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Disciplinary proceedings continuing ad infinitum would be destructive of the rule of law: Delhi High Court

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While granting relief to CBIC officer named Anish Gupta, the Delhi High Court in an extremely learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Anish Gupta vs Union of India in J-1 W.P. (C) 2267/2022, CM APPL. 6521/2022 (for Ad-Interim Relief), CM APPL. 10543/2022 (for additional documents) & CM APPL. 10544/2022 (Exemption) and J-2 W.P. (C) 2590/2022, CM APPL. 7398/2022 (Stay), CM APPL. 7399/2022 (Exemption) & CM APPL. 7400/2022 (Exemption) that was reserved on June 3, 2022 and then finally pronounced on July 5, 2022 has minced absolutely no words to hold most forthrightly that allowing disciplinary proceedings to continue ad infinitum would not only be highly prejudicial to an individual but is also destructive of the rule of law. Of course, this begs the moot question: Why should the disciplinary proceedings be allowed to continue ad infinitum? Also, it must be asked: How can the individual right to get speedy justice be held to ransom in the most arbitrary and whimsical manner?

To start with, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Siddharth Mridul for a Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of himself and Hon’ble Mr Justice Anoop Kumar Mendiratta sets the ball rolling from para 1 itself wherein it is put forth that, “The present Writ Petitions are in the nature of cross-petitions against the common order dated 29.07.2021, passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as “CAT”). Writ Petition No. 2267/2022 has been preferred by one Shri Anish Gupta against the Union of India and Ors. (hereinafter referred to as the “Petitioner”). Writ Petition No. 2590/2022 has been preferred by Union of India against the Petitioner herein. Since the facts and issues are common, both these petitions were heard together and are being disposed off by way of this common order.

BRIEF FACTS

(i) The Petitioner was serving as Officer on Special Duty (Legal at the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs), when he was suspended on 21.08.2013.

(ii) He was served with a Departmental Charge Sheet/ Memorandum of Charge dated 16.07.2015, pursuant to an incident of July, 2013.

(iii) Admittedly no criminal investigation or prosecution was ever initiated or contemplated against the Petitioner.

(iv) Since the Departmental Inquiry, as contemplated under the extant rules did not commence within the stipulated time, the Petitioner filed OA 1396/2016 before the CAT praying for quashing the aforesaid Charge Sheet.

(v) Vide Order dated 13.05.2016, CAT granted the Respondent-Union of India, 04 (four) months time to complete the Disciplinary Proceedings arising from the subject Charge Sheet.

(vi) Since, the Union of India did not comply with the aforesaid directions; the Petitioner was constrained to file OA 3426/2016 before the CAT, seeking a declaration of closure of the said Charge Sheet. The Union of India admittedly did not file any application for extension of time.

(vii) The aforesaid OA 3426/2016 remained pending for a period of about 04 (four) years before the CAT and the Petitioner herein simultaneously was subjected to Disciplinary Proceedings. Despite this, vide an order dated 22.12.2020, CAT granted further extension of 06 (six) months to the Union of India to complete the proceedings, while granting liberty to the Petitioner to approach the Tribunal if the same was not competed.

(viii) Despite the efflux of almost 05 (five) years from the issuance of the Charge Sheet and the aforesaid grant of two extensions by the CAT, the Departmental Inquiry was still not completed.

(ix) Hence, in terms of the liberty granted by the CAT, the Petitioner filed MA No. 1880/2021 before the CAT for closure of Disciplinary Proceedings.

(x) The Union of India also caused to be filed MA No. 1879/2021 for further extension of time, but admittedly after the expiry of time granted to it by the Tribunal, vide the said Order dated 22.12.2020.

(xi) Vide the impugned Order dated 29.07.2021, the CAT has allowed the Petitioner’s MA No. 1880/2021 (for closure of the Charge Sheet) and rejected the Union’s MA No. 1879/2021 (for extension of time). The CAT further directed that the sealed cover qua the Petitioner be opened forthwith, and he be granted promotions at par with his juniors.

(xii) Subsequently, MA No. 3647/2021 was filed by the Petitioner seeking clarification/ modification of certain inadvertent errors that had crept in the order dated 29.07.2021.

(xiii) During the pendency of MA No. 3647/2021 before CAT, the Union of India filed W.P.(C) No. 2590/2022 before this Court and also opposed the said MA No. 3647/2021 pending before the Tribunal inter alia on the ground of challenge pending before this Court. Given the pendency of the Writ before this Court, the Petitioner withdrew his MA No. 3647/2021 pending before Ld. Tribunal to approach this Court, and accordingly filed W.P.(C) No. 2267/2022 before this Court.”

