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Railways becomes the new Failways!

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indian railways rajdhani

If you think the railways are finally shining as Modiji had promised before coming to power, think again. The latest report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) puts it under the dock because there are too many things that need to be fixed but aren’t.

The food that the railways serve is not good enough for human consumption. Eatables like flavoured milk, juices, sandwiches, biscuits and other snacks served inside trains don’t even match the basic standards of hygiene. During a surprise inspection at selected 74 stations and 80 trains, the level of cleanliness and hygiene was not up to mark at catering units. There were as many as 21 stations across 11 railways zones where purified water was not available.

There were 22 trains, in which the catering staff was using dirty water for preparing beverages like coffee, tea and soups. Unsold food items were often recycled in the base kitchen without any thought for hygiene. In some cases, even the toilet water was used for making tea and coffee. Waste bins were dilapidated and their covers were missing and it was neither regularly emptied nor washed.

Food stuffs were lying in the open and there was no arrangement to protect them from flies, insects and dust. In almost every train rats and cockroaches were found. The report says frequent changes in catering policy and lack of accountability to manage catering units have created a state of uncertainty in the management of entire operation. Even after paying extra for faster travel, there is no guarantee one will reach one’s destination in time.

Railways levied and collected an amount of 11.17 crore rupees from passengers as ‘superfast’ surcharges. Surprisingly, 21 superfast trains were late on 3,000 days out of total 16,804 as they failed to attain the ‘superfast’ speed, says the CAG report and some of the superfast trains were delayed almost 95% times. A study which was made on the movement of some of the superfast trains between 2013 and 2016 revealed that Kolkata-Agra Cantt Superfast train was late on138 days out of 145.

The blankets which are provided during overnight train journeys were not washed for months. The cleanliness level for linen was found to be heavily compromised in railways. The CAG report, pointed out that the washing and sanitation of linen as well as blankets is not being done as per hygiene standards set by the railways.

As per railway manual, washing of linen should be done after every single use and blankets are supposed to be dry-cleaned in every two months but in most of the cases it just remained a directive. In as many as 14 selected depots, in nine zonal railways, not even a single blanket was found to be dry-cleaned during the said period and except for seven depots under five zonal railways, linens were not sanitized in the other selected depots.

Let us see what the latest CAG report says about the financial health of Indian Railways. During 2016-17, the total revenue receipts was Rs1,65,382.49 crore which decreased by 1.78 % as compared to the total revenue receipts of Rs 1,68,379.60 crore during 2015-16. This was significantly below CAGR of 10.09% % during the period 2012-16. The freight earnings was Rs 1,04,338.54 crore in 2016-17, a decrease of 4.46 % as compared to Rs 1,09,207.66 crore during 2015-16. The growth in freight earnings was negative as compared to previous years’ growth of 3.23 %. The Growth in Freight Income was +10.1%. in 2012-16

The earnings from passengers fare was Rs 46,280.46 crore, an increase of 4.51 % in 2016- 17 as compared to Rs 44,283.26 crore during 2015-16. This was below the CAGR of 12.23 % registered during 2012-16. Total Working Expenditure during 2016-17 was Rs 1,59,029.61 crore as compared to 1,47,835.93 crore during 2015-16. The net surplus after meeting all revenue liabilities stood at Rs 4,913.00 crore in 2016- 17 as against Rs 10,505.97 crore in 2015-16, despite the fact that no dividend was paid during 2016-17 as compared to Rs 8,722.51 crore dividend paid during 2015-16.

The Operating Ratio during the 2016-17 had deteriorated to lowest in last 18 years, an all-time low since 2000-01 when it was 98.34 %. Had the actual amount of Rs 40,025.95 crore required to meet the expenditure on pension payments been appropriated to the Pension Fund, the total gross working expenditure of IR would have increased to Rs 1,64,537.93 crore and the Operating Ratio would work out to 99.54 %. Thus Operating Ratio of 96.50 % does not reflect the true financial performance of the Railways.

