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Railways imposes ‘superfast’ levy on 48 more trains, but will that help?

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Super-Fast-Train

Cash-starved Indian Railways has increased the fare of 48 mail and express trains by upgrading them to “superfast” and raising their designated average speed by mere five kilometres per hour from 50 kmph, according to the new timetable released November 1. However, upgradation is no guarantee that these trains would run on time. Also, the new levy has been brought in just ahead of the cold season when all north-bound trains will be running late by several hours due to foggy weather.

At present, many trains, including premier services like Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi, run late on a regular basis.

No additional passenger amenities have been provided in trains converted to the superfast level. But passengers will have to shell out Rs 30 more for Sleeper, Rs 45 for Second and Third AC and Rs 75 for First AC class as superfast charges.

The railways is expected to mop up an additional Rs 70 crore from these levies. The transporter possibly imposes these charges to avoid a backlash on passenger fare increases. With the addition of the 48 trains, the total number of trains designated as superfast has risen to 1,072.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in its last report in July, had made critical observations about the superfast levy.

The CAG also found that passengers paid for superfast charge though the trains were not running at designated speeds. It also said that rules for refund of superfast surcharge to passengers, in cases where Superfast services have not been provided to the passengers, have not been framed by the Railway Board.

“On test check, Audit observed that in North Central and South Central Railways, superfast charges (Rs 11.17 crore) were levied and collected during the period 2013-14 to 2015-16 from the passengers on days, where 21 superfast trains did not attain the average speed of 55 kmph (on broad gauge) for a ‘Superfast’ train,” the CAG observed in its report.

According to the data available with the railways, 890 superfast trains had run late during July, August and September this year.

As many as 129 superfast trains were delayed in July, 145 in August and 183 in September for one hour to three hours. However, 31 superfast trains were behind schedule by more than three hours in July and 37 in August. As many as 196 superfast trains were late by 30 minutes to 60 minutes in July, 186 in August, 240 in September.

Some 326 superfast trains were late by 15 minutes and 30 minutes in July, 287 in August and 267 in September. The overall punctuality of trains, at present, is hovering around 73 per cent — not a good benchmark.

The new superfast trains include Pune-Amravati AC Express, Pataliputra-Chandigarh Express, Visakhapatnam-Nanded Express, Delhi-Pathankot Express, Kanpur-Udhampur Express, Chhapra-Mathura Express, Rock Fort Chennai-Tiruchirapally Express, Bangalore-Shivmogga Express, Tata-Visakhapatnam Express, Darbhanga-Jalandhar Express, Mumbai-Mathura Express and Mumbai-Patna Express.

According to information available with the Directorate of Safety, the railways had undertaken repair works of tracks, including renewal of aging rails, in almost all regions. As a result, trains are not allowed to run at high speeds in these sections because of concerns about passenger safety.

There are also capacity augmentation works going on to decongest over-saturated routes.

Delays are endemic to the system. Most trunk routes are heavily congested and a slight delay causes a ripple effect on the network. Trains run late ranging between one hour and 15 hours or more in many sections due to various reasons.

The Railways lists 33 categories of reasons for delays, of which seven, it says, are outside its direct control, such as the alarm chain being pulled, protests on the tracks, bad weather, accidents and law and order situation.

According to Railway norms, a train that is up to 15 minutes late is considered to be on time. Beyond that, the punctuality parameters are divided into brackets of minutes — 16 to 30, 31 to 45 and 46 to 60. The last and most crucial segment is “more than an hour”, which is open-ended — it covers all trains that are late by more than an hour, irrespective of the delay.

By Arun Kumar Das

(Arun Kumar Das is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can reached at [email protected])

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US bill over reciprocity of access to Tibet awaits Trump’s signature

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travel access to Tibet

Chicago, Dec 13 : The unanimous passage of a bill that insists on reciprocity between the US and China over travel access to Tibet is seen as a clear message that the US Congress is sending to Beijing about the situation in Tibet.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which deals with “the level of access Chinese authorities granted US diplomats, journalists, and tourists to Tibetan areas in China”, seeks to deny admission to Chinese officials who prevent Americans from visiting Tibet.

It says, “The State Department shall report to Congress annually, identifying individuals who were blocked from US entry during the preceding year and a list of Chinese officials who were substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies to restrict the access of US diplomats, journalists, and citizens to Tibetan areas.”

The bill now awaits signature by President Donald Trump to become law. Its passage was a result of a nearly four years of efforts by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other Tibetan groups under the leadership of ICT chair and Hollywood star Richard Gere, a passionate activist and a committed Buddhist, as well as its president Matteo Mecacci.

