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Poverty – Biggest debate of India in a touching picture

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Indian slum woman on diwali

This picture was taken by a man right before boarding a bus (Mumbai-Pune) at a stoppage known as Bisleri stop in Andheri, Mumbai, perhaps, a day before Diwali. It’s not a masterpiece clicked by some professional photographer with a pro-DSLR camera. The image is noisy and somewhat blur, but despite that it’s really one of those powerful images that touches our heart and leaves deep impressions. The image has put things in perspective.

The picture was posted on a social media platform and it stirred a debate in which many Indians and a few foreigners took part.

A woman is creating a ‘Rangoli’ outside her shed to celebrate India’s most popular festival Diwali – the festival of lights, the day when triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’ was marked.

It’s difficult to figure out whether the lady in the picture deserves appreciation for her spirit of celebration while living on a roadside shed or to mourn for this deprived soul and millions like others.

But after looking at this image, India must realize that the battle against poverty is still on. Corruption within us is the modern Ravana, who has abducted humanity, looted them of all ethical and moral values. Corruption has diluted sense of kindness, empathy, compassion, justice, and equality.

In this country, life is hell without wealth. Poor are getting poorer, rich are getting richer. Poverty is the ugliest creation of corruption in India’s political and social sphere. The governments, irrespective of which party is in power, have eaten the nation like termites. The structure looks intact, but inside, it’s being turned into powder.

Number of poor is so high in India that even world’s average poverty ratio depends on it.

The policymakers have been deceiving people by deliberately keeping poverty line low, according to Angus Deaton of Princeton University, a noble laureate in economics. The statistical exercise has become political due to policymakers who want to show that Indian economy is lifting.

Indian government’s official poverty line is a vital economic statistic, but its validity and methodology have always been debated. The poverty line in India is based on consumer expenditure surveys of the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). That implies a poor household is defined as one with an expenditure level below a specific poverty line.

While it helps deceiving people to gain votes, keeping the poverty line at such a low means millions of people, who are officially considered lifted above poverty line but are poor in true terms, are deprived of the government assistance they deserve to come out of their misery.

India’s poverty line, as defined by Suresh Tendulkar Committee in 2011, is based on monthly spending on food, education, health, electricity and transport. According to Indian government, a person who spends a penny above Rs.27.2 in rural areas and Rs.33 in urban areas a day are living above the poverty line. A family of five that spends anything over Rs.4, 080 per month in rural area and Rs, 5,000 in urban areas is above poverty line. Isn’t it too low?

Presently, one cup of tea with an ‘aloo parantha’ at cheapest roadside food stalls cost Rs. 30 in urban area. So, how Rs. 33.3 a day are sufficient to survive?

According to a committee headed by former Reserve Bank Governor C Rangarajan, 20.9% (363 million) of India’s 1.2 billion people were living below poverty line in 2011-12. His panel had set poverty line at Rs. 32 and Rs 47 a day in rural and urban area respectively. The government claims that between 2009-10 and 2011-12, India has lifted 91.6 million people out of poverty and poverty ratio fell from 38.2% to 29.5%. But that is according to definition of poverty line set by government. Quality of life as an aspect of poverty eradication is still missing.

According to an estimate mentioned in Rangarajan’s report, 57% of a rural family’s budget and 47% of an urban family’s budget is spent to procure food alone.

According to economists and critics, a low poverty line has benefited government to project that millions have been lifted above poverty line when actual state of affairs is lot worse.

Let’s take a look at developed nations and their criteria for defining poverty. In United Kingdom, any citizen living with a current net income of less than Rs. 22,500 a week (over 3,000 a day), is poor.

In US, an individual with annual income less than $11,770 is below the Federal Poverty Level. A family of two and a family of four earning less than $15,930 and $24,520 per year respectively are poor.

Even South Africa’s poverty line was higher than that of India.

India’s latest Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC) projects a picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation. According to the survey, in which 300 million households were surveyed, 73% lived in rural areas and less than 5% earn enough to pay taxes. Only 2.5% of the total owned a 4-wheeler vehicle and less than 10% claimed salaried jobs. The literacy rate in rural India is also saddening. About 37.7% of residents can’t read or write.

