Thursday, December 6, 2012



6 Dec 2012 Hindustan Times (Lucknow) M Tariq Khan

M Tariq Khan

LUCKNOW: The scars on the Muslim psyche inflicted on December 6, 1992 seem to be healing. And the reason is a general consensus on not passing on the bitter legacy of conflict and hatred to a whole new generation that has grown up blissfully unaware of this “communal aberration” two decades ago.
“Just like the country’s partition, this (Babri mosque demolition) unsavory incident, too, is best left forgotten. In a secular country like ours, we should take care not to remind our youth about issues that can fuel communal passions,” says Professor Mohd Muzammil, vice-chancellor of MJP Rohilkhand University.
“I lost my relatives in the riots that broke out after the demolition. I must have been around four or five years old then. But I have stopped taking interest in the issue and I think it’s about time we moved on and focused our energies on more constructive issues,” says Samina Bano, an IIM-Bangalore graduate.
“Muslims are gradually trying to overcome the tragedy. And an indication of this positive change is the fact that Ayodhya dispute no longer figures in the sermons or religious gatherings of Muslims. It did not find a mention even in a recent event here in Lucknow that was attended by the chief priest of Holy Shrine of Kabah,” points out Colonel (retired) Mohsin J Shamsi. 
Sure enough, these views have found an echo with the Muslim clergy, too. “Peace and communal harmony comes foremost and has to be upheld at all cost,” says a young Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahli, president of Lucknow-based Islamic Centre of India. But he hastens to add that both the parties to the dispute should wait for the final Supreme Court verdict. 
Social activist Saleem Baig from Moradabad, however, feels that the demolition has driven a wedge between the two communities because of which members of the minority community often find themselves at the receiving end and are subjected to a second-class citizen treatment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

e-governance in Uttar Pradesh

Installing upgrade... please wait

SYSTEM UPDATE The ambitious e-governance project to do official work online has got off to a delayed and troubled start in the state. An IT department official says there will be ‘birth pangs’, but the sooner the system gets on its feet, the better it will be for those who have to run from one government office to another for the simplest things
LUCKNOW, Nov 5, 2012:  If e-governance means getting your building map approved by a mere click of the mouse, then e-governance is certainly a distant dream. But the picture is not bleak either, at least for those living in the state capital, who can now pay their house tax and power bills online.
Indeed, government departments need to pull up their socks to become more accessible and people-friendly, but few can deny that the use of Information Technology has made life a wee bit easier in certain spheres. Ventures like e-seva, e-suvidha, and Lokvani may not yet have struck a chord due to lack of awareness, but they can and are in some cases laying out the roadmap for development.
“The State Service Delivery Gateway (SSDG), the government portal connected to the common service centres (CSCs) and Lokvani centres, is still in its nascent stage. There will be birth pangs,” said a senior IT department official.
People’s response across the state has shown that the idea of submitting applications for government services online has many takers. The IT department official said that e-applications have started being processed by several departments but results would take time as the backend infrastructure is inadequate.
Just as one swallow does not make a summer, the government’s e-initiative requires a collective and coordinated effort to succeed. Those at the helm of IT-based citizen-specific services are yet to pass this litmus test.
With the exception of few cash-rich civic and development agencies, the majority of government departments in the e-loop lack not only the required infrastructure but also trained officials to do the job. The initial hiccups in providing 26 services online under the ambitious e-governance project had also forced authorities to scale down their plans.
E-services are being provided in Lucknow at 142 common service centres across the district. But a spot check by HT confirmed that people were far from happy with the state of affairs.
“I filled my form for a domicile certificate two weeks ago. I was told to file an affidavit along with the form. For this I need to visit the tehsil office. I wonder what purpose e-governance serves,” said Abhinav Sharma, a city resident.
Similarly, many applicants have to visit tehsil offices to get their documents attested, which defeats the very purpose of online service. The idea of e-governance was to check irregularities, ensure transparency, and, most importantly, do away with the running around for official work. But the officials themselves give contradictory information. Applicants seeking e-services of the eight departments that are currently offering them were told that there was no requirement of visiting tehsil offices for getting birth, death, domicile, caste, income, and employment certificates, which could be procured from the CSC itself.
The district authorities concede to a possible ‘knowledge gap’ in the project.
In Lucknow, over 5,000 e-applications have been uploaded. Out of these, a little over 35% are said to have been attended to. “The facility is intended to reduce the interaction of end users with government officials. But there is a problem somewhere in the delivery process. We will try to track it down and make some changes,” said a senior district administration official.
Officials say that following complaints, the state government held two meetings to track down the problem. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav himself chaired one meeting and the other was presided over by principal secretary, Information Technology. “Actually the services have almost done away with human interaction completely. Maybe there are some officials at various levels who are yet to adapt to the new system. A major disincentive for them seems to be the fact that it puts an end to their under-the-table income,” the official said.
But these are just minor glitches, says an IT official monitoring the venture. “The two key components for the success of a major programme are political will and administrative support. Fortunately, we have both in abundance right now,” he said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