Asked how optimistic he is about Trump signing the bill into law, especially at a time when his administration is engaged in a tense trade war with Beijing, Mecacci told IANS in an interview via email, “The overwhelming support shown by the US Congress for this bill, which passed unanimously both in the House and the Senate, is sending a very clear message to the Chinese government that the American people care deeply about the situation inside Tibet, and are concerned about the isolation that China has imposed.”

He said this bill is about the “principle of reciprocity that complements the Trump Administration’s policy”. “The State Department has also conveyed, during a hearing in the Senate, that it shares the goals of the bill and will implement it. We are confident that President Trump will take all these elements into account, when it comes to signing the bill into law,” Mecacci said.

On how, once it becomes law, it might impact US-China relations in the specific context of Tibet, he said, “The State Department, which on December 4 expressed official support for the goals of the legislation and plans to implement it, will have to assess the level of access to Tibet for American citizens and identify the Chinese officials who are responsible for blocking access, and eventually denying them visas to the United States.

“This is about reciprocity and fairness, and it is very important that the United States challenges China’s policy not only on trade or economic issues, but also on civil and human rights, such us freedom of movement, freedom of information and the rule of law,” he said.

President Trump has not been known to pay particular attention to Tibet. It is questionable whether he is aware of the historic complexities of the problem. Given that, it has not been clear how he might approach the bill waiting for his signature.

However, Mecacci is optimistic. “As I mentioned, the US Administration has been following this bill very closely and supports its goals. In general, the Trump Administration has already issued a report on the status of Tibet negotiations in May 2018 in which it has outlined its position on the Tibetan issue.”

On whether the bill may become a sort of political football in the trade dispute, he said, “This legislation was introduced in Congress well before the beginning of the Trump Administration and of the trade dispute with China. For decades, the US Congress and US Administrations have supported the aspiration of the Tibetan people to a better life. This will continue beyond a trade dispute. Since it is about American interest, we do not see how this can be impacted by the trade dispute.”

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Modi’s BJP suffers defeat in Hindi heartland states

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Rahul Modi

Dec 12 : With good performance in assembly elections in three Hindi heartland states (Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh), Rahul Gandhi, who took over the Congress reins as party President on December 16 last year, has proved the opponent BJP’s Modi that he has the power to defeat the political force of BJP- RSS that seek to divide the nation on communal lines.

But BJP suffered its worst defeat in these elections and Narendra Modi with 56-inch chest, who changed the very nature of politics and campaigning style after coming into power four years ago by making tall economic promises and showcasing Hindu nationalist views, failed to impress voters this time. He promised to give Rs 15 Lakh to very Indian, including creating one million jobs a month.

The Assembly results of five states is an indication that Modi’s brand is losing its luster.

Modi used every medium of technology from social networking sites, campaigning and even right wing organisations to scrutinize each and every speech and action of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and trying to build a fake propaganda of rejection but the fifth generation of Gandhi family leading the grand old party has successfully snatched two states – Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – from the Modi-led BJP, while Congress is locked in a close fight in Madhya Pradesh in the semi-final test before the 2019 national election.

Rahul Gandhi hit the right chord by targeting Modi government on social and governance issues of farmers plight, youth unemployment, insecurity among minorities,corruption in Rafale deal, destruction and misuse of constitutional institutions like RBI, investigative agencies and educational institutions.This is quite evident from the latest development by the sudden resignation of the RBI Governor Urjit Patel.

This election has reflected the mood of the nation thus rejecting the element of fundamentalism, policy of divide and rule, giving importance to cow slaughter more than human lives and thus encouraging lynching by giving a free hand to his cabinet ministers to honour the culprits.

Rahul Gandhi addressed a press conference said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “failed to listen to the heartbeat of the nation.” Gandhi also said that “I was telling my mother that the absolute best thing for me was the 2014 election. I learnt a lot from that election. I learnt that the most important thing is humility,” said the 48-year-old Congress chief, who took a lot of the blame for the party’s non-stop election disasters. “Frankly Narendra Modi taught me the lesson-what not to do,” he added.

Congress makes an impressive comeback in the Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Result 2018 and is all set to end the 15-years rule of Raman Singh. Congress emerged as the winner in Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot are leading the talks for government formation in the state.

Madhya Pradesh Congress president Kamal Nath and party’s campaign committee chief Jyotiraditya Scindia are personally leading the effort to gather support from BSP and SP. In fact, Kamal Nath was believed to be in touch with BSP supremo Mayawati and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav.

Although he has been successful in extraditing Michel but Modi government failed to prevent economic offenders escaping from India with the taxpayers’money under their watch.