ISSUE:-

As things stand, the Bench then observes in para 7 that, “Thus the primary issue that arises for our consideration in these proceedings, is whether the Union of India was entitled for further extension of time as prayed for by it before the CAT. If the answer to the above is in the negative; what then would be the consequences of such a rejection.”

ANALYSIS

To be sure, the Bench then lays bare in para 8 that, “We have given our thoughtful consideration to the submissions canvassed across the Bar as well as perused through the relevant documents placed on the record. We are of the considered opinion that the Petitioner’s Writ Petition must succeed for the reasons elaborated hereinbelow.”

While citing the relevant case law, the Bench then fortifies its stand by mentioning in para 9 that, “In Prem Nath Bali (supra), a case with facts analogous to the present Petition, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that :-

“28. Keeping these factors in mind, we are of the considered opinion that every employer (whether State or private) must make sincere endeavour to conclude the departmental enquiry proceedings once initiated against the delinquent employee within a reasonable time by giving priority to such proceedings and as far as possible it should be concluded within six months as an outer limit. Where it is not possible for the employer to conclude due to certain unavoidable causes arising in the proceedings within the time frame then effort should be made to conclude within the reasonably extended period depending upon the cause and the nature of the enquiry but not more than a year.” [Emphasis Supplied].”

As an aside, the Bench then states in para 10 that, “Immediately thereafter, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) issued a Circular dated 18.01.2016 containing instructions to comply with the said directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in all Disciplinary Proceedings including those involving CBI investigations, in Prem Nath Bali (supra).”

Quite rightly, the Bench then states in para 11 that, “In view of the foregoing, the Petitioner’s contention that the Respondent-Union of India has failed to abide by the dicta of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Prem Nath Bali (supra) as well as the CVC Circular, ex-facie carries force.”

As we see, the Bench then discloses in para 12 that, “The Respondent-Union of India has sought to urge that the Petitioner’s reliance on Prem Nath Bali (supra) is misplaced as the said judgment is per incuriam and was rendered only in the peculiar facts of the case. It is urged that the ratio thereof is mere obiter. It was further submitted that the Circular dated 18.01.2016 issued for following the said precedent of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Prem Nath Bali (supra) is also merely directory and compliance thereof is not mandatory.”

Be it noted, the Bench then specifies in para 13 that, “We cannot commend ourselves to accept the aforesaid contentions. The Respondent- Union of India has not placed any material to show that the said judgment is per incuriam, as asseverated. A mere ipse dixit, or a bald assertion cannot a fortiori render a judgment of the Apex Court as per incuriam.”

Quite forthrightly, the Bench then holds in para 14 that, “Under Article 141 of the Constitution of India, the law laid down by the Apex Court is binding on all Courts throughout the territory of India. We too are bound by the judicial discipline of Article 141 of the Constitution of India and the principle of stare decisis. We cannot, in law and the facts attendant, declare the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court as per incuriam. On the contrary, once it is discernible that the said judgment of the Supreme Court is applicable to the facts of this case, we are duty bound to de rigueur apply the same.”

No doubt, the Bench has a valid point when it observes in para 15 that, “Even if the CVC Circular is arguendo assumed to be directory and not mandatory- as sought to be canvassed by the Respondent — there must exist cogent, persuasive and compelling reasons for noncompliance or non-adherence of the same. The Respondent cannot merely decide not to comply with the CVC circular, without persuasive and tenable reasons, as such a course of action would not only be impermissibly capricious and arbitrary action on the part of the Respondent but also render the said CVC circular as nugatory rather than merely directory as contended.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 16 that, “The facts of the present case also do not provide for any scope to grant any indulgence to the Respondent. It cannot be said that the Respondent did not receive ample opportunities to conclude their Departmental Proceedings. An authority must be strictly held to the standards by which it professes its conduct to be judged.”

While elaborating on the sequence of events, the Bench then enunciates in para 17 that, “The following dates shed light on the cavalier and casual manner in which the Respondent has sought to pursue the proceedings against the Petitioner herein :-

(i) 21.08.2013 : Petitioner was suspended, while contemplating Disciplinary Proceedings against him.

(ii) 12.02.2015 : The suspension was revoked on this day.

(iii) 16.07.2015 : The Departmental Charge Sheet was issued and served upon the Petitioner after a further 5 month delay.

