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Simian attacks on tourists create panic in UP

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Taj Mahal

Agra, Sep 29 (IANS) A scare has been sounded in this Uttar Pradesh city after a series of simian attacks on unsuspecting tourists visiting the iconic Taj Mahal that draws close to eight million visitors annually.

A group of tourists from Australia, said on Saturday they had been warned to be alert against simian, canine and bovine attacks in and around the Taj Mahal complex.

Tourists have been advised by guides to avoid lonely romantic walks along narrow pathways lined with trees. They have been asked to stay in groups to avoid simian attacks.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel and the staffers of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), have no idea how to deal with the growing menace.

“Cats, dogs, monkeys, bees, are proving to be big safety menace in the Taj premises,” said tourist guide Ved Gautam.

Alarmed by reports of a series of attacks on tourists, the Yogi Adityanath government is mulling a slew of measures to insulate the 17th century Mughal complex from marauding monkeys, that attack and snatch valuables from visitors. But when and how, no one knows.

“The number of stray animals, including cows has increased 10-fold in the city, thanks to cow vigilante groups,” says Shravan Kumar Singh, a social activist.

In August, a group of visitors from Indore was attacked by monkeys near the museum inside the Taj premises.

In April, a tourist from Chennai suffered a nasty dog bite, while an Israeli tourist was thrown down by a rampaging bull outside the eastern gate of the Taj.

Several French tourists were attacked by monkeys in June and July, some had to be dispatched to hospitals for treatment. In July, an Austrian tourist, Christina, was attacked by monkeys and had to be given treatment.

Plans in the past to contain the simian nuisance have fallen flat for want of implementation or a resources crunch.

Former Divisional Commissioner Pradip Bhatnagar had engaged an NGO, Wildlife SOS, to round up 10,000 monkeys, but the plan did not materialise due to lack of permission from appropriate authorities.

“But now the situation is really alarming. Monkeys are seen in armies marching from one area to the other. The city has more than 50,000 monkeys.

“Due to the provisions of the Wildlife Act, the monkeys can not be attacked or rounded up without adequate safeguards and precautions. Plans to shift the monkeys to other areas have failed, as no district wants to shelter them,” senior hotelier Surendra Sharma said.

Indeed, the state faces the biggest threat to peace in the form of exploding simian population in Agra and neighbouring religious shrines in Mathura district and Vrindavan.

Pilgrims are almost daily attacked in Vrindavan. “Usually the monkeys target spectacles or purses which are returned only when some eatables or cold drinks are offered to the monkeys.”

Civic authorities seem helpless in tackling the menace. “We have written so many times to the municipal corporation, but there has been no action from their side,” an ASI official told IANS.

When former President Pranab Mukherjee visited Vrindavan in November 2016, langurs had to be hired to shoo away the monkeys, recalled Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan.

“Every shrine has dozens and dozens of the primates. For the pilgrims — especially women and children — negotiating their way through the lanes have always been difficult with cows and stray dogs everywhere. Now the simian menace has compounded it,” Poddar said.

Nandan Das, another Vrindavan resident, said: “Its a strange world, monkeys can attack humans, but we cannot kill or shoot them.”

An animal rights activist said: “The monkeys should be taken out of the list of protected species in the Wild Life Act.

“Since the primates cannot be killed, they should be captured and released in the jungles. Birth control is an answer. The monkeys have to be sterilised. But who will foot the bill?”

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])

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India’s economic growth not inclusive enough, inequality rises

Basic education, good health and decent environment are not only valuable constituent elements of quality of life themselves but can also aid in driving economic successes of the standard kind in a more equitable manner. India has missed the bus on that front.

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India Inequality

The Indian growth story has been far from perfect. That is not an understatement by any stretch of imagination. A growing challenge for the economy is the fast-evolving problem of inequality.

Most recently, James Crabtree in his latest book, “The Billionaire Raj”, claims that “India is one of the world’s most unequal countries.” His claim is based on the fact that the billionaire wealth as a proportion of the entire country’s output is the highest for India, except for Russia. The latest human development rankings released last week also corroborate his findings. India already ranks a lowly 130 on the index out of 189 countries but when adjusted for inequality, the scores experience a drastic fall of almost 27 percent against a world average of 20 percent.

What explains India’s dismal performance on the inequality front? Why don’t other developing countries face a similar problem? To put it simply, economic growth in India has not been inclusive enough. All the hype about the country’s fast-paced economic growth has not percolated down through the economy. The recently-released Social Progress Index can provide an explanation on why that is so.

The Index, which measures the extent to which a country can provide for the social and environmental needs of its citizens, ranks India at 101; a position it had achieved as early as 2014. India is the worst performer among all the BRICS countries and performs poorly than quite a few other developing countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Indonesia as well. The country’s abysmal performance on social and environmental aspects can explain its widening inequality to a large extent.