Rahul, who aggressively campaigned in the states by implementing his strategy of asking his party workers to engage in door to door campaigning and highlighting the failures of the current government and he himself addressed 82 rallies in poll bound states and religiously targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP on the Rafale deal, the Nirav Modi scam and other such topics that many said had no mass connect. He tore into PM Modi and controversially said, in rally after rally, “Chowkidar Chor Hai”. His speeches apparently found resonance with the voters but he also focused on optics.

BJP used every opportunity to mock the Congress president since the party was reduced to 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Now the time for the BJP is to introspect but the Saffron party hurriedly blamed the state chief ministers for the party’s defeat and said that “Modi is still popular among the masses and the election results do not reflect Central government policies led by Modi.”

Modi’s popularity is declining steadily and it all started with demonetisation which led to the closure of small and medium businesses and the collapse of small traders industry; faulty implementation of GST that jolted people’s confidence in him, steady steep hike in fuel prices, rampant corruption and high inflation.

Modi’s allies are concerned after seeing the results in cow belt, where the BJP’s domination has ended. Modi failed to deliver on the commitments he made during 2014 campaigning which backfired in these election results.

Blog : By Arti Bali,
arti

(Senior Journalist)

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Blow to BJP ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls – News Analysis

In the first instance of a party getting majority on its own in 30 years, BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP-led NDA had won 336 seats out of 543.

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Congress workers Karnataka civic polls

The results in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan came as a major shock for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has won all the major states barring Delhi, Bihar, Punjab and Karnataka in elections held after the sweeping 2014 Lok Sabha victory.

The BJP was routed in Chhattisgarh and defeated in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in closely-fought contests. The party mostly banked on the image of Chief Ministers Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan to lift the party’s fortunes.

In Rajasthan, where opinion polls had written off the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah put in extra efforts, besides banking on the hardcore Hindutva image of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, to take the battle to the Congress, but still lost.

The BJP, however, managed to open its account in Mizoram, where the Mizo National Front (MNF) ousted the ruling Congress partty, but saw its numbers fall from five to one in Telangana, where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi swept the polls.

The results of these five states, which were dubbed the semifinals ahead of the next general elections in April-May 2019, could be a factor in the battle between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led opposition.

The major issues raked up by Congress, specially the farm loan waiver amid an agrarian crisis across the country, employment and anger among upper caste, seems to have worked in its favour and could haunt the ruling dispensation if remedial measures are not taken.

The BJP is not ready, however, to accept the defeat as a referendum on the Modi government.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said issues in state elections are entirely different. The BJP won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2003 but lost the Lok sabha elections next year, he pointed out.

The general elections in 2019, he added, would be fought around Modi’s performance, with people voting for a tried and tested leadership instead of a non-ideological opposition coalition which is bound to collapse sooner than later.

The Congress, which had a disastrous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and suffered successive defeats in various Assembly elections, smiled for the first time after defeating the BJP in a direct contest in the three crucial states in north India.

Party president Rahul Gandhi, who campaigned vigorously, said the Assembly election results were a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s non-performance on issues of unemployment, agrarian distress, corruption and negating the ill-effects of demonetisation.

Out of total 678 Assembly seats in the five states in the current round of elections, the Congress has won close to 300 seats while the BJP managed to win over 200 seats. In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP had won 377 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram while the Congress had won only 122 seats in these states.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won 62 out of total 83 Lok Sabha constituencies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. Now the three Hindi heartland states will be ruled by Congress and the its impact would definitely be felt in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the first instance of a party getting majority on its own in 30 years, BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP-led NDA had won 336 seats out of 543.

Its allies include the Shiv Sena, which has been on the war path for a while. Similarly, N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) have walked out of the NDA.

Since 2014, BJP has managed to retain just six Lok Sabha seats in by-polls. It won Lakhimpur in Assam, Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, Beed and Palghar in Maharashtra, Vadodara in Gujarat and Shimoga in Karnataka.

In the last four years, the party has lost Lok Sabha by polls in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, Gurdaspur in Punjab, Alwar and Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and Bellary and Mandya constituencies in Karnataka.

The BJP, however, maintained the verdict was a mandate against the state governments and not against the Modi government.

“The results in five states clearly show there is no uniform trend across the country and local factors determined the outcome in each state. This is evident from the fact that even Congress suffered massive defeats in Mizoram and Telangana.

“Despite 15 years of anti-incumbancy in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has put up a fight in Madhya Pradesh and has a major comeback in Rajasthan. The BJP’s and Congress’ vote share in both the states in Mandhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is almost tied which clearly show that the BJP has the potential to comeback with big victories in 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” BJP Spokeperson G.V. L. Narsimha Rao told IANS.

He also said whenever Congress has tied up with a regional party, it cost them votes.

(Brajendra Nath Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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