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

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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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India kept its interests ‘safe’ at SCO Summit

If they look at the Northeast in the future from the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) rubric, that is a different matter.

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SCO SUMMIT

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) In keeping out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and signing an agreement on sharing of hydrological data on the Brahmaputra river and another on exporting rice following a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, India kept its interests safe in this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, experts said.

India has not extended support to President Xi’s flagship initiative as a key project under it, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Modi reiterated India’s position that international connectivity projects should respect other countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Stating that connectivity with neighbours and within the SCO area is a priority for India, Modi, during his intervention at the Summit in Qingdao, China, on Sunday said: “We welcome new connectivity projects that are inclusive, sustainable and transparent, and respect countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The SCO is a Eurasian inter-governmental organisation, the creation of which was announced in 2001 in Shanghai by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism. India and Pakistan were granted full membership of the bloc in June last year. In the final Qingdao Declaration issued after the Summit, India’s name is conspicuously missing in the part about the BRI.

According to Anil Wadhwa, Senior Fellow in the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank and former Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, the meeting between Modi and Xi was a forward movement from the informal meeting between the two leaders in Wuhan in April with decisions being taken to set up a special representatives-level meeting mechanism and to boost cultural relations between India and China.

As for India not extending support to the BRI, Wadhwa told IANS that nobody expected India to endorse Xi’s pet initiative.

“I don’t think it will affect India diplomatically as there is an understanding between both sides (India and China),” he said.

“If they look at the Northeast in the future from the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) rubric, that is a different matter.”

However, Wadhwa sounded sceptical about the two agreements signed between India and China – a memorandum of understanding on the Chinese side providing hydrological data on the Brahmaputra river in flood season from May 15 to October 15 every year and an amendment to a 2006 protocol for exporting rice from India to China to include the export of non-Basmati varieties of rice from India.

“With China already having built three dams on their side of the Brahmaputra, I don’t know how useful the data will be,” he said.

As for exporting non-Basmati varieties of rice, he said that such a market does not currently exist in China and this has to be created.

However, Sujit Dutta, a domain expert on China who is also Professor in the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Jamia Milia Islamia here, was positive about the two agreements.

“India kept its interests safe. While the agreement on sharing Brahmaputra will benefit India, the one on rice exports will help our farmers,” Dutta said.

As for the BRI, he said that India has always made it clear that it would not support the Chinese initiative.

“How can India support something that threatens its sovereignty with the CPEC going through PoK?” he said.

Modi said in Qingdao that India’s commitment to connectivity is visible nevertheless in the International North-South Transport Corridor, the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran, to which India, Iran and Afghanistan are signatories, and participation in specific projects like the Ashgabat Agreement, a multimodal transport agreement between India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Another reason for India not taking part in the BRI, Dutta said, is that Chinese loans for projects under this have high interest rates and terms and conditions are not transparent.

Giving Hambantota port in Sri Lanka as an example, he said that the port has been given to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease and Colombo will find it difficult to repay the loan.

He said that same is the case with Gwadar port in Pakistan and Islamabad might well come under Chinese influence after finding it difficult to repay loans.

“We (India) can’t become vulnerable to Chinese pressure and take loans which we can’t repay,” Dutta said.

According to C. Uday Bhaskar, strategic analyst and Director of the Society for Policy Studies think tank, the key takeaway from the SCO Summit “is the manner in which India conveyed to its SCO peers that it can remain resolute when it comes to core national interests, for example, sovereignty”.

“But it will also engage with the others in a principles, yet pragmatic manner,” Bhaskar said.

He said that the Indian stand on the BRI will be watched very closely not just by China, but all the other nations who have signed up.

“Hopefully, the Wuhan spirit will prevail with respect to the BRI and make the issue less intractable when President Xi visits India in 2019,” Bhaskar stated.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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After Assam, NRC issue now simmers in Tripura as tribal parties agitate

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are also opposed to the Centre’s citizenship Bill.

