Is Maharashtra equipped enough to handle fire mishaps?

With the commencement of the year 2016, Maharashtra witnessed many fire mishaps, right from Deonar rage to Make in India event, where massive fire broke out, engulfing the city in a thick blanket of smog. Accidents like these have happened int the past and will happen in the future as well.  And now with festive season around, the state is much more susceptible to such incidents.

One of the major problems whenever a fire breaks out is that how intense fire does not easily comes under control and continues to simmer , with the smoke creating a havoc for the people residing in the nearby areas. Thus, it raises the issues of not only loss of lives and property damage but also pollution concerns.

Recently, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) computed an audit which highlighted several points that needed urgent attention. With high rise buildings becoming a norm rather than an exception, timely inspection in terms of fire preparedness has been made mandatory to avoid major calamities. In fact, one of the major concerns was with Pune city, as the city lacks enough fire brigades to carry out the inspections at regular intervals. The inadequacy of fire stations combined with less manpower results in the failure to carry out such inspections in Pune, and this calls for an immediate introspection.

As per the norm, there should be one station every 10 square kilometre area. However, Pune has one station every 36.57 square kilometre. In fact, only the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai has one station every 13.46 square kilometre area among the eight municipal corporations in Maharashtra namely, Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur, Thane, Nashik, Aurangabad, Amravati and Navi Mumbai.

Every year, the Municipal Corporation allocates funds towards fire department, however, the funds were not put to use. In the case of Pune, funds of around Rs 8.40 crore was found unutilised, with the fire department citing the election code of conduct and other reasons for the same. Overall in the state, Rs 1,091.20 crore was allocated for the fire department of which only Rs 854.87 crore was utilised, rest laid unspent.

During such fire breaks, the area is swept with the fire for prolonged duration and the damage ratio is high, thus, embarking the question which has been raised for so many times now, but still left answered-Is there an urgent need of establishing fire stations and implementing certain rules? Because disasters cannot be prevented but the causalities and damage can.

The trouble with Land acquisitions: In between development and corruption

Recent news coverage of the land grabbing case in Manesar, CBI carrying out raids in more than 20 premises and the alleged involvement of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, along with his close aides and bureaucrats, turned out the murkier side of land acquisitions in name of development.

Haryana yet again emerged out as a hub of land encroachments, including districts like Rohtak, Gurgaon, Panchkula, Chandigarh and Delhi, with the farmers there been cheated of Rs 1,500 crore.

On the contrary in West Bengal, there was a major development when the Apex Court struck down the acquisition of 997 acres of land in Singur by the Left Front government for Tata Motors. It announced that the farmers will get back their land in its pristine, cultivable form, and they can keep their compensation as well.

In a similar pretext of circumstances but with a rational approach, back in 2003 in Jammu and Kashmir under late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the government acquired lands for railway project from the farmers but in return secured jobs for them in the railway department along with compensations. Today after thirteen years, those land owners and farmers are working in that railway belt as per their qualification.

Land acquisition by the government has always been for development, however, corrupt leaders to fill their own pockets have illegally encroached land without  proper compensation to the farmers.

In fact, one of the legal challenges to land acquisition in India is a just compensation and consent. The mandate of compensation should be such that the landowners are paid the market value of their lands. But this principle, might lead to very inadequate compensation since market value in itself is a volatile concept, the dynamics changes when an agricultural land is used for industry, the market value of the land increases by orders of magnitude. Moreover this also fails in account of loss of livelihood of farmers. So there should not be any forceful act rather landowners should be allowed to withhold consent and raise compensation.

The critics of land acquisition accuse the government of selling out to the corporate. Though many government officials do enjoy huge kickbacks, the dangers of it becoming self-fulfilling have landed these deals illegal scams and frauds.

UN Summit on refugees and migrants, a move towards a better living

The UN General Assembly is all set for the Global Compact Leaders Summit 2016 to address “large movements of refugees and migrants”. For the first time, New York will witness world leaders and the heads of the states discussing the humongous movements among refugees across nations and approach of responding to them in a humane manner.

As per United Nations, the aim of the meet is to “strengthen governance of international migration and a unique opportunity for creating a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.

The sufferers of the mass killings, terrorism and shelling bombs over the disputed areas have lined up a huge amount of refugees in the world. It’s a brutal image to picturise small kids playing around with dirt, women trying to collate the rumbled ashes to start a new living, people in queues waiting for the food supplies and water outside the tents. For them, their aspirations have died and their struggle is to get basic amenities because they cannot think of buying them or earning them. There are Millions displaced by the fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya etc. But mere condemning at calamity and wondering how this will get resolved is not the need of the hour. Rather the ever action loving Americans are here missing that action: an act of making the miserable lives of the refugees and migrant better.

In 2015, the rate of conflict and persecution was such that one in every 113 people were displaced globally from their homes because. Countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produced half of the world’s refugees. The question is that where these refugees took refuge then. It was found that about 86 percent of the world’s refugees took shelter in developing countries. Shockingly, in a place where the most of the citizens don’t have access to basic amenities like clean drinking water, houses and jobs, it is far from our imagination what will be the living conditions of these refugees there.