The auditor also examined the flexi-fare scheme of Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains introduced in September 2016. After the flexi-fare came into existence, the occupancy in all classes except Sleeper class in Duronto decreased. Even in AC 3 tier, one of the most profit generating segments, the occupancy dropped significantly after introduction of the flexi-fare scheme, and the share of empty berths increased from 0.66 % to 4.46 %.

Indian Railways had earned Rs 5.52 billion from passenger earnings from premier trains in the period between September 2016 to July 2017. The parking system of Railways was also criticised by CAG. It found that in many cases, Railways did not sign the agreements in time and in few cases it didn’t bother to go for agreements.

In a major blow to General Electric’s plan to come up with a diesel locomotive manufacturing unit at Marhoura in Bihar, the CAG categorically said that project was not in sync with the overall strategic vision of Railways. The Indian Railways plans to complete electrification of its broad-gauge routes by 2021. Even the freight trains will run in dedicated freight corridors on electricity. It is expected that most of the high-traffic routes would be electrified in the near future and the need for diesel traction would remain restricted to low-traffic routes, for which high-powered diesel locomotives were not likely to be used optimally.

Railway accidents and derailments are frequent features of Indian Railway and Govt always comes with one or the other excuse. After every rail accident, ministers and officers come with all types of statements, committees are formed but end result in almost every case is zero.

The Railway safety funds were not fully utilized since 2002 and despite funds being available, the safety measures were not adopted. In 60% of cases the projects related to safety was stuck up and 80% funds for safety was surrendered because lack of utilization. More than 1400 unmanned railway crossings remained as it was and construction of approximately 1000 over bridges remained stalled.

On an average more than 100 small or big accidents take place in a year but owing to delays and lack of coordination, crores of funds have either lapsed or just went down the drain. Not everything is hunky dory in the engineering deptt of railways either. There is problem with the internal manufacturing and lacuna in planning.

On account of absence of good planning, the capacity utilization is poor. In some cases the manufacturing cost of some equipment is almost five times of the market price of same. The latest CAG report not only points a finger to its internal deficiencies but it also exposes its commitment towards passengers’ safety. It won’t be an exaggeration if we say that Railways in Modi Govt has finally become a Failways!

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Chinese imperialism poses incurable threat to the world

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Xi Jinping

New Delhi: Two viruses have taken over the world. One, a minuscule creature called Covid-19, has killed more than 8,00,000 people around the globe, but is slowing down and will most likely be eliminated in the coming months.

Vaccines have already been developed against it and once inoculated, citizens of the world can expect to go on with their normal lives. However, it is the second virus, that of Chinese imperialism, which poses a long term and a much more potent and incurable threat to the world at large.

China’s shadow looms large over the world. Not only geopolitically, but also in the economic and cultural realms, the Chinese are attempting to remake the world as per their conception of a master-serf relationship. Though in international relations, politics, economics and culture are interrelated, it is important to discuss them separately in order to bring out the nuances of Chinese imperialism.

The age of colonisation and imperialism ended for good in the wake of the breakup and reordering of the international order. This order was based on liberal principles of free trade, respect for international law, prevalence of democratic norms and a security architecture underlined by the presence of two superpowers. Intra and inter country disputes did happen but they were generally localised at best or limited to particular regions.

It is only with the entry of China on the world stage in force that global disruptions have started to manifest themselves brutally. The 2008 financial crisis decimated economies of the West and the East Asian Tigers but China emerged unscathed, riding on the success of its impervious wall which prevented (and still prevents) foreign investments unless approved by the Big Brother Xi. China by then had established mass manufacturing bases in major parts of the country and unimpeded by human rights or basic minimum wages, yoked its population to work tirelessly. The end result: China now mass produces everything from a needle to an airplane.

This has enabled it to dump its produce on other countries initially through the pretensions of free trade (now censored by the WTO) and later through the mega-ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI has been used by China to weasel its way through national sovereignties like a hot knife through butter. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are best examples of what international observers euphemistically call “Debt Trap Diplomacy” but in reality is a gross usurpation of national authority.

