NEW DELHI: Calling former Union Minister late Ram Vilas Paswan a great human being, senior advocate and Padam Shri awardee HS Phoolka on Friday remembered Paswan and said that his house was burnt during the 1984 riots as he gave shelter to Sikhs.
Paying tribute to the late LJP leader, Phoolka, who has fought a long legal battle for the victims of the 1984 Sikh riots, said that Paswan saved several Sikhs during the 1984 riots. “For that, a mob attacked his house, he had to jump the rear wall to save his own life. He played a key role in defusing the tense situation during that time,” he said.
Ram Vilas Paswan, one of the tallest Dalit leaders in Bihar and founder of the Lok Janshakti Party, passed away at the age of 74 on Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president JP Nadda, and several senior leaders paid tribute to the late leader at his residence today.
Phoolka said Paswan also cooperated during the investigation and filed an affidavit before the Nanwati Commission over the riots.
Phoolka also said Paswan, in his affidavit, mentioned how he saved the life of a Sikh man during the violence.
The affidavit said, “He stated that one Sardarji who was hiding somewhere was beaten mercilessly by a mob. He fled from that place and had sought refuge in my residence. He was an old man badly wounded. The mob followed him to my residence but the guards at the gate closed the gates. He was offered water. I rang up the Parliament Street Police Station many times but there was no response. Even calling Number 100 did not bring forth any result. Then, I again rang up the Home Minister at about 3 pm, narrated the entire incident to his private secretary and he assured that the police will come soon. But nobody came.”
The affidavit said that sometime later, the mob surrounded the residence of Paswan from all sides. “My bodyguard Joginder Prasad Singh and Mahinder Betha know many faces in the mob and can appear as a witness if and when required. The mob was shouting anti-Sikh slogans. Apprehending more trouble, my Bodyguard fired in the air to scare the unlawful assembly. But as the mob highly outnumbered all of us, it broke open the gate, set fire to the garage in my house and also set fire to a Bihar Bhawan car parked there,” the affidavit said.
“They entered the rooms also. We managed to save our lives by escaping through the servant quarters situated at the rear wall of the house. Then they caught hold of the injured old Sardarji who could not run along with us and threw him alive in the burning garage, where he was roasted alive,” it added.
The affidavit said that on the morning of November 1, 1984, Paswan along with Karpoori Thakur, Devi Lal and KR Arya held a meeting at the residence of Chowdhary Charan Singh to take stock of the situation and take remedial measures to diffuse the tension.
“We went in a car to Tilak Nagar to assess the whole situation. On the way, our vehicle was stopped at many places by mobs gathered there. They let us go only after ensuring that there was no Sikh with us. We saw that there was smoke everywhere and there were many groups of miscreants standing at many places. We returned to the residence of Chowdhary Charan Singh at about noon-time,” Paswan had said in the affidavit.
“On November 1, 1984, I also went to meet Gyani Zail Singh, the then President of India at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Chowdhary Charan Singh, Karpoori Thakur and Sharad Yadav were also with me. We explained to him that Delhi was burning and there no police administration worth name existing. We told him that at many places the police did not take any action when the unruly people indulged in the illegal act of violence, arson and murder, etc,” it added.
Death of an infant shows cruelty of starving in a country of food abundance
Nafisa watched her baby’s life drain away.
She and her husband struggled to make even 1 rupee (1 cent) a day from their tailoring business after India went into a Covid-19 lockdown in March. They often have nothing to eat. Nafisa was breast-feeding little Aaris, and with hardly any food for herself, she simply couldn’t produce enough milk. He grew weak, and his skin yellowed with jaundice. Hungry and in pain, he sobbed and howled. He died in his mother’s arms just a few weeks into the lockdown, at four months old.
It was an especially cruel tragedy because it happened in a country that boasts about having the world’s largest food-aid program. Government warehouses brim with more than 70 million metric tons of grains, or almost 15% of global stockpiles, and the nation’s wheat and rice harvests have surged to records. Still, like millions of other Indians, Nafisa has never gotten any of the subsidized food promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration. Her 5-year-old son, Salman, doesn’t even bother asking for food anymore, because he knows there’s no point.