To first put things in perspective, the countries which are performing better on the Social Progress Index are managing to do so irrespective of their economic heft; that is, even economies that are poorer than India have ranked higher. But they have made it possible to have broad-based public participation in economic expansion by pursuing policies which allow for extensive schooling, higher literacy, better healthcare, widespread land reforms and greater gender parity. The only way to maximise the gains in poverty reduction for an economy is to make it more participatory, which is not easy to achieve if the webs of social barriers are not broken down through such policies. Economic advancement cannot be equitable if social opportunities are not enhanced on a wider basis.

China offers the perfect case in point for how a large economy can achieve equitable growth on a sustained basis. China was at the same economic level as India around 1980 when it undertook market reforms. At the same time, the country made investments in improving its basic education and health standards. When China soon became an export-led economy, the products did not particularly require highly skilled labour, but schooled and literate population nevertheless. The production of such basic manufactures for the world markets requires adherence to certain specifications and quality controls where good school education comes in handy. A healthy workforce is also imperative to ensure that economic schedules are not marred by illnesses and intermittent absences and that adequate productivity is maintained.

Thus, basic education, good health and decent environment are not only valuable constituent elements of quality of life themselves but can also aid in driving economic successes of the standard kind in a more equitable manner. India has missed the bus on that front. Surely it can continue to achieve high rates of growth with the rather limited bouquet of social opportunities that exist currently. In fact, a lot of complacency arises from the achievement of high growth rates on an aggregate level. But a status quo would only continue to widen the disparity across society that has already reached concerning levels. Most of India’s growth arises from industries which make excessive use of its historic accomplishments in higher education and technical training. The fruits of such a growth, therefore, are skewed on the wrong side of the income spectrum.

The problem with the inequality debate in India is that it is often argued that since poverty has dramatically declined in the country post-reforms, the trend of rising inequality should not concern policy-makers as it is a small price to pay. But, the fact that India is an outlier in terms of inequality among all developing countries, except an oligarchic Russia, should raise the alarm bells. Most importantly, if there exists a way where the gains from existing growth can be more equitably distributed, clearly that is the Pareto optimal path of development and worth striving for.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, senior researcher, Institute for Competitiveness has contributed to the article)

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I’m available as an actor across languages: Ashish Vidyarthi

“There are many mature directors. I am sure someday they will say ‘You know what? Let’s do something interesting’.”

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Ashish Vidyarthi

New Delhi, Oct 21 : National Award winner Ashish Vidyarthi has acted in hundreds of films in languages like Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali, but the actor in him wants more. He also feels he has had less opportunities in Bollywood.

A few weeks ago, filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj said Bollywood hasn’t given justice to Ashish’s talent and that he is an underrated and under-utilised actor.

“I would (agree with Bhardwaj),” Ashish said with a laugh.

“There are many roles and I haven’t had the opportunity to do any of them. I jokingly tell people ‘Sometimes I wonder, is the film industry waiting for me to die and then say it’s sad. He was a good actor. He was underrated and didn’t have enough chances’,” he told IANS in a telephonic interview.

He wants the filmmakers to know that the actor is around.

“There are many roles and I am waiting for directors to come out. The actor is available,” said the “Aligarh” actor.

He has been in the film industry since the early 90s and he believes he has maintained “my sanity and kept my hunger alive for doing powerful roles”.

“There are many mature directors. I am sure someday they will say ‘You know what? Let’s do something interesting’.”

In fact, one of the reasons why he tried his hand at regional films is because the makers offered him roles of his choice.

“I have done 200 plus films in other languages,” he said comparing himself to a traveller.

“Thanks to this travel of mine, so many other languages have discovered me. I belong to them. I make the most of my journey. I am available as an actor across languages. I am looking forward to interesting roles…. in Hindi too,” said the actor, known for films like “Droh Kaal”, “1942: A Love Story”, “Arjun Pandit”, “Vaastav: The Reality” and “Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai”.

But is he happy with his acting journey which started almost three decades ago?

“I am grateful and continue to ask for more. The journey of an actor continues. Even as we continue our life, what is important is that, we must keep hope for the future alive,” he said.

He is looking forward to the release of his Tamil film with actress Amala Paul.

“It’s an interesting one,” said the actor, who feels he has remained relevant.

The digital platform also excites him.

“It allows more people to consume entertainment. It is is readily available to people on their mobile phones,” said Ashish.

His short film “Kahanibaaz”, presented by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films, also released on the digital platform last month.

The thriller, helmed by Sandeep Varma, features Ashish as a cab driver, who takes an odd turn during a drive to Shirdi with a couple.