maya's memorials

24 Oct 2012
Hindustan Times
M Tariq Khan
BSP memorials workforce to be cut drastically
LUCKNOW: The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) memorials would have to fend for themselves with a much less workforce. Against 5,700 workers presently, only 400 employees would now manage the monuments. Their upkeep would be done with the interest earned on the R200 crore corpus set up during the BSP regime.
The BSP government had imposed a ban on spending the yield from this corpus for any other purpose except on functions to mark the death and birth anniversaries of party ideologues. “We had released R1 crore for the memorials/parks maintenance recently. But henceforth, this would have to be taken care of by the memorial committee from the interest earned on the corpus,” said a senior government official.
The proposals were mooted at a meeting presided by chief secretary Jawed Usmani on Tuesday with members of the panel formed to downsize memorial staff and suggest better utilization of open spaces and buildings in and around these memorials. “We have been asked to incorporate some changes after which a final report would be submitted,” said a senior official, who attended the meeting.
According to sources, the panel has recommended outsourcing of all cleaning and maintenance related services presently being undertaken by 3,000 safai karamcharis, a large number of who may have to be retrenched. Minus the 430 employees, who look after a grand memorial in Noida, majority of the staff is posted in the three BSP monuments, namely, Ambedkar Memorial in Gomti Nagar, the Bauddh Vihar Shanti Upvan and Kanshi Ram Smarak in Lucknow. They have little or no work to do. “We may fill up existing vacancies in tourism, culture and the LDA by transferring some of these officials to these posts,” said the official, adding that additional sources of income are also being explored
“Senior officials are keen to rent out the well-furnished administrative block (I) building of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Sthal to the National Investigating Agency. The NIA is keen to take it on rent,” he said. Another proposal being vetted is to lend it to the round-the-clock call centre-cumhelpline for the girls to be launched in November, the announcement for which has already been made by the chief minister. Also on the anvil are new service rules for the 800 security personnel of the special security force that guards these memorials round the clock. “They would report to the memorial management committee which would regulate their role and duties now,” said the official.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unanswered RTI queries leave a burning trail

M Tariq Khan & Gulam Jeelani
Hindustan Times
Lucknow, October 15, 2012
First Published: 13:18 IST(15/10/2012)
Last Updated: 13:22 IST(15/10/2012)
If your query under the Right to Information (RTI) has still not been answered, there is very little chance it will ever be. This is because the clerical staff at the UP State Information Commission (UPSIC) have discovered their own way of ensuring the prompt disposal of such applications - they
simply burn or dump them in the river!
And no one would ever be any wiser simply because the commission does not keep a record of the notices it sends to the departments from whom the information has been sought. HT tried to glean information on the issue. Here are the facts, as revealed by sources in the commission:

Under lock and key

The room that served as a centralised dispatch system for delivering the notices/orders passed by the UPSIC was locked for over a month. Officially, the reason given is that the dispatch system has been decentralised. Insiders admit it's a damagecontrol move after the bosses in the commission came to know about the staff's misdeed. Instead of being assigned to just two peons, the dispatch work has now been distributed among the staff of the respective courts. The two suspect dispatchers have been shifted to other sections of the commission. The room is being used for other official work now.

Snail mail

The SIC receives nearly 450 applications on a given day. Nearly 330 notices are served per day from the commission's 11 courts. With eight vacancies, the SIC is not in full-steam at present. Most of the notices are dispatched through general post while those in which fines are imposed on officials are sent through registered post.