China’s tentacles, unlike Covid-19’s, reach far and wide. In fact, Europe faces a double whammy of being repeatedly hit by the coronavirus and China almost simultaneously. With access to the Piraeus port of Greece, China has already started dumping products of all kinds in the European Common Market system. Italy’s untimely submission to Covid-19 was also made possible due to its proximity to the Chinese trading system. After all, Covid-19 and China have become synonymous with each other. In terms of politics, China has undertaken a multi-pronged attack across international borders of many countries.

India has been the first to bear the brunt of Chinese Janus-faced policies of illegal aggression on one hand, while calling for normalisation of trade and other relations on the other. However India is not the only one. The US faces a challenge of another kind. There is a real threat of China’s disinformation campaign affecting the outcome of the US elections in November.

China’s Thousand Talents Program has already ensured massive theft of data and exclusive technology from the US, the latest being Zhengdong Cheng of College Station, Texas who has been charged with making false statements and hiding his affiliations to the PLA. With Taiwan, China is playing the waiting game, pushing its ships and jets closer to the island nation with every passing week under the garb of exercises. Hong Kong for all matters has stopped existing as an autonomous region with only its nomenclature remaining unchanged.

China has also been active on the cultural front. The various China Study or Culture Centres opened in a number of countries act as both espionage and propaganda centres. There is a proactive effort to disseminate Xi Jinping Thought, a constricting ideology that aims to cement the Chinese President as the centre of China’s absurdist and all-encompassing universe.

The number of mushrooming Confucius Institutes all over the world teach everything but Confucian values. They are a front to propagate Chinese communist ideology under the facade of an educational institution and are now being investigated by a number of governments for their links to “The Party”. Chinese Students Associations have also been implicated in a number of countries to stifle criticism of Tibet and Xinjiang by expatriate Chinese students through use of violence and coercion.

Covid-19 is something that will ultimately have a cure. As it is, its lethality is very limited. However, the bigger virus of Chinese Communist Party keeps growing potent everyday and to counter it, the entire world needs to come together. The vaccination to get rid of the Chinese communist virus, though much more painful than the Covid-19 affliction, will have to be undertaken.

(Binay Kumar Singh is a columnist and researcher. Views expressed are personal)

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SEX AND CORONAVIRUS COVID-19

Having sex with yourself, masturbation, has no COVID-19 risk and is one of the best ways to keep enjoying sex during this pandemic.

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SEX AND Coronavirus
SEX AND Coronavirus (Picture Credit WSJ)

FAST FACTS:

  • COVID-19 is passed on through droplets that come out of your mouth and nose when you cough or breathe out.
  • COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted infection, however, it can be passed on through kissing and close contact, including having sex.
  • If you or a partner have COVID-19 symptoms, you should not kiss or have sex.
  • There are lots of ways to have sexual pleasure without physical contact– try having fun with lone masturbation, sex toys, and phone or webcam sex.
  • If you don’t have symptoms, having sex with a partner you live with is OK.  
  • If you decide to have sex with someone who doesn’t live with you, then you should take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • Sexual health services – including for family planning, contraception and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – may be disrupted by the impact of COVID-19. Get in touch with your provider for information.

Is COVID-19 sexually transmitted?

Based on current evidence, coronavirus – the virus that causes COVID-19 illness – is not passed on through vaginal or anal intercourse.

However, coronavirus is passed on through contact with droplets from the nose and mouth, including the saliva of an infected person, which can happen through close contact with others. This means there is a significant risk of passing on COVID-19 through kissing and physical touching if one person has the virus. There is also evidence that the virus is present in poop (faeces), so licking around the anal areas (rimming) may also be a way the virus is passed on.  

Can I have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments are asking people to stay indoors to limit physical contact between people and the spread of the virus. Here are some things you should know concerning sex.

