Monday, September 28, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, September 28, 2009

Time to crack Parliament’s glass ceiling
THE power of women has never been in the spotlight as now. We have the country’s first woman president, the ruling party is headed by one, for the first time the Lok Sabha speaker is a woman. And last week there was further proof of the UPA’s total faith in empowering women.

Deepak Sandhu, the former Media Advisor to the Prime Minister and Sushma Singh, recently retired as Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting were inducted as commissioners in the Central Information Commission, the body that oversees the implementation of the Right to Information Act which gives ordinary citizens the right to secure access to information about public authorities and establish transparency and accountability in the government. With Sandhu and Singh joining Anu Dixit, widow of the former National Security Advisor Mani Dixit in the CIC, the nine member commission has one third representation for women — without the need for legislation.

The CIC briefly had another woman commissioner, Omita Paul, a retired Press Information Bureau officer who was once an advisor to Pranab Mukherjee. But with Pranabda back as finance minister Paul quit to join him as Officer on Special Duty.

Another glass ceiling was shattered last week when the government appointed Vijayalakshmi Sharma, a 1975 batch Indian Revenue Service officer as the Director General of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the first woman to hold the post since the DRI was set up in 1957.

All information commissioners are appointed by a committee consisting of, among others, the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition. That leaves me with the feeling that, whatever else their differences may be, the Congress and the BJP seem to be agreed that women make for better administrators. If that be so, why don’t the two parties join hands and push the women’s reservation bill down the throats of the Yadavs and the Paswans so that instead of less than 80, we have a minimum of 250 women MPs? I can bet politics will become a more honourable profession.

We cannot afford to lose IAF pilots
WITH THE Sixth Pay Commission brightening up their lives, not to speak of fattening their wallets, and almost all private airlines deep in the red, you would have thought that Indian Air Force pilots would not be looking for clearer skies.

Far from that. As of now, there are nearly 100 Indian Air Force pilots who, with more than a decade and half of service left, are seeking voluntary retirement. The last time this happened, when nearly 120 pilots left the IAF, was in 2004- 05 when many airlines sprung up and more Indians began to take to the skies.

What is worrying about the exodus now is that it comes even as the IAF is on a major modernisation drive. The IAF is currently engaged in one of the biggest evaluation exercises with its pilots testing the French Dassault Rafale, the F- 16 from General Dynamics of US, the FA- 18 from Boeing, Mig- 35 from Russia and the Gripen from Saab of Sweden. These tests are aimed at buying 126 fighter jets at a cost of nearly Rs 45,000 crore, among the biggest orders in the business.

Assuming the flying machines will be in place soon, where are the men? The IAF has a staff strength of about 1.5 lakh personnel of whom nearly 3000 are pilots, split equally between helicopter pilots, large transport planes and fighter pilots. That means we have about 1000 fighter pilots. And most of those who have sought VR are reportedly fighter pilots. With about 20 years experience, all it takes them is a maximum of eighteen months to acquire an Airline Transport Pilot Licence and become commanders on commercial Boeing and Airbus jets of private airlines where the salaries are five or six times what the IAF pays. We pride ourselves on the IAF being the world’s fourth largest air force but those magnificent men in their flying machines cannot be faulted if the big buck beckons. Don’t let them go. Forget the seventh, eighth and ninth; give them Tenth Pay Commission scales. And now.

IMAGINE YOU are a minister and a file lands on your table with a tag attached that simply says 10J. To the uninitiated, that is an abbreviated yet no less intimidating way of saying 10 Janpath. I know of several ministers who are at the end of their tether trying to deal with such tagged files and I can only sympathise with the Hamletian dilemma that they face. To push or not push the file, that is the question. It is well known that both mother and son talk directly to no more than a handful of ministers. As for the rest, they choose to get their messages across through the Prime Minister or one of the other senior ministers.
Many files have been landing up in the in- trays in ministerial offices, relating to matters close to the Gandhis’ hearts, like NREGA. The problem arises due to the fact that many of these ministers have no way of even finding out if the attached 10J tags are genuine or not. Forget Sonia and Rahul, many of the ministers won’t dare call even the minions in Sonia’s office to check on the genuineness of the tags. I have a feeling the mantrijis go to bed left with the feeling: “ damned- if- I- do- damned- if- I- don’t”.

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