(iv) 31.07.2015 : Reply was submitted promptly by the Petitioner.

(v) 04.03.2016 : For 08 months thereafter, no Inquiry Officer was appointed, when the time prescribed limit is only 15 days.

(vi) 18.04.2016 : The Petitioner challenged the Departmental Charge Sheet vide OA 1396 of 2016 before the CAT.

(vii) On 13.05.2016, the first CAT Order was passed, directing the Respondent to complete the inquiry within 04 (four) months.

(viii) On 03.10.2016, after expiry of the said period of 04 (four) months, an OA 3426/2016 was filed by the Petitioner seeking closure of the impugned proceedings, on the ground of the enquiry not being completed within the time stipulated by the CAT, vide order dated 13.05.2016.

(ix) Vide order dated 22.12.2020, the OA pending before the CAT for more than four years whilst the inquiry proceedings continued, but were not completed during this long further period of more than four years; the CAT disposed off the same and granted further time of 6 (six) months to the Respondent to complete the Disciplinary Proceedings.”

As anticipated, the Bench then maintained in para 18 that, “Thus, the CAT was extremely generous in granting two extensions to the Respondent-Union of India, vide Order dated 13.05.2016 for 04 (four) months, and another after more than four years, vide Order dated 21.12.2020 granting further extension for 06 (six) months. The Respondent has evidently received a time period of more than 05 years, which is many times more than the time period contemplated under the dicta of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Prem Nath Bali (supra) and the CVC circular; for completion of the Departmental Proceedings; and yet failed to conclude the said proceedings.”

Most significantly, the Bench then minces absolutely no words to hold clearly in para 23 that, “There is no gainsaying the legal position that the Disciplinary Proceedings cannot continue ad infinitum. Allowing such proceedings to continue ad infinitum would not only be highly prejudicial to the Petitioner herein but destructive of the Rule of Law. The Respondent-Union of India, being a ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution is bound to act in a fair non-discriminatory, reasonable and non-capricious manner. The conduct of the Respondent in the facts of the present over a long period of 05 years and not merely on one two dates of hearing, disentitles it for any discretionary relief of extension of time.”

No less significant is what is then stated aptly in para 24 that, “Once the application for extension of time to complete Disciplinary Proceedings filed by the Respondent was rejected, the Disciplinary Proceedings did not survive and all steps taken subsequent thereto by continuing the Disciplinary Proceedings were manifestly arbitrary, illegal and non-est in the eyes of law.”

It cannot be lightly dismissed that the Bench then maintains in para 25 that, “The contentions on behalf of Union of India regarding the Petitioner not cooperating in completion of Disciplinary Proceedings after the impugned Order dated 29.07.2021 are mere bald assertions averments and do not warrant acceptance by us.”

Quite frankly, the Bench then points out in para 26 that, “Had the extension to continue disciplinary proceedings been granted, there was no question of opening sealed cover in terms of K.V. Janakiraman (supra). However, axiomatically, the application for extension of time was categorically rejected. Hence, the direction to open sealed cover cannot be faulted with.”

For sake of clarity, the Bench then in its best wisdom seeks to clarify in para 27 that, “It is not in dispute that no other Disciplinary Proceedings were contemplated against the petitioner. The use of the words “the pendency of any disciplinary proceedings” in para 6, and observation in Para 7 of the order impugned before us, to the effect that benefits thereunder “shall be subject to the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings” appear to be wholly unwarranted and have created unnecessary anomaly, warranting interference therewith in the instant petition. The aforesaid limited and apparent error of CAT has caused unnecessary prejudice to the petitioner and resultantly in the interest of justice, the said unwarranted words are required to be eschewed from the said para 6 and 7 of the impugned common Order.”

CONCLUSION

Most forthrightly, the Bench then holds in para 28 that, “For the foregoing reasons, we hold:-

(i) That the CAT had rightly rejected the request of the Respondent for extension of time for completion of Departmental Proceedings. Consequent to such rejection, the Departmental Proceedings stood lapsed. As a further Consequence, the direction given by the CAT to open the sealed cover and to consider the Petitioner for promotion cannot be faulted with.

(ii) Accordingly, in the above peculiar facts and circumstances, the Writ Petition filed by the Union of India bearing W.P.(C) No. 2590/2022, assailing the rejection of their application for extension of time has no merit and it is hereby dismissed.

