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Has Nitin Gadkari, BJP’s ‘performer’, been contained?

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New Delhi, Sep 12 (IANS) The performer, the go-getter and accessible to all — that’s the image Union Minister Nitin Gadkari carries. But there are indications to suggest that the Narendra Modi government may be out to contain him.

Gadkari left alone defending MVA:

The amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, which sharply increased fines on traffic violations, were objected to by not just the Congress-ruled Rajasthan or the TMC-ruled West Bengal, but at least three BJP-ruled states. The first among them was Modi’s Gujarat.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani held a press conference to announce that his government had reduced the fines. While the new Act stipulated a fine of Rs 1,000 for riding without a helmet, the Gujarat government halved it. Rupani also slashed the penalty for driving without a licence from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2,000 in the state.

Interestingly, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019, passed by Parliament in July, has been advertised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as one of its ‘achievements’ in the first 100 days in power.

Other BJP-ruled states, like Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, soon walked the populist path. They either came up with announcements or indicated they wanted to water down the amended Act. Maharashtra Transport Minister Diwakar Raote also urged the centre to “reconsider and reduce” the “exorbitant” penalties.

Significantly, Gadkari hails from the state, which is ruled by the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.

Meanwhile, the Goa Transport Minister said, “We will enforce the amended fines from January 2020”, leaving Gadkari alone to defend the amendment that he says he stands by.

PMO says, stop making roads:

One of the biggest accomplishment of Gadkari in Modi 1.0 was his delivery of key road projects. So much so that he is often referred to (jocularly) as ‘Roadkari’. According to those who have visited the spacious room in the Road Transport Ministry where Gadkari sits, there is a wall hanging that reads, “American roads are good not because America is rich. America is rich because American roads are good.”

But the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) recently urged the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to stop building roads.

In a August 17 letter, Nripendra Misra, then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, wrote to Sanjeev Ranjan, Secretary of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, “Road infrastructure has become financially unviable, private investors and construction companies are withdrawing from greenfield projects”.

Mishra, known to be eyes and ears of PM Modi, called the NHAI “totally log-jammed by an unplanned and excessive expansion of roads and it’s mandated to pay much higher costs for land acquisition and construction.” He also asked the NHAI to ensure that new roads were commercially viable.

In other words, a speed breaker was put to the NHAI, which was on a speed never seen before and appreciated even by the opposition.

Since 2014, Gadkari had revived Rs 1 lakh crore stalled highways projects. From 12 km a day in 2014-15, the construction reached 27 km a day in 2017-18. He envisioned a “Bharatmala” project under which many expressways, like the Delhi-Jaipur, the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra and the Vadodara-Mumbai, were planned.

Gadkari dropped from GoM:

One and a half months into the new government, the panel to decide on sale of Air India was reconstituted and Gadkari was dropped. The new panel has four Ministers — Amit Shah (as the head), Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce & Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Earlier it had five Ministers.

When the Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM), as it’s known, was first constituted in June 2017, it had five members and was headed by then Finance Minister late Arun Jaitley.

In the new cabinet power equations also changed. Earlier, the meeting would take place at the Finance Ministry where Jaitley would sit. With Shah around, it started convening at the MHA, where Shah sits.

As many as two BJP leaders, one Rajya Sabha member who is from the opposition, and one top bureaucrat who has worked with Gadkari, whom IANS spoke to, said on condition of anonymity that these were not isolated incidents.

The bureaucrat said, Gadkari’s office would see visits by opposition Chief Ministers as much as those of the NDA. According to him, once a not-so-high-profile opposition MP from South dropped in to request a small stretch of road in his constituency that would connect it to the main road and cut down on travel time. Gadkari immediately sanctioned it.

At the fag end of Modi’s first tenure, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi thumped her desk in Parliament in an act of support when an MP praised Gadkari for his “wonderful” work. Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress) as well as other opposition leaders too joined in. It’s a rarity in today’ fiercely animated discourse in the House.

But after three strong indications within a year, each stronger than the previous, many are left wondering whether Gadkari has been contained by the BJP?

India

Restore statehood: Jammu and Kashmir Congress passes resolution

The Congress resolution demanded “adequate legal and constitutional guarantees to safeguard the rights of locals over land, jobs and admissions in professional courses in Jammu & Kashmir”.

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Ghulam Nabi Azad

Jammu, Jan 17 : The executive committee of J&K Congress met under the chairmanship of Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, here on Friday and passed a four-point resolution for the restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir and demanded constitutional guarantees in jobs and land for the people.