India socio economic and caste census 2011

However, discussion rarely talked about these facts. While a few criticized extravagancies of rich over marriages and birthday parties when poor are starving to death, some others admitted how badly this image has hurt them. A foreigner put the misery of poor in the following words,

It’s really sad, but their cultural behavior is detrimental to progress. The whole country is covered with trash, they have no appreciation for hygiene, and they have no respect for one another. My dad worked there for a couple months and said it was the most miserable experience of his life. He said it seemed like people would kill people over for next to nothing. Like no one makes way for ambulances. They don’t care that someone is dying, they don’t want to be inconvenienced for a moment. It’s just one of those situations that money won’t fix.

Some others didn’t see any valid reason why they should restrict their spending just because others don’t have the same means. There were people who were so much moved by this image that they wanted to do something for that poor lady and the poor kid standing right behind her. May be, a box of sweets or money would help. As matter of fact, it does sound inefficient and insufficient to do a charity for one day for one person when the problem is gigantic. Crores of other continues to live their whole life below poverty line, hand-to-mouth. Misery haunts them their entire life.

Unfortunately, poverty is a catalyst for many other ill effects such as illiteracy, poor mental health, lack of awareness regarding their constitutional rights, anti-social behavior, maximum domestic violence and ill environment for children growing in these slums.

Slums or mohalla’s where these people are forced to spend their entire life are eyesores for government, businessmen, and property dealers. These people are hated for their unhygienic lifestyle and stinking locality consisting of ugly sheds. Try to remember scenes from the movie “Slumdog Millionair”. The reality is way far horrible for poor souls fighting for survival. Quality of life is the least thing that’ll come to their mind.

The government sanctions billions of rupees for development of slums and housing projects but very little have changed even after nearly 70 years of Independence. The poverty isn’t a natural phenomenon. It is manmade. Also, the corruption in government can’t be attributed to only politicians. Individual acts of corruption and silence of people also accounts for our nation’s misery. Our elected leaders are also a projection of our society.

India’s politicians have learnt well from British trick of ‘divide and rule’. India is divided by bars of caste, religion, region, class or status. Indian people have still not learned to respect common interests and community participation.

Biggest cause, as it seems, is that the people are deceived by those whom they consider their leaders. The creed of politicians has become vicious. It needs to be replaced and, eventually, it will be. But that’ll be possible only after individual reforms. All that people need to do is to be honest with themselves.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 7 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Watch: Locals expose HP PWD’s low-quality job in constructing parapets

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Kasauli road accident

Solan: On the intervening night of June 21 and 22, an SUV (HR -68 A-6061) fell off the Kasauli road in Gadkhal Tehsil of Solan district after the driver lost control of it. Three people were injured, and one of them was said to be in a critical condition.

As per the police, the driver lost control of the car due to some reason, which is being investigated. 

Meanwhile, a local youth with a couple of others, who did not identify themselves, filmed a video showing how a Duster car fell off the road by breaking two parapets.

The video was uploaded on social media by one Rajiv Kumar Koundal.

Video

The youth alleged that the car took two parapets with it because the quality of the work was extremely poor.

The youth alleged the parapets had nothing except stones and sand. He takes out some pieces from the broken parapet and crumbles them with his bare hand.

He demanded that the HP PWD should conduct an inquiry to punish the culprit contractor.

Such allegations are not new for the HP PWD. The department enjoys a profitable nexus with private contractors, and the government is well aware of it too. That is the reason these contractors manage to approve even the cheapest quality work in metalling roads or raising parapets and retaining walls.

A large number of accidents and number of the people getting injured in them could be reduced easily if the department could ensure a quality of work related to roadside safety measures that is at par with the standards.

The charge of the HP PWD lies with the Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, and the public expects some reforms under the new leader, which are not visible yet. 

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Another joke with safety of school children, another magisterial probe

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dharmpur school van accident

Mandi: Despite one of Himachal Pradesh’s most tragic accidents in Nurpur region of Kangra district on April 10, 2018, in which total 28 lives were lost including 24 school children, the state of affairs has not improved. The pictures of mass cremation of the deceased children still haunt parents.

Unfortunately, the Himachal Pradesh Government’s claims of taking safety measures and strictness towards overloading of school cabs did not last for even a month.

On Thursday, an overloaded van ferrying children to their homes from a private school, Spectrum Public School in Darwal of Dharmpur in Mandi district, fell down into a gorge. Against a capacity of five passengers, the van was carrying 12 children, who were mostly UKG and LKG students.

Gauri, a 10-year-old girl, succumbed to her injuries while 11 others sustained injuries. Other than head injuries, some children were screaming in pain as their limbs were fractured.

Sakshi, a 6-year-old, was fighting for her life at the Indira Gandhi Medical College, Shimla.

