The Hindustan Times – Manmohan Singh deserves a better report card than he got, writes Barkha Dutt

He was that rare entity in Indian politics, a genuinely democratic leader who made space for some dissent and did not personalise media criticism of him. As the second tenure of the UPA descended into chaos and corruption scandals I was among the many journalists who became unsparing in my criticism of his leadership.

But not once did he hold that against me or anyone else or clamp down on information routes or reporting access to officials in the Prime Minister’s office.

Barkha Dutt

Op/Ed, 21 October 2017. This month listening to Manmohan Singh describe Pranab Mukherjee as the “better qualified” candidate for the post of Prime Minister, I remembered something else he had said. “History will be kinder to me than the media,” he had proclaimed in his quintessentially soft-spoken manner.

I think we don’t have to wait for the passage of significant time to accept that he had a point. While there were many things to be greatly disappointed in his government for, and as its leader the buck stopped with him, perhaps we were far too stingy in our praise for what he got right.

Above everything else I think he was that rare entity in Indian politics, a genuinely democratic leader who made space for some dissent and did not personalise media criticism of him. As the second tenure of the UPA descended into chaos and corruption scandals I was among the many journalists who became unsparing in my criticism of his leadership.

But not once did he hold that against me or anyone else or clamp down on information routes or reporting access to officials in the Prime Minister’s office.

Through the worst things we said about him, we accused him mostly of not standing up to the corrupt in his cabinet as well as the overweening interference from his party, he continued to be unfailingly civil if we happened to meet him at public events. This is the true test of press freedom, how politicians behave when the media is rough on them.

On reflection, Manmohan Singh did not get enough credit from us for largely preserving the institutional autonomy of a free press at least at an individual level. Of course, institutionally, the Congress is yet to wipe its record clean of the stains of the 1970s Emergency.

And books and films have been banned on the Congress watch, making it just as culpable as other political parties. It’s also true that Singh was not as personally open to the media as the contemporary information age demands, he did press conferences but avoided interviews, and that is certainly a flaw.

But, what sets him apart among politicians of his ilk is that he never turned hostile to journalists even when we were brutal in our critique.

His authentic liberal instincts, perhaps something to do with the fact that he was an academic and technocrat more than a conventional politician, are distinctly different from both the main leaders of his own party as well as the ruling BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, for instance, seem to share a mistrust of the English-speaking media, albeit for different reasons and in different ways.

Both believe the media has been less than fair to them and both appear to take criticism very personally. Once you have been critical of either leader on an issue, chances are that they will cease to speak to you. Unlike in the case of Manmohan Singh, in both their cases, this aversion to the media does not spring from diffidence; it comes from a skepticism bordering on near-dislike.

And with both Modi and the Gandhi family, those around them take their cue from the top and tend to shut down channels of communication to the media as well. By contrast, during Manmohan Singh’s tenure, we were able to report on the government in a way that we were not able to report on his party.

There were two moments when Singh should have resigned for the sake of personal redemption. One, when he surrendered to party duress on inducting compromised DMK ministers into his cabinet against his preference and two, when Rahul Gandhi tore up an ordinance his government had cleared while he was away in the United States.

Yes, the ordinance was unforgivable and was designed to save lawmakers convicted of corruption, like Lalu Prasad Yadav. But by protesting in public and while the PM was on foreign soil, Gandhi sorely undermined Manmohan Singh’s authority.

Had Manmohan Singh asserted his independence and authority, forget history, even the present would have been more than kind to him. To that extent he permitted and enabled some elements of the scathing appraisal he was subjected to. But, with all the flaws of his tenure, we also owe it to him to revise our report card on him. He deserved a better score than we gave him.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author


The Times of India – PSGPC general secretary says he was part of ‘Khalistan movement’, hails Hafiz Saeed

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar, 21 October 2017. A video of Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) general secretary Gopal Singh Chawla, in which he is heard admitting to involvement in the “Khalistan movement” and hailing LeT co-founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, surfaced on social media on Friday.

The video is of Chawla’s speech at a gathering of Milli Musli League (MML) in Pakistan on 7 August 2017, and went viral soon after it was uploaded. “I have been a part of Khalistan movement; I have also undergone training, and I have been abusing India and its prime minister.

If we want to get rid of India, we have to help this organization (MML),” he is heard saying in the video.

