Row over a wet pitch
A ssam, and for that matter Guwahati has been into this habit of very often grabbing the news headlines for wrong reasons. The latest is the one-day T20I cricket match between India and Sri Lanka, which had to be abandoned after the pitch was found to be too damp for use following a two or three quick showers that lashed the city last Sunday. While the rain-gods played spoilsport with an untimely winter shower, what has, however, become louder is the allegation that the Assam Cricket Association was not well-prepared to meet any exigency. While preparedness for an unannounced rain, like preparedness for crowd management, is a must for organizers hosting such mega international sports events, the Assam Cricket Association had allegedly made a joke of itself by trying to dry the pitch using implements and equipments that were too small for drying a cricket pitch. Those who have found a new mode of expression through social media platforms went to every extent to hit out at the Assam Cricket Association and its present set of office-bearers, making critical and often cheap comments which in no manner can contribute towards reversing the situation. Though it is a fact that the image of the Assam Cricket Association has been badly affected due to a major scam a few years back allegedly committed by an individual who had held the crucial Secretary’s post for several years at a stretch, the present set of office-bearers have asserted that the ground was not in its hands. If the ACA’s version is to be believed, then the ground gets handed over to the umpires before the start of the match under ICC rules and that thereafter all the work done on the ground is carried out under supervision of the umpires. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) headed by Sourav Ganguly has also reportedly made some remarks indirectly targeting the Assam Cricket Association. The fact, however, is that one has to wait for the report of the chief curator Ashish Bhowmik before putting the blame on any organization or individual. Some unidentified BCCI officials have been quoted as saying that the fiasco was an outcome of the lack of experience of the host Association. But then Assam Cricket Association has been holding international matches – including several three-day zonal matches between the East Zone team and visiting foreign teams – since the 1970s. Yes, it is a fact that Guwahati had witnessed a major violence by spectators after a one-day international match between India and England held in the Nehru Stadium on April 9, 2006, had to be abandoned after rains prevented the match from being held. Prior to that, Guwahati was denied a match of the Reliance World Cup way back in 1987 despite the Assam Cricket Association preparing a wonderful pitch just for reasons best known only to the BCCI. No wonder, fingers have been also pointed at BCCI Chief Executive Officer Rahul Johri for his alleged lack of preparedness in the event of rains. True that the ACA had made itself a laughing stock by trying to soak the water and dry the wicket by using steam irons, hair driers an vacuum suckers, but then the cricket-loving people of Assam would now only have to pray that the BCCI does not deprive Guwahati of major international matches in the future just because of the rains and the fiasco that followed on January 5. The fact remains that the condition of pitches in some other cities in the country are poor in comparison to that of Guwahati even under normal no-rain conditions. As far as the ACA is concerned, the organizers have to definitely learn to become more professional in their approach, and remain prepared for any eventuality in all departments. Organizing an international cricket match, after all, is not child’s play.
Use of Technology in Plugging Corruption
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)
Corruption is deeply embedded in the Indian society. In most of the times, we accept corruption as a part and parcel of life and believe nothing can be done to eradicate it. A government alone cannot rid the society of corrupt practices unless the citizens are not determined to do away with corruption.
Since 2014, the when Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Central Government first came to power, it has endeavoured to remove corruption in every form and technology has been used extensively in this effort as one of the most potent tools. But, technological interventions work when the interventions are simple, transparent and include a public feedback mechanism. Utilizing advancements in technology, the Government is following a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the problem in an effective manner.
Mechanisms such as 1. Direct bank transfer to beneficiaries, 2. Making government procurements transparent, 3. Digitization of service deliveries, 4. Promoting cashless transactions, 5. People’s participation (Jan Bhagidari), 6. Open government data - have been the pillars of Government’s campaign to root out corruption.
Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was a significant step towards plugging leakages. Amount transferred via DBT is increasing as leakages are being effectively plugged. The government has laid equal emphasis on citizens getting Aadhaar. The Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity is bringing complete accountability in monetary transactions and eliminating ghost beneficiaries.
Additionally, Government e-Marketplace (GeM) was launched to make government procurements simple and transparent, eliminating any scope of corruption. Faceless e-assessment for income tax payers introduced from 2018 was another important step. Tax officers now communicate with the taxpayers through the ‘E-Proceeding’ facility which reduces human interface.
A successful case in point of DBT’s role in plugging leakages can be the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Before the implementation of DBT, MGNREGS wages were transferred to the panchayat bank accounts and a significant number of workers had to collect wages in cash from the gao panchayat offices.
Though attempts were made to implement a system of DBT in the scheme, structural constraints limited these attempts. As per a World Bank report, close to fifty per cent of the country’s population did not have bank accounts until 2015. The proportion of unbanked population was significantly higher for rural people who are the target group for MGNREGS. In rural India, banking penetration was extremely low.
According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), total banking outlets in villages as of March, 2014 was 1,15,350. This has increased by around five times since then with total banking outlets in villages at 5,69,547 as of March, 2018. Also, verifying the identity of genuine beneficiaries and transferring wages directly into their bank accounts posed problems.
