November 24, 2017   
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‘Gas Chamber’ Delhi

GOVTS PASS THE BUCK

By Insaf

National capital Delhi should make both the AAP and Central government hang their heads in shame. It is choked, engulfed in polluted and unsafe air with the High Court describing it as an “emergency situation.” Schools have been shut down, citizens advised to stay indoors, construction and industrial activities banned, odd-even car plan to be enforced, rail and air traffic hit, et al. Worse, the political blame game adds insult to injury. AAP blames the smog on stubble burning by farmers, in neighbouring Punjab and Haryana, accuses the Centre for not releasing funds for ‘cloud seeding’ to induce rainfall artificially, and sitting over its long-term proposals to improve air quality. New Delhi scoffs it off by saying Chief Minister Kejriwal is simply incompetent. His counterpart in Punjab Amarinder Singh refuses to have a meeting with him and instead turns to Prime Minister Modi with his demand for compensation for farmers to check stubble burning and convene a meeting of CMs of affected States along with Union Ministers for agriculture, food and environment to thrash out the issue. Do citizens matter at all? It’s the usual oft-seen knee jerk crisis management. Sadly long term planning is simply blurred vision.

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Himachal’s Fate

The die has been cast in Himachal Pradesh. The fate of both Congress and the BJP sealed in ballot boxes on Thursday last, hinges on whether the voters put a seal of endorsement on demonetisation and GST or show their disapproval. In fact, the two issues turned out to be the talking point in the campaigning, pushing aside usual local issues during Assembly polls. For the Congress, it is a battle of existence as it holds power in only five States and one UT and for Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh who battles alleged corruption charges. For the BJP, the outcome in its favour is vital as it would be a stamp of approval for its economic reforms, notwithstanding the hardship the aam admi has been put to. Though there are other parties contesting like CPM and BSP, Himachal has largely been bipolar, with Congress and BJP coming to power alternatively every five years. Both are contesting all the 68 seats. In the past it has been a close call with one or the other coming to power with a gap of just 10-odd seats. This time it’s been a record polling of 74 per cent, suggesting a change or will Congress get the much-needed boost. It will be a long wait till December 18 to get an  answer for tribulation and jubilation.

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States Homeless

State governments make the Supreme Court see red. Their apathy and insensitivity towards the homeless is unacceptable. And it has slammed the Centre too for making a mockery of its Rs 2000 crore scheme for constructing shelter homes under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission in 2013 saying: “All money granted is going in drain. Why don’t you scrap the scheme? You would save thousands of crores which could be used for other purposes. It is a waste of tax-payers money.” Precisely, as the over 17 lakh homeless continue to languish with no roof over their heads. So now, the court, which has been monitoring the construction of night shelters for homeless for past 4 years, has changed tack. It has decided to examine the issue State wise. For starters, governments of UP, West Bengal and Haryana will have to file affidavits on steps taken to provide shelter to their homeless. And while this exercise will carry on, the Court has also tried to touch a chord and appealed to the States to show “sympathy and compassion”. Will they heed?

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UP Poll Test

All eyes would soon be on Uttar Pradesh. The State’s local body elections are to be held in three phases from November 22 for 16 municipal corporations, 198 municipal boards and 439 nagar panchayats. In 2012, though the party had won 10 of the 12 mayoral posts, it managed only 42 municipal boards’ chairperson seat and 36 in nagar panchayats. This time, however, having won a massive majority in the Assembly on the Hindutva plank it expects a bigger share. Other than the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, the AAP has decided to get into the fray. While these are local elections, Yogi and his team of ministers and MLAs are gearing up for hard campaigning. Indeed, it’s a major test for ruling BJP and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s governance. Will he be able to retain the party’s popularity, is the big question. Importantly, the Congress and SP are no longer tying up an alliance, as they did in the Assembly polls. Guess, they need to reconfirm whether it was a mistake or better still test waters whether they are still in the running in State politics.

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Kerala Special Treatment

Some things will never change. Special treatment continues to be meted out to ministers, as is a fresh case in Kerala. This one, different from what former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has landed himself into and which has hit bigger headlines. On Wednesday last, hearing a PIL, the High Court pulled up the Pinarayi Vijayan government for doing precious little in the land grab case involving transport minister Thomas Chandy. Apparently, the minister’s company had brazenly encroached upon government land Alappuzha district to build a road through paddy fields to a lake resort owned by him! An exasperated two-judge bench was constrained to note that if it were the aam admi then he would have been evicted using bulldozers and be slapped with cases. However, while Chandy has denied the charges and claimed the resort was built 13 years ago and it was not right to raise allegations now, the government said it was probing the charges and seeking legal opinion. Simply put, dilly dallying. The case is worth a watch to see whether the bench keeps it assurance that “all are equal in the eyes of law.”

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Telangana’s Window Dressing

Telangana does a cover-up for the outside world. Capital city Hyderabad is to be made ‘beggar-free’. The intention sounds good but the timing is terribly bad. Two weeks ahead of US’ first lady Ivanka Trump’s visit for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Hitec city. On Tuesday last, the Hyderabad Police Commissioner issued prohibitory orders till January 7 next year banning begging on city streets. Reason: beggars are begging alms in an indecent manner…these acts are dangerous to the safety of vehicular traffic and public in general.’ It plans to shift 6,000-odd beggars to rehabilitation centre and shelter for homeless, where ‘they will be taken care of’. However, the beggars ask what about their right of freedom to live anywhere they choose? The bigger question is why is Section of 1973 being imposed intermittently? A similar operation was undertaken when former US President Bill Clinton visited in 2000! Window dressing is no answer to taking care of its beggars. —INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)