MML is a political wing of the banned Jammat ud Dawa (JuD), a front of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Chawla, in his speech in Punjabi, said PSGPC received a minimum of 5,000-7,000 pilgrims from India every year. “We look into their eyes. Of those 7,000, at least 2,000 are RAW agents; we see a fear of Hafiz Saeed sahib in their eyes,” he says in the video .

PSGPC’s controversial general secretary also raised slogans in praise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala and Hafiz Saeed. He said his organization (Punjabi Sikh Sangat), and supporters from the UK and Canada would help MML.

Calling the terror mastermind Saeed his ‘amir’ (ruler), Chalwa bestowed praise upon him. “Unha Indians dia nazra vich maray aamir Hafiz Saeed sab da khauf hunda hai (there is a fear of Hafiz Saeed in the eyes of Indians),” he said.

Chawla is also the chairman of Pakistan’s Punjabi Sikh Sangat. Considered one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, Saeed has in the past threatened war with India if supply of Indus river’s water is cuts off to Pakistan.

The Hindu – A day in Delhi for Ghani and Tillerson

The visits will provide India opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues

Special Correspondent

New Delhi. 20 October 2017. Continuing with close bilateral consultation, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will visit India on October 24. The official confirmation about the visit came even as the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated India’s commitment to ‘rule-based international order’, setting the stage for the visit of USA Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the capital on the same day.

The visit by President Ghani comes within days of a visit to Kabul by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Thursday’s Taliban attack on the Afghan National Army base in Kandahar province that killed at least fifty-eight security personnel.

When asked about the details of the Afghan leader’s agenda, an MEA official source said that the visit was being “worked upon” and a statement on the agenda would be made soon.

Mr Ghani’s visit, which is likely to last for half-a-day, is significant as it comes two-months after USA President Donald Trump announced his government’s new Afghanistan policy for which he has urged India to do more.

Crucial talks

The visits of Mr Ghani and Mr Tillerson to Delhi indicate that they will provide all three, the USA, Afghanistan and India, the opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues.

Indicating at India’s stance to Mr Tillerson’s visit, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “We appreciate his positive evaluation of the relationship and share his optimism about its future directions. We look forward to welcoming him in India next week for detailed discussions on further strengthening of our partnership.”

The Ministry’s statement was a response to Mr Tillerson’s October 18 comments at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, where he highlighted his two decades-long personal ties with India and said:

Centre of gravity

“The world’s centre of gravity is shifting to the heart of the Indo-Pacific. The USA and India, with our shared goals of peace, security, freedom of navigation, and a free and open architecture, must serve as the eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific.”

Mr Tillerson had also pointed out that China’s rise as an international power had been “less peaceful”. The Asia-Pacific component of the visit will unfold soon after the latest congress of the Communist Party of China which led to the consolidation of power of President Xi Jinping and his re-election for one more term.

The Indian Express – Gurez Valley: Dard tribe’s last sanctuary and their fight for survival

The onslaught of modernisation and the partition has squeezed the Dard tribe to the remote Gurez valley, where they are struggling to save their Shina language and culture

Muzamil Jaleel

Srinagar-Jammu & Kashmir-India, 19 October 2017. Herodotus mentioned about them. Ancient Greek and Roman writers recorded their chronicles when they were at the zenith of their power and influence that extended from northern Afghanistan to central Tibet.

Dard Shin or Dard tribe once had their homeland spread across the valleys, tucked inside the great Himalayas at the edge of north Kashmir from Chitral and Yasin, across the Indus regions of Gilgit, Chilas and Bunji to Gurez valley.
Studying Kalhana’s Rajtarangni (river of kings), Kashmir’s 12th century chronicle, British historian Sir Aurel Stein remarked that the seat of Dards has not changed since the time of Herodotus.

The onslaught of modernization and finally the partition that sliced the Dard Shin homeland by a hostile Line of Control between India and Pakistan, this tribe squeezed to the remote and hidden Gurez valley in north Kashmir struggling to save their vanishing Shina language, their culture, traditions and a distinct identity.

Perhaps it is this physical isolation that also protected and preserved the environmental and cultural treasures of Gurez Valley that once stood on the Silk route connecting Kashmir to Kashgar (now Xingjian province of China). Today the last remnants of this unique ethnic group, the 25,000 Dard Shin people, is waging its final battle of survival.

Their small sanctuary in the hidden valley of Gurez is at the verge of being submerged by the dam of a hydro-power project and the entire tribe permanently uprooted from their ancient homeland.