The other students were identified as Anshul (14), Manasi (9), Kavyansh (6), Bhupender (5), Sumit (14), Ashish Kumar (9), Aarav (6), Sara Thakur (8), Lakshay (6), and Lucky (6).

The preliminary investigation has made shocking revelations. An untrained teenage boy was driving the van, which is said to be registered in the name of the Chairman of the school. The reports said the school had been ferrying children in the private car of the Chairman to save taxes.

As per the initial report, the regular driver had handed over the lives of 12 children in the hands of his son, who was said to be a minor. The car owner was yet to submit documents of the vehicle while the driver was carrying no license.

However, the parents of the boy told the transport minister that their boy was 18 years old.

The statements of some of the children, who were in a condition to talk, suggested the driver was looking back at the children for they were making a noise. Initial reports also suggested that the boy was probably only a learner.

The locals, who first heard the screams of children and reached out for help, said it was a spine-chilling scene to see children drenched in blood and screaming in pain. Some locals carried children to the Sarkaghat hospital while others were carried in a 108 ambulance.

The mother of the girl, who succumbed to her injuries, reportedly fainted on hearing the news.

The Superintendent of Police Gurdev Sharma and Deputy Commissioner Rigdev Thakur rushed to the spot, and, in the evening, the transport minister Govind Singh Thakur also arrived at the Zonal Hosptial, Mandi, where the injured children were receiving treatment.

The DC ordered a magisterial probe into the case, as it was done after the Nurpur tragedy. The report had exposed the role of the HP PWD very clearly, but that did not move the government.

School Bus Accident in Himachal

Moreover, what was the outcome of the previous magisterial probe? Was anyone held responsible except the dead driver of the bus? Was any action taken against the officials of the HP Public Works Department for not repairing the collapsed part of the road from where the bus had skidded off?

The district administration, police, and government, all moved on within just two months of the tragedy.

The government had talked about implementing rules and regulations in the hiring of the drivers for the school buses and cabs. However, the current case raises the question whether the government was really serious about it or not. Otherwise, how is it possible that the drivers were switched without the knowledge of the school or the parents?

The parents also remain silent to overloading because last time when the school cabs were asked to not overload, they had hiked the monthly charges by two to three times. Overloading saves money for both the parents and the cab owners. But, is such money worth sacrifice of innocent children?

The standard of Himachal’s government schools and lack of quality education leaves no option for parents but to enrol their children in private school that extort hefty and unreasonable amount of money in the name of fees.

There is no policy regarding the responsibility of transportation facility to school children. Some of the institutes have their own buses, while a large number of others don’t. The parents are being looted by both the cab owners as well as the schools.

On the top of it, the inaction of the government against responsible officials is paving way for more accidents and more deaths. This loop will continue until it is not broken, which is next to impossible in our government work culture.

What’s the use of ordering magisterial probes if no action is taken against responsible persons?

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Rating BJP’s performance in Shimla MC on completion of one year

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BJP at Shimla MC

Shimla: The public of Shimla town on June 20, 2017, gave the command of the Municipal Corporation to Bharatiya Janata Party for the first time in 31 years. The SMC would complete one year in the office on the coming Wednesday.

Sadly, BJP’s inexperience and choice of candidates for responsible posts of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor backfired at the party. SMC has not only failed to establish coordination with its own Ward Councilors but also with the other government departments.

The SMC couldn’t even run the House or organize its session properly. Last week, the meeting of the House was reportedly cancelled as the Ward Councilors and the Mayor wanted to avoid confrontation over the water crisis. 

The situation of the town is only worsening. For instance, Shimla couldn’t find a place in top 100 cities in Swacch Bharat ranking, which was at 14 in 2014. 

As a matter of fact, the monthly charges for the door-to-door garbage collection were hiked but the facility did not improve. 

Shimla town not only faced loss to the hospitality industry due to recent unprecedented water-paucity but also faced embarrassment at international level as foreign media highlighted it. It was for the first time that the tourists were told to stay away from the town due to the water crisis.

On the top of it, the district administration and the SMC were not accepting that there was actually a crisis due to which public faced hardships for over two weeks and are still receiving rationed supply.

