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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

Sonia Gandhi to visit Shivakumar in Tihar on Wednesday

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DK Shivakumar

New Delhi, Oct 22 : Interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to visit D.K. Shivakumar, party leader and former Minister, in Tihar Jail on Wednesday.

She is likely to be accompanied by K.C. Venugopal, General Secretary in-charge of Karnataka.

Shivakumar was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case on September 3. His bail plea is pending with the court and the ED probe is underway.

A Congress strongman in Karnataka, Shivakumar was instrumental in smooth running of the JD-S and Congress coalition government.

Last month, Gandhi along with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in jail. Chidambaram was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Tuesday in the INX media case.

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Health

Salman Khurshid praises Aayushman Bharat scheme

Khurshid said the Aayushman Bharat had not been implemented properly and the funds allocated for it was not spent.

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Salman Khurshid

Lucknow, Oct 22 : Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid here on Tuesday praised the Aayushman Bharat scheme saying it must get everyone’s support.

“This is a great initiative for poor as well as middle class. Everyone should support the scheme. This is a good scheme that must get support from every person,” Khurshid said speaking at the 15th meeting of the Finance Commission.

However, he said the Aayushman Bharat had not been implemented properly and the funds allocated for it was not spent.

The Aayushman Bharat was introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an aim to provide health benefits to the people.

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Cities

Court dismisses complaint against Gambhir over 2 voter IDs

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Gautam Gambhir

New Delhi, Oct 22 : A Delhi court on Tuesday dismissed a complaint case against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Gautam Gambhir that accused him of possessing two voter identity cards.

The complaint case was filed by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Atishi Marlena, who contested Lok Sabha polls against Gambhir from East Delhi.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal dismissed the complaint saying that the allegations against Gambhir are baseless and not legally sustainable. The court also opined that the purport of section 125 is not to punish those concealments which are not required by the law to be given and said: “I am of the view that by giving the information of registration as a voter in Rajinder Nagar constituency, the respondent (Gambhir) has complied with the provisions of section 33 (1) and 33A(2) of the Act.”

Marlena had requested the court to direct Delhi Police to register a case against cricketer-turned-politician Gambhir under the provisions of the Representation of the People Act for concealing possession of voter ID card from two places, one from Rajinder Nagar and another from Karol Bagh.

“It deals with that part of the affidavit where a candidate has to disclose his place of enrollment as a voter. It is not the case of the complainant that this information is wrong. The only allegation is that he was registered in Karol Bagh constituency is concealed. It is clear that in this Form, the candidate has to declare the place of his registration which is rightfully declared. There is no other information in any other column which is concealed or wrongly given,” the court said.

Adding “not mentioning the second place of registration as a voter is not a concealment within the meaning of section 125 A of the Act”, the court said: “…when mere registration at two places is not a disqualification to contest the election, how can a mere fact that one of the place of registration was not mentioned in the nomination form or affidavit may amount to concealment and a criminal offence. The positive information was already given in the affidavit.”

Dealing with the question if mere registration of a person as a voter, in two different constituencies was an offence, the court observed that a person could not be disqualified if his name finds place in multiple constituencies.

The court said that “if a person cannot be disqualified from contesting elections merely because he is a voter in two different constituencies, his criminal prosecution for having so registered will be completely unauthorised in law.”

The court said that “no evidence on record” that showed a false declaration was made by Gambhir that amounted to an offence under law. Marlena said that Gambhir violated provisions of the Representation of the People Act by concealing certain information or providing false information in his nomination papers.

She told the court that as per Section 17 of Representation of People Act, no person can be enrolled as a voter in more than one constituency and doing so is a criminal offence. She also stated that as per Section 31 of the Representation of People Act, if any person makes any false declaration, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or both.

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