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Analysis

GST effect: First class, air-conditioned train fares to rise

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Indian Railway

New Delhi, June 30 : Passengers travelling in first class and air conditioned trains will have to shell out more for their journey after the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from July 1.

According to the Ministry of Railways, service tax levied on tickets would go up to five per cent from 4.5 per cent.

However, non-AC travel, including that by local trains, metro and religious tours will remain exempt from the GST.

Similarly, GST on goods transport will be five per cent in place of the service tax of 4.5 per cent levied earlier with exemption for essential goods like milk and agricultural produce.

The Ministry of Railways said that it has issued a series of detailed instructions to all zonal railways and production units to ensure full compliance with GST.

“For off-line transaction, an utility has been created by Railways ERP manager, Centre for rail information system, to capture the transaction and facilitate submission of periodical returns in the GSTN portal,” the ministry said.

 

Analysis

56% smart cities prone to floods: Report

More than 2,200 cities and towns in India are located in districts which have witnessed at least 11 floods in the last 18 years.

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Hudhud Storm

As much as 56 per cent of smart cities are prone to floods which are responsible for 77 per cent of all disasters in India, a report said on Friday.

The report, based on disaster data between 2000 and 2017, observed that India has a mean of 11 flood events per district over the last 18 years.

Image result for smart cities floods prone

Following floods, other disaster share was cyclone (22 per cent), extreme temperature (11 per cent), landslides (seven per cent) and earthquakes (four per cent). Drought, however, was only one per cent of all disasters.

“Ninety-eight per cent of India’s 642 districts have received at least one flood event,” stated the joint report ‘Decoding the Monsoon Floods’ by NGO SEEDS and Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based in the University of Louvain School of Public Health, Brussels.

It said that floods affect over 15 million people every year. Of 15.6 million people affected by floods in India in 2017, over 316,185 were people with disabilities.

“More than 2,200 cities and towns in India are located in districts which have witnessed at least 11 floods in the last 18 years,” the report said.

Further signifying the scale of infrastructure that needs to be secured against the future risks, the findings said that 56 per cent of India’s planned smart cities fall in districts reporting a high number of flood events.

Since 2000, India has faced 215 flooding events both from floods and cyclones. This accounts for 77 per cent of all disaster events.

“Assam is the most flood-prone state, with areas like Lakhimpur reporting over 30 flood events within this period. Even known drought-prone areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan have witnessed more floods than the country’s average in the last 18 years,” said Anshu Sharma, Co-founder and Mentor, SEEDS.

“Unpredictability, urbanisation and invisibility of flood risk are major concerns that need to be addressed urgently,” Sharma added.

Citing the 2015 Chennai floods in Tamil Nadu, the report pointed out how the natural sinks like wetlands, that act as a sponge against floods, had shrunk due to rapid urbanisation, leading to catastrophic results.

“Estimates put the remaining original wetlands of Chennai at just 10 per cent.”

“Concrete encroachment on Cooum River, Adyar River and Buckingham Canal which serve as the main rainwater drains, poorly designed drainage systems and ageing civil infrastructure added to the problem,” the report said.

Debarati Guha-Sapir, Director, CRED, said: “We are witnessing a disturbing trend of a large number of climate induced disasters… The launch of this regional report is a huge step towards better understanding of local nuances of disaster events.”

Suggesting preparations for the 2018 monsoon and cyclone seasons at policy and community levels, the report said that with a scale this huge, informal nature of the losses and limited resources, coping practices at the community level are very beneficial.

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Analysis

Haj 2018 likely to be costlier, but not because of subsidy abolition

Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday announced the abolition of Haj subsidy from this year.

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Haj 2018

Haj 2018 is likely to be costlier than last year but not because of the abolition of subsidy that the government announced on Tuesday.

The cost is likely to go up thanks to rise in expenses incurred in Saudi Arabia during the Haj such as accommodation, transport, food and the like. Notably, the government subsidy did not cover these expenses and was limited to the airfare.

Haj Committee of India (HCI) Chairman Mehboob Ali Kaiser told IANS that it was bargaining hard with Saudi authorities to keep the cost in check but local factors may result in the rise of Haj expenses this year.

In 2017, the HCI charged Rs 200,000 for Haj with ordinary accommodation (Azizia) and Rs 234,000 for deluxe accommodation (Green), which is closer to the Haram in Mecca.

Image result for haj 2018

“Over the last year, the electricity tariff in Saudi Arabia has shot up three times. Also, the petrol prices have doubled. The accommodation cost is also going up. These factors may result in a hike in the total Haj cost this year,” Kaiser said.

At this point, it is difficult to predict the final cost to each pilgrim for Haj 2018, he added.

“It will be unfair to expect the same costs for everything in Saudi Arabia after a threefold rise in electricity prices and doubling of petrol prices. Secondly, the Saudis are cussed bargainers and we have to really haggle hard with them for every riyal.

“Nevertheless, we are trying our best and bargaining hard with them to ensure that the cost does not go up drastically,” Kaiser said.

Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday announced the abolition of Haj subsidy from this year.

Kaiser said that the HCI “knew it was coming and were sort of mentally prepared for it”.

“In any case, the withdrawal of subsidy will not affect the airfares from major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru — but fares from smaller embarkation points such as Srinagar, Gaya may go up. But people from these states may now embark from any other place from where fares are low, such as Mumbai, Delhi or Ahmedabad,” he added.

However, in the coming years, the Haj cost is expected to come down as the Indian government is already working in the direction of reviving the sea route to Jeddah.

Naqvi said that the government has already taken active steps in this direction and once it is implemented, the fares would come down drastically.