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Agartala, June 12 : The burning issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is gradually spreading in Tripura as well, with tribal-based parties agitating to for an NRC updation exercise in the state with 1951 as the cut-off year.

Tripura’s three tribal-based parties — Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and National Conference of Tripura (NCT) — have started holding rallies and demonstrations to press their demand that the NRC be updated.

“We would again organise a five-hour sit-in demonstration on June 28 in Agartala to press for our demands. A similar demonstration would be held in New Delhi in September,” INPT President Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl told IANS.

He said: “If the other parties want to hold the agitation jointly, we are ready to do so. Earlier, in support of our demands, we have organised agitations, including a shutdown along with IPFT and NCT.”

The INPT, IPFT and NCT have also been demanding withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

These parties are also demanding introduction of an innerline permit to protect indigenous tribals, giving more power to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), restoration of alienated tribal lands and inclusion of tribals’ Kokborok language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

IPFT Vice President Ananta Debbarma said last month-end that they had organised big rallies in tribal areas, including at the TTAADC headquarters in Khumulwng, in support of the NRC and some other demands.

“We would soon hold a meeting of our party and decide our next course of action on NRC, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 and other demands,” Debbarma told IANS.

The IPFT is the junior ally in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance government in Tripura, while the INPT is one of the oldest tribal parties in the state. It was formed in 2002 by merging three Tripura parties, including the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) and Tripura National Volunteers (TNV).

The TUJS was formed in 1967, while the erstwhile militant outfit TNV became a political party in 1988 following a tripartite agreement with the central and state governments.

The INPT, IPFT and the NCT in February last year formed the All Tripura Indigenous Regional Parties Forum (ATIRPF) and spearheaded various agitations across the state in support of their demands.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016, seeks to enable Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who have fled to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh without valid travel documents or those whose valid documents expired in recent years, to acquire Indian citizenship through the process of naturalisation.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are also opposed to the Centre’s citizenship Bill.

“The CPI-M is also opposed to the Bill and supports the Indira-Mujib pact which determined March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date to detect illegal infiltration into India from Bangladesh,” CPI-M’s Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha and senior tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury told IANS.

“We have not yet discussed about the NRC in Tripura. However, people, particularly the minorities, are being harassed in Assam while conducting hearings on NRC,” said Chaudhury, who is also National Coordinator of the CPI-M-backed Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch and President of the Tripura Rajya Upajati Ganamukti Parishad — a frontal body of the CPI-M.

The second draft of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC in neighbouring Assam would be published on June 30, while the first NRC draft was made available to the people on December 31, after inclusion of names of 1.9 crore people of the total 3.29 crore applicants in the BJP-ruled state.

The NRC Assam, the register containing names of Indian citizens in the state, was prepared in 1951 as a non-statutory process by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 census.

The Assam agitation (1979-85) against the illegal foreigners led to the signing of Assam Accord on August 15, 1985, between the Centre, the state government, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), which stipulated March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for identification and deportation of illegal migrants from East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

Accordingly, the Citizenship Act, 1955, was amended by inserting Section 6A as a special provision for Assam.

In a tripartite meeting between the Centre, the state government and AASU, chaired by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May 2005, it was agreed to update the NRC of 1951. The modalities were approved by the government of India in consultation with the government of Assam.

After the Supreme Court’s directive, the exercise of NRC updation in Assam commenced in December 2013, to be completed over a period of three years. The apex court is closely supervising the progress of NRC update and has given various directions from time to time.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be reached at [email protected])

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Ministry says yoga is not sport, but DU colleges still reserve seats

Colleges have autonomy to choose the sports under which they wish to give admissions. University cannot tell a college to pick a specific sport. It is their discretion. These sports do not come under Sports Ministry, nor are they regulated by it.

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Delhi University

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Is yoga a sport? The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) says it is not. Yet, 11 Delhi University (DU) colleges have this year reserved seats for the discipline under their sports quota.