In the new season of bonhomie, India and Pakistan are fast ironing out their differences on larger political dispute over Kashmir. The 330 MW Kishenganga hydro-electric power project is a little irritant that is being sorted out through a dialogue between technical experts of the two countries.

Ironically, the India-Pakistan dispute on this power project is water and thus the debate is limited to the contours of the Indus Water Treaty, a water sharing agreement between the neighbours signed in 1960. There is hardly any mention of the rights of these tribals, whose lives are at the alter of this developmental project.

There is no disagreement over the destruction of the captivating Gurez valley, which is also home to endangered snow leopard, hangul deer, barking deer, musk deer, black bear, markhor, ibex and marmot besides several exotic species of flowers and plants.

There is no debate over the vast archealogical treasure hidden in this valley that will be permanently inundated by the water of the dam.

The recent archealogical surveys in the neighbouring valleys of Gurez, across the LoC, have “uncovered hundreds of inscriptions in Kharoshthi, Brahmi, Hebrew, and Tibetan that provide insights into the origins of the Kashmiri people and the early history of Buddhism”. The last Council of Buddhism is believed to have been held in Kanzalwan in Gurez.

Then the ruins of ancient Sharda University too are buried in Gurez. Sir Walter Lawrence, the British Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir, who visited Gurez in 1894, called this valley “the most beautiful of Kashmir’s Margs, those beautiful stretches of turf which, ringed round with great forests, lie at an elevation of from 7,000 to 9,000 feet above the sea’’.

In his famous book, “Valley of Kashmir’’, Lawrence writes that “Gurez is a lovely valley of substantial length lying at an elevation of about 8,000 ft. above sea. The Kishenganga river flows through it, and on either side tower mountain scraps of indescribable grandeur. Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole of Kashmir is the grove of huge poplars through which the traveler enters the Gurez valley’’.

And more than a century later, the awe-striking scenic beauty of Gurez, its forests and wildlife are literally unchanged. My first contact with Gurez valley and the Dard shin people came through the distinctive woolen skull caps which they wore while roaming the market in Bandipore, my home town. Gurez valley’s only physical link with the rest of the world is a 35 mile treacherous hilly road that connects it to Bandipore.

This road remains closed for almost six months every year, hidden under mounds of snow. So whenever the winter snow would melt, hordes of Dards would cross the Kanzalwan pass to arrive in Bandipore for shopping and other businesses.

They would wait till the road was opened for traffic. Those days only the One-Ton trucks would ply on the Gurez road and Bandipore had a few of them. A few drivers, considered brave on wheels, from Wudar neighbourhood had bought a bunch of discarded army trucks, painted them and decorated them like brides. They would ferry passengers and goods.

Then there were dozens of tales of adventure when villagers would track the mountains to carry salt slabs for their animals, which would go for grazing in the meadows across Kanzalwan every summer. There were no hotels, no guest houses thus the visitors from Gurez would be guests in villages across Bandipore. The Dards would come to our village as well and I still remember a few Shina words that I had picked up during our conversations.

Although it is years since that contact has broken, I still recall “Kacha bill (what is the time)’’. And now our future generation will only find about the Dards, their home in the lap of breathtaking Gurez valley and Shina only in the pages of history books.

While there is no support to stop the project from anybody, the only silver lining in this tragic story, however, is the resolve of the Dard Shin tribals and their leadership to resist the mass destruction of their only homeland. “The work on this project will start only on our dead bodies.

The government cannot decide the fate of our people without consulting us. Nobody has even talked to me about it,” Nazir Gurezi, who represents the Dard Shin constituency of Gurez in Jammu and Kashmir Legislative assembly, told me. “It is not just to build a power project. It is an issue of life and death for our entire tribe and our ancestral homeland.

This project will submerge our homes, dislocate us and will come as a death blow to our unique culture, our vanishing Shina language, our heritage.” Gurezi said that the entire tribe is united.

But he acknowledges that once India and Pakistan resolve their dispute over the water of Kishanganga, there hardly anything that can prevent the construction of the hydro-power project and the subsequent destruction of their lives and homeland. “We are a miniscule population. We will fight but I know it is a very difficult struggle,’’ he said.

The 330 MW Kishanganga hydro-electric power project, scheduled to be built in Gurez Valley, involves damming of Kishanganga or Neelam river and the proposed 103 metre reservoir will submerge most of the Gurez valley along with its 25 villages, six summer high altitude habitats for shepherds and eight camping sites.

