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CAG puts Nitin Gadkari’s Purti Group firm under scanner for financial irregularities

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

The Controller and Audit General (CAG) presented a report in Lok Sabha yesterday, charging Purti Sakhar Karkhana Limited (PSKL) of non-compliance of interest subsidy conditions.

The interest subsidy was granted to it by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the report named Union Minister Nitin Gadkari as one of the “promoters and/or directors” of the firm.

The report on ‘Financing of Renewable Energy Projects by Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA)’ stated that the ministry had sanctioned Rs 1.92 crore as interest subsidy to the company and released Rs 1.37 crore to IREDA in June 2004, on the basis of net present value of PSKL.

The firm, according to the report, failed to meet the conditions of the interest subsidy extended to it. The project employed 100% coal based operations as against the upper limit of 25% allowed under subsidy schemes. The company also failed to meet the condition stipulating that the project should continue for at least ten years after completion. 

Moreover, CAG found that although the load had become a non performing asset in March 2007 the actual benefit from the subsidy amounting to Rs 1.66 crore was passed on till December 2009.

However the CAG report said that IRDEA management stated in April 2014 that PSKL had settled its account and paid the dues. IRDEA also claimed that it is not necessary if an account becomes a non performing asset, then interest subsidy is not to be passed.

“The reply of the management may be seen in the context that avoiding default on repayment by the borrower and limited deviation from renewable energy sources (up to 25 per cent) were important components of the scheme, and as such, IREDA cannot change/interpret specific conditions for grant of subsidy of GOI schemes. Further, the OTS proposal was sanctioned on the ground that the project was no longer an RE (renewable energy) project,” the CAG report stated.  

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Rajiv Mehrishi Takes Over as CAG of India

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Rajiv Mehrishi (IANS)

New Delhi, Sep 25: Former Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi assumed the office of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India today. He took the oath of office before President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.

Mehrishi succeeds Shashi Kant Sharma, former CAG of India, who demitted office on September 22 of this year.

Mehrishi, who retired as Home Secretary in August at the end of a two-year extension, will have a tenure as CAG until August 7, 2020, when he will turn 65.

Mehrishi belonged to the 1978 batch of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) of Rajasthan cadre.

He was appointed Union Home Secretary in August 2015. Prior to that, he was Finance Secretary at the Centre and Rajasthan Chief Secretary.

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Holy Dip in Garbage Floating Ganges River: A big Cause of Concern for Hindus

The pristine waters of the Ganges river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it

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A pile of garbage lies on the riverbank along the Ganges riverfront known as "Har ki Pauri," the most sacred spot in the Hindu holy town of Haridwar where devotees throng. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

On a gray monsoon morning, Darshana Kapoor picks her way gingerly through the slush on the riverbank after taking a dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar town, one of the most revered spots for Hindus.

But the ritual bath that Hindus believe absolves a lifetime of sins was not an uplifting experience for her. “My faith brought me here, but when I see the garbage floating in the river, I felt so bad. I had to scrub myself,” she said.

Haridwar, India

She was not exaggerating. The Central Pollution Control Board has said that the water of the Ganges at Haridwar is not fit for bathing.

The murky condition of the mighty Ganges is a letdown for thousands of devotees who flock daily to the pilgrim town, some for a ritual dip, some to immerse the ashes of their loved ones or to take part in a colorful prayer ceremony held every evening to celebrate the Ganges, which devotees call “Maa” or mother.

Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

These devotees were hoping to see results from a flagship $3 billion initiative launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the river, particularly in Hinduism’s holiest towns such as Haridwar and Varanasi.

The pristine waters of the river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it as it courses through booming pilgrim and industrial towns along the vast, populous plains of North India. It is a huge concern because the river is a water source for some 400 million people.

After his victory in 2014, Modi had acknowledged the failure of an expensive three-decade long effort to rejuvenate the Ganges, and vowed to succeed where his predecessors did not.

But three years after the Hindu nationalist leader’s pledge, the once-mighty river is still dying, say environmental activists.

India’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, slammed the government in July, saying “the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.”

The court prohibited dumping waste within 500 meters of the river and said that no development should be allowed within 100 meters of the river as it flows along a 500-kilometer stretch from Haridwar to the town of Unnao.

Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

That is crucial to revive not just the river, but also the banks or “ghats” in pilgrim towns where visitors throng.

However, in a country with abysmally poor enforcement, environmentalists point out court orders do not always translate into action on the ground.

“The basic problem in this country and this case also is compliance,” says M.C. Mehta, an environmentalist who has been leading a campaign to get rid of the pollution. “No monitoring mechanism is there, so it is very difficult to say how much directions have been complied with.”

The main challenge is the slow pace of setting up treatment plants – about three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities in the northern plains flows untreated into the Ganges.

Sewage treatment plants in Haridwar, for example, can only cope with half the sewage. New ones have been planned, but none have been built yet.