(iii) The Writ Petition filed by the Petitioner herein bearing W.P. (C) No. 2267/2022 is allowed in the aforesaid terms. The proceedings arising from the Departmental Charge Sheet dated 16.07.2015 no longer survive and stand closed. All consequential proceedings will also terminate and be considered non-est ab initio. The Petitioner must therefore be given all consequential benefits, including the necessary promotions at par with his juniors, within 04 weeks of the receipt of this judgment.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 29 that, “All the pending applications stand disposed of. No order as to costs.”

In sum, we thus see that the Delhi High Court has made it indubitably clear that the disciplinary proceedings continuing ad infinitum would be destructive of the rule of law. So there can certainly be no justification for such proceedings to dilly dally on one pretext or the other. Also, there can be no gainsaying that they must be concluded at the earliest and not at the latest. We thus see that in this leading case the Delhi High Court very rightly grants relief to CBIC officer named Anish Gupta.

Most significantly, the Bench then minced absolutely no words to hold clearly in para 23 that, “There is no gainsaying the legal position that the Disciplinary Proceedings cannot continue ad infinitum. Allowing such proceedings to continue ad infinitum would not only be highly prejudicial to the Petitioner herein, but destructive of the Rule of Law. The Respondent-Union of India, being a ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution is bound to act in a fair non-discriminatory, reasonable and non-capricious manner.”

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Business

NCEL granted export permission for rice and sugar

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The newly established National Cooperative Exports Ltd (NCEL) has received authorization to export 14,92,800 tonnes of non-Basmati rice to 16 countries and 50,000 tonnes of sugar to two countries, as disclosed by Cooperation Minister Amit Shah in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

Functioning under the ambit of the Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act, 2002, the NCEL, registered in January this year, operates across agriculture, allied activities, handloom, and handicraft items. With an objective to double its revenue by 2025 from the present Rs 2,160 crore, the entity has actively enrolled numerous cooperatives, garnering 2,581 membership applications from 22 states and Union Territories.

Minister Amit Shah emphasized that NCEL’s primary objective is to create an export-friendly environment, particularly for agricultural commodities, leveraging India’s comparative advantage in these sectors. The cooperative body welcomes the participation of cooperative societies, from grassroots to apex levels, interested in engaging in export activities.

The key focus of NCEL remains on utilizing the surplus available within the Indian cooperative sector by accessing global markets. This strategic expansion aims to enhance the demand for Indian cooperative products on an international scale, ensuring better price realizations for these goods and services.

NCEL’s operational scope encompasses a comprehensive ecosystem to promote exports, spanning procurement, storage, processing, marketing, branding, labelling, packaging, certification, research and development, and trading across all goods and services produced by cooperative societies.

Moreover, the cooperative export body intends to facilitate cooperatives in availing benefits from various export-related schemes and policies curated by different ministries, streamlining and enhancing their export endeavours.

The establishment of NCEL underscores a concerted effort to leverage cooperative strengths in India’s export landscape, promising to amplify market reach and economic returns for agricultural commodities and allied sectors through strategic global engagements.

The initiative by the Cooperation Minister, Amit Shah, signifies a concerted push to empower cooperative societies in India’s export realm. By extending export permissions for substantial quantities of non-Basmati rice and sugar, the National Cooperative Exports Ltd (NCEL) is poised to facilitate a significant leap in the global market for agricultural produce.

This move aligns with India’s broader objective to bolster its global trade footprint, leveraging the competitive edge of its agricultural sector. Through NCEL, the aim is not only to foster increased export volumes but also to ensure a more equitable distribution of economic gains, channelling the benefits back to the grassroots level of cooperative societies.

Moreover, the strategic focus of NCEL on diverse export-related activities, including procurement, storage, branding, and research, speaks volumes about the comprehensive approach taken to fortify the entire export ecosystem. This encompassing strategy, coupled with NCEL’s commitment to guiding cooperatives in navigating export-related policies and schemes, underscores a forward-thinking approach aimed at creating a conducive environment for cooperative-driven exports.

The enthusiasm surrounding NCEL’s permissions signals a transformative phase for India’s cooperative sector. By leveraging cooperative strengths and fostering a global market presence, the initiative not only aims to boost export figures but also promises to uplift local communities, thereby enhancing the socio-economic fabric of the country.

