Union Budget 2019: The taxpayers need to see the brighter aspects.

Gone are the days when Indian middle class would switch on their TV sets in late evening on the budget day and try to calculate the gains and losses against Income tax slabs applicable to respective income groups.Over the years the poor electorate specially the struggling middle class and younger generation has reconciled to the fact that it may be a decade or two before we can be prosperous and advanced like some of the richer Asian/European countries. Chasing a dream of work Visa in Western country or job in oil rich nations is the only silver lining which younger generation can look up to after years of academic hard work . The glamorous life of young men with Mercedes and Audi and glamorous parties in farm houses are for blue blooded scions of builders and land mafia only.Hence there may not be much fun in calculating  the impact of Govt budgets from the tit bits offered.

Being a reflection of the ongoing trends in the Society, today the presentation of budget ( broadcast live in almost all cases) is reminiscent of  an exercise in marketing of a new product. The bitter pills are now a days not only sugar coated but also wrapped in silver foil and sometimes touted as acts of patriotism.The customer has to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The financial statements meant for public have been traditionally  compared to Bikni which is expected to reveal everything except the vital information. The continuously emerging political challenges and fears of loss in vote banks have given rise to a trend  for financial management focussed on camouflaging the gains and losses.

Over the years in the exercise for tax management, the middle class, which bears the burden of running the economy has been blessed by the various Governments with tax gains of inconsequential nature which are much hyped and blown out of proportion.Whenever some unwelcome adjustments are to be sold to the tax payers/vote banks the total figures of jump in collection are repeatedly trumpeted, (whereas individual taxpayer is concerned only with his individual gains and losses).

In earlier times the Budgets also had liberal sprinkling of  of literary or humorous  contents when the Finance Ministers (FM) would indulge into some funny anecdotes or Urdu Shairi before pushing through some major changes in rates of certain commonly used items.The literary content seems to have gone out of fashion in favour of  patriotic/jingoist vocabulary.Blaming all the bad things on Governments of past lightens the burden on hearts of ruling classes while making the electorate feel guilty for having given reins of power to such catastrophic conglomerates .

While presenting the budget the proposals for reduction into Excise duties used to be focussed on items, such as cosmetics and bindi and kajal which the FMs thought would improve their ratings in the eyes of mothers and sisters without causing dent in revenue collections . The hike earlier traditionally used to be for favourite items of bad boys such as liquor and tobacco but these two industries have also woken up to the vulnerability and appear to be doing more philanthropic work viz. sponsoring sports events and social events. So now the taxman is back to favourite shortcut of milking the middle class while simultaneously dangling tax concessions which can generally be harnessed by honest man only after cutting out all luxuries from the domestic budget.Everyone has to tighten belts for ensuring that savings get channelised to some respectable banks and insurance companies .

The middle class should also appreciate that there is no need to be overtly distressed for the assessment procedures are set to get “Modernised” moreover nowadays for the taxpayer there is also option for subscribing to so many charities of all nature. These contributions would take care of bovines or devotees reportedly engaged in welfare of humanity.For such generosity while the taxpayer would get concessions in tax liability, it may also ensure happiness in after life for the donor taxpayers   .

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The Interesting tradition of Akharas at Kumbh

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On arriving at Prayagraj we also got down to our dedicated research on Akharas and tried to know as much as possible during three days of stay. Akhara in common man’s language is the wrestling arena where wrestlers try out each other’s strength in freestyle wresting and also use the guidance and facilities attached with Akhara. In context of religious congregation this translates into a group of Sadhus and Saintly persons following Lord Shiva , Vishnu and Brahma gathered under one leading personality.

The saints and ascetics  stay together and follow respective religious rituals.According to apex body Akhil Bhartiya Akhara Parishad now there are 14 Akharas which gather at Kumbh Mela. Their  entries in Mela arena are in shape of majestic processions accompanied with elephants and horses with  pomp and show. Mela authorities mark out respective areas of stay . Akharas come out in processions when they proceed for bath dressed in traditional Sadhu attire which in several cases is smearing of bodies with religious ash only.The movements and activities are meticulously organised and controlled to obviate chances of any clashes or conflict.