Let us take a look at some of the major promises of the BJP manifesto released before the election to the SMC in 2017. The major promises included: 

  1. 27×4 Water Supply
  2. Construction of Kol Dam and revival of over 30 natural resources to connect them to the town’s water supply through pipelines
  3. Better sanitation facilities and making the town garbage-free by installing dustbins at various places
  4. Introduction of bio-dustbins in the town
  5. Construction of parking complexes for as many as 10,000 vehicles to cut down traffic chaos
  6. Construction of fly-overs, escalators, and attractive footpaths to facilitate both locals and tourists
  7. Construction of gyms and refreshment centres in every Ward
  8. Making the town stray cattle and animal free
  9. Other than these main resolutions, there were several other promises in the manifesto, which are not even in the picture after one year

The water crisis of Shimla town speaks of the efforts made to fulfil 24×7 water supply, while heaps of garbage at market-places and about four strikes of the Shimla Heritage, Environment, and Beautification (SEHB) workers highlights the poor sanitation condition.

The Ward Councilors, as well as the Mayor, remained in news for quarrels over tours. The Mayor left the town and flew to China on a tour amid the most severe crisis it was facing. 

Now, on completion of one year, the Deputy Mayor is reportedly demanding a government vehicle while the Mayor was said to have asked for a new vehicle.

BJP’s poor performance has put it on the target of not only the oppositions but also the people.

Sanjay Chauhan, former mayor of Shimla and a prominent leader of the State Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had completed its five years term at the SMC in 2017, has termed the one year of the SMC as a complete failure.

Neither BJP could run the MC House properly, not it could uphold its dignity. The house hardly recorded any relevant discussions on matters of public interest. Rather, the Councilors were dissuaded whenever they tried to do so, said Sanjay.

For the first time in the SMC’s history, the ruling party had walked out of the House after failing to answer the questions of the Councilors, he said.

He further pointed out that no new schemes were introduced during the last one year. Instead, the MC could not make a progress of even an inch in the schemes that were already passed by the previous MC. Despite the availability of the funds, the new MC did not show any interest in the implementation of these schemes, he said. 

Chauhan said the list of incomplete projects includes the Smart City project (Rs, 2806 crores), World Bank-funded Kol dam drinking water scheme (875 crores) Amrut Yojana (243 crores), Tutikandi rope-way (200 crores), Shimla beautification project (66 crores) and other such projects worth 410 cores. 

Therefore, BJP-ruled SMC has failed to utilize about 4,700 crores sanctioned during the CPI (M) tenure for various schemes, he said. 

The CPI (M) said it was the first time that the city witnessed such chaos over the shortage of drinking water, which has dented the popularity of the town all over the world.

Another jolt to the SMC came after the High Court and the Governor had to take the responsibility of water supply and distribution on their shoulders.

No progress has been reported in the schemes of the public interest, which were due to be completed in 2017, Sanjay alleged. 

The SMC was supposed to complete the task of replacing meters by June 2017 and start issuing bills generated through meter readings, but it’s still pending in 2018, he said. 

Despite the availability of adequate funds, the task of replacing water pumps and supply pipelines at Gumma and Girri schemes was not undertaken within the provided time-frame.

He further added that no efforts were made for the betterment of sewerage management in some localities like Totu despite the availability of funds.

The work of multi-purpose and modern park at the Rani Ground in Kasumpti was also expected to be completed by June 2017.

In addition to Kaithu, Dhalli, Vikasnagar, Jivaanu Colony, Kasumpti, about 55 spots were already marked for the construction of parking lots in various localities and funds were already sanctioned. However, the SMC has not even started any construction work in last one year, said Sanjay. 

The construction of community buildings in Summerhill, Dhalli, Kaithu etc. is still pending despite funds. Similarly, he said, a provision of funds was made during the previous SMC for the construction of four labour hostels.

He further said the sanitation facilities in the town are in tatters for past one year. The SEHB workers went on strike for four times in one year due to the poor management of the SMC. The charges for the service of garbage collection were hiked and the salary of SEHB workers reduced.

Sanjay alleged that the SMC has handed over the contract of garbage collection to its favourite private company.

Moreover, he said, the court had to intervene during the strike of the workers, which confirms the incapability and insufficiency of the current MC.

The Mayor was most visible in local events as Chief Guest or kept herself tagged to the Chief Minister or Union Minister visits. However, she seems satisfied with her performance and told media that she did her best. 

For her, the inconvenience faced by the public during the recent water scarcity was just a lie told by the oppositions and media. 

The current Mayor and Deputy Mayor also faced criticism from BJP’s own Councilors. The opposition Congress had almost geared up for the dissolution of the SMC after sensing this defection within the ruling party.  

Once again, it would not be wrong to conclude that there has been more politics than efforts to fulfil the promises made in the manifesto.  

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