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Election Commission declares 253 RUPPs as inactive, bars them from availing benefits of the Symbol Order, 1968

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Election Commission declares 253 RUPPs as inactive, bars them from availing benefits of the Symbol Order, 1968

Additional 86 Non-existent RUPPs shall be deleted from the list and benefits under the Symbols Order (1968) withdrawnAction against these 339 (86+253) non-compliant. RUPPs takes the tally to 537 defaulting RUPPs since May 25, 2022

In continuation of the earlier action initiated on May 25, 2022 for enforcing due compliances by Registered Unrecognized Political Parties (RUPPs), the Election Commission of India led by Chief Election Commissioner, Shri Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioner Shri Anup Chandra Pandey today further delisted 86 non-existent RUPPs and declared additional 253 as ‘Inactive RUPPs’. This action against 339 non-compliant RUPPs takes the tally to 537 defaulting RUPPs since May 25, 2022.

As per statutory requirements under section 29A of the RP Act, every political party has to communicate any change in its name, head office, office bearers, address, PAN to the Commission without delay. 86 RUPPs have been found to be non-existent either after a physical verification carried out by the respective Chief Electoral Officers of concerned States/UTs or based on report of undelivered letters/notices from Postal Authority sent to the registered address of concerned RUPP. It may be recalled that ECI had delisted 87 RUPPs and 111 RUPPs vide orders dated May 25, 2022 and June 20, 2022, thus totalling the number of delisted RUPPs to 284.

This decision against 253 non-compliant RUPPs has been taken based on reports received from Chief Electoral Officers of seven states namely Bihar, Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana & Uttar Pradesh. These 253 RUPPs have been declared inactive, as they have not responded to the letter/notice delivered to them and have not contested a single election either to the General Assembly of a State or the Parliament Election 2014 & 2019. These RUPPs have failed to comply with statutory requirements for more than 16 compliance steps since 2015 and are continuing to default.

It is also noted that of the above 253 parties, 66 RUPPs actually applied for a common symbol as per para 10B of the Symbol’s Order 1968 and did not contest the respective elections. It is pertinent to note that privilege of a common symbol is given to RUPP based upon an undertaking for putting up at least 5 percent of total candidates with regard to said legislative assembly election of a State. Possibility of such parties occupying the available pre-election political space by taking benefits of admissible entitlements without contesting elections cannot be ruled out.

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Coastal clean-up campaign receives a huge response: Dr. Jitendra Singh

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Coastal clean-up campaign receives a huge response: Dr. Jitendra Singh

The 75-day long ongoing Coastal Clean Up Campaign is receiving a huge response from across the sections of society and besides others, Governors, Chief Ministers, Union Ministers, celebrities, film and sports personalities, civil society groups etc. are joining the campaign with overwhelming enthusiasm and pledging their support to the longest and largest beach cleaning campaign in the world titled “Swachh Sagar, Surakshit Sagar”, coordinated by Union Ministry of Earth Sciences with collaboration from all the other Union Ministries, departments as well as governments of the coastal States.

Addressing a press conference today, three days ahead of “International Coastal Clean-up Day” on 17th September, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology, Minister of State (Independent Charge) Earth Sciences; MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh said, he will join the campaign at Juhu beach in Mumbai on 17th September and informed that Governor Maharashtra Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis, BJP MP Poonam Mahajan and several personalities as well as NGOs will also join at Juhu.

The Minister also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his support through social media. The PM has stressed on keeping India’s coasts clean as he praised efforts of volunteers to remove garbage from the Juhu beach in Mumbai. Responding to a video posted by Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh about the clean-up at the beach, Modi tweeted, “Commendable… I appreciate all those involved in this effort. India is blessed with a long and beautiful coastline and it is important we focus on keeping our coasts clean”. The Minister said, “A cleanathon was organised at Juhu Beach in Mumbai, saw participation in large numbers especially by youngsters and Civil Society.

Dr Jitendra Singh informed that Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan will take a lead in the clean-up campaign at world famous Puri beach, while Pratap Chandra Sarangi, former union minister will be at Chandipur. BJP MP from Hooghly, West Bengal Ms Locket Chatterjee will be at Digha on D-Day. R.K.Mission head will lead the campaign at Bakkhali in southern Bengal.

Chief Minister of Gujarat Bhupendrabhai Patel will be at Porbandar (Madhavpur), while Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying Parshottam Khodabhai Rupala will join the clean-up operation at Jafrabad, Amreli.

Governor of Goa P. S. Sreedharan Pillai and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant will take part in beach cleaning campaign in South and North Goa beaches on 17th September.

Similarly, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan will be at Kochi, while MoS External Affairs V. Muraleedharan will be at Kovalam beach at Thiruvananthapuram.