On talking to Dharam gurus and old friends we came to know that among the faithful the common belief is that Akhara tradition originates from 8th century BC when venerated Adi Shankaracharya organised seven major Akharas  known as   Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Mahanirvani, Niranjani, and Juna Akharas. It is said that the Akharas were assigned twin role of spreading and preserving religious knowledge flowing from ancient scriptures (designated as Shastradhari) and that of promoting marital arts (designated as Astradharis) to form a protective cover for religious institutions. The Akharas were reportedly conceived to act as bulwark against assault on religious institutions specially in those turbulent times when country had to face onslaughts from invading armies.

In modern times the Akharas are categorised as followers of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu  besides followers of Brahma. In the Kumbh held in 2018 an all female Akhara comprising of Sadhvis known as Pari Akhara joined the group of famous Akahras. From the  present Kumbh Akahra Parishd  has reportedly added Kinnar Akhara to cover transgender Akharas . The faithfuls who chose to stay at Mela grounds as part of religious and devotional duties are known as Kalapwasi Akhara.

Below are links to some interesting processions by famous Akharas (available on U tube ) for those readers who prefer to enjoy the winter from comfort of their quilts.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-_yF8bGm_EE

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HyWdO2aT-Yc

An evening to remember with stalwarts of civil services at Nehru Museum

In January 2019 while skipping through my morning daily I came up with a news item indicating that a brilliant young person who had shone exceedingly well in the Civil Services Exams just a few years back had decided to quit, citing certain social issues as reason for disillusionment with the services.The news came as a bit of shock to me.

I have been fortunate for being a part of bureaucratic setup in a cadre which offered postings in more than one  State and Union Territories. Moreover being offspring of a civil servant, in one of the largest States in the country, I have also been witness to the all pervasive presence of civil services during my father’s service tenure. Over my formative years I had developed a feeling that Civil Services were the only option for a person who desired to be always in the main stream of events and it was the vehicle which helped growth of  those who nourished a hunger for contributing to the maximum extent in the task of doing public good

Later while being in Civil Services the perception which had persistently grown within was that Civil Services touch lives of so many of people that one can always look back with contentment about achievements in hardest postings and most challenging environment.In other words if anyone wants to be a part of process of change there was no option but to join Civil Services.In fact it was this perception which had attracted bright young men and women with diverse professional qualifications, including the young man in question to the Civil Services. However I also felt that everyone has a right to decide about his life and career matters and we can only wish good luck to the young man who has decided to quit in support of his convictions.

 My feeling of gloom was however short lived . Shortly thereafter I received a message for attending a book launch on 10th January by Mr.Suresh Prabhu a Central Minister at Nehru Museum Auditorium New Delhi.The book titled “100 ideas to Improve Governance in India ” has been authored by Mr. JK Dadoo an ex IAS from AGMUT cadre. (AGMUT stands for Arunachal, Goa Mizoram and Union Territories ). The career of the author has spanned postings offering varied experiences at senior and junior level . In fact it appears to be a true example of potential offered by Civil Services to young men and women to shine and make impact in multiple postings with extremely varied environments.His success all over his career reinforced my perception of the glorious opportunity offered by a career in Civil Services for making contribution in varied sectors all over the country .