Millions Missing Cheap Food in India Where Grain Depots Are Bulging “My son died due to hunger when he was four months old. We don’t have a ration card that could have supported us.” said Nafisa, at her home in the Banda district. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg “Nobody is listening to us,” 24-year-old Nafisa, who goes by a single name, said from the Banda district in Uttar Pradesh state. Recounting how she applied in vain time and again for the ration card that would help feed her family, she broke down in tears.
“If we had the card, at least we could feed our child.”
Governments across the world have failed to prevent a hunger crisis that is reaching monumental proportions. Globally, as many as 132 million more people than previously projected by the United Nations could go hungry in 2020. The total increase for this year could be more than triple any this century, even at a time of ample food supplies, as the pandemic sharpens the world’s deep inequalities.
Covid-19 is also exposing India’s big divides, like access to quality health care and proper sanitation. And of course, there’s the basic question of who gets to eat, and who doesn’t. Even before the lockdowns, roughly three-quarters of the population (more than 1 billion people) couldn’t afford a healthy diet.
To meet the need, the government is required by law to provide as many as 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of rice, wheat and coarse grains at subsidized rates as low as 1 rupee per kilogram to anyone who needs it. The cheap staple foods are sold at so-called fair price shops, where buyers need a government issued ration card to make a purchase at the give-away rates. India spends more than 1 trillion rupees ($13.6 billion) on the program.
But there are still tens of millions getting locked out of the assistance.
Bureaucratic difficulties were cited by the government’s think tank Niti Aayog as the single most-important reason blocking access to the food program. Raja Bhaiya, the secretary of aid group Vidya Dham Samiti which works in the Banda district, said some shopkeepers also direct grain that’s meant for the program for their own sales, at higher prices.
The biggest problem with the program, though, is that it’s woefully underfunded. More than 100 million people are being left out of the current budget, according to Jean Dreze, a visiting professor with Ranchi University in eastern India, who helped draft the national food law. The government is allotting its funds using 2011-2012 census data. Back then, the population was a little more than 1.2 billion. Now it’s grown to roughly 1.38 billion.
Siraj Hussain is a former chairman of state-run Food Corp. of India, the agency that oversees the food procurement program. He agrees about the problems with the old figures. The dated census data means that the actual number of those in need “is not known,” said Hussain, who’s now a visiting senior fellow at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
That means local agencies like the one Nafisa visited receive more applications than they have quotas for, according to two officials with the program in Uttar Pradesh who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. There are thousands of pending applications in the rural Banda district, according to one of the officials. The majority of those applicants should technically be granted approval based on the food law, but because local quotas are already filled, they are usually rejected or left in limbo. Only when someone who’s already enrolled in the program dies or is otherwise deleted from the list does a spot open to issue a new card, the officials said.
Sudhanshu Pandey, India’s food secretary, acknowledged that government benefits are being calculated based on the old census data in emailed comments to Bloomberg. The federal government is responsible for procurement, storage and bulk allocation of food grains to states, which are responsible for identifying beneficiaries and issuing ration cards, he said. The food department is regularly advising states to cover any left-out eligible persons, within the coverage limits, he said. During the pandemic, the program has been scaled up, with Uttar Pradesh alone adding about 4 million people.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state. The Banda district, Nafisa’s home, is among the poorest, with its children suffering some of the worst rates of stunting from malnutrition in the country.
Anand Kumar Singh, district magistrate of Banda, didn’t respond to emailed questions. Bloomberg tried more than five times to speak to him on the phone.
Millions Missing Cheap Food in India Where Grain Depots Are BulgingRation card holders collect food from a state-run ration store in Banda. There are thousands of pending applications in the rural Banda district, according to an official at a local agency. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg Nafisa has made several trips to the local office where she’s supposed to sign up for the ration card. Each time she gets turned away without one, and she’s never given a clear reason why.
“We are in a dire situation,” she said. “There is nothing in the kitchen.”
The government has taken some steps to mitigate the situation as Covid-19 continues to spread — India now has the second-highest number of cases in the world, trailing only the U.S. Stimulus measures include offering an additional 5-kilogram grain package per person for free until November to the more than 800 million who are covered by the food program. On top of that, about 80 million migrant workers, some of whom don’t have access to the food program, were also offered grains for free in May and June.