Various government initiatives have facilitated overcoming these structural constraints. By December 2015, the total number of Aadhaar enrolment in the country exceeded 100 crore, thereby covering a major portion of the adult population. Linking the Aadhaar Number to an active bank account was the key to implementing income transfers.
In 2015, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was launched to ensure universal access to banking facilities with at least one basic banking account for every household. The bank accounts of people, including those opened under PMJDY, were linked to their unique Aadhaar numbers, which facilitated cross verification of identities. So, the JAM trinity enabled the roll-out of DBT by streamlining the validation/verification of beneficiaries as well as the process for release of funds. This ensured timely transfer of funds to the right beneficiary and enabled effective targeting under welfare schemes.
In order to streamline the system of fund flow and to ensure timely payment of wages, eFMS was implemented in the year 2016. Under the system, the Central Government directly credits the wages of the MGNREGS workers, on a real time basis, to a specific bank account opened by the State Governments. All the programme officers debit this state-level single account for authorization of wage payment.
Currently, NeFMS is implemented in 24 States and Union Territory wherein payment of wages is being credited directly to the bank/post office accounts of MGNREGS workers by the Central Government. This initiated the implementation of DBT in the Scheme. As a result of this initiative, the e-payment under MGNREGS has increased from 77.34 per cent in FY 2014-15 to 99 per cent in FY 2018-19.
Another shining example of how technology can help in distribution of benefits to the right beneficiaries is PMAY-Gramin. It was introduced on April 1, 2016 as the revamped version of erstwhile Indira Awas Yojna (IAY), by the Prime Minister Modi-led Central Government with an aim to provide “housing for all’’ by 2022. Its immediate objective was to cover 1 crore families living in kutcha/dilapidated houses by 2018-19.
“With the use of technology and platforms such as the DBT (direct benefit transfer), the average number of days for completion of a house has reduced from 314 days in 2015-16 to 114 days in 2017-18”, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said while tabling the Union Budget for 2019-20.
A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2014 had pointed out lack of transparency in selection of beneficiaries in IAY and it said the scheme lacked an effective monitoring process. The poor quality of houses constructed under the scheme was also emphasised by the report.
In view of this, corrective measures were taken by the Central Government while launching the PMAY-G and results are there for all to see. According to ministry data, a total of 1.54 crore rural homes were completed in the past five years and in the second phase – from 2019-20 to 2021-22 – another 1.95 crore houses are targeted to be built.
Of the 1.54 crore houses, around 72 lakh were those sanctioned under the IAY but built/completed under the present Central Government before PMAY-G took off in 2016. The data also shows that since the scheme was reformed in 2016, the number of houses constructed has also increased by nearly a double.
On a yearly basis, around 32 lakh houses were constructed in 2016-17, 44 lakh in 2017-18 and around 46 lakh in 2018-19. Overall, 92.6 lakh houses were built between 2017-19 under PMAY-G.
According to the revised process, the beneficiary list is made public in gram sabhas after which objections and claims are entertained through an appellate process. Also, for every beneficiary, a picture of his existing kutcha house has to be uploaded and geo-tagged by an official, who will then be responsible for any incorrect selection or misrepresentation.
The online platform – AwaasSoft – is used to monitor the scheme on a ‘real-time basis’ and photos of construction in each stage and its progress have to be uploaded before the next instalment is released. Funds reach the beneficiaries’ accounts via DBT.
Apart from these, close to 8 lakh bank accounts were opened in tea garden areas alone in Assam, where a substantial number of people were outside the ambit of formal banking, in the aftermath of demonetization drive launched by Prime Minister Modi in November 2016. Assam government had deposited two instalments of Rs 5,000 and Rs 2,500 directly in each of those bank accounts of tea garden workers under special incentive scheme announced in the State Budget for the year 2017-18.
Therefore, increased use of technology while rolling out government schemes has empowered people while significantly reducing corruption and improving public service delivery to benefit the poor.
The fight against corruption is a long and arduous one. Various online platforms have been introduced by the government, wherein the citizens can join forces by sharing their feedback and views. Social media have also empowered the masses to report cases of corruption and keep bribe seeking babus on their toes.
Minimizing human interaction and adopting technological solutions are the keys for achieving corruption free government machinery.
Prevent cyber bullying
Partha Pratim Mazumder
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Do you find your child to be crankier off late or too addicted to the smartphone or desktop? Has he/she become more insular and refuses to socialize? As parents, it can be quite concerning to notice such sudden, unnatural changes in their child’s behavior. Beware! Your child may be experiencing one of the different types of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Online threats may be aggressive or rude texts, tweets, posts, or messages all count. So do posting personal information, pictures, or videos designed to hurt or embarrass someone else. Cyber bullying also includes photos, messages, or pages that do not get taken down, even after the person has been asked to do so. In other words, it is anything that gets posted online and is meant to hurt, harass, or upset someone else. Intimidation or mean comments that focus on things like a person’s gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, or physical differences count as discrimination, which is against the law in many states. That means the police could get involved, and bullies may face serious penalties.
