Citizens' Issues
Shivraj called from abroad to accommodate former Vyapam chief in finance commission
Chouhan was on one of his foreign tours in June 2014 when he made the urgent call to the state finance department
 
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had hastily ordered the appointment of Malay Rai as Madhya Pradesh State Finance Commission member over the phone, an RTI query has revealed.
 
Rai was chairman of the MP professional examination board, or Vyapam, in 2009-10, and the order (dated June 6, 2014) was issued even as the Vyapam scam was being investigated. 
 
Chouhan was on one of his foreign tours in June 2014 when he made the urgent call to the state finance department.
 
This was revealed in an RTI reply given by the State Finance Department, to whistleblower Ajay Dubey. The RTI reply stated that the CM approved the proposal for the appointment on phone, subject to formal confirmation on his return from his trip overseas.
 
A copy of the State Finance department order has been provided in the RTI reply. The reply also said that the tenure of the finance commission will be up to June 30, 2015. 
 
Dubey told IANS that he would be filing one of several petitions in the Supreme Court regarding this. 
 
"What was the urgency in issuing the order telephonically? Our contention is that how can the state government appoint the former chairman of Vyapam to the finance commission when the examination board itself is under investigation, he said, adding that none of the officials of the board has yet got a clean chit.
 
Dubey also said that After the Vyapam question paper leaks in 2008 and 2009, the state government in 2010 had recruited central observers, including retired IAS, IFS and IPS officers and retired persons from academic field to observe and monitor the scanning of answer sheets.
 
"From 2010 till date about 500 central observers have been recruited by the state to monitor scanning of sheets, but still there have been irregularities. The scam hasn't stopped with regard to the recruitment of professionals," said Dubey
 
The MP Board, also known as Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal or Vyapam conducts examinations to recruit government employees in the state and holds admission tests for medical courses.
 
It has been mired in controversies for years, but it eventually came to light when 20 people were arrested in 2013 for impersonating candidates appearing for the 2009 medical entrance examinations.
 
This was followed by arrests of the state's ex-education minister Laxmikant Sharma, bureaucrats, Vyapam officials, racketeers, middlemen, candidates and their parents after the Special Task Force (STF) was established in August 2013.
 
More than 2.000 had been arrested so far in connection with the scam. According to reports, the admission and recruitment scam involving politicians, senior officials and businessmen in Madhya Pradesh could be pegged at Rs.20,000 crore involving about 30,000 people.
 
Forty-five associated with the Vyapam scam have died - mostly unnaturally or under mysterious circumstances.

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Mamata, Naveen, Jayalalithaa skip Modi's NITI Aayog meet
Apart from nine chief ministers from Congress-ruled states, West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee, Odisha's Naveen Patnaik, Tamilnadu's J.Jayalalithaa were among the non-NDA chief ministers who skipped the NITI Aayog meet here on Wednesday.
 
The meet, convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had the land acquisition bill on its agenda.
 
"Our chief ministers have not gone to attend the meeting of NITI Aayog as the party's stance on land bill is clear and it is against the legislation brought by the National Democratic Alliance government (NDA)," Congress spokesperson and former union minister R.P.N.Singh told IANS.
 
Congress has been opposing the land bill in its present form.
 
All the chief ministers of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states attended the meeting including Rajasthan's Vasundhara Raje, Madhya Pradesh's Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Chhattisgarh's Raman Singh.
 
Meanwhile, other prominent opposition chief ministers who attened the meeting were Bihar's Nitish Kumar, Delhi's Arvind Kejriwal and Tripura's Manik Sarkar.
 
Modi has convened the second meeting of the government council of NITI Aayog on Thursday in which the contentious land acquisition bill is expected to be discussed.
 
The meeting is being seen as an attempt by the NDA government to break the deadlock over the controversial bill that is facing a strong opposition from the Congress.
 
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment Bill, 2015) has been referred to a joint committee of both houses of parliament under the chairmanship of BJP's S.S. Ahluwalia.

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In historic Iran deal, carpet industry gets early reprieve
It is from the standpoint of its cultural importance that the US negotiators would also have agreed to lift the sanctions against carpet import once the conditions of the deal begin to get implemented as promised
 
Even though the US is making clear that the trade embargo on Iran would stay for some more time, senior administration officials in Washington are making sure to let it be known that necessary "adjustment" will be made in the sanctions to allow the import of world-famous Persian carpets at the implementation date.
 
In a background briefing administration officials have been quoted as saying, "We are not removing our trade embargo on Iran. US persons and banks will still be generally prohibited from all dealings with Iranian companies, including investing in Iran, facilitating cleared country trade with Iran. The only adjustment we will make to those sanctions at the implementation date will be to allow the import of food and carpets from Iran and the export of civilian aircraft and parts to Iran, which has one of the worst airline safety records in the world."
 
Carpet weaving has been at the heart of Persia’s culture for at least 2,500 years, if not longer. According to Iran’s National Carpet Centre, the oldest hand-woven carpet found so far is the Pazyryk Carpet. "The carpet was discovered by Russian archaeologists in their 1949 excavation of the tomb of a Scythian king in Altay mountains. The carpet, roughly sized 189x189 cm, using carbon-dating methods, is dated back as far as 500-400 BC and now is being kept at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The experts believe it was made during the Achaemenian or Parthian rule in Persia, as most motifs and designs of the carpet resembles those popular during the time of these two dynasties," it says.
 
Perhaps it is as much a tribute to the cultural significance of the hand-woven Persian rug as its importance to Iran’s economy that the sanctions against carpet imports into the US are being lifted. America has traditionally been an important market for Persian carpets. In a country of some 80 million people about two million people are said to make a living in the carpet industry hand-weaving some five million square meters every year. It is not just the number of people employed in the industry, although it is crucial as well, it is also its deep cultural roots which are also important. 
 
According to figures widely quoted in reports about the Iranian carpet industry, during Iran’s calendar year 2012-13, the country exported carpets $427 million compared to the export worth $560 million the year before. The drop was attributed to the global sanctions against it because of its nuclear programme. In the first quarter of Iran’s national year in 2014 it was said to have exported carpets worth $57 million. The US was reported to have accounted for a meager $51,000 of that.
 
Perhaps it is from the standpoint of its cultural importance that the US negotiators would also have agreed to lift the sanctions against carpet import once the conditions of the deal begin to get implemented as promised. At the back of the negotiators’ mind there ought to have been the awareness of how integral the carpet is to life in Iran. Carpet weaving was said to have been introduced by Cyrus the Great in 529 BC and has undergone major evolution over the past two and a half thousand years. Although machine-made carpets have in recent years begun to replace the hand-woven ones, internationally the latter still remain much coveted. 
 
There is realization that easing sanctions on the Iranian carpet import into the US is not going to significantly improve the Iranian economy decimated by the economic sanctions but at least the move has the merit of convincing the Iranian people about Washington’s long-term intentions. Of course, none of this can be taken to mean any degree of normalization of relations between the two countries in the foreseeable future but there are those in the Obama administration who may have considered the deep cultural symbolism that the Persian rug has enjoyed.

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