The water of Kishanganga river will then be diverted through a 27 kilometre tunnel dug through the mountains to Bandipore where it will join the Wular lake and then Jehlum river. Kishanganga river currently meets Jehlum river at Muzaffarabad. The J&K government had earlier commissioned the project to a Swedish consortium SCANSKA but in 2000 it was handed over to National Hydo-electric Power Corporation (NHPC).

As per the plan, the J&K government is to acquire 7,703 Kanals of cultivated land, 7,869 Kanals of non-cultivated land and more than 400 Kanals of forest area. Five years ago, the Sub-divisional magistrate, Sopore, had even issued land acquisition notices to seven villages Badwan, Fakirpora, Wampora, Khandiyal, Mastan Khopri, Markote and Dawar.

In fact, the first phase of the would submerge the homes of around 10,000 tribals while the entire 25,000 Dard Shin tribe will lose its homeland till the completion of the project. The government remains very clear about its resolve to build the power project. Their approach is extremely simplistic.

They say that the Dard Shin tribe has to make a compromise and dislocate because the power project will bring prosperity. “They (Dards) have to be dislocated. It is essential. We will adjust them somewhere else,” then J&K Power minister Mohammad Sharief Niaz said in very clear terms.

When asked about the consequences of the project on this unique tribe, the environmental and other concerns, Niaz said that “if we (government) think in these terms, then we will have to shut down all our projects”. The project will bring prosperity is also highly disputed.

According to the agreement between the J&K government and the NHPC, that will construct the power project, the State will get only 12 per cent free electricity while the rest will be sold by the Corporation. The project might quench the thirst for electricity in New Delhi or Srinagar but the Dards have hardly anything to gain.

Though there is no doubt that their loss cannot be compensated by any material gains, the J&K government doesn’t shy from making tall claims. The government says that they have incorporated an “attractive relief and rehabilitation package’’ for the tribe in the project thus there should be no problems.

“There is no question of displacement of the tribe without a proper alternative for their rehabilitation,” Basharat Ahmad Dhar, J&K Commissioner Secretary, Power department said. “The Government will look for an alternate site, where a new colony with all the facilities like roads, hospitals, schools will be set up for them. Besides they will get a dislocation allowance and other benefits.”

The Dard shin tribals, however, say that they don’t agree that the government’s rehabilitation package will save them. “They (the government) didn’t even talk to us. I am an elected representative of the people of Gurez and I have no idea what is happening,’’ Nazir Gurezi told me.

“We are very clear. We will move the Supreme Court. We will come out on the roads to protest against our mass destruction’’. The subtle realization that they are going to lose their homeland and thus the unique identity, intrinsically tied to Gurez, has terrified the Dards. “Gurez valley is the last sanctuary not only for our people but our language as well.

Our tribe will die as soon as we are dislocated and permanently scattered across Kashmir,’’ Abdul Rasheed Mapnoo, a Dard who works in a government department told me categorically. “Gurez valley is the most beautiful part of Kashmir. It’s not just a home to our people but to hundreds of distinct plants, wildlife,’’ he said.

“The environment of Gurez, its forest and its water was protected because it is a hidden valley. We had hoped that the government will try to build it as a tourist resort but they are planning its total destruction’’. Mapnoo’s anger and frustration perhaps encompasses the helplessness of this small tribe.

“I am planning to go as soon as the road is reopened in June and take lots of pictures. I am sure once we are thrown out there will be no Dards left. We need to keep some memories for posterity,” he said.

Gurez Valley: Dard tribe’s last sanctuary and their fight for survival – Protests continue after RSS leader is shot dead in Ludhiana

Sikh24 Editors

Ludhiana, 19 October 2017. Punjab. Following the murder of Rashtiya Swamsewak Sangh leader Ravindra Gosain, Hindu outfits are out to protest and seek arrest of the culprits. Gosain was was reportedly shot dead in Ludhiana in the morning hours of October 17 by two masked bike riders.

The incident occurred at around 07:30 AM outside the house of victim leader in Gagandeep Colony, which falls under jurisdiction of Police station Basti Jodhewal.

As per police investigations, two masked bike riders called the victim leader Ravinder Gosain to look at them and fired at point blank range as soon as the victim paid attention.

The victim died on spot and the bike riders ran away. Police has claimed that the bike used during the murder has been found, however, further details have not been disclosed.

