Tag Archives: India

House collapse kills 17 in southern India

At least 17 people were killed on Monday in a rain-related incident in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, officials said.

A portion of a 15-foot (4.5-meter) wall fell on the adjoining houses burying alive the inmates, news agency Press Trust of India said.

Efforts are ongoing in Nadur village to pull out those trapped inside, officials said, confirming the death toll.

Rescue workers with the assistance of locals have retrieved bodies from the debris, police said.

Rains have completely drenched several districts of Tamil Nadu in the last 24 hours.

Five people were killed in rain-related incidents in the state on Sunday. 

Schools and colleges have been shut in affected areas.

Meanwhile, the country’s weather services office has predicted heavy rainfall for the next two days in the coastal districts.


Sri Lanka’s new president embarks on visit to India

Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flew to India on Thursday afternoon on a two-day official visit, his first overseas trip since assuming office.

The trip is a clear sign that the new president is comfortably cozying up to its giant neighbor, which may likely displease China, which has heavily invested in the South Asian island due to its strategic interests.

Rajapaksa — who was elected to power in the Nov. 16 presidential election with an overwhelming 52% of the votes — is leading a delegation to New Delhi, following an invitation extended to him by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lanka’s minister of foreign affairs, told Anadolu Agency the president will meet with Indian leaders on Friday where bilateral issues will be discussed at length.

Rajapaksa will be accorded a grand welcome in India at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the official residence of the Indian President, in New Delhi, where a special ceremonial reception will be held in honor of the Sri Lankan president.

The visit also came hot on the heels of a statement by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said he “appreciates” Rajapaksa’s continuous support and contribution to the China-Sri Lanka friendship and cooperation.

Xi said he looks forward to starting a “new chapter” in the China-Sri Lanka Strategic Cooperative Partnership.

Since Sri Lanka’s civil war with the Tamil rebel group LTTE ended in 2009, China has been at the forefront, helping the island nation of 21 million to develop in terms of infrastructure and as a result, China pumped millions of dollars into Sri Lanka during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa, elder brother of the incumbent president.

With Chinese loans, the former president realized numerous infrastructure projects — including highways, a port, airport, convention center and tallest tower in South Asia among others.

However, some of the projects such as the country’s second international airport in Rajapaksa’s hometown Hambantota is considered a white elephant as no commercial airlines fly to it. Some critics termed Sri Lanka’s increasing dependence on China a “debt trap.”

Equal partners for business

Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former foreign secretary, said the incumbent president has stated categorically that Sri Lanka wants to remain neutral in its foreign relations and stay out of any conflicts among world powers.

“His [Rajapaksa’s] elder brother, who was the president from 2005 to 2015, was committed to non-alignment. But when his efforts to revive the ravaged economy after the terrorist-inspired 27-year conflict ended in 2009 were rebuffed by the World Bank and the West, he was forced to turn to China,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Kohona, a former permanent representative of Sri Lanka to the UN, also said that under the new president, the relationship with India will enjoy priority attention, but all other countries, including China, will be welcomed as economic partners.

“China, with its Belt and Road Initiative, is the economic dynamo of the world, and Sri Lanka is well situated to benefit from the growth of China and other Asian economies,” he said.

Kohona said Rajapaksa’s foreign policy would strike a middle path to court countries as “equal partners for business and investment” and it would avoid “becoming a tool of any power,” either militarily or economically.

Soon after being sworn in to the country’s highest office, Rajapaksa in his maiden speech said: “We hope to work with all countries in a friendly manner, and we want to remain neutral in our foreign relations and stay out of any conflict among the world powers.”

However, Maya Majueran, director of the Belt and Road Sri Lanka think tank, a local group of professionals, said the Chinese investments and Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka cannot be changed due to its geographical location.

“China will always ensure that they have their influence and that they will do whatever they want,” Majueran told Anadolu Agency. 


In 2017, owing to growing debt, the previous coalition government signed a $1.1 billion deal with China, giving control of the southern port in Hambantota on a 99-year lease to convert debt to equity. The port was constructed with loans from China under the Belt and Road Initiative.

In an interview with Indian journalist Nitin Gokhale of Strategic News International, Rajapaksa said that giving away the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease was a mistake by the previous government and that the deal must be renegotiated.

Majueran said Rajapaksa’s announcement was more or less his way of showing India and the rest of the world that he is trying to remain neutral.

According to Majueran, Sri Lanka at present does not possess necessary connections to convert the Hambantota Port into a profit-making entity within a short period. “But China has the market power in the shipping industry, so they have the ability to convert the port into a profit-making entity,” he said.

He said that although it is very unlikely for Beijing to renegotiate the lease, but there could be a possibility for the Chinese to take a step back and agree to reduce the lease period just to show Colombo that they are also “flexible”.

