Stilwell Road which was lost in geostrategic calculus during the Cold War period gained geo-economic relevance in the backdrop of India’s Act East policy under the canopy of neoliberal architecture. The road was considered a prime mover for cross-border trade and economic integration with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) having wider implications for India’s Northeastern states as well. The Stilwell Road, originally known as Ledo Road, is named after American General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who undertook the responsibility of constructing the project in December 1942, to open communication links for the Allied forces from India to send reinforcements to Kunming in Yunnan province of China and subsequently free Burma from the clutches of Japanese forces.

Stilwell Road in 2015 (Nampong section)Stilwell Road during World War II. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

During its completion in 1944, the road was used as a major supply route for the transportation of arms, troops, and other essential materials for the Kuomintang Army of China in its war against Japan. The road covering a distance of 1726 kilometers starts from Ledo in Assam (India) and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Kachin (Myanmar) and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China. The road covers 61 km in India, 1033 km in Myanmar, and 632 km in China respectively.

Initially, Myanmar was skeptical about re-opening the Stilwell road, because it ran across the insurgency-infested Kachin region upon which the Military Junta did not have any control. Later, Myanmar Government assigned the contract to Yunnan Construction Engineering Group of China and the military-backed Yuzana group in 2010 to reconstruct 312-kilometer road from Myitkyina in Myanmar to Pangsau pass at the India-Myanmar border. India has renovated its portion of Stilwell road through two-lane highways, while China has renovated its own segment through six-lane Highways. The experts working in this field opined that rebuilding of Myitkyina-Pangsau Pass would reduce the cost of transport by about 30 percent benefitting India, Myanmar, and China for bilateral as well as multilateral trade. Generally, goods from India’s Northeast are brought through road and railways of narrow Siliguri corridor to Kolkata covering near about 1,600 km and then transshipped through the Strait of Malacca to South East Asia and China. The present route takes about seven days for the landing of cargo whereas the same consignment through the Stilwell route can land in Myanmar and China in less than two days. In my opinion, if the Myanmar segment is completed, then the Ledo-Nampong corridor could be connected to Muse, Lashio, Mandalay, and Yangon (Myanmar) through Asian Highway (AH14); Ruili, Wanding and Kunming (China) through AH3 and Bangkok (Thailand); Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Singapore (Singapore) through Asian Highway 2(AH2) and further to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Hochi Minh city (Vietnam) of grater Mekong sub-region through Asian Highways 1(AH1). It is envisioned that such type of transnational-connectivity corridors would help in strengthening free trade architecture eventually pave the way for regional and sub-regional cooperation.

In this context, the opening of the Stilwell road at the India-Myanmar border would create scope for cross-border trade and economic collaboration in the region involving India’s Northeastern states. It is pertinent to mention here that the Nampong Land Custom Station (Arunachal Pradesh) notified since 1951 has largely remained non-functional and the border trade was limited to informal channels. At present, Indian nationals are allowed to visit the Pangsau market (Myanmar side) on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of every month. Likewise, Myanmar’s nationals living 16 km from its borer are permitted to visit Nampong every Friday to purchase their necessary items. In case of any formal border trade, there would be a rush forward in both imports and exports, and as a consequence, it would strengthen the pace for cross-border collaboration involving both hardware and software resources for the benefit of all the stakeholders in the region.

India’s prime apprehension is that in case ‘We Act East’ through the Stilwell Road, then India’s Northeast will be swamped with cheap Chinese goods. This kind of economic threat perception cannot be denied given the nature of the easy overflow of Chinese goods into the Indian markets including the Northeast. Equally, it is pertinent to mention that China has already spread its tentacles in our neighbouring South/ South East Asian countries through several infrastructural projects, the most touted, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) posing it as the economic hegemon of the continental corridor. Since India enjoys added advantages over China due to multiplicity of geo-economic, cultural, and strategic factors, New Delhi can drag the ASEAN very well in its favour by forging a closer partnership with the latter through transnational connectivity projects and deeper economic linkages. In this context, Stilwell road could be a game-changer, and set the momentum for the economic engagement of Northeast with ASEAN, subsequently balancing India’s national interest vis-à-vis China.

The writer is an Associate Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

The road covering a distance of 1,726 km starts from Ledo in Assam and goes across Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh and Shindbwiyang, Bhamo, and Myitkyina in Myanmar and further links Ledo-Burma roads junction to the city of Kunming in China.

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