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been formed to probe the murder. The Police have taken over the CCTV footage of the area nearby to site of incident. It has come to the fore that the assailants were chasing Ravinder Gosain from 06:15 AM but couldn’t target him at his venue of daily practice.

Sikh24 has also learnt that there was a dispute ongoing among the RSS activists over conduction of daily classes for children in Park of concerned area in the evening. The Police have also started probing the case from this perspective.

RSS had supported the Congress in the recently held elections in Punjab. This move sent shockwaves as RSS has been a supporter of the BJP. Some RSS members have pointed fingers at the BJP on social media for continued attacks on RSS leaders in Punjab.

The Police have claimed that the fourth attack on the RSS in the past more than one-and-a-half years points to a pattern to single out the Hindu organization. “It is too much of a coincidence, though the police are probing a personal angle to each attack,” a senior officer said.

He added that Ravinder Gosain was killed on the day Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited the state. This means the assailants want to give out a message.

In January 2016, Naresh Kumar, an RSS leader, was injured in an attack in Ludhiana, while an RSS branch in Ludhiana’s Kidwai Nagar came under attack a few days later. In both cases, two motorcycle-borne youths had fired the shots. In August 2016, Brigadier V K Gagneja (Retd.), vice-president of the RSS Punjab unit, was also gunned down in Jalandhar.

I am opposed to the RSS, the BJP, the whole Sangh Parivas and all they stand for, but murdering its leaders is not a solution
Man in Blue

The Statesman – RSS leader’s killing: Punjab is still under ‘jungle raj’, says Khaira

Chandigarh, 18 October 2017. A day after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Ravinder Gosain was killed by unidentified gunmen in Ludhiana, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday said the law and order in Punjab is no better than the 10 years of “jungle-raj” perpetrated by the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bhartiya Janata Party ( SAD-BJP).

He accused the Amarinder Singh government of pursuing the legacy of Badals by politicising the Punjab police for personal whims and fancies.

After visiting the the house of slain RSS leader at Ludhiana, leader of Opposition, Sukhpal Singh Khaira said, there have been repeated incidents of political murders during the last six months but the police is acting as a mute spectator.

Khaira said Congress ministers and legislator have started getting their henchmen posted to plum field postings, who in turn are taking their orders from their political bosses rather than their superior police officers.

Severely condemning the killing of Gosai and failure of the police to nab his killers, Khaira said it was not a first case of political murder in Punjab. He said couple of months back Sultan Masih a pastor was killed similarly by motorcycle assailants.

He recounted the brutal murders of Mata Chand Kaur of Bhaini Sahib, Jagdish Gagneja another RSS leader of Jalandhar, the murderous attack on Sant Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwala, but he said the police has completely failed to crack any of these crime.

He also criticised Amarinder for failing to ensure justice to the two innocent Sikh youth killed in the Bargari police firing, a promise he had made to the people while in opposition.

Khaira said it was sad to note that two years have passed since the killing, but no justice has been rendered to the families of those youth.

He said the tall claims of industrial investment being made by the Chief Minister Amarinder have fallen flat, as no business house would invest in a state like Punjab, where prominent people are being murdered, gang wars and incidents of bank robberies are happening daily.

Khaira urged the CM to pull up his socks and direct the police to solve cases of political murders as top priority and in future prevent such killings. He also urged him to depoliticise the police and allow it to function without interference from politicians.

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Indian Christians beaten ‘with rods and sticks’

World Watch Monitor, 17 October 2017. A Christian man involved in church work across ten villages in the southern Indian state of Telangana was severely beaten earlier this month, a source told World Watch Monitor.

The victim, known as Pastor Seviya, “was attacked by five Hindu extremists with rods and thick sticks … until he became unconscious”, the source said.

The pastor was “in a critical stage for many days” in hospital because of head injuries sustained during the attack on 5 October. He had blood clots on the brain and bleeding from his ears, added the source.

A similar incident on 13 October left another church leader “bleeding profusely” and later hospitalised and needing 12 stitches to his head.

Pastor Khel Prasad Kurre was attacked by Hindu extremists in Chhattisgarh state on his way home after visiting a member of his church, a source told World Watch Monitor.

Kurre said three or four men called out to him while he was riding his motorcycle. When he stopped, the men rushed towards him and started beating him with sticks. Kurre shouted for help, and when people from the village arrived, his attackers fled, also stealing his phone.