George Cooke, deputy director of Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in Colombo, however believes that whether Sri Lanka decides to sign agreements with India or China in terms of development, it’s important to ensure a “win-win” situation to the country.

“This is where negotiations become critical, because when we sit down at the negotiating table with another country, they come to get the most for their side. So, we too must go in with the objective of getting most out of the situation,” Cooke told Anadolu Agency.

He also cautioned that it’s important to be mindful that countries such as India and China, are not only extremely powerful countries on the world stage, but “one is our immediate neighborhood, and the other has heavily invested in our country.”

“This is where we have a golden opportunity. Obviously, these countries are interested in us, and this is something that we should optimize to our advantage,” he added.


US Green Card: Over 2 lakh Indians waiting for family-sponsored legal permanent residency

More than 2,27,000 Indians are waiting in line for family-sponsored Green Card or legal permanent residency, according to the latest official data.

Currently, there are about four million people waiting in line for family-sponsored Green Cards against a Congressional cap of 226,000 per annum.

The largest number of 1.5 million waitlist is from America’s southern neighbour Mexico, followed by a distant India with 227,000 and China with nearly 180,000.

Majority of those in the family-sponsored Green Card waiting list are siblings of US citizens. Under current law, US citizens can sponsor their family members and blood relatives for Green Cards or permanent legal residency.

President Donald Trump is against such a provision which he calls as chain immigration and wants to abolish this. The opposition Democratic party is vehemently opposed to abolish family-sponsored immigration system.

In addition to four million family-sponsored Green Card applicants, another 827,000, a sizeable number of whom are from India, are waiting in line for permanent legal residency. The waiting line for employment-based green card applicant is painstakingly running into more than a decade for Indian IT professional.

According to DHS, a majority of Indians waiting in line for family-based Green Cards are siblings of US citizens. They number over 181,000. This is followed by 42,000 married children of US citizens and over 2,500 spouses and minor children of permanent residents.


Modi Considers Excluding $7 Billion of Air India Debt to Lure Buyers

 India is considering a plan to exclude more than half of Air India Ltd.’s $11 billion of debt in the government’s latest attempt to lure investors to the struggling carrier, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration plans to ask proposed investors to take over 300 billion rupees of the airline’s debt, which are backed by the carrier’s aircraft, the people said, asking not to be identified, citing private information. The government may call for the so-called expression of interest as early as Dec. 15, the people said.

Modi’s administration, which failed to attract any bidder for the carrier last year, is keen to sell the company to help bridge a widening fiscal deficit following dismal tax collections and cuts to corporate tax rates worth $20 billion. Last week, the government decided to sell its entire stake in the country’s second-largest state refiner, and its biggest shipping company.

Unprofitable for a decade with taxpayers bailing it out repeatedly, Air India’s appeal to any investor is contingent on the government’s ability to write off the debt not backed by assets. The government has pumped in 560 billion rupees in the last past decade in a bid to keep the carrier afloat, the people said.

A spokesman at India’s finance ministry, which handles assets sales, was not immediately available for a comment.

The government will absorb 500 billion rupees worth of obligations, the people said. Air India Assets Holding Ltd., a special purpose vehicle, holds about 300 billion rupees of the state-owned carrier’s debt and some of its assets, they said.

The SPV expects to raise 100 billion rupees selling the assets, the people said.


Heavy rush of pilgrims in Sabarimala, 2 women in ‘barred’ age denied entry

Amid heavy rush of devotees to the Lord Ayyappa temple here, police on Monday sent back two women devotees from Andhra Pradesh at Pamba as they were in the ‘barred’ 10-50 age group.

On Saturday, 10 women were turned back at Pamba, 5 km from the shrine, when the temple opened for the annual Mandala-Makaravilakku puja.

Police checked the two women’s identity cards and sent them back as they were found to be in the ‘barred’ age group, police sources said. Females in this age group have traditionally been barred from praying at the shrine.

In a show of support for believers, a nine-year-old Keralite girl, who came to the temple complex from Karnataka, had a placard around her neck inscribed with the words “Ready to wait. Will visit the shrine after attaining 50 years.” Hailing from Thrissur, Hridyakrishnan said she had visited the shrine thrice and would have darshan of Lord Ayyappa only after she reaches 50.

Her father, Harikrishnan said devotees are those who protect traditions and beliefs.

On Saturday evening, at least 10 women, who were part of a 30-member group from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, were sent back, as they were found to be in the ‘barred’ age group.

The state and temple precincts had witnessed protests by right wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the LDF government had decided to implement the apex court’s verdict of September 28, 2018 allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court recently referred to a larger bench the matter related to entry of women into the hill temple and other issues related to various faiths.