The response

The SIC officials said since past three months they were uploading all notices that were being sent out on the commission's website. A check by HT revealed only 259 notices had been uploaded so far, all issued in recent months. Not a very impressive track record. But commission officials said this was the best they could do with just three out of the 11 information commissioners at the helm.

Shift from past practice

Advocate BK Singh, who has filed 20 queries, says months have passed, but he is yet to receive any official intimation or information on any of his applications.
"Before the present chief information commissioner took over, the commission used to send all notices through registered/speed post," he said. Why have they done away with the system? he asks. He levels a more serious charge, saying the commission has adopted a pro-government stance. "The SIC is defunct for petitioners. Rather than ensuring that people get the information they have sought, the commission seems more inclined to dismissing their applications," he says.

The commission's case

"We were told by some staff members that the notices were not being delivered to the parties concerned. But that was three months ago. The notices are now being dispatched by the court staff only," said an official who did not want to be named.
PK Agarwal, the UPSIC secretary, dismissed the charge, saying all the notices were now being posted on the commission's website and he was maintaining a record of all the official correspondence.

Right To Information: My foot! say babus in Uttar Pradesh

Monday, September 24, 2012

Resourceful realty in store

iconimg Monday, September 24, 2012
M Tariq Khan, Hindustan Times
Lucknow, September 14, 2012
Cash-starved and overburdened by the infrastructure needs of cities literally bursting at their seams, the development agencies may finally have a way soon to bankroll their projects.

On the anvil is a law that would enable the development authorities to levy and collect development charges as laid out by the state government and eliminate any scope of manipulation by private builders and developers on this count. “Till now, development authorities used to decide and fix the rate for development charges to be paid by a builder/developer on their own. Since there were no specific rules or criteria, a whimsical approach was adopted by officials,” said a senior housing department official.
But with the adoption of a clear-cut policy and rules enumerating the procedure and fixing the rate on which such charges are to be levied, the scope of manipulation and misuse would be ruled out, feels the official. 
The levying of revised development charges, however, would lead only to a marginal increase in the cost of property and upcoming housing projects, the official added.
Called the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development (assessment, levy and collection of development fee) Rules 2012, a meeting to obtain the views and suggestions of development authorities before giving final shape to the law would be chaired by the principal secretary, housing, on September 17.
“While levying of development fee has been in vogue since the inception of development authorities, builders and developers would now also have to pay the city development charge that were first mooted in 2007-08 but rarely realised,” the official pointed out.
With the near privatisation of the real estate sector, development authorities in the state have been marginalised and left to play second fiddle to  realty giants.
“While private developers are minting money, development authorities have gone bankrupt with little or no land bank of their own to sustain themselves,” said a town planning expert.
It’s a scenario where private players pocket profits and development agencies pick up the tab for meeting  the challenges of urbanisation and providing corresponding infrastructure requirements of a city, the expert said.
The new rules are expected to provide a new lease of life to development authorities by replenishing their coffers.“We have classified development authorities into different categories and proposed a rate on the basis of which development charges would be calculated (see box),” said the housing department official. 
These development charges would be revised each year either on the basis of prevailing cost or the schedule of rates prescribed by the central public works department (CPWD).

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lights, Camera, Hammer !!

A statue of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati was damaged at Ambedkar Park in Lucknow's Gomti Nagar area on Thursday by men who claimed to be members of an unknown group called Uttar Pradesh Naunirman Sena. Three persons have been detained, police said. The incident led to protests by BSP workers at a number of places in the state, including Jhansi, Ambedkar Nagar, Deoria, Muzaffarnagar and Kanpur.
The virtually unknown outfit is headed by Meerut based activist Amit Jani.
Four men came to the park on bikes around 1.30pm carrying hammers and other tools to attack the statute, a security guard present at the park said.
The attackers rushed to the statue, broke the hands and removed the head of the statue, despite of the presence of security personnel at the park.The action coincided with a press conference by Jani at UP Press Club in which he demanded the removal of the statues of Mayawati.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

On a high: Lucknow to get ‘London Eye’

On a high: Lucknow to get ‘London Eye’