Sex with symptoms

If you or your sexual partner are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 – a dry persistent cough, temperature, or difficulty breathing – you should limit all close physical contact to stop the spread of the virus. This means avoiding physical intimacy, such as kissing and cuddling, as well as anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

Non-physical contact sex

Having sex with yourself, masturbation, has no COVID-19 risk and is one of the best ways to keep enjoying sex during this pandemic. You can also explore other ways to have sex without anyone physically present, including through phone or webcam.

If you decide to go online, be aware of what you are sharing and who you are sharing it with. Remember to only do what feels right. Your partner may want to explore this new way of being sexual but you shouldn’t feel pressured to share sexual content over the phone or internet if you don’t want to.

Sex with someone you live with

If you live in the same house as a regular sexual partner and you both have no symptoms, then you can continue having sex (with consent) as normal for your relationship.  

If your partner is having sex with other people who don’t live with you, then this increases your risk of getting COVID-19.

Sex with someone you don’t live with

During the pandemic, some countries are actively discouraging hooking up or having sex with people you don’t live with. This is because there is a heightened risk of picking up COVID-19 or passing it on to others, which undermines public health efforts. See below for advice on what to do if you decide to have sex.

If you are a sex worker, consider going online, sext or use videos and chat rooms, or taking a break from your business as usual activities if you can.

High-risk groups and sex

If you have a medical condition that puts you at greater risk of getting severe COVID-19, then you should be extra careful with all aspects of your life – including your sex life. You may want to consider stopping in-person sex or limiting your sex to just one partner who lives with you and is also taking extra precautions.

Limiting the spread of COVID-19 during sex

If you have sex with someone you don’t live with there are a few things you can do to lower the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19.

  • Avoid kissing or exchanging saliva with anyone outside of your household.
  • Avoid sexual activities which include licking around the anus.
  • Use condoms or dental dams to reduce contact with saliva or poo.
  • Take a shower and wash your hands and body thoroughly with soap and water both before and after sex.
  • If you use sex toys, wash these thoroughly with soap and water and do not share them.
  • Consider sexual arousal techniques that don’t involve physical contact – like talking.
  • Mutual masturbation while physical distancing.
  • Limit your physical interactions by reducing the number of sexual partners you have overall, and/or at the same time.

Sexual health services during COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some sexual health services may be disrupted. This includes services for family planning, contraception, sexual health testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).  

To limit the spread of the virus, many clinics may move to online consultations, suspend walk-in services, reduce hours, close or be referring people elsewhere. It’s important to stay up-to-date with your local health provider by checking their website or giving them a call.

Contraception and family planning

If you are not planning on getting pregnant, ensure you have an adequate supply of contraception.

  • If you usually use short-acting contraception, such as the pill, or barrier methods, such as condoms, make sure you have at least a 30-day supply.
  • If you use long-acting contraception, such as IUD or implant, make sure you don’t need this changed in the next month. Talk to your health care provider to ensure continuity in your preferred method.

Where legal, the COVID-19 pandemic may also disrupt the provision of essential abortion services. Contact your health provider for advice and information.

HIV and PrEP

Preventing HIV is still important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure you have an adequate supply of condoms, and at least 30 days’ worth of PrEP, if you currently taking PrEP.

Some people on PrEP may decide that their HIV risk is low because they are having less sex during the pandemic. If you decide to stop taking PrEP, make sure you know how to stop it and start it again. For most populations taking daily PrEP, they’ll need to have seven sex-free days before they can stop taking PrEP so that their last sex act is fully protected. Check-out Prepster for lots more information.

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Understand the risks of sex and intimate contact in the time of COVID-19

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Sex and COVID-19
Images used in photo illustration by Shutterstock

With mandatory mask wearing and physical distancing of at least six feet becoming the norm around the nation, the question remains—is sex safe?

In short—it can be, but experts say any type of in-person sexual activity does carry some risk. But there are ways to have intimate contact and remain connected.

How is it transmitted?