The university and the colleges, meanwhile, have been shifting responsibility back and forth.

After recognising it as a sport in 2015, the MYAS reversed its decision the next year. “After elaborate discussion, it was concluded that yoga has various dimensions/arms in which competitions are not possible. Hence, it was agreed that Yoga cannot be termed a sport. Consequently, it may not be appropriate to recognise any organisation as NSF (national sports federation) for yoga,” the Sports Ministry had said in a letter dated December 21, 2016, to all national sports federations and the Indian Olympic Assocation.

“It was also agreed that the entire matter relating to yoga will continue to be handled by the Ministry of AYUSH,” the letter said.

When IANS contacted the DU Sports Council for a clarification, it said that the colleges had requested the university to conduct yoga trials.

“Yes, Yoga has been under sports quota and it has been there in previous years also. Last year, 19 colleges had applied for trial for Yoga under sports quota. The decision, in which sports admissions are to be made, are taken by the colleges,” Anil Kalkal, Director of the varsity sports council which conducts the centralised trials for sports quota on behalf of colleges, told IANS.

“Colleges have autonomy to choose the sports under which they wish to give admissions. University cannot tell a college to pick a specific sport. It is their discretion. These sports do not come under Sports Ministry, nor are they regulated by it,” he said.

Although colleges are entitled to choose a sport for trials and reserve seats under it, the list of sports from which they are to choose is compiled by the varsity.

Kalkal cited another factor in the form of inter-university competition, held by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) — a non-governmental body listed under the Societies Act — as one of the reasons for considering Yoga as sport.

“If such was the thing (de-recognition) why would AIU conduct the yoga competition? The day AIU will tell us that Yoga is not a sport and stop conducting the competition, we will stop taking admission under it,” he said.

“If colleges are requesting to admit students under yoga, what can the university do? We have to conduct the trials. You should ask the colleges why they requested us to conduct yoga trials,” he said.

An official from one of the colleges which has reserved seats for Yoga this year, when contacted, passed the buck to the university.

“We consider Delhi University and AIU the governing bodies. If an activity is listed as sport by the university, we follow that. If DU tells us that it will not conduct trials in yoga then we will also give it up. Government doesn’t have a role in it,” M.P. Sharma, sports Convener at Hansraj College, told IANS.

Ambiguity on the legal sanction of quota for yoga got further worsened when an AIU official conceded that the association itself didn’t consider yoga as a sport.

“The competition is there because it helps in maintaining your body, mind and spirit. We do not consider it sport. This is not a sport. But we conduct the competition to improve the standard of performance,” said AIU Joint Secretary (Sports) Gurdeep Singh.

Singh also conceded that association’s decisions are not binding on the university.

“We have nothing to do with the DU sports quota. DU follows its own constitution. You talk to DU for this. A collective decision is made by our sports board. Whatever is in the larger interest of students, we do that. It’s not a sport but an activity, which helps strike a balance. The entire world has recognised the value of yoga, I don’t know why only here people have an issue with it,” he said.

However, in spite of what Singh said, the AIU website lists yoga as a sport in its “Calendar of Events” for 2017.

Although it is a thing which has been going on for years, some DU teachers, when apprised of the matter, called the decision (listing of yoga as sport by the university) as “arbitrary”, stating that it was never presented before the Academic or the Executive Council of the university.

“As far as reservation of seats under sports quota is concerned, we have an understanding of reserving them for only those sports which are recognised in Olympics. On what basis can they include yoga in it? asks Rajesh Jha, a DU professor and Executive Council member.

“This will end up undermining the chances of admission of those who are trained in genuine sports. This seems like a completely arbitrary decision,” he added.

Trials for yoga are scheduled to be conducted later this month.

Apart from Hansraj, Gargi College, Deshbandhu College, College of Vocational studies, and Kalindi College are few of those which have given their names for yoga trials and have reserved seats under the activity.

(Vishal Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])

— IANS

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