  • 7 Jul 2012
  • Hindustan Times (Lucknow)
  • M Tariq Khan
How about having a panoramic view of city’s architectural landmarks, both new and old, without having to face heavy traffic, hot and humid weather? Incredible it may sound but ‘Lucknow Eye’ promises to provide just that: a spectacular sight of the city’s skyline from a spot near its lifeline, that is, river Gomti.
And no, we are not talking about a detective agency here, as the name seems to suggest. But about a giant Ferris wheel, a take off from the popular ‘London Eye’ on Thames that would take visitors to a high from where they can have a bird’s eye view of the city’s landscape.
Steering the project’s wheel is none other than chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is understood to have mooted the idea a couple of days ago in a meeting on Gomti River Front Development Plan with a hydrological expert from Roorkee.
“Lucknow is eyeing the concept that is already a big hit in almost all major cities built along the river. London Eye on Thames is a major attraction.
Similarly, Vienna, Melbourne, Shanghai or Singapore also boast of the Ferris wheel. Closer home, Delhi came up with the idea during the Commonwealth Games but the project has got stuck,” said a senior official requesting anonymity.
The CM has asked IIT Roorkee to submit its hydrological report on Gomti river by November 30. “Gomti flows in almost a straight channel between Daliganj Bridge and Gomti Barrage. This is an ideal situation for having a water sports and a cruise.
The only hitch is an old weir near the Daliganj Bridge that can be easily removed,” said the expert. The open stretch running from Dharna Sthal on the river’s bank opposite the Nadwa College has initially been discussed as a possible spot but a final decision on where to have Lucknow Eye would be taken after the hydrological study.
“The giant wheel can be as high as a 40-storey building and can accommodate at least eight people in a specially built airconditioned cabins with audiovisual facilities. It moves very slowly (around 3-4 metre per second) so that visitors can enjoy the scenery,” he said. A tall order indeed, but the official feels the proposed site would be an ideal location for this stateof-the-art moving observatory.
This huge open expanse, according to him, has already been developed and besides a newly constructed four-lane ‘bandha’ road, also has the requisite parking facility. “One can savor the grandeur of the old as well new Lucknow landmarks from this location such as Clock Tower, Chattar Manzil, the Rumi Darwaza, the Bara and Chota Imabaras on one hand and the BSP memorials, on the other,” he pointed out. He said that a consultant would be hired to implement the project, which can cost anywhere between Rs 10-20 crore depending upon the passenger capacity, height, other specifications and features.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

You may land in a frying PAN!

iconimg Saturday, June 30, 2012

BEWARE!  Your PAN card or driving licence are becoming a handy tool for unscrupulous elements to commit  identity frauds in the city. The photocopies of PAN cards or driving licences with photographs of the original card-holder being replaced with another are only a tip of the ice berg of the number of ways being utilised to submit an application for seeking a wide variety of loans, opening a savings bank or Demat account by unscrupulous elements. Take the case of SK Singh, a junior engineer, a resident of C-312 Sector D Mansarovar LDA Colony. Singh was surprised when about a fortnight back, he received an acknowledgment letter from the main branch of the State Bank of India thanking him for opening an account (number 01190116051) with them.
Since he had not opened any such account, the junior engineer taking it to be a case of mistaken identity approached the bank to clear the misunderstanding.
To his utter disbelief, he discovered that not only somebody had opened the account by using his tampered PAN card and cellphone bill but had also deposited over Rs 3 lakh in it. Singh was aghast when instead of cooperating the bank authorities reprimanded him for reporting the matter so late to them. “I told them that since I am presently posted in Mahoba, I had not seen the acknowledgement letter, which though received by a member of my family was lying unopened,” he said.
“I then tried to recollect how the forger could have procured my PAN and cellphone bill. It struck to me that I had attached photocopies of these documents for opening a Demat account with Sumna, a sub-broker of Fair Intermediate Investment, a share trading firm, said the junior engineer.
Subsequent investigations both by the police and Singh himself zeroed in on one Rohit Singh employed with Sumna. “Rohit not only forged my documents but also that of one Ratua Watal, a teacher in Awadh Girls Degree College, as introducer in opening the account in my name with the SBI,” said Singh. Simultaneously, he also opened a demat account under my name with Stock Holding Corporation of India at Shri Ram Towers and with Ventura Securities. He then took the shares of one of the customer of the firm (one DN Agarwal) and got them transferred in my name from the Stockholding Corporation and sold them through Ventura Securities for Rs 3.09 lakh and deposited the cheque with the SBI account, recounts Singh.
The city’s broking houses have their own stories to tell: “We had lodged an FIR against two persons some months back in the city who were caught with photocopies of fake driving licenses attached to the document for opening a Demat account with one of the share depository participants in the city. The original driving license belonged to one of our clients. The photocopy of the card had the photo tampered with to submit fake documents”, Nitin Saxena, Vice President Karvy Stock Broking Ltd, Lucknow told HT.
It is not just this grave issue of  photocopies of PAN cards or
driving licenses being tampered, the problem is compounded by people who might present a fake PAN card and driving license which look so “real” on verification. The only solution to deal with such a problem is to implement the system of  “biometrics” (using fingerprints as identity) to check all kinds of  identity frauds, he said.
The Income Tax Department had now rigorously started physical verification of  proof of residence of all applicants  applying for new PAN cards in the city. The scam related to multiple Demat accounts being opened by a single person in Ahmedabad had now prompted the Income Tax Department to issue cards only after proper physical verification of  applicant’s  proof of residence”, Saxena added.
“Various types of frauds are committed by people using PAN cards of the assesses not only in UP but across the country. We would certainly investigate cases of  “photocopies of PAN cards” which had been tampered with in any application be it opening of bank accounts or applying for a loan. The people who have been victims of  identity frauds could come to the Income Tax Department and report such cases in writing to the senior officials for action”, a senior IT official told HT.

