The Padma awards for 2020 announced on the eve of the Republic Day hit a record 141 this year. The number of awardees has been increasing in recent years – from 85 in 2018 to 112 in 2019.
For the current year, seven have been selected for the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest award after Bharat Ratna, 16 for Padma Bhushan, and 118 for Padma Shri.
This year, four of the Padma Vibhushan awards are posthumous – Swamiji Sri Vishwesha Teertha of the Pejavara Matha, George Fernandes, Arun Jaitley, and Sushma Swaraj.
From the industry, Anand Mahindra (Mahindra & Mahindra) and Venu Srinivasan (TVS) are to be awarded Padma Bhushan.
Social worker, Krishnammal Jagannathan, Carnatic musicians, C Saroja and C Lalitha, artist Manohar Devadoss, Nadaswaram exponent-couple, Kalee Shabi Mahaboob, and Sheikh Mahaboob Subhani are some of the Padma Shri awardees from Tamil Nadu. Another Padma Shri awardee S Ramakrishnan, founded the Amar Seva Sangam at Aykudi in Tirunelveli to serve the disabled in rural areas. He himself was disabled in an accident and spends his life serving the society.
After lawyers and engineers, a profuse of doctors?
Prof R Surendran, a renowned gastroenterologist, has raised an interesting issue: Tamil Nadu already has four doctors for 1000 population, far higher than the national average of 1:1456 and the WHO stipulation of 1:1000. The state has 49 medical colleges, both government and private. Recently, the Medical Council of India has cleared the setting up of six more new medical colleges in six districts. The Tamil Nadu government’s request for an additional three medical colleges has also been cleared. Does the state require medical graduates in such large numbers?
Surendran pointed out, it will make for better sense to upgrade the facilities in the existing medical colleges and improve the quality of medicare.
The state already has a reputation for its record in healthcare, particularly for its focus on maternal and childcare.
With such expansion, the fallout may be a huge availability of doctors. Large unemployment and underemployment. Already, we have the parallel; the state has been turning out in profuse engineers and lawyers.
Focus on high-speed rail lines
The Modi government set in motion reform of the railways by abolishing the separate budget for railways. There are now more reforms in the state. The advantages of involving private experts seem to be increasingly appreciated. The most recent in this direction include privatisation of IRCTC and CONCOR, the subsidiaries of Indian Railways.
France, Germany, Japan, and China have demonstrated the multifarious advantages in railway development. In recent decades, China has excelled in this area. The latest is the high-speed driverless train launched to connect Beijing to the winter Olympic villages designed to run at a speed of 300 kmph.
The NDA government took the bold initiative to take Japanese aid for constructing a high-speed bullet train service between Ahmedabad and Mumbai at an estimated cost of around Rs. 110,000 crores. Impressed with the phenomenal progress of China in this area, IE suggested giving turnkey contracts to China to construct the north-south and east-west high-speed rail lines on long-term soft loans. Such projects would provide employment on a large scale and also reduce travel time drastically. IE pointed to cutting travel time from Chennai to Bengaluru to just an hour; Chennai to Mumbai to 4 hours; and from Chennai to Delhi to 7 hours.
The progress made by the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project appears slow and halting. This is mainly the result of problems encountered in land acquisition. The problem seems to have been accentuated by the change of government in Maharashtra. Congress, opposed to the project, is now part of the coalition government and will not be keen to assist in speedy construction of the project.
Already, the Uddhav Thackeray government has stalled the construction of the metro rail terminal at the Aarey colony in Mumbai. In the divisive polity, so characteristic of India, the fate of even crucial projects has been uncertain.
With successive defeats in state elections, despite a comfortable majority enjoyed in Lok Sabha, the NDA II government would face more such hurdles.
The immediate need is to ensure land acquisition in a quick time. This attempt of the NDA I government was thwarted by the opposition in the Rajya Sabha and a few states. Consensus built by imaginative and adroit handling by leaders like Arun Jaitley in piloting the GST system is urgently needed. But the political divide is widening the absence of such tall leaders to build consensus.
National College completes 100 years
Participating in the centenary celebrations of the National College, Tiruchi, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu suggested, “exploring the exciting possibilities that lie in the intersections of disciplines. We must endeavour to fortify our education system with the wisdom gleaned from our ancient texts and practices, and apply this wisdom to today’s real-world challenges.”
Naidu pointed to a deterrent to socioeconomic progress: a low literacy rate of 76 per cent behind the world average of 86 per cent.
National College, Tiruchi, was among the earliest examples of the swadeshi spirit to nurture higher education. A trio of public-spirited leaders of Tiruchi set up a school in 1886, which became a full-fledged college by June 1919.
There are 250 teaching, and 97 non-teaching staff, and about 3700 students study in the college. National leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had visited the college. Illustrious principals like Saranathan contributed richly to the fame and stature of the college.
A big boost to the development of the college came when V Krishnamurthy (VK) took charge as President of the college. VK, the national builder, was, of course, quite familiar with Tiruchi. His stint at the high-pressure boiler plant at BHEL, Tiruchi, during the 1960s marked the spectacular rise of the public sector. BHEL became the jewel in the crown of PSUs. VK has revamped the premises at the National College with new buildings, sports facilities, and served as a quality infrastructure. The autonomous institution has been nationally re-accredited at A+ grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in 2011.
VK and his family contributed around Rs. 30 crores for strengthening the infrastructure and other facilities. VK mentioned that close to 95 per cent of students are from backward classes and scheduled castes, drawn from villages in and around Tiruchi, and 80 per cent of the parents of these students had not been to school.
VK outlined plans to set up a school for imparting quality education from the ground level. A handsome endowment in the name of his wife Rajam is being made to set up this facility.
Disappointingly, VK could not be present at this impressive function and was represented by his son Vice President Jayakar Krishnamurthy.
Some eight years ago, Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthy, Director, IIT-M, outlined the scope for meeting the bulk of the demand from agriculture and domestic consumers who account for more than half the consumption by solar power. IE set up Chennai’s first rooftop solar at the Economist House in May 2013 with SPVs from Avance, Germany, supplied by Saint-Gobain, for a capacity of 25 KW. There was then neither policy nor any support. We didn’t receive any subsidy; there was the absence of the net-metering facility, which took another five years. We could use power hardly for 40 per cent of the potential. The ROI was negligible; the original promise of little maintenance cost was also not true. The inverter from AEG, Germany, failed, and the German company had folded up its operations in India. For domestic rooftops, the incentives and returns are even poorer.
There is little enthusiasm or support on the part of the government to expand rooftop solar capacity. Despite the spectacular build-up in wind power that makes handsome contributions from June to September, due to poor returns on investment, there is little enthusiasm to expand capacity. Most of the initial interest was due to the handsome depreciation, of up to 100 per cent, and other tax incentives that are absent today.
The attractions of solar power (outlined in IIT-M more than eight years ago), had revolutionised countries like Germany and China, thanks to the policy backup by their governments. There is a need for such support from the Indian government. The big fall in the price of solar power panels lend for big additions to capacity in a short time.