In fact, some fear the river is becoming dirtier as India’s growing population and economic boom has meant an ever growing influx into towns like Haridwar.

Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Ganesh Singh owns a shop at the famed “Har ki Pauri,” the most revered spot along the riverbank where people gather to attend the evening prayer, where the poor line up for free meals offered by devotees and where pavement sellers hawk flowers.

He said there have been efforts to educate the people about not dumping waste into the river. “Many polythene bags, bottles, garbage used to be thrown into the river earlier. It is better now,” he said, gazing at the river, happy that it helps draw in more tourists who bring more business.

However just a few meters down from his shop, piles of rubbish dumped along the riverbank are getting slowly washed into the water with the rain.

That is why Mehta remains skeptical and worries the political will for the gigantic task is missing. “I am not talking about this leadership – it is for the last 32 years the same thing is going on,” he said. “It should not be just lip service that we are the sons and daughters of mother Ganga, without doing something.”

In a signal that he is aware the Ganges cleanup is flagging, Modi this month handed charge of the campaign to a senior cabinet minister, Nitin Gadkari, who has a reputation for getting the job done.

Devotees and environmentalists are hoping that will happen. (VOA)

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550 mn Indians live with uncorrected refractive errors, leading to rampant road accidents

Poor vision plays a critical role in safe driving

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Road accidents in India
Road accidents in India. Pixabay

New Delhi, Sep 11, 2017: With a staggering 550 million Indians — close to half the population — living with uncorrected refractive errors, the major cause of road accidents, and 63 percent of the world’s population in need of vision correction, two major stakeholders have come together to address the issue in this country and globally.

“Poor vision plays a critical role in safe driving, but we know that much of that could be avoided. According to an analysis by Boston Consulting Group, 23 per cent of drivers have uncorrected vision, but in India that number is 46 per cent — the highest of any country in the world,” Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, Chief Mission Officer of French lensmaker Essilor International, told IANS during a visit here of the three-year partnership with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

The “Action for Road Safety” partnership aims to create awareness on this global health issue and highlight the importance of regular eye checks for safe driving. The call to “Check Your Vision” will be commonly promoted towards local authorities, institutions, NGOs, eye care & medical professionals, driving schools and road users, among others, he added.

The figures for India are horrifying with some 138,000 people being killed in road accidents each year. Last week, Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari released the annual publication, ‘Road Accidents in India – 2016’, which revealed that fatalities resulting from these accidents have risen by about 3.2 per cent.

According to the Home Ministry, there was a 17.6 per cent increase in road accident deaths from 2008 to 2012, and 50 per cent of those who died were aged between 15 and 34.

“Something must be changed,” exclaimed Kristan Gross, Global Executive Director of the Vision Impact Institute, which is funded by the Essilor Social Impact Fund.

Speaking about the initiative in India, Bhuvaraghan noted that access to optometric eye care is limited, as there are approximately seven doctors of optometry per 1 million people across India, well below the world average of 25/1M.

Also Read: Unnatural deaths mostly due to road accidents in India: Report 

“But there is one other key barrier to corrected vision that we must still address: Acceptance. In India, stigmas exist around spectacle wear for all ages, but it is a tremendous issue for those in the professional driving industry.

“We have heard from many in this industry that wearing spectacles can be seen as a weakness or a visible defect. Therefore, many drivers are not wearing the correction they need, even when it is prescribed. Drivers were fearful of not being hired if they are thought to be defective,” he added.

To this end, The Vision Impact Institute is working to break down these stigmas through education, utilising the personal testimonies of other drivers for which vision correction and eye protection have been a benefit rather than a drawback, Gross explained.

A Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) interim report on ‘Assessment of Visual Limitations of Commercial Drivers in Metropolitan Cities in India’ focusses on commercial drivers in Delhi. The study was in association with the Vision Impact Institute. The sample size of the survey was 627 drivers and the study was conducted during August 8-14, 2017. Seventy per cent of those surveyed were light motor vehicle drivers, 24 per cent were heavy motor vehicle drivers, four per cent were private bus drivers while one per cent were government bus drivers.

According to the preliminary findings:

* One in every three drivers had either marginal or poor Far Visual Acuity (distance vision)

* Half the drivers surveyed had either marginal or poor Near Visual Acuity (near vision)

* Overall 29 per cent drivers, mostly among the older age group, with marginal and unacceptable stereopsis (depth perception) problems were more likely to be involved in accidents

* Overall 34 per cent drivers were found glare blind (56-60 per cent of the younger group of drivers had glare-related problems, 29-44 per cent of the older group of drivers had glare-related problems)

As for FIA, with its 245 member-clubs, representing over 80 million road users in 144 countries worldwide and its strong showcase in motor sport (F1, WEC, WTCC, WRC, World RX, ERC, Formula E et al), it “is a major global voice in the automotive world and is strongly committed to raising awareness and taking action on this global issue”, Bhuvaraghan concluded. (IANS)