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Mr. Dadoo who had been in Civil Services since early 80s had a background of impeccable academic credentials as alumni of St. Columbas School & St.Stephens College Delhi and one of the premium Management Schools beside periodic stints at business schools outside the country.The Civil Services no doubt offered him an ideal platform for growth. While presenting the book to readers the author has explained how the material came up from experience gained from his assignments on key posts in various sectors .

wdr0g0rru6xruildzjkna Key note address by the author

The author has shared knowledge in form of compilation of short notes suggesting reforms for varied sectors spread over topics such as taxation, commerce, technology, health sectors etc.The book touches on subjects as wide as Rationalisation of Tax rates to Development of Artificial Intelligence for face recognition.The author seems to possess exceptional ability for having been able to find time for futuristic ideas such as Use of Drones for Medical Assistance in Remote areas and Promoting Sperm Banks with Modern Technology with equal adeptness.

Having opened the book an interested reader is inclined to complete it in one sitting. As the Author has himself suggested it is also very useful piece of compilation for persons appearing for interviews in Civil Services as core issues on so may contemporary topics are discussed.While the book launch also provided excellent opportunity for interacting with stalwarts of AGMUT cadre including Mr. Shakti Sinha an Ex IAS of AGMUT cadre now at helm of Nehru Museum- another example of Civil Servants shining in varied sectors, I also felt vindicated over my perception on importance and role of Civil Services. 

 

 

Indian Bnbs: A Magna Carta for BnB home stay and tourism Industry

It is often said that except for a few, most Civil Servants just ride into sunset post retirement and settle down to the comforts of their farm houses or hill retreats.But the exceptional cases who retain their flair for creative writing and research work outshine even the experts in the field and deliver amazing pieces of erudite research even in unexplored areas.One such example which can be cited is the book titled ” Indian BnBs- an emerging disruptor in Hospitality Sector “.The book is co authored by GG Saxena an Ex IAS officer from Delhi along with two qualified experts in the field Ambuj and Anshul. Taking tourism to heart while being posted as MD of Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation , “GG” as we fondly call him went on to complete a Phd in Bed and Breakfast hotels and launched a hospitality related venture BnB Nation with Ambuj and Anshul. His recently launched book adds to his credentials as a national level tourism expert.

I picked up the book out of sheer curiosity. During my post retirement holiday trips to Europe, Singapore, Japan and China BnB ads for accommodations such as these  have been a familiar sight.

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But it was not known to me that the concept had picked up so fast in our country. Indian BnBs comes as eye opener. The book gives a detailed insight into the legislative and regulatory frame works which various State Govts. have brought out realising the potential of this sector . Laced with data and interesting case studies the book goes on to make comparative analysis of costs involved in setting up BnB hospitality, showing how a BnB accommodation costs a small fraction of cost involved in setting up a Hotel room. It has been explained that with technological improvements and availability of verification platforms now it is much simple for the guest and host to verify trustworthiness of each other.

As the tourists coming to India have a desire to soak into Indian culture and culinary delights BnB accommodations are the exact answer for such tourists. Indian BnBs in fact discusses inspiring success stories of some of entrepreneurs who have been skilfully  managing such accommodation with their own ingenuity.No doubt several Universities have in such short time picked up the book as referral book.

The authors have ended the book with several suggestions for Govt which can help this sector to grow into a major source of employment for young and old with minimum investment and there by tap immense hidden potential in tourism sector.With such hand holding support from experts the day may not be far off when our BnBs shall pose challenge to likes of Air BnB the world famous operators in this field.

{Authors have informed that the book is published through Pragun Publications 4224/1Ansari Raod Daryaganj New Delhi-110002.(mail:pragun@dkpd.com:Web: http://www.dkpd.com)}

 

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Recommendations of VIIth CPC:Suggestions for Performance linked Incentive Schemes

 

The  VII CPC has examined the status of performance related incentive schemes presently in practise on basis of recommendations of the VIth CPC in Chapter 15 of the report and made certain important suggestions.

Tracing the evolution of such incentives it has referred to the report of 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission which had visualised such incentives as a prerequisite for an effective governance system. The issue was taken up by Vth and VIth CPC as a tool for providing incentive for effective Administration.The Scheme formulated by VI CPC covered organisations as well as individuals.