Let’s start with what we know. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so direct contact with saliva—through kissing, for example—can easily pass the virus. While COVID-19 has not yet been found in vaginal fluid, it has been found in feces of people who are infected. So this means that rimming (oral/anal contact) and anal sex may spread COVID-19 as well. Remember that condoms and dental dams reduce contact with saliva and feces during anal and oral sex or oral/anal contact.

recent study has also found the coronavirus in semen, both in men who had active infections and those who had recovered, but it isn’t clear at this point if it can be sexually transmitted through semen.

What’s the risk?

So where does that leave us? With different levels of risk. Given we currently know about COVID-19 and how it’s transmitted, the safest sexual activity is solo or remote. Solo sex (a.k.a. masturbation) can be both satisfying and safe—just remember to wash your hands! And technology makes different types of remote options, like video chats, sexting, available too.

The next safest option is sex with someone you already live with, provided that person is also taking steps to reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19 (like social distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask in public spaces).

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has some excellent guidance on safer sex during these times, which you can read in full here. But here are a few basic tips from NYC Health on how to enjoy sex and to avoid spreading COVID-19:

  • You are your safest sex partner. Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex.
  • The next safest partner is someone you live with. Having close contact—including sex—with only a small circle of people helps prevent spreading COVID-19. All partners should be consenting.
  • You should limit close contact—including sex—with anyone outside your household. If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible and pick partners you trust. Talk about COVID-19 risk like you would other safer sex topics (e.g. PrEP, condoms). So ask: do they have symptoms or have they had symptoms in the last 14 days? Have they been diagnosed with COVID-19? People are considered likely no longer infectious if at least 10 days have passed since the day their symptoms started and if they have not had fever for at least three days.
  • If you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider taking a break from in-person dates. Video dates, sexting or chat rooms may be options for you.

For couples from whom pregnancy is a concern, don’t forget contraception as well. Once again, condoms (both internal and external) can fill that role, and telemedicine options are available as well, if you can’t venture out to a clinic or pharmacy.

Expert Answers to Common Questions

The National Coalition of STD Directors, in partnership with NASTAD have developed some excellent resources to answer questions about real-life situations many people are experiencing. Like, my partner has a high-contact job, where they cannot practice social distancing. Is it safe to have sex? These fact sheets, based on current evidence, help you understand the different levels of risk for spreading COVID-19 and safety measures you can take for lowering the potential risk of spreading or getting the virus.

Relationships Under Lockdown

Some of you may be thinking, “Sex?! Are you kidding? My partner is driving me crazy!” You’re not alone. Even couples with healthy, strong relationships may find themselves under strain during this time—struggling with being confined 24/7 under stay-at-home orders. Others may be pressed because of distance, forced to live apart due to health concerns or quarantine.

If you’re feeling the stress, there are resources to help. You can get tips on how to respect and help one another and disagree fairly. If you need more support, you can find a counselor who can offer phone or online support.

COVID-19 restrictions can be particularly dangerous for those in abusive relationships. The National Domestic Violence Hotline cites specific ways the pandemic can a survivor of intimate partner violence, from an abuser withholding necessary items or threatening to cancel health insurance, to the lack available shelters due to COVID-related closures.

The National Sexual Health Coalition suggests taking specific steps to stay safe in this situation, including making some space between you and you abuser by taking walks or a drive if possible and They also suggest making an a safety plan and having an emergency bag ready in case you need to leave your home quickly. Loveisrespect.org has an Interactive Guide to Safety Planning that can take you a series of steps and identify your safety options.

A Note of Caution for Parents

With schools cancelled across the country, many kids are spending more time online, possibly with less supervision than usual as parents are struggling to work remotely while caring for children. For this reason, law enforcement has warned that kids are particularly vulnerable to online predators at this time. Some reports suggest an increase in digital activity among sexual predators who target children.

So what can parents do? Talk to your kids about the risks and help them learn how to identify “red flag behavior” in people they may meet online, like asking for personal information or encouraging secrecy. Be an askable parent—willing to talk to your kids without judgement or shame.

The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children has an extensive list of resources for parents to help their kids stay safe online, including how to access privacy and security settings on a number of apps and online platforms as well as ways to block and report users.

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