The resolution passed by 216 members from 20 districts of J&K also demanded freeing of all the political detainees and creating an atmosphere conducive for politics in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We demand restoration of statehood for J&K,” J&K Congress President Ghulam Ahamd Mir told IANS.

He said the visits of foreign delegations and Central ministers to J&K are futile exercises until all the political detainees, including three former Chief Ministers, are released.

“We demand the release of all the detained leaders,” Mir said.

Mir said the four-point resolution is a road map that will be adopted by the party across all its forums.

“Congress will continue its struggle for the rights of the people,” Mir said.

The Congress resolution demanded “adequate legal and constitutional guarantees to safeguard the rights of locals over land, jobs and admissions in professional courses in Jammu & Kashmir”.

“All curbs and restrictions on mainstream political parties, their leaders and activists should be lifted to allow them to resume their usual political activities to create a congenial and conducive political atmosphere for a meaningful and credible political process to pave way for holding of early Assembly elections,” the resolution said.

The resolution also demanded “a special employment package for the youth, especially fulfilling the promise of 50,000 jobs, announced by then Governor in August, 2019.”

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Cities

Ruckus in Tripura House over ex-minister’s arrest

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Tripura Assembly

Agartala, Jan 17 : The winter session of the Tripura assembly began here on Friday amid an uproar by the opposition Left legislators over the arrest of senior CPI(M) leader and former minister Badal Chowdhury.

Barely some minutes into Governor Ramesh Bais’s customary speech on the opening day of the first session, the opposition members led by Tapan Chakraborty rushed into the well of the House to protest against the arrest of Chowdhury in a “false case”, that led to the disruption of the proceedings for about half an hour.

Outside the assembly, the CPI(M)’s youth wing — the Democratic Youth Federation of India — also organised a rally to protest on the same issue.

The Tripura police in October, 2019, arrested veteran CPI-M leader and former PWD and Finance Minister Badal Chowdhury and ex-PWD Chief Engineer Sunil Bhowmik in connection with “corruption charges in implementation of Rs 638 crore projects”.

The police in the same case has been looking for former Chief Secretary Yash Pal Singh, who was the Principal Secretary (PWD) in 2008-09. Bhowmik recently got bail from the Tripura High Court while Chowdhury, deputy leader of the Left group in the state assembly, is in custody since October 21.

According to Law and Education Minister Ratan Lal Nath, the Public Works Department under the Left Front government in 2008-09 had clubbed together 13 projects — five bridges, five buildings and three road projects — being implemented at a cost of Rs 638 crore on cost-plus norms.

Terming it the “biggest scam in the history of Tripura”, Nath said “Rs 168.13 crore had been siphoned off.”

Former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who is the opposition leader in the state assembly, had earlier said there was no corruption during the 35-year rule (1978-1988 and 1993-2018) of the Left parties in Tripura.

“Instead, state infrastructure and all other sectors improved in the state,” Sarkar had told the media adding that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had hatched a conspiracy against CPI-M central committee member Chowdhury to malign the previous Left governments.

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Cities

Object CAA, but obey Constitution: Kerala Governor to state

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Arif Mohammad Khan

New Delhi, Jan 17 : Claiming that “dissent is the essence of democracy”, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan cited the Constitution to accuse the Pinarayi Vijayan government of violating the law on key issues like passing a resolution or challenging the CAA in the Supreme Court, without keeping Khan in the loop.

“My role is to see that the state works according to the rules, I’m not claiming supremacy,” said Khan while addressing an impromptu press conference in New Delhi.

He said: “As far as I’m concerned the rules of duties are clear, it’s already established how the Chief Minister is supposed to approach me. The CM is duty-bound to approach me before he passes any such orders.”

Khan threw the rule book to claim any state government is duty bound to keep the Governor informed about passing any resolution in the Assembly.

“As far as I’m concerned the rules of duties are clear, it’s already established how the Chief Minister is supposed to approach me. The CM is duty-bound to approach me before he passes any such orders,” said he.

The Kerala Chief Minister on Tuesday moved a resolution in the state Assembly demanding the scrapping of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

While Khan said that he has no problem with any divergent views be it on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, NPR or NRC, all he cares is that rules are followed as stipulated by the Constitution.

“I have no problem with the government, opposition, or anybody holding a different view on CAA, NPR or NRC. Everyone is free…,” asserted the Governor. But he added taht the Kerala Government is in violation of rules of the Assembly.

Rebutting allegations that he is working at the behest of the central government, he said: “I am my own spokesperson.”

Highlighting, it’s not a power tussle between the Governor and the Chief Minister, Khan said, “My role is to see that the state works according to the rules, I’m not claiming supremacy.”

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