NGOs enjoy foreign mewa for no sewa!

iconimg Saturday, June 30, 2012
M Tariq Khan
April 16, 2006

WITH HIGH-SOUNDING titles like Mahila Sewa Trust, Adarsh Sewa Sansthan, they call themselves non-profit organizations working for public good. But the only ‘sewa’ (service) they seem to have rendered so far is to line their own pockets with foreign funds collected in the name of such overt welfare schemes.
The district administration here has prepared a list of such erring Non Government Organisations (NGOs) that having gathered foreign aide disappeared from the scene. “Of the 23 such organizations that we had randomly selected from a list of 108 in the city, 11 did not exist on the address given by them,” said additional district magistrate (executive) NP Singh. That’s almost 50 per cent. “We would now be writing to the Union Home Ministry to blacklist these outfits to prevent them from receiving any foreign aid in future,” said the ADM. According to Singh, they were provided a list of 108 city NGOs, who had received foreign contributions during 2002-03 from the Union Home Ministry, which had sought a report from them on the activities of these organizations as well as the end-utilisation of funds.
Additional city magistrate (V) Anil Kumar Singh was subsequently, put on the job to verify the antecedents of the agencies in his areas that had received money from abroad. Of the 23 such odd NGOs that were selected for random survey, the ACM discovered that 11 had simply vanished from the scene. They included ‘Nalanda’ in Aliganj, Society for Aid and Development in Indira Nagar, The National Society for Blinds, Indira Nagar, Thomas Educational Christian Society, Vikas Nagar, Arthik Vikas Evam Jan Kalyan Sansthan C-736 Indira Nagar, Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Science, Vikram Khand, Gomti Nagar.
“Then there were a couple of other agencies like Assemblies of God Mission and Catholic Diocese of Lucknow, which were untraceable, as no address was provided in the list sent to us by the authorities,” said an administration official. Here it is pertinent to mention that under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 1976 (FCRA) any Indian organisation or individual who seeks to receive foreign contributions has to obtain a clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“While it would be wrong to tar all the NGOs with the same brush, it is also an accepted fact that a large number of these outfits that claim to be working in the cultural, social, educational, health and religious sectors divert funds or misuse them for personal gains,” said ADM Singh.
The irony, however, is that there is no proper audit-mechanism to keep a check on how the money is being spent, he added. He said it was because of this loophole in the law, several organizations got away without maintaining proper records or accounts of the funds received by them, said Singh. Indeed, the Centre, had mooted a Bill on foreign contributions in 2005 to give more teeth to the authorities to rein in erring NGOs. But it is yet to be cleared by the Parliament.