When Kurre later reported the incident to the police, he was informed that his attackers had earlier visited the station to report that he was converting people to Christianity.

Kurre said police officers threatened to arrest him on charges of luring people into Christianity and that this put him off filing an official complaint against his attackers.

Chhattisgarh is one of eight Indian states to have passed so-called ‘anti-conversion laws’, which ostensibly seek to eliminate forced conversions from one set of beliefs to another, but in reality dissuade all conversions.

Five of these states are led by the BJP – the Hindu nationalist party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In Jharkhand, the most recent state to pass the law, senior church leaders recently called on the prime minister to help control the “ideological hatred” of the state’s BJP chief minister, who, a day before the bill was passed, published advertisements in daily newspapers using pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and a quote ridiculing missionaries carrying out “fraudulent conversions”.

In two states ‘anti conversion’ laws are not active, while in a third, Himachal Pradesh, parts of the law were repealed after a court challenge was brought by the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

The Hindu – Feeding a billion: Evaluating India’s progress at eliminating hunger

Rohan Abraham

New Delhi, 17 October 2017. While food production is still not insulated from the vagaries of nature, which can vacillate between extremes, ranging from the floods which ravaged parts of Northern India this year, to the extant drought in the South, anthropogenic factors are holding back India’s quest to attain food security.

On the occasion of World Food Day, which is celebrated on October 16 to commemorate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is fair to say that a Malthusian prophecy has been averted, but catastrophe of another kind looms large.

Thomas Malthus’ prediction that an exponential growth in population would outpace agricultural production, has to an extent, been contained, but migration, war, natural calamities have contributed to rendering scores of people, especially in strife-torn areas without access to food.

The theme for this year is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”. According to a report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranks 100 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index.

It is outperformed by countries in the neighbourhood such as China, Nepal, and Myanmar, which are ranked 29, 72, and 77 respectively.

The methodology used to prepare the index takes into account malnutrition, stunting among children, wasting, and the mortality rate of children under the age of five. By assigning weights to these variables and standardizing the component indicators, the index value is calculated, and subsequently sorted to arrive at the overall rankings.

Here are some of the reasons exploring what ails India’s quest to attain food security.

Crop cover is getting denuded

Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare

According to a reply furnished by Radha Mohan Singh, Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, in the Lok Sabha on 2nd August 2016, the average area under cultivation has been steadily on the decline. Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare data reveals that 12.25 lakh hectares of land which was under cultivation in 2006/07, has been diverted for non-agricultural use.

Rajasthan leads the pack with 2.55 crore hectares under cultivation, an area roughly four times the size of Sri Lanka.

Food imports touch Rs 1.4 lakh crore

Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare

As per Census data, 176 million, or 56.6% of India’s working population are engaged in agriculture or allied industries. Despite an overabundance of farm hands, India’s food bill has seen an unprecedented spike from Rs 56,196 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 1,40,268 crore in 2015-16, marking an increase of 149.6%.

Given the fragile nature of foreign exchange, an import bill of this enormity, is a setback in the government’s efforts to reducing the fiscal deficit. However, in relative terms, India’s food import bill accounts for only 5.63% of total national imports in 2015-16.

Agricultural productivity is declining

Despite having large tracts of land under cultivation, Rajasthan doesn’t stack up with other states in terms of agricultural productivity. According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Statistical Yearbook on Agriculture – 2016, the net yield for Rajasthan was 1,535 kg/hectare.

Punjab and Haryana were on top with 4,144 kgs/hectare and 3,772 kgs/hectare respectively.

The national average of 2,070 kgs/hectare is well below the productivity levels of the farm sector in developed countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, which enjoy yields of 7,638 kg/hectare and 7,697 kg/hectare respectively, according to data compiled by the World Bank, in association with FAO in 2014.

The bumper yields of farmers in the Middle East present a point of contradiction, since the topography and weather of the region pose hurdles in optimizing agricultural produce. Agricultural productivity in the United Arab Emirates was 41,908 kg/hectare, while that in Kuwait was 21,845 kg/hectare.

Land holdings are shrinking

The average size of operational holdings has come down to 1.15 hectares in 2010-11, from 1.33 hectares in 2000-01, Agriculture Ministry data shows. As profit margins blur into operating losses, small farmers end up in a debt trap, since the cost of cultivation often overshadows the market price of their yield.

Despite migration to urban centres, hidden unemployment is also rampant in the agriculture sector.