The previous Pay Commission had made the implementation of  the Scheme optional for the various units after taking into consideration the difference in functional scope of various units of Government. The implementing Departments had to draw a roadmap of activities and harmonise the same with individual achievements. It had added the condition of Departments having prepared a Results Framework Document (RFD) for two preceding years, and also several additional measures such as developing IT based attendance and performance monitoring systems.

The recommendations had failed to make  major impact in face of difficulties in making requisite budgetary provisions, absence of clear performance evaluation parameters and aberrations such as high achievers caught in mediocre environments. The Commission has also noted the failure of earlier schemes of Performance Linked Bonus (PLB) conceived for Govt. Servants due to absence of clear, quantifiable targets and performance evaluation of any individual.

The Commission in it’s report has pointed out that in public services the objectives are not quantifiable in monetary terms like private sector organisations.The task of laying down the parameters for performance evaluation and reward for different services and Government Departments is therefore rather complex. However there are precedents in other countries where such schemes for incentivising good performers through objective criteria have been implemented with success. Some countries have evolved separate set of norms for senior civil servants and junior functionaries.

Considering all factors the CPC has observed that exercise for evolving a system for performance based rewards should be preceded by proper understanding of the system, adequate planning and capacity building at various levels.The vagaries of Govt.functions makes it impossible to devise a common performance based incentive Scheme. The Commission has suggested simple and effective schemes which should have common features for the Department. It has been suggested that the reward system should be an annual feature and should not be linked to savings effected by the employee.

In conclusion the Commission has recommended introduction of Performance Related Pay for all categories of Central Government employees, based on quality RFDs, reformed Annual Performance Appraisal Reports and broad Guidelines.The Performance Related Pay should subsume the existing Bonus schemes. The Commission notes that there could be a time lag in implementing the Performance Related Pay by different Departments.In the interim period the Ministries and Departments can review the existing Bonus Schemes and create linkage  with increased profitability/productivity with definite parameters.

Another important suggestion made by the CPC pertains to weightage to be given for in the APAR to personal attributes of the public servant in comparison to his performance in achievement of results.The Commission feels that it should be in ration of 40:60 instead of current  ratio of 60:40.

It has also strongly pleaded for fixation of definite time frame for drafting, reviewing and finalising  RFDs .It would also be necessary that these timelines get synchronised with the preparation of the APAR ..”so that the targets set under RFD get reflected in individual APARs in a seamless manner.”

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Final Verdict on conviction of Juvenile

Last three years in Delhi have seen many ups and downs in the trial of  persons involved in tragic case of brutalisation of a girl in Delhi on 16th December 2012.The horrible crime committed in heart of National Capital witnessed protests from young and old in most vocal fashion. The local police and the trial court under pressure of public opinion acted swiftly and finalised the proceedings leading to conviction of six accused. Moved by the force of public resentment the Govt. tried it’s best to save the life of the young victim, even sending her for treatment abroad. There was also some show of strict action against petty Govt. servants whose negligence is believed to have created enabling conditions for bus operators with shady credentials to operate in the National Capital.The identity of victim was kept a guarded secret and name Nirbhaya (fearless) was given to the victim in appreciation of her fighting spirit.

Yet much remains to be done. The eldest of the accused among the six perpetrators of crime committed suicide -perhaps out of feeling of guilt,being a middle aged family man.The youngest having been found to be a juvenile at the time of committing of crime is now a free man having completed detention period of three years.The remaining four persons convicted by lower rungs of judiciary still evade the hangman’s noose since their appeal against the conviction is yet to be deliberated upon by the Apex court.

Country’s  law makers had left no stone unturned to shed crocodile tears on the tragedy. At the last stage when the juvenile accused completed his period of detention and his release appeared imminent,headline grabbing opportunities were contrived  by making a show of knocking at midnight at the doors of Supreme Court- a dramatic move  which expectedly proved to be unproductive being not supported by law.Country is still waiting for legislative action to plug loopholes which came to fore in dealing with juveniles responsible for heinous crimes.