Giving the genesis of the Haj subsidy, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that it started in the 1980s (when Azad was a member of HCI) when the ships which were used to ferry the Haj pilgrims started ageing.

“The government was not disposed to spend money to buy new ships due to budget constraints. So, it was decided to fly the pilgrims to Jeddah. But the airfares were four times higher than the ship’s fare. So the government decided to cover some of the cost through a subsidy,” Azad said.

The sea route was discontinued in 1995.

(Mohd Asim Khan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

A cauldron of discontent

Every 18 minutes, a Dalit is attacked in India. However, the conviction rate is only 28 per cent. UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and MP have witnessed a hike in atrocities against Dalits.

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Bhima-Koregaon violence

Politics is a hard taskmaster. Politicians may manipulate public sentiment and reap electoral victories but time has a way of making them accountable. We have witnessed a slew of impressive electoral triumphs of the BJP but recent eruptions of discontent among the relatively prosperous Patidars in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra and Jats in Haryana are ominous, for, historically, upper-caste denominations have consistently supported the BJP. Dalits across the country who have been targeted by a mindset which traditionally has been intolerant of them, have also sporadically expressed their frustration and growing discontent. Added to this is the divisive agenda of both the RSS and the BJP. This is evidence of both the incapacity and inability of this government to make a real difference in the lives of people.

The inability to sustain themselves because of the agrarian crisis is the common thread that runs through the growing discontent amongst Patidars, Jats and Marathas. Pre-independence, they were industrious farmers, hired as tenants and post-independence when tenants were granted ownership rights, they owned large tracts of prime agricultural land. They consolidated their position with the green revolution, advent of new crop varieties and modern farming tools. Prosperity made large numbers migrate to cities and take up businesses. As a result, only 10 per cent of Patidars own more than 10 bighas. The rest are marginal farmers caught in the midst of the agrarian crisis.

The urban Patidars find it difficult to get admission to educational institutions allegedly because of reservations for OBCs. Lack of remunerative prices for their produce and recent groundnut crop failures are reasons for the growing angst among them. The rise of Hardik Patel is attributed to both factors. Demonetisation and the flawed implementation of GST hurt even the most prosperous Patidars. This along with a sluggish economy and lack of job opportunities is at the heart of expressions of discontent and demand for reservations. Similarly, Maratha discontent is deep-rooted. The massive protests and outpourings may or may not be spontaneous but do represent livelihood concerns. Around 80 per cent of Marathas are subsistent farmers.

Lack of access to quality education and job opportunities resulting in massive social protests are symptomatic of the alienation setting in. With prosperity touching only a few, they are unsure of their future and hence they too demand reservations in government jobs. Jats, on the other hand, are regarded as backward in both Rajasthan and UP. But in Haryana, despite being politically dominant, they too clamour for reservations. Comprising around 29 per cent of Haryana’s population, they own three-fourths of agricultural holdings in the State. Jats have never been absentee landlords who lived off tenant cultivators.

However, over the years, their earnings from agriculture have declined along with fragmentation of holdings. A five-acre average holding gives a monthly income of not more than Rs 20,000. These incomes have been further hit because of drought, hailstorms and pest attacks in recent years coupled with a crash in prices of cotton, basmati and guar. Inward looking, they have been slow in adapting to an urban cosmopolitan environment. Not being educationally advanced, they have lagged behind in employment opportunities. Hence, the demand for reservation in educational institutions and employment. Recent violent agitations and destruction of private property in Haryana are also the result of loss of political power, with a non-Jat as Chief Minister.

On the other hand, Dalits, who have been the beneficiaries of reservations, find themselves being targeted. Recent attacks on Dalits are the result of deep-rooted prejudices and caste fault lines. Dominant castes still practice untouchability and the upward mobility of Dalits is not taken too kindly. Rohith Vemula’s tragic end and the response of a prejudiced mindset is a classic reflection of this. This inbuilt prejudice is exacerbated in recent years by lumpen upper caste elements who find an excuse in attacking Dalits for their traditional vocation. The senseless lynching of Dalits in Una exemplifies this. Dalits also become targets of violence if they happen to marry into the upper castes. The burning of Dalit children in Haryana and similar incidents of violence are not uncommon. The recent eruption of anti-Dalit sentiments in Maharashtra evidenced by the outpourings of Marathas who allege misuse of the law by Dalits has sent tremors of unease within the state. The empowerment of Dalits and their upward mobility over the years has led to a churning within the community, which is finding its expression in their recent mobilisation and assertion. They wish to break away from tradition to which they are chained. Yet a majority of them continue to be burdened by the same tradition. This has brought about societal unrest.

Every 18 minutes, a Dalit is attacked in India. However, the conviction rate is only 28 per cent. UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and MP have witnessed a hike in atrocities against Dalits. Rajasthan with 6 per cent of the country’s Dalit population accounts for 17 per cent of crimes against them. Anger and frustration within the community are palpable and the state has failed to protect them.

Minorities in India are equally insecure. Communal situations are engineered to polarise society for political dividends. Increasingly isolated, their traditional vocations are also under threat. Dealing with buffalo meat is hazardous and life-threatening. Many have been targeted and killed. Campaigns of love jihad and ‘ghar wapsi’ have added fuel to the fire.

India cannot be managed by a divisive agenda. An aspirational India is crying for change. This government is clueless about solutions. Without them, electoral triumphs may turn sour.

This article is published in DNA on January 15. 2018

The author is a member of the Rajya Sabha, and a senior Indian National Congress leader. Views expressed are personal.

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