Commercial farming has increased agricultural productivity in parts of the developed world. According to data compiled by the FAO, the average area per holding in North America is 117.8 hectares, while the global average is 5.5 hectares. – Sikh women jatha finally given permission to perform kirtan at Patna Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

Patna-Bihar-India, 17 October 2017. In a revolutionary development on October 17, the Management Committee of Takht Sri Patna Sahib permitted baptized Sikh women to perform Kirtan inside Takht Sri Patna Sahib.

Notably, Takht Sri Patna Sahib is fifth Sikh throne and birthplace of tenth Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

On being contacted by Sikh24 earlier today, newly elected President of Takht Sri Patna Sahib Management Committee S Harwinder Singh Sarna informed that a Kirtani jatha of Sikh women performed Kirtan of Asa Ki War on October 16.

“We had elaborate discussions on the issue and while Sikh women have not performed kirtan here in decades, we decided to allow the Sikh women to do kirtan seva,” said Sarna. Patna Sahib has no further booking by Sikh women Jathas, however they are willing to allow women to do seva going further.

It is pertinent to note here that the right to perform Kirtan inside sacred Sikh shrines for Sikh women is being demanded from long time. Currently, Sikh women are not allowed to do kirtan at Harmandr Sahib either.

During the tenure of Bibi Jagir Kaur as an SGPC President, she had made some efforts to get this right for Sikh women even inside the sanctum sanctorum Sri Harmandr Sahib but the SGPC appointed Takht Jathedars had not accepted the demand at that time.

The Indian Express – Its worker murdered, RSS urges Akal Takht to clear air on 2004 decree

Speaking to The Indian Express, Avtar Singh Shastri, Mahasachiv, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, asked the Akal Takht to “end the misconception” on the 2004 directive to remove the hatred created by it.

Kamaldeep Singh Brar

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 18 October 2017. Although the police have not named any suspects in Tuesday’s killing of a prominent RSS worker in Ludhiana, a top functionary of the RSS Sikh wing, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, has said “misconceptions” about the RSS decision to observe the 350th anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh combined with a “no-longer valid” 2004 directive against RSS by Akal Takht could be behind the killing.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Avtar Singh Shastri, Mahasachiv, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, asked the Akal Takht to “end the misconception” on the 2004 directive to remove the hatred created by it.

“We have approached the Akal Takht many a time to end the misconception around the 2004 directive,” he said. On July 13, 2004, the Akal Takht issued a directive warning Sikhs about the activities of RSS and Rashtraia Sikh Sangat, which were both proactively involved in organising functions to mark the 400th anniversary of the first installation of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Akal Takht asked Sikhs not to cooperate with the RSS in any function relating to the anniversary. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh told The Indian Express that the directive issued against RSS in 2004 remained valid.
However, asked if this could be the motive for the murder, the Jathedar said, “I do not know about murder and the question is not relevant.” Ravinder Gosain was shot dead outside his home Tuesday morning soon after he returned from the morning shakha.

The RSS is scheduled to hold a function to commemorate the 10th Sikh guru on October 25 in Delhi’s Talkatora stadium. Invitations have gone out to the jathedars of each of the five Takhts.

The head of the SGPC has also been invited. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is likely to attend this function. Avtar Singh, national general secretary of Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, said the 2004 directive was “always misread” and that there was “always opportunity to end the unwanted hatred”.

“I am afraid that the hatred created against RSS with the misuse of directive against us could pollute mind of anyone and such hatred could be a reason behind murder of Gosain that we witnessed on Tuesday. So, there is need to clear the air on this,” he said, adding that he and his organisation had great respect for Akal Takht.

Giani Gurbachan Singh said he was still asking Sikhs to remain cautious of RSS. “There are some people who may be Sikh in appearance because they have grown long beard and wear turbans. But just growing your hair doesn’t make one Sikh until one follows teachings of Guru. Sikhs should be aware of such misguiding propaganda,” he said.

“There are people who always keep doing mischievous things to hurt the spirit of Sikhism. Be it RSS or Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, they are bound to hurt Sikhism.

So Sikhs should remain aware about such activities,” he said. “It is true that RSS approached Akal Takht twice to dissolve that directive. In response, Akal Takht had asked some questions from the RSS, which were never answered. I will never go on any invite by RSS and no Sikh should go,” the Jathedar said.

Its worker murdered, RSS urges Akal Takht to clear air on 2004 decree