Apart from the basic facilities, the most challenging fact is the trauma and the struggle they go through the refugees, especially the children go through. Over the years the cases of sexual assaults have been increasing against refugees.

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly summit, the US President Obama hosting the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on September 20 is a significant move. Because it has been found that thirty-one of the US states rejected the idea of accepting refugees while several countries have agreed to accept a larger number of refugees. In fact creating conditions at first that will push more people out of their homes and countries is something these developed countries are also responsible for. There should be a concerted approach to ending the turmoil and make the refugees feel safe at home.

The leaders of the UN summit are expected to approve a document for a coordinated approach that will protect the human rights of refugees and migrants.

Fillipo Grandi, UN’s high commissioner for refugees said that if they can transform that document into a concrete projection in which many volunteers participate to solve the problem in emergency conditions and in brutal responses like the Syrian situation.

Though the document does not legally bridge but it plays a crucial role in tackling migrant issues between the United States and Europe.

As roads ahead becomes bumpier, car market shifts to reverse gear

At those wide roads over-crowded with traffic, as automobiles blow horns and erratic smoke disperses, nothing can be as magnificent as the sight of those dream machines – Mercedes Benz, Audi and BMW. The affluent Indians and car lovers cannot stop drooling and hankering for these exotic dream machines which have been dominating the luxury car market in the country.

India is one of the youngest luxury and premium car markets in the world. In the last few years, there was a stable growth in the domestic luxury car market, but this year a decline has been observed. The dynamics are seen changing this year with a sudden shift in the preference of buyers towards petrol cars due to the uncertainties with regard to diesel cars. For instance, Audi is a part of Germany’s Volkswagen Group, the second biggest in the Indian luxury car market, whose vehicles still run on diesel. The decline exacerbated as the passenger vehicle and two-wheeler industry is distinctly at a better position to clock double-digit growth.

The head of the Audi India Joe King clearly stated that they were not able to cope up with the sudden shift to the petrol. The market suffered a drop, firstly due the implications of the Union budget which imposed a three to four percent infrastructure cess. Secondly the region around Delhi, mostly NCR, had banned diesel for most of the year. A drop of 10-15 percent was observed significantly in the luxury market this year. The initial six months of the year 2016 saw a marginal drop in volumes to 6,597 units of Mercedes as compared to 6,659 in the period last year. In fact, it was due to the ban of diesel in NCR that Audi lost its sales of 2,000 units in the whole year. For Mercedes-Benz too, 2016 has been a challenging year as their key markets, Delhi-NCR, where undermined with the diesel ban. The Managing Director of Mercedes India, Roland Folger, declared that the sales in the remaining markets remained positive and they expected some more growth.

Last year in December, the Supreme Court had imposed a ban on sales of diesel vehicles specifying the engine capacity of 2,000cc and above in NCR to address the issue of pollution. The ban immensely affected the sale of diesel vehicles not only falling in the 2000cc and above category, but also the ones below. When the industry agreed to pay additional one percent cess, the ban was lifted in August.

In 2015, the luxury segment, one percent of the Indian car market, grew 13 per cent to about 35,000 units. Segment leader Mercedes-Benz’s grew sales by 32 percent to a record 13,502 units. Audi’s sales increased nearly two percent, to 11,100 units; BMW sold 7,500. While comparing it to this year’s sales, the drop was very evident.

 

Will Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat decode Azadi for all

On September 4, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, headed The All Party Delegation (APD) to discuss ways for restoration of peace and normalcy in the Kashmir Valley. The pretext of the agenda was laid back on August 22 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during All Party Meeting on Jammu and Kashmir in New Delhi, emphasising on `Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat’ as the key fundamentals in resolving the Kashmir conflict. Insaniyat i.e the humanitarian approach, Kashmiriyat- the unity and spirit of Kashmiri People and Jamhooriyat which stands for democracy all three to blend the ethos of this multicultural society. But words, however, elegant they sound and no matter how convincingly they are spoken, are meaningless until practised and preached. The conflict of Kashmir is not monolithic, there are layers within layers, intricately tangled with time making it difficult to arrive at any concrete solution. There are minority multi-linguistic group unaddressed striving for their definition of Azadi. Kashmir, as it is burning and rumbling with violence amidst stone pelting by locals, pellet guns by the army and the lores of hum Kya Chahte Azadi ( What do we want ! Azadi! ) The Gap between AFSPA and Azadi, Centre govt and the locals is widening day by day. However what is actually Azadi? Does it stand same for all in Jammu and Kashmir?
 