It is a moot point whether the wide publicity given to this case has brought about any respect for law or it has helped the younger generation of women in feeling secure.Tragically in the three years which followed the mass uprising against crime against women, young women have continued to suffer in the National Capital as well as in rest of the country .

While the curtains appear to be drawing on the tragic case we are confronted with the faces of two mothers whose heart bleeds for a child lost for no fault of theirs.On one side is the face of a mother who regrets the fact that one of the offenders is walking away free due to complexity of law. She feels guilty for not having  been able to secure justice for her brutally treated daughter .On the other side is face of a mother in a remote village who had no choice when her young child was moved over to a big city in search of livelihood and got sucked into a vicious life of crime.This mother perhaps also feels guilty for not having been able to give her due to the child.

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Rediscovering Lucknow- the City of Nawabs


Lucknow the Capital of Uttar Pradesh,popularly called as the City of Nawabs,was my home town for several long years.The city has a rich historical and cultural heritage laden with art and literary works. Mythology suggests that the city has  been setup by Lord Lakshman hence named also as  Lakshmanpur.

 

The unique composite culture of doaba i.e. land of rivers Ganga and Yamuna has fostered the growth of literary traditions of Hindi literature as well as Urdu poetry known as Shero-Shairi .Colourful stories in back drop of Lucknow culture and history  have   provided inspiration and motivation to celluloid masters of Bollywood to spin some unforgettable masterpieces like Gurudatt’sChaudavin Ka Chand Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana starrer lyrical Mere Mehboob and tale of two ex Nawabs in Satyajit Ray‘s Shatranj Ke Khilari,.

Around 35 years ago I had boarded Lucknow Mail the popular train to Delhi from Lucknow’s Charbagh Railway  Station to join my new job.

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The Charbagh Railway Station

In between the city was revisited for short spells for occasional family commitments.When I had to recently make a series of short stays at the place for finalising some family matters, there was an opportunity for re bonding with the city.

Now having retired I had no time constraints, and there was ample time to freshly savour the history and culture of the town and have a leisurely trip down the memory lane.

The Chaudhary Charan Singh Airport at Lucknow is named after the famous Kisan leader and one time Prime Minister of India. Coming out of the Terminal a towering statue of former PM greets the visitor.

Initial glimpse of the city while driving through  Airpot Road is quite majestic as Mayawati regime has decked up the drive from Airport to city with lavishly built monuments and Parks.

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The Samta Chowk

 
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City Skyline from dusk to  nightfall

Our stay in Lucknow at UPTDC owned Hotel Gomti offered view of an ancient house from the window and city skyline which looked more beautiful as dusk settled and later night fell and skyline lit up with exciting colours.

 

For the morning exercises the proximity of the place to botanical garden made it the best choice.

Exotic Flowering Species at the Botanical Garden

The Lucknow Botanical Garden has been made to grow into a collection of exotic plants in back drop of  a beautiful pond with water lilies. Joggers and morning walkers spread out on the middle area for utilisation of green lawn for yoga and aerobics.

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Panormic View of The Botanical Garden
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Early bird Health freaks at the Garden
The ShahNazaf Imambara

The Shahnazaf Imambara in the vicinity is being given a facelift as if it is coming out to welcome the visitors and faithful .

Mosque at the Immabara 

A mosque in proximity gives an insight into architectural accomplishment of architects and masons in the middle ages .

 

 

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Portrait of Wazid Ali Shah

The lobby at Hotel Gomti has a large beautiful painting of Wazid Ali Shah last of the Nawabs who is remembered for his munificence and love for art forms. His regime had provided the backdrop for movie Shatranj Ke Khilari. 

