Narendra Modi exudes positivity ahead of historic Nepal visit
Ahead of his two-day visit to Nepal, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a number of updates on the social networking site Twitter stressing the importance his government attaches to maintaining excellent bilateral relations with Nepal. PM Modi will lead a 101-member delegation which includes seven ministers and Ajit Doval, the National Security Adviser. The upcoming visit has been hailed as a landmark in the bilateral relations between India and Nepal – it marks the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in almost 17 years. Since he has been sworn in as the Prime Minister, Modi has made a significant pitch at improving relations with neighbouring countries and SAARC nations. Not surprisingly, this is the second nation he shall be visiting as Prime Minister of India – after a successful visit to Bhutan last month.
The PM’s visit shall be an immense boost to trade and cultural exchanges between the two nations. What comes across significantly, however, is the emphasis that the NaMo administration is laying on building relations with neighbouring countries that lie between India and China. Border security and defence shall be high on the agenda for discussion between the two countries.
Taslima visa extension likely to spark domestic row
Following her meeting with the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen is likely to be granted a year-long extension of her resident visa in India. The Bengali author and human rights activist has been living in exile since 1994 and had applied for a long-term extension of her permit to reside in India. Earlier this week, Ms Nasreen had expressed bitter disappointment on a social media site, at having been permitted to stay temporarily in India for two months instead of being granted an approval for long-term residence. Ms Nasreen’s plea found strong support in former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju.
Much to Ms Nasreen’s ire, intellectuals from Kolkata, a city she considers home, have not been vocal in their support of a visa extension. The move could ruffle feathers in West Bengal and spark a row between the Centre and the State, it is feared. Back in 2014, Ms Nasreen had gone on record to state that she would be “thrown out of India, if she (Mamata) became the PM”. PM Modi’s relations with Ms Mamata Banerjee, the CM of West Bengal, are allegedly strained and the move to grant Ms Nasreen an extension on her residence may only trigger a new controversy.
Hooda accuses Centre of planning to end fertilizer subsidy
The Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has accused the NaMo-headed NDA government of conspiring to end the fertilizer subsidy. Haryana goes to the polls soon. In his public address at Ganuar constituency of Sonipat district, the Haryana CM alleged that the Centre had plans to end the subsidy on gas and fertilizer currently being provided to farmers in the state.
Earlier last month, the Economic Survey 2013-14 had put forth a strong argument against the continuation of subsidy on fertilizers. The report says that the burden of continuing these subsidies has been leading to a steady increase in food prices while adding no positive impact to agricultural output. According to the report, the subsidy policy has led to a gross overuse of urea vis-à-vis the use of phosphorus and potassium, since the farmers need to pay very little for the purchase of urea. The correct proportion for the use of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is 4:2:1.
While it is still not clear if the Centre is planning to completely end the subsidy on fertilizers, it is certain that the fertilizer subsidy policy needs to be revisited and revised. The high dependency on imports in this sector also needs to be curbed.
Visa-on-arrival facility slotted for Bodh Gaya, Varanasi
In a move that could provide a major boost to international tourism, the Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Shripad Naik announced that the government is working towards providing tourists from European and some other Western countries visa-on-arrival facility at the Bodh Gaya and Varanasi airports. The announcement came at the inaugural address of the 17th convention of Tourist Guides Federation of India (TGFI). Varanasi seems to be at the centre of special focus. The cleaning of the ghats involving a PPP (public–private partnership) model is likely to be initiated soon while the upkeep and maintenance of half a dozen ghats has already been handed over to the NGO, Sulabh International.
Naik also announced a number of language training programmes for tourist guides. He said that guides were the nation’s cultural ambassadors and richly deserved pension and insurance schemes that the government was about to launch.
While most of these announcements are likely to be welcomed for the significant boost they are likely to impart tourism in the nation, a number of concerns that they may give rise to, cannot be ignored. Security is a major concern. A visa-on-arrival undermines the many security safeguards and checks that a regular visa application and approval process entails. Given the significance of Varanasi and Bodh Gaya, any laxity in security measures could prove disastrous.
Kausar Nag Yatra may lead to Centre-State standoff
Union Minister Jitendra Singh has urged the Jammu and Kashmir State government to review its decision to bar Kashmiri pandits from undertaking their annual pilgrimage from Kakran to the Kausar Nag Lake in the Kulgam district of the State. The Central Ministry of Home Affairs has asked the Jammu and Kashmir Government to allow safe continuation of the pilgrimage and add extra security as deemed necessary. While the Jammu and Kashmir State government maintains that the proposed pilgrimage had not been granted any approval, Kashmiri pandits from the State claim that the approval was granted but later revoked by the State administration. Worries are that the NDA government may be involved in an ill-timed standoff with the State administration over the yatra. This could also hurt the secular image of the BJP-led Central administration.