Governor of Karnataka Thawar Chand Gehlot will join the campaign at Panambur beach in Mangalore, while the Governor of Telangana, Dr. Tamilisai Soundararajan will lend her helping hand at Puducherry beach.

Governor of Mizoram Dr. K. Hari Babu will take part in Vizag beach while L. Murugan, Union MoS, Information and Broadcasting will join the event at Chennai

Dr Jitendra Singh informed that the campaign has entered the mode of whole of Government approach plus whole of nation participation.

Dr Jitendra Singh said, apart from active cooperation of Ministries of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Jal Shakti, Health and Family Welfare, Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, External Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, organisations and associations like National Service Scheme (NSS), Indian Coast Guard, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Seema Jagran Manch, SFD, Paryavaran Sanrakshan Gatividhi (PSG), along with other social organizations and educational institutions are participating in the clean-up campaign.

The MPs of coastal states have also pledged full support to the first-of-its-kind and longest running coastal clean-up campaign in the world and they also advised the Ministry of Earth Sciences to undertake a variety of activities by involving local NGOs.

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DASHBOARD TO BE SET UP SOON TO SHARE THE BEST TECH PRACTICES AMONG THE CENTRE & THE STATES: UNION MINISTER JITENDRA SINGH

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DASHBOARD TO BE SET UP SOON TO SHARE THE BEST TECH PRACTICES AMONG THE CENTRE & THE STATES: UNION MINISTER JITENDRA SINGH

Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology; Minister of State (Independent Charge) Earth Sciences; MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh today announced setting up of a Dashboard to share the best technology practices among the Centre and the States.

Presiding over the concluding session of the two-day “Centre-State Science Conclave” at Science City in Ahmedabad, Dr Jitendra Singh informed that a high level mechanism will be developed by the Department of Science and Technology to monitor and coordinate the follow up action of the conclave. The Minister also asked the States to appoint a Nodal officer in each of the States to coordinate and cooperate with the Special Committee for knowing and sharing the best practices.

Giving the example of heli-borne technology launched from Jodhpur, Rajasthan in October, 2021, Dr Jitendra Singh said, to start with, the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana were taken up for this latest heli-borne survey.

The Minister pointed out that if the same technology is uploaded on Dashboard, other States may join and share this CSIR technology from source finding to water treatment and thus benefit millions of people across the country.

Dr Jitendra Singh said, it will also positively contribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Har Ghar Nal Se Jal” as well as “doubling farmer’s income” goals. He said, the latest state-of-the-art technology is being employed by Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) for mapping groundwater sources in arid regions and thus help utilise groundwater for drinking purposes.

The 2-day ‘Centre-State Science Conclave’ was formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Science City, Ahmedabad, yesterday. Dr Jitendra Singh expressed satisfaction that important plenary sessions with State S&T Ministers discussed in detail on issues like Agriculture, Innovation for producing portable drinking water including application of technologies like Desalination, Heli borne methods developed by DST, Clean Energy for All including S&T role in Hydrogen mission, Deep Sea Mission of MoES and its relevance for Coastal States/UT, Digital healthcare for All and Synergizing Science with National Education Policy.

A special session with the CEOs of over 100 Start-Ups and industry at the Centre-State Science Conclave’ in Ahmedabad came up with scientific solutions in the field of agriculture, drone, artificial intelligence, biotechnological solutions, single-use plastic alternates, irrigation and digital health amongst others.

Many of the State governments have shown keen interest in some of the technologies and agreed to partner with some of the startups for State-specific technological solutions.

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Policy&Politics

Floods, economic crisis and political bickerings: A saga of Pakistan’s mismanagement & insensitivity

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Floods, economic crisis and political bickerings: A saga of Pakistan’s mismanagement & insensitivity

The worst floods in several decades have wreaked havoc in Pakistan, one of the most populous countries of South Asia. The floods have touched the country’s 220 million people’s lives directly or indirectly. More than 1,300 people have died with 81 out of 160 districts directly affected by the floods, leaving at least 33 million people homeless.

The heat waves followed by rains and glacial melting has been a global trend this year bringing out the stark reality that despite all talks and conventions, the world community has failed to contain and reverse climatic change. But Pakistan’s case is unique.

Beyond the human losses, the country’s economic managers have the most challenging task ahead as floods ravaged the country’s road and communication network, damaged an incalculable number of houses, and destroyed millions of hectares of crops.