Talking about his character’s actions in the film, he said: “Even though we hate something, we do something else. People can’t express themselves where they need to and that’s why it comes out somewhere else.”

It is inspired by Gaana’s original “Kahanibaaz” podcast.

“I love that podcast,” he said.

Apart from acting, he keeps himself busy by being a motivational speaker.

“Over the last few years, apart from my acting, which has taken me all over, I have also had a very interesting innings as a motivational speaker. I conduct the Avid Miner programmes all over the world.

“Each time I curate a conversation. So, each conversation is new,” said the “Athanokkade” actor, who creates learning environment for life skill development and workplace well-being of corporate professionals, entrepreneurs and individuals.

(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted at [email protected])

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Former SC judges divided over increasing retirement age

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Supreme Court of India

New Delhi, Oct 21 : Former Supreme Court judges are divided over a suggestion to increase the retirement age of judges to 70 years. Those opposed to it say that 65 years is “optimal” and even at this age it is difficult to bear the burden of the court’s heavy workload.

While Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice K.S. Panikar Radhakrishnan dismissed the suggestion to increase the retirement age, Justice B. Sudershan Reddy endorsed it.

In the recent past, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal — the central government’s topmost lawyer — had on a number of occasions raised the issue of increasing the retirement age of the judges of the higher judiciary, including a three-fold increase in their salaries — a position not shared by the Narendra Modi government.

Those favouring enhancing the retirement age have cited increased life expectancy as a ground and comparing it with the prevailing practices in other countries, including US where Supreme Court judges serve for life, the UK where the retirement age is 70 year and other countries where it is 70 or 75 years.

Justifying the suggestion for increasing the retirement age on the grounds of increasing “longevity” and life expectancy, senior lawyer C.S. Vaidyanathan said that “physical and mental ability to work” beyond 65 years is “very much there” — a view endorsed by former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and senior lawyer K.V. Vishwanathan.

There is no rational justification to retire judges at the age of 65, Vishwanathan said, adding: “Judges mature and ripen in their late fifties or early sixties and one must tap their talent beyond 65 years.”

Buttressing the point, Vishwanathan cited the example of Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy who rested his pen in US Supreme Court in 2018 at the age of 82.

He described Justice Kennedy as a “classic example” of a “prolific writer” at the ripe age of 82.

Justice Kennedy was succeeded by Justice Brett Kavanaugh — whose confirmation hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee saw the burgeoning of the ‘MeToo’ volcano denting the reputation of many among the high and mighty.

All this did not weigh with Justice Thomas and Justice Radhakrishnan, who thought 65 years was a good enough an age to hang up the gown, because at this age, mental and physical wear and tear start manifesting.

“There may be one, two or three judges who can carry on with the heavy, demanding work of the Supreme Court with the same tempo. But others find it difficult to work. My colleagues used to tell me the that they find it difficult to carry on,” said Justice Thomas, citing Justice P.K. Paripoornan as telling him: “I can’t keep up with the volume of work in the Supreme Court.”

Rohatgi, Vaidyanathan and K.V. Vishwanathan not only favoured increasing the retirement age but also bringing the retirement age of the High Court judges at par with that of the Supreme Court — an issue on which Justice Reddy differed.

While Justice Thomas agreed that the retirement age should be at par, Justice Reddy felt that the “distinction” should remain.

Justice Thomas asked: “If Supreme Court judges could work up to the age of 65 years, then why not High Court judges?”

Unequivocally asserting that even at 65, handling the Supreme Court’s workload is fatiguing, Justice Radhakrishnan said that the retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts could be increased, but with the option of quitting before reaching the age of superannuation — a practice prevailing in Zimbabwe, where a top court judge is appointed to retire at 65 years but can opt to continue till 70.

“Personally I was very happy when I retired because for a period of 15 to 20 years you have put in so much work which can’t be compared with any other service,” Justice Radhakrishnan said, adding: “A really hard-working judge would like to retire at the age of 65 as working for over 15 to 20 years takes its toll.”

“As a judge I have to do justice to the court,” Justice Radhakrishnan maintained, pointing out that “there can’t be any comparison with other countries. In America, the Supreme Court has 100 to 130 cases per year. Similar is the case with England and the International Court of Justice.”

The Supreme Court in India deals with over 65,000 cases per year.

However, there is no split view on increasing the salaries of the judges of the higher judiciary which, at the current level, is considered to be on the lower side. In January, the salary of a Supreme Court judge was hiked to Rs 250,000 a month from Rs 90,000 and that of the Chief Justice to Rs 2.8 lakhs from Rs 1 lakh.

Justice Sudershan Reddy said that the salary increase of the judges should be “commensurate with the work load they carry”.

(Parmod Kumar can be contacted at [email protected] )

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