Millions Missing Cheap Food in India Where Grain Depots Are BulgingThe flats where Nafisa and Mubina Khatoon live in Banda. Khatoon applied for a ration card again in June. Each time she checks with her local agency, she’s told that it’s still in process. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg The virus outbreak is also accelerating India’s push to digitize the food-rationing system, allowing citizens to receive entitlements anywhere in the country rather than just in their home towns.
But the problem remains that millions haven’t been granted access to the program.
Ram Kumar, who also lives in the Banda district, first applied for a ration card in 2019. Since then, he’s made trip after trip to the agency to inquire about his status. Each time he’s offered what feels like a different excuse for why he hasn’t been approved yet.
“The officials scold us when we go to check the status,” the 39-year-old said.
He’s been out of work for months, relying on savings to feed his family of four. Now, the money has run out. His wife and two children have left to live at his in-laws’ houses. To feed himself, he’s sunken into a debt trap — first borrowing from his employer, then taking a loan from village lenders to pay back that advance on his salary.
“I will try again for a ration card when the next government comes to power, and if that doesn’t happen we will continue living like this,” he said. “I never expected it would be that difficult to get a ration card.”
Millions Missing Cheap Food in India Where Grain Depots Are BulgingUnemployed migrant worker Ram Kumar prepares to cook at his home in the Banda district. To feed himself, he’s sunken into a debt trap. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg The government is hesitating to expand the program to cover more people as higher expenses on subsidized food will widen the nation’s fiscal deficit, said Dreze of Ranchi University.
Some economists in the country are calling for a universal public distribution system, removing the need for a ration card to access the subsidized-grain stores and opening them up since the state is sitting on huge crop stockpiles.
“I would favor providing food to all who arrive at the ration shops,” said Rohini Pande, Henry J. Heinz II professor of economics and director of Yale University’s Economic Growth Center. “The government should also sell other essential items such as edible oil, sugar, vegetables and milk at subsidized rates.”
Mubina Khatoon, a 34-year-old homemaker in the Banda district, first applied for a ration card back in 2019. That application was canceled by the local office, though she wasn’t told why.
Back then, Khatoon’s family would end their days with meals of rice, lentils and vegetables, even meat or fish on occasion. But now her husband, Sheeraj Ahamad, is lucky when his work as a hawker selling clothes brings in 200 rupees once in a while. A stark turnaround after making as much as 600 rupees a day in the months before Covid. Dinner these days is often little more than chapatis, a homemade flatbread made from wheat flour.
Millions Missing Cheap Food in India Where Grain Depots Are BulgingKhatoon displays the amount of grain she has left to feed her family. Dinner is often little more than homemade flatbread. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg In just a few months, Khatoon dropped 9 kilograms (20 pounds). Her 11-year-old son is down almost the same. Her husband, who carries a heavy load of clothes from to village to village, is down a whopping 20 kilograms, she said.
Khatoon applied again for a ration card in June, and each time she checks with her local agency, she’s told that it’s still pending.
“What do we eat to survive? What do we feed our child?” she said. “All our food containers are empty.”
Protesting AAP MLAs spend night in Punjab assembly complex
CHANDIGARH: Protesting against non supply of copies of the proposed legislation to be tabled in the special session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha against the Centre’s farm laws, 13 MLAs of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) spent Monday night inside the assembly.
Earlier, on Monday, the AAP MLAs remained on sit-in inside the House till 7pm even after it was suspended for the day. Later, they were requested to move so that the assembly hall could be sanitised for the next day and the protesting MLAs moved their protest to the MLAs’ lounge outside.
The proposed bill will be tabled in the House on Tuesday and the AAP MLAs wanted a copy of the draft well in advance to study it.
Leader of opposition (LoP) Harpal Singh Cheema accused the Congress government of conspiring against the interests of farmers of Punjab by withholding important information regarding deadly Bills related to the future of Punjab, to be tabled in the House.
He said that CM Amarinder Singh, along with the then Manmohan Singh government, got a standing ovation for the alleged “bogus” water cancellation act, bringing no cheer to Punjab. The LoP alleged that the contentious laws were being introduced on similar lines by the Amarinder Singh government in cahoots with the Modi government at the centre.
