There has been a lot of noise and commentary over the functioning of microphones in Parliament and their alleged manipulation, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and other opposition figures claiming that mics are switched off when embarrassing allegations are levelled. The charge that mics are deliberately switched off is indeed serious. But inquiries revealed that this might not have been the case and was a one-off instance. The official account is that the sound system in Lok Sabha did experience a glitch on one occasion but it was not a ‘targeted’ strike at opposition benches. The issue of mics being switched off had arisen previously when MPs, many from Congress, blockaded Parliament daily over the Telangana statehood demand when UPA was in office. On any given day, there are a few mics at the front where the secretary general and Parliament staff sit which capture the ‘hungama’ in the House. The mic of the MP called on by the speaker is the one that is active, not the others nearby. When the MP finishes (or is asked to wind up by the speaker), his mic goes off and the one in front of the next member called comes on. In any case, loud shouts and comments are caught by any of the mics that are on and can often be heard by viewers. The speaker can strike comments from the record but this has become an academic exercise since much of the House proceedings are already on YouTube before the chair orders an expunction.
In his recent public comments, Delhi Lt Governor VK Saxena noted that despite reports of discord between his office and the AAP government, ties remained intact even though “dignity of speech”—a reference to vocal allegations levelled by AAP leaders—had suffered. The lieutenant governor offered a poetic analogy to step around media questions about bitterness in relations with the Delhi government. Saxena’s tenure has certainly marked a heightening of the Centre-AAP confrontation as he has cleared investigations into several graft charges. AAP had greeted Saxena’s arrival at the lieutenant governor’s residence by accusing him of nepotism during his previous charge as chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). The lieutenant governor’s office pointed to a KVIC statement that the work referred to had been done free of cost which had in any case been exaggerated. If the idea was to put Saxena on the backfoot, the opposite seems to have happened. In contrast to his predecessor Anil Baijal, the current incumbent sought reports from Delhi government officials and vigilance department on various pending complaints and swiftly recommended further action. The developments have led to the arrest of former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in the Delhi liquor policy case and he is also named in the case relating to alleged snooping by a feedback unit in violation of rules. It is clear that the odd public pleasantries aside, Centre-Delhi relations will continue to be tense.
The good news about the Jal Jeevan Mission, intended to ensure tap water to all households, is that coverage has increased from 16.6 per cent in 2019 to 59.1 per cent and a big majority has reported better access to water overall. The challenge has been daunting, much more than the mission to deliver an electricity connection to every household that was undertaken during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term. The states with large populations are not surprisingly a challenge, with Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan currently reporting 33.9 per cent, 47.7 per cent and 34.3 per cent coverage. The Centre is making more focused attempts to improve tap water availability in these states which are also vast and have remote areas. Other states with 30-50 per cent coverage include Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam and, surprisingly enough, Kerala (46.9 per cent). Bihar is not part of this group, having achieved more than 95 per cent coverage, while Gujarat, Telangana, Punjab and Haryana are at 100 per cent. The hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are doing well at 97 and 75 per cent, respectively, despite the obvious logistical difficulties of their terrain.
The action by Punjab Police against Khalistani activist and self-styled preacher Amritpal Singh is evidence that the state government has recognised the dangers posed by radical elements. The crackdown happened after a meeting between Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, with the BJP leader pointing to the need for firm action. The rise of the preacher is not unconnected with anti-India activities in Western countries. The hand of Pakistan’s ISI can be seen in promoting radicalism with the help of some Indian fugitives it harbours on Pakistani soil. But the impunity with which a mob tried to pull down the Indian flag at the High Commission at London has highlighted the inability of successive UK governments to curb the activities of Khalistani sympathisers that is putting Indian-origin people and even visitors from India at risk. Indian sources say there is a clear pattern of India’s diplomatic properties being targeted while more widespread violence in Leicester affected the larger Indian community and a list of such incidences is being compiled. The UK is also attracting criticism for the high-profile economic offenders—the list includes businessmen, defence middlemen and cricket bookies—who have exploited legal processes to roost in London and evade Indian courts and investigating agencies. The British government has promised cooperation in extradition proceedings but points out legal provisions that cannot be skirted. Be that as it may, there is concern in India about the activities of extremists as well as wanted persons accused of swindling millions who have made London their home.
As part of the G20 events, the government has launched several programmes to promote cyber safety, including quizzes, videos, posters, and infographics. The “stay safe online” campaign, say officials, is not a flash in the pan promotional event but addresses a serious issue where thousands fall victim to fraud and manipulation in cyber space. The campaign also promotes awareness of the need for discretion in posting personal information online and providing access to both known and unknown persons. The advice offered is extensive, covering all areas of concern related to online activities. It has advisories on more common issues like browser safety and fake job or donation scams as well as more complex data security and KYC frauds. Under “romance scams”, the campaign warns of online fraudsters who can trap victims in fake online relationships, financial losses, emotional trauma and depression. Internet ethics and social media addiction are some of the other subjects covered.