Morning Brief: Go-Ahead For 14,460 Civilian Border Bunkers; New Roads Milestone; Wi-Fi For All Railway Stations

by Swarajya Staff - Jan 8, 2018 06:36 AM +05:30 IST
Morning Brief: Go-Ahead For 14,460 Civilian Border Bunkers; New Roads Milestone; Wi-Fi For All Railway StationsBSF personnel at International Border, Suchetgarh near Jammu. (Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Good morning, dear reader! Here’s your morning news and views brief for today.

India To Build 14,460 Civilian Bunkers Along The Border: In a bid to protect border residents facing Pakistani shelling in Jammu division, the Union government has given the green light to build 14,460 individual and community bunkers at a cost of Rs 415.73 crore along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB). Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Poonch, Jugal Kishore Sharma, said 120 community and 1,200 individual bunkers would be constructed in Jammu, 243 community and 3,076 individual in Kathua, eight community and 2,515 individual in Samba 688 community and 1,320 in Poonch while 372 community and 4,918 individual bunkers would come up in Rajouri sector. "The bunkers would provide big relief to border residents who often fall victim to firing from Pakistan every now and then," Sharma said. While the 160 square feet individual bunker would be able to accommodate eight people, the capacity of the 800 square feet community bunker would be 40. India shares a 3,323 km border with Pakistan, of which 221 km of the IB and 740 km of the LoC fall in Jammu and Kashmir.

Roads Construction Milestone: India has seen a significant jump in building roads, said the latest report released by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Around 360 km was added daily to the country's road network in 2016 in comparison to 170 km in 2013-14, it said. The country's road network increased from 54.02 lakh km in 2013-14 to 56.03 lakh km in 2015-16 following the increase in construction of national highways (NH) and rural roads under the Prime Minister Grameen Sadak Yojana. The "Basic Road Statistics of India" report said rural roads and investment on road sector by both private and government has doubled from Rs 59,134 crore 2013-14 to Rs 98,988 crore in 2015-16. The length of NHs has also gone up from 91,287 km to 1,01,011 km during the same period. To increase the construction of the roads, the Centre has been increasing the budgetary allocation for road sector for the past few years. In 2016-17, of the total Rs 1.28 lakh crore targeted expenditure on the road sector, around Rs 90,470 crore has been spent so far, said an official.

Indian Navy’s Minesweeper Deal Falls Through: Pegged as one of the costliest 'Make in India' projects, the Rs 32,640 crore programme for 12 new mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs), to be built at Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) in collaboration with a Busan-based yard, Kangnam Corporation, has collapsed, delivering a blow to the Indian Navy’s efforts to shore up its mine-warfare capability. “We were unable to resolve commercial complications despite our best efforts. This particular deal with the Koreans is off,” said GSL chairman Rear Admiral (retired) Shekhar Mital. He said a fresh request for proposal will be issued to foreign military contractors for the technology transfer for the MCMV project. Minesweepers are deployed to secure harbours by locating and destroying mines. The Indian Navy has been struggling to scale up its mine-warfare capability. Its current mine counter-measure force consists of six vessels bought from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the late 1970s while experts say the Navy requires at least 24 minesweepers to secure major harbours in the country.

Boost For Digital India: Indian Railways To Equip All 8,500 Stations With Wi-Fi: As part of the government’s ambitious Digital India initiative, all railway stations – nearly 8,500 across the country, including those in rural and remote areas – will be equipped with Wi-Fi facilities at an estimated cost of Rs 700 crore ($110 million). The national transporter has currently commissioned Wi-Fi services at 216 major stations enabling about seven million rail passengers to log on to the free internet facility. “Internet access has now become an important requirement in day-to-day working and we shall be providing this facility at all railway stations in the country,” a senior railway ministry official said. As per the plan finalised at a recent meeting, while 1,200 stations have been identified for this facility to primarily cater to rail passengers, about 7,300 stations have been earmarked to not only serve passengers but also local people in rural and remote areas. As per the timeline, while 600 stations are targeted to be provided with the Wi-Fi facility by March 2018, the Railways aim to cover all 8,500 stations by March 2019.

Parliamentary Committee May Ask Government Not To Privatise Air India: A parliamentary committee is likely to recommend to the government that it is not the right time to privatise national carrier Air India. The panel "strongly feels that it will not be appropriate at this stage to disinvest when Air India has started earning profit from its operations". The committee, after hearing the views of all stakeholders said, "Air India should be given a chance for at least five years to revive themselves." The parliamentary panel expressed apprehension that Air India's strategic disinvestment "would result in job loss of many people" and asked the government to "make an assessment" of the job loss before deciding on stake sale. Earlier in June, the Narendra Modi government gave an in-principle approval to the divestment of debt-ridden Air India. Investors are not showing much interest in buying the state-owned carrier because of the company's large debt of more than Rs 52,000 crore.

Electoral Bonds: Government Open To Suggestions To Clean Political Funding, Says Jaitley: The Union government is open to suggestions to further clean political funding in the country, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Sunday, claiming electoral bonds as a big improvement over the opaque donation system in operation at the moment. “The government is willing to consider all suggestions to further strengthen the cleansing of political funding in India. It has to be borne in mind that impractical suggestions will not improve the cash-denominated system,” Jaitley said. The government on 2 January notified electoral bonds as a new instrument for donations to political parties. “The present system ensures unclean money coming from unidentifiable sources… Most political groups seem fairly satisfied with the present arrangement and would not mind this status quo to continue,” he said and added that the opposition’s criticism about the efficacy of the bonds was an attempt to “run down any alternative system which is devised to cleanse up the political funding mechanism”.

New Push To Make Parliament And State Legislatures Paperless: The Union government is pushing for 'paperless' Parliament and state legislatures as part of the Digital India initiative. The ‘e-Sansad’ and ‘e-Vidhan’ projects would make the functioning of Parliament and state legislatures participative, responsive, transparent, productive and more accountable to the public and make the entire Legislative process more efficient, said an official of the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry. The implementation of the 'e-Sansad' and 'e-Vidhan' projects would be discussed at length at the two-day All India Whips Conference beginning Monday at Udaipur in Rajasthan. The official said the 18th All India Whips Conference, scheduled to be inaugurated by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar on Monday, will consider roll-out of the two projects that seek to implement digitisation in Parliament and state legislatures and make their function paperless.

Haj Ban For Differently-Abled Muslims Lifted: The Union government has lifted the age-old restriction on differently-abled Muslims from embarking on the annual pilgrimage to Makkah and Medina in Saudi Arabia. "We have lifted the restriction," Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. The ministry has ordered the Haj Committee of India to align its 2018-2022 guidelines with the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 to also consider the applications of people with disabilities for Haj. The Haj Committee's guidelines stipulate that any Indian citizen who is a Muslim can apply for the annual pilgrimage, "except for those who do not have the mental or physical health to perform the pilgrimage, persons whose legs are amputated, who are crippled, handicapped, lunatic, or otherwise physically or mentally incapacitated." The ministry recently lifted a ban on Muslim women going for Haj without "Mahram (a male companion)" following an instruction from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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