The AAP leader further asked why the information was being kept a top guarded secret, adding that it should have been passed provided to the opposition and the representatives of farmers’ organizations and other agriculture legal luminaries.
CAA to be implemented soon, TMC believes in divide and rule politics: Nadda
SILIGURI: BJP national president J P Nadda on Monday said the execution of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and asserted that the law would be implemented soon.
Nadda, who was speaking at a meeting of social groups of north Bengal, accused the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal of indulging in “divide and rule politics” in the state to serve the political interests of her party – the TMC, unlike the BJP which “works for the development of all”.
“As far as the CAA is concerned, it has already been passed in parliament. All of you will get the benefits of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. We are committed to it,” Nadda said.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, its implementation got delayed. But as the situation is slowly improving, the work has started. The rules are now being framed and CAA will be implemented very soon. Under this act all the eligible people will definitely get Indian citizenship,” Nadda told the social groups, who included Dalits, Gorkhas, Rajbanshis and other tribes.
Various social groups of the region had requested Nadda to ensure early implementation of the CAA as there is a vast population of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan in north Bengal.
As the local sentiment was in favour of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which later became an act, the saffron party had made deep inroads in the region, once considered a TMC bastion, by bagging seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Assembly polls are due in the state in April-May next year, and the fight for power promises to be a tough one as Banerjee will seek to return as chief minister for the third straight time.
North Bengal, which comprises eight districts, accounts for 54 of the 294 assembly seats.
Indicating that the CAA would be a major poll plank of the BJP in the assembly polls, Nadda said the party is committed to its implementation.
The citizenship law had become a flashpoint in West Bengal since before its enactment in parliament in 2019 with the ruling TMC opposing the contentious legislation tooth and nail and the BJP pressing for its implementation.
According to state BJP sources, the CAA will benefit more than 1.5 crore people across the country, including over 72 lakh in the West Bengal.
Lashing out at the TMC government for its alleged “divide and rule policy” in Bengal, Nadda said only the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi can take everybody along as he believes in the policy of “development for all”.
“On one hand you have Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji who works for the development for all and on the other hand, you have West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who has employed the policy of divide and rule to serve TMC’s political interests,” he said.
“Our philosophy is to take everyone along, but the philosophy of TMC divides the society and that party indulges in the politics of vote bank during the elections,” he said.
Continuing his attack on the TMC, which has often been a harsh critic of the saffron party, the BJP president accused it of pursuing “appeasement” policies and indulging in vote bank politics.
“Mamta Banerjee government has deeply hurt and humiliated the Hindu community in the state. As elections are approaching, the TMC sensing a backlash has changed its tune and is now trying to lure people with all sorts of things,” he said.
The only thing that the TMC does is to indulge in the politics of vote bank, whereas the BJP only indulges in the politics of serving every citizen, he said.
Nadda assailed the TMC government for not joining several central schemes, including Ayushman Bharat and PM Kisan Samman Nidhhi which he said were meant for the poor and farmers.
Stating that 76 lakh farmers of West Bengal are being deprived of government help under Kisan Samman Nidhhi because Banerjee did not allow its implementation, he said, “Mamata Ji stop doing politics with the rights of poor people. The day BJP forms government in Bengal within moments, we will implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme and PM Kisan Samman Nidhhi in the state”.
Nadda thanked the Gorkha groups for their continued support to the BJP and said the party is committed to the “permanent political solution” to the problems of the Darjeeling hills and the demand for the recognition of 11 scheduled tribes of the Gorkha community.
“Their empowerment is our responsibility. Both the issues are there in our manifesto (2019 Lok Sabha polls). We are committed to it,” he said.
Reaching out to the tea garden labourers in north Bengal, Nadda said the BJP government at the Centre had abolished the Plantation Labour Act and have been brought under the Minimum Wages Act.
Nadda also urged the BJP MPs from the state to make a list of all the local products in the state and formulate a scheme and a roadmap for their expansion. The Centre will brand and market these local products all across the world, he said.
He exuded confidence that the BJP will form the next government in West Bengal as the people there were fed up with the “violence and corruption” culture of the TMC.
Condoling the death of BJP MLA Devendra Nath Roy, who was found hanging near his house in North Dinajpur district, Nadda asserted that the party will take the matter to its logical conclusion as per the law and under the guidance of democracy.
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