Niaz Murtaza, a political economist, describes present crisis as “a triple whammy”, putting together economic, political and natural. “The poor had been suffering the first two months because of inflation, job loss and political paralysis. Now the floods have pushed millions into ruin,” he said.

Despite this, the political masters are not only busy in bickering and allegations against each other, but have also triggered a blame game on social media as usual, pointing fingers on India for the flood havoc. The bombardment of propaganda, nevertheless, cannot change the reality that Pakistan government and its institutions have utterly failed in fulfilling their duties towards its citizens.

Ludicrous as it is, it cannot absolve the leadership of Pakistan that has failed people in terms of economic mismanagement, entrenched corruption and naked cronyism in the system. Added to these are the wrong policies and priorities of Islamabad which have been instrumental in bringing economic crisis and political instability. The floods have only abetted it.

The natural disaster has struck Pakistan while economy is passing through the difficult phase of multiple challenges including Balance of Payment (BoP) crisis, heavy debt burden and solvency-related issues. The protracted economic crisis is likely to deepen further despite conclusion of talks with the IMF for release of Extended Fund Facility credit.

While Finance Minister Miftah Ismail estimates that the country has incurred a total loss of “at least $10 billion”, independent analysts, including Uzar Younus, Director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia centre and economist Ammar Habib Khan, put the figure between $15-20 billion, and expect it to rise further as information is coming with a great lag.

Existing infrastructure is collapsing with the flooding submerging one-third of the country, pushing 37 per cent of population into poverty. Pakistan is literally and figuratively under deep water, writes Nasir Jamal. It may take a few more months before the damages can be assessed. Even before the flooding, 60 per cent of the population was suffering from hunger, malnutrition and related diseases and the figures are bound to shoot up now.

In view of the mammoth loss, the IMF’s $1.2 billion credit now seems to be a peanut. Pakistan was earlier wounded and now it is bleeding. Floods will exacerbate the economic crisis that had shown initial signs of abating with the IMF deal. Twin deficits, growth prospects and inflationary expectations will be worsening, inflicting misery on the poor. Despite increasing gravity of the situation, saving people’s life and livelihood have not still become the priorities among the political class who are revealing in an ugly slugfest.

The real cost of the natural calamity is being borne by millions of poor kids, pregnant women, elderly and sick persons crowded under the open sky or tents, prone to hunger, diseases and insecurity as they wait for aid. It will be weeks before many can even return to their villages as the land drains and dries. It will take months, even years, to recover from the loss of housing, animals, crops and cultivable land.

Covid-19 had only disrupted economic exchange without damaging the economic base. But the flood has destroyed crops, land, animals, bridges, etc. negatively impacting deeper on the poor and the economy. And the insensitive political class in Pakistan is still deeply engrossed in political maneuver and cunning tricks against each other rather than presenting a united face at the time of calamity. That is the character of Pakistan’s politics.

In view of the contribution of agriculture to the extent of one fourth of the GDP, the country would have to face major revenue loss due to crop losses. As per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s August 29 report, almost 80 per cent of crops in Sindh, which produces roughly 30% of Pakistan’s cotton output, were destroyed.

Close to 70 per cent of Pakistan’s textile industry, an important source of employment and foreign exchange, uses the cotton produced in the country. Floods are likely to cause severe shortage of cotton, said Abdul Rahim Nasir, Chairman of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association. He added that instead of earlier average import of cotton estimated at about 4 million bales, Pakistan would now need to import just the double of that figure, at a potential cost of $3 billion.

Shahrukh Wani, an Oxford economist, says the flood will make it terribly difficult for the government to reduce the trade deficit because while the country will need to import food to “compensate” for lost crops, the textile sector will find itself struggling due to “potential shortage” of cotton crop.

The biting inflation which rose to 25% in the month of July from a year earlier, the highest since May 1975, is taking its own toll on the living conditions of masses. The flooding would further push up the inflation and accentuate the scarcity of even essentials.

Amreen Soorani, Head of Research at JS Global Capital Ltd, said that “the main concern from the floods is the impact on inflation”. Even the IMF warned that the runaway inflation could trigger protests and instability.

Islamabad secured funds from the IMF for immediate bailout of the economy from the saturating forex crisis. However, the problems would be far from over for Islamabad. As the advanced countries are focused more on the impact of Ukraine-Russia war and trying to cope with recessionary pressures while some of the development partners including Middle Eastern countries and China are down with donor fatigue, Islamabad has scant probability to get any major international relief.