After the state was engulfed in massive protests and curfew post-Burhan Wani encounter, more than 70 people have died and thousands have been injured till now.  More than 50 days of curfew, stone pelting and in return shelling of pellet guns by the army on the locals worsened the situation. Kashmiri Muslims, young adults, children, women got brutally injured due to the pellet guns. The struggle of Kashmiris and their fight for Azadi, their basic human rights, against AFSPA is been ongoing for a decade now. Their cry for Azadi is not just from Indian rule, but from the rule of dominants curbing their right to live freely in their own homeland.
On a parallel ground, the state as a whole has suffered the wrath of the ongoing conflicts. The fouth world of Jammu and Kashmir- Gujjars and Bakerwals are yet to figure out what their Azadi stands for. They have little or no political say, no financial security and social equality in the mainstream.  They are one of the ignored, excluded and discriminated sects in Jammu and Kashmir. But the grim irony is that the govt is yet to address their issues.
Similarly what sort of independence does women demand in an already conflict-prone zone of Kashmir. A few years back when the only all-girl band in India’s troubled Kashmir region got split up after a controversial Muslim cleric issued a fatwa against them, it became very evident how the women in the region still succumb to the beliefs and 
 
The issues of Kashmir and it’s linguistic groups is not complete without the mention of Kashmiri Pandits. The community is still yearning to go back to Kashmir after the internal armed resistance broke out in 1990. For them, Azadi is a distant dream and home a lost paradise.

From Motherhood to Sainthood: Teresa honoured canonization

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do,” Mother Teresa at Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in 1979

Thousands of pilgrims swarmed at St. Peter’s Square, of the Vatican City for the canonization of Mother Teresa, the most revered nun and the icon of a Catholic Church that cared for the poorest and destitute. Since her death in 1997, Mother Teresa’s has been attributed to two miracle cures. Thereby Pope Francis had declared earlier, that Mother Teresa had put into action his idea for the church to be a merciful “field hospital” for the poorest of the poor, and those suffering both material and spiritual poverty. On September 4, Pope Francis led a Mass and Canonisation in Saint Peter’s Square of the Vatican City. India also saw celebrations at the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in Kolkata.

Mother Teresa or Saint Teresa, born on  26 August 1910 , reverentially referred  as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta,  was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary. During her early childhood, ‘Agnes’ as she was called, had a special interest in missionary service. As a young girl, she was very eager to know about any news of missionary activity.

Agnes left home in 1928 at the age of 18 and arrived in India in 1929. After spending one week in Calcutta, she travelled to the novitiate house in Darjeeling, India. She took her religious name Mary Teresa and went to Calcutta for her first assignment, after making temporary vows. Initially, Mother Teresa identified a very old and prestigious school from Kolkata, St. Mary’s High School that served girls from wealthy Indian families. She started her journey as a teacher there and taught subjects like history and geography. As she later became the director of studies and spent 17 years there, her fondness towards India and its culture grew such that later she declared herself to be “Indian by choice.

However on August 17, 1948, Teresa left behind the comforting buildings and gardens of St. Mary’s School, and the familiar company of the community of sisters and students. She entirely devoted her life to serving in India as she donned the white sari of the poorest Indian women, and walked out into the streets of Calcutta. She paid personal visits to the children’s families, walked through the slums on these missions of charity, as she witnessed extreme destitution. And thus society of the missionaries of charity was born. There were families who lived in ramshackle huts, many people lived on the streets or in the gutters, most of them were on the verge of death. They lay miserably without even a sympathetic glance from another human being to bring them comfort.

As she began this journey alone, several people joined her, alongside the formation of philanthropic communities and missionaries. And she did it out of sheer love of God. When she was 78, she suffered from heart problems and had five heart attacks before she finally rested in peace. She died on September 5, 1997, at the motherhouse in Calcutta, which had long since become her home.

 

The roller coaster ride of onion prices in India: of fluctuations and absurdity

The significance of onion in India is very remarkable on economical as well as the political front. India ranks third in the world production of onion as the major vegetable. But what makes this vegetable of strategic importance is not just its diet factor for millions of Indians, rich and poor, but also the resulting political dynamics. The fluctuating prices that onion market suffers have the power to bring down a government from power.

It has been only a month after the central government had taken a step to slash the minimum export price (MEP) of onion to zero, prices of the bulb have started falling rock bottom across major market yards, especially in the state of Maharashtra. There has been a rise in the arrival of onions while the limited avenues for sales are pushing the prices down.

On July 27, the modal price retrieved by the onions at the Maharashtra’s the largest onion market in the state i.e. Lasalgaon market was Rs 1100 per quintal. A total of 20,940 quintals of onions arrived at the market. However, a year ago on January 30, 2015, the modal price at Lasalgaon was Rs 1375 per quintal and 16,269 quintals arrived at the market

Additionally, there is also seen a lot of demand of onion in India as well as across the world. India is a major exporter of onion, which are mainly exported in the form of dehydrated onion, canned onion, and onion pickle. Dehydrated onions are considered as a potential product in world trade and India serves as the second largest producer of dehydrated onions in the world.

Last month, the central government decreased the Minimum Export Price (MEP) of onions to stop the price slide. However the increased supply of onions resulting in the unsold stock, the centre has extended export duty benefits to the farmers suffering from the decline in prices. It has offered a five percent grant under the Foreign Trade Policy’s Merchandise Exports from India Scheme to the onion growers in order to boost exports. This scheme will provide a benefit of two percent, three percent and five percent depending on the country and the product. With this measure, the onion growers, as well as the farmers, are hoping for a big relief.

 

The market of Onion is very volatile in India, the factors are not just high inelastic demand but contrary situations like unsold stock, increased supply etc