Sometimes, online bullying, like other kinds of bullying, can lead to serious long-lasting problems. The stress of being in a constant state of upset or fear can lead to problems with mood, energy level, sleep, and appetite. It also can make someone feel jumpy, anxious, or sad. If someone is already depressed or anxious, cyber bullying can make things much worse.
It is not just the person being bullied who gets hurt. The punishment for cyber bullies can be serious. More and more schools and after-school programmes are creating systems to respond to cyber bullying. Schools may dismiss bullies from sports teams or suspend them from school. Some types of cyber bullying may violate school codes or even break anti-discrimination or sexual harassment laws. So a bully may face serious legal trouble. Why would someone be a cyber bully? There are probably as many reasons as there are bullies themselves. Sometimes, what seems like online harassment may be accidental. The impersonal nature of text messages, posts, and other ways of communicating online means it can be hard to figure out if someone is joking or not.
Most people know when they are being bullied, though, because bullying involves repeated insults or threats. The people doing the bullying know they have crossed a line, too. It is not a one-off joke or insult — it is constant harassment and threats that go beyond typical fun teasing or a nasty comment made in anger. Sometimes, people are afraid or not sure if they are being bullied or not. So they do not do anything about it. If you are being bullied, harassed, or teased in a hurtful way — or know someone who is — you do not have to suffer in silence. In fact, you absolutely should report any upsetting texts, messages, posts, or emails.
The first thing to do is tell an adult you trust. This is often easier said than done. People who are cyber bullied may feel embarrassed or reluctant to report a bully. Some may hesitate because they are not 100% sure who is doing the bullying. But bullying can get worse, so speak up until you find someone to help. Sometimes the police can track down an anonymous online bully, so it is often worthwhile to report it. Most parents are so concerned about protecting their kids that sometimes they focus on taking major steps to stop the bullying. If you are being bullied and worry about losing your phone or computer privileges, explain your fears to your parents. Let them know how important it is to stay connected, and work with them to figure out a solution that does not leave you feeling punished as well as picked on. You may have to do some negotiating on safe phone or computer use — the most important thing is to first get the bullying under control. You also can talk to your school counselor or a trusted teacher or family member. If the bullying feels like it is really getting you down (like if it is affecting your sleep or concentration), therapy can help. If you are not ready for that, you can still benefit from the support of a trusted adult.
What you have heard about walking away from a real-life bully works in the virtual world too. Ignoring bullies is the best way to take away their power, but it is not always easy to do — in the real world or online. If you see something upsetting, try to step away from the computer or turn off your phone for a while. Do not respond, and never forward the message to someone else. Find something to distract yourself from what is going on. Do something you love that does not give you time to think about what is happening, like playing the guitar, going for a run, or losing yourself in a book or movie. You can also just chat with a parent or sibling or play with a pet. Taking a break like this allows you to keep things in perspective and focus on the good things in your life. It also gives you time to figure out how you want to handle things. Resist the urge to retaliate or respond. Walking away or taking a break when you are faced with online bullying gives you some space so you won’t be tempted to fire back a response or engage with the bully or bullies. Responding when we are upset can make things worse. (Standing up to a bully can be effective sometimes, but it is more likely to provoke the person and escalate the situation.) Taking a break gives the power back to you!
Although it is not a good idea to respond to a bully, it is a good idea to save evidence of the bullying if you can. It can help you prove your case, if needed. You do not have to keep mean emails, texts, or other communications where you see them all the time — you can ask a parent to make a copy or save them to a flash drive. Social media sites take it seriously when people post cruel or mean stuff or set up fake accounts. If users report abuse, the site administrator may block the bully from using the site in the future. If someone sends you mean texts or emails, report it to phone service or email providers (such as Comcast, Google, and Verizon).
If you know of a friend who is acting as a cyber bully, take him or her aside and talk about it. Without putting your friend down, stand up for your own principles: Let the bully know it is not OK. Explain to your friend that bullying can have serious consequences: for the bully, for those being bullied, and even for bystanders like you and your friends.
Letters to The EDITOR
Attack on Nankana Sahib Gurudwara
The heinous attack on the Nankana Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan, located 75 km west of Lahore, by Pakistani goons is highly condemnable. It is the birth place of Guru Nanak. It is worth mentioning that by an agreement way back in 1955 agreed by both India and Pakistan (Pant-Mirza Agreement) that India and Pakistan are obliged to make every effort to ensure that the places of worship visited by members of their countries are properly maintained and their sanctity preserved. The incident triggered strong protests from many quarters, particularly the Sikh community expressed their strong resentment. A day after the attack the Shiromoni Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), while condemning the attack on the sacred Gurudwara, decided to send a four-member delegation to Nankana Sahib Gurudwara to take stock of the situation. The Akali Dal leader asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take up the issue with his counter-part in Islamabad Imran Khan. The Congress and the Youth Congress members staged protest in front of Pakistan’s High Commissioner’s office in New-Delhi. The Pakistani’s Shiromoni Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee president Satpal Singh appealed to the Prime Minister Imran Khan to take steps to punish the culprits and to restore peace. But will Pakistan rectify as anarchy prevails there?