For now, the immediate challenge that government will face is to fulfil the conditions of raising taxes and applying austerity measures as part of its agreement with the IMF for its bailout package. This might turn out a politically unpopular move and could flare up the political bickering. The condition is rife for mass protests in view of increasing cost of living for many months now, which opposition could take advantage of. Anger is rising across Pakistan over the slow pace of government relief efforts.

The catastrophic floods have put a downward pressure on growth prospectus. Initial estimates suggest that the economic growth rate may slow down to just 2 per cent. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that the recent floods caused more damage than the 2010 calamity wherein the economic losses had been estimated at $9.7 billion. The floods have already caused supply chain-related issues.

Even during natural calamity, politicians are concerned about their political agenda rather than allowing international aid agencies to import essential food items from the neighbouring country. Cases after cases of corruption are cropping up, “you reveal mine, I will reveal yours”, an unending slugfest continues.

Instead of fighting the fallout of the devastating natural calamity united, they are engrossed in manoeuvre and cunning tricks and a regressive thought process whether or not to allow aid flow from India. Some of the government top officials have suggested importing essential commodities such as food and medicine from India, while others are still the victim of the old rigidities and anti-India mindset.

India is an undoable reality of being the most potent vehicle of South Asia’s growth vision as it is a responsible regional power and the fastest growing economy of the world, which offers a big market for exports and sourcing imports. Islamabad needs to understand that cooperation with neighbours does not reduce the stature of a calamity hit country.

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Separated in 1947, Sikh brother meets sister reunite

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Separated in 1947, Sikh brother meets sister reunite

The Kartarpur Corridor has once again reunited another family after a man who separated from his parents when he was only a few months old in 1947, finally met his sister in Pakistan.

Amarjit Singh was left out in India along with his sister while his Muslim parents came to Pakistan. All eyes went teary as they saw the emotional scenes of the brother-sister reunion in Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Geo News reported.

Amarjit Singh arrived in Pakistan via the Wagah border with a visa to meet his Muslim sister and to remain as her guest.

His sister, 65-year-old Kulsoom Akhtar, could not control her emotions after seeing Amarjit.

Both hugged each other and kept crying. She had travelled from her hometown in Faisalabad along with her son Shahzad Ahmed and other family members to meet her brother.

Kulsoom said that her parents came to Pakistan from the suburbs of the Jalandhar region of India in 1947, leaving behind her younger brother and a sister, Express Tribune reported.

Kulsoom said she was born in Pakistan and used to hear about her lost brother and a sister from her mother. She said that her mother used to cry every time whenever she remembered her missing children. Kulsoom said that she did not expect that she would ever be able to meet her brother and sister. However, a few years ago, a friend of her father Sardar Dara Singh came to Pakistan from India.

Kulsoom’s mother told Singh about her son and daughter she left behind in India. She also told him the name of their village and the location of their house in the neighbouring country.

Amarjit then visited her house in Padawan village of Jalandhar and informed her that her son was alive but her daughter was dead. Her son was named Amarjit Singh who was adopted by a Sikh family back then in 1947, The Express Tribune reported.

After getting the brother’s information, Amarjit and Kulsoom Akhtar contacted on WhatsApp and using the Kartarpur Corridor and the meeting between the two siblings became a reality.

Now an elderly man, Sardar Amarjit Singh came to Gurdwara Sahib in a wheelchair. Kulsoom Akhtar also could not travel due to back pain, but she showed courage and reached Kartarpur from Faisalabad along with her son. Both the siblings kept crying while embracing each other and remembering their parents.

Amarjit said that when he first learned that his real parents were in Pakistan and were Muslims, it was a shock to him. However, he comforted his heart that many families were separated from each other in addition to his own family.

Many Muslim children became Sikhs and many Sikh children became Muslims, Express Tribune reported.

He said that he always wanted to meet his real sister and brothers. He said that he is happy to know that three of his brothers are alive. However, one brother who was in Germany has passed away.

He said he will now come to Pakistan via the Wagah border with a visa and spend time with his family. He also said that he will take his family to India as well so that they could meet their Sikh family. Both the siblings had brought many gifts for each other.

Shahzad Ahmad, son of Kulsoom, said that he used to hear about his uncle from his grandmother and mother. He said that all of the siblings were very young at the time of Partition and no name was given to Amarjit or perhaps, after so many years, the name had slipped out of mind.

“I understand that since my uncle was brought up by a Sikh family, he happens to be a Sikh, and my family and I have no problem with this,” he added.

Shahzad said that he is happy that even after 75 years his mother has found her lost brother.

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