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With opening of Malls all over the city the landscape appears to have changed with time, but city has still retained the old world charm. Hazratganj the less than 2 km long stretch of market in heart of town covering  land mark buildings like GPO, Northern Railway Hqs and the Press Club besides the old Hanuman temple still remains the favourite shopping destination for upmarket Lucknowites.

 The GPO Building Lucknow
Panormic view at Press Club crossing

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Hanuman Temple at Hazratganj

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NR Hqs

While taking a stroll down the Hazratganj it was quite noticeable that with the fencing of walkways, the strolling along the footpaths (popularly referred to as “ganjing” in code book of students in old times) is no longer the pleasant experience it used to be, and popular hotspots such as lover’s lane have also vanished.Off course the addition of hotspots like Cafe Coffee Day and Aryan near Raj Bhawan has blended a new upmarket dimension to the ambience and compensated for the loss.

The Hazarat Ganj Market
It was a pleasant surprise to rediscover  the tantalising taste of tikki and pani ke batashe at MotiMahal Sweets and the malai paan at Ramasrey Halwai and to realise that skills of these masters of culinary delight have remained unchanged over the years.
Tomb of Begum Hazarat Mahal

As Hazratganj stretches towards river Gomti, historical buildings pop up from every corner.A turn to left takes us to Bara(large) Imambara and Chhota (small)Imambara.

Bara Imambara constructed in 18th Century by Nawab Asifuddaulah is also known as Asifi Immabara.There are tombs, mosques and other structures which are connected with royal activities. Chhota Imambara has a lighting Hall decorated with imported lamps.A local guide on visit to the place opens up loads of stories about royal behaviour, secret passages underneath and insight about architectural highlights.

Panormic View At Bara Imambara



There are anecdotes about royal treasures and underground tunnels which were to provide escape routes in ancient times.Close to Imambara is the clock tower with ancient picture gallery which has paintings depicting Royalty in full glory.Interesting insight into Royal charities is offered in the Wasikadar office located in the clock tower.The descendants of Royal family and other beneficiaries of Royal patronage are known as Wasikadars. The office maintains volumes of records for ensuring regular payments which may be as low as a handful of rupees.But being  a Wasikadar means being a part of royalty , something to be proud of to no extent.
History has left behind it’s footprints in shape of another land mark which are the ruins of British Fortress known as Residency- the place where families of British Resident and other Britishers stationed in Lucknow were staying when the city was besieged by soldiers of British Army under Mutiny in year 1857.
 

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The Ruins of Residency

89c38-thumb_img_4692_1024 The Museum At Residency









Residency with lush green lawns and preserved structures bears mute testimony to historic events of the era.A museum in the basement has rare collection of pictures and writings connected to uprising which was labelled as “Sepoy Mutiny” by the British.

As population increased Lucknow continued to grow beyond Gomti river as colonies of Niralanagar and Mahanagar came up.  Further stretching of city limits has added up Janaki Puram , Gomti Nagar and Indira Nagar taking the city upto outpost of Chinhat .As Metro Rail Construction Boards dominate the skyline even Wajid Ali Shah would find it difficult to locate his Lucknow.

The city of Nawabs in ancient times was famous for Nazakat and Nafasat two Urdu words meaning delicacy of style and tastes. Nazakat and Nafasat epitomised the character of Lucknowite in middle ages.The traditions have been meticulously preserved in Chickan Art works (very finely embroidered garments for both sexes) and semi solid Galouti kababs of famous Tunday Kababi in Aminabad in old city. 
 
Luckhnawi Tehzib in times of Nawabs was summed up as”Pahle Aap” culture, meaning “..Please Sir…you first”.There is a famous joke referring to two Nawabs who could not board a train as they kept on requesting each other to board the train first…”Pehle AAP..Pehle AAP”….and the train whistled and left the station.

Now as Metro Train network is coming up in the city Lucknowites shall definitely need to give up at least this one part of traditional culture  while boarding and de boarding the Metros or the slide gates would be locked !!.

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