Though the top court did not stay its earlier order allowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, the LDF government in Kerala this time said the shrine is not a ground for activism and made it clear that it would not encourage women who want to visit the temple for publicity.

With devotees thronging the temple complex, Chief priest A K Sudheer Namboodiri opened the sanctum sanctorum at 3 a.m on Monday and performed special pujas including ‘Neyyabhishekam’ (ghee offering), among others.

The portals will close at 11 pm and reopen for the morning pujas.

Meanwhile,the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, said revenue collection on the opening day registered a growth of Rs 1.28 crore compared to last year.

Revenue from Hundi collection and sale of ‘aravana’ and ‘appam’ prasadams touched Rs 3.32 crore compared to Rs 2.04 crore last season, TDB president N Vasu said.

The TDB had suffered a loss of Rs 100 crore last year during the pilgrimage season as there was a severe dip in arrival of devotees and sale of prasadams.

Vasu said there were facilities to provide “Annadanam” (offering of food) to around 40,000 devotees per day.

Efforts are on to make Sabarimala temple complex plastic free and a campaign is being held in the southern states to inform pilgrims to avoid plastic in the “irumudikettu” (sacred bundle containing offerings to Ayyappa), he said.

The August floods and the protests by a section of devotees and right wing outfits on the women entry issue had led to a sharp decline in arrival of pilgrims.

This year, there has been a heavy rush of devotees with long queues being seen since Saturday and over 80,000 pilgrims have offered prayers, temple sources said.

DGP Loknath Behera said a three-tier security system was in place to ensure that it was a hassle free and safe pilgrimage for the devotees.


JNU students protest continues, demand rollback of fee hike

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Students Union on Monday said that they will continue the protest until the demands of rollback of fee hikes and release of detained students are accepted.

JNUSU Vice President Saket Moon, who was part of a group protesting near Jor Bagh metro station here said: “We will hold our protest here only. The barricading and the number of police and CRPF cannot be outnumbered. But we will hold this ground until our demands.” Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik was also present at the protest site.

Moon said that the Delhi Police Commissioner has promised the students union that he will arrange a meeting of the agitating students with the Human Resource Development Ministry.

He also demanded release of detained students and also rollback of the entire fee hike.

JNUSU also said that thousands of JNU students have been brutally attacked by the police and the Central Reserve Police Force.

In a statement, the students union claimed that the police used brutal force to disrupt the “peaceful” march and several students have been injured. Many students, including the office bearers, have been detained

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has also notified a High Power Committee to restore the normal functioning of JNU through dialogue with the stakeholders.

The students union demanded to withdraw the draft manual to increase hostel fees and treat the JNUSU, the elected representatives of the students, and the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) as stakeholders.

“The established process in JNU cannot and must not be short-circuited in the name of any high-powered committee decisions. The JNUSU, as the elected representative of the students, is part of this established process and any intervention on the JNU issue must explicitly invite the active participation of JNUSU. This high powered committee must not set a precedent but be corrective,” the students union said.     

“The MHRD should hold the JNU Vice-Chancellor and his administration accountable as he is responsible for the disruption in the normal functioning of the university. The terms of reference of the MHRD committee cannot be merely to advise the university administration.”

The JNUSU reiterated its demand that the JNU Vice-Chancellor must be removed for his complete “mismanagement” of the university.


Biggest Asia Trade Pact to Move Ahead Without India, China Says

Asian leaders plan to sign the world’s largest regional trade deal next year without India if it’s not ready to join, a Chinese foreign ministry official said on Monday.

Fifteen nations have completed negotiations and India is the last holdout, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told reporters in Bangkok, adding that India is welcome to join whenever it’s ready. Asian leaders had hoped to announce a breakthrough on the trade pact this week.

“It’s the 15 nations that have decided to move forward first,” Le said, adding that a few issues won’t be completed before the end of the year.

“There won’t be any problem for the 15 nations to sign RCEP next year,” he added. “We are taking an open attitude — whenever India is ready, it’s welcome to get onboard.”

China has sought to accelerate the pact covering a third of the global economy as it faces slowing growth from a trade war with the U.S., which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Donald Trump took office in 2017. A deal would further integrate Asia’s economies with China just as the Trump administration urges Asian nations to shun Chinese infrastructure loans and 5G technology.

Last-Minute India Demands Jeopardize 16-Nation Asian Trade Pact

India has long been the main holdout on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, due to domestic opposition over worries it would be flooded by cheap goods from China. It made last-minute demands in the run-up to the Bangkok meetings that ended up derailing the talks. The Philippines said Saturday that negotiations wouldn’t be completed until February.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is leading a downgraded U.S. delegation to Asean, downplayed the significance of RCEP in an interview yesterday. Most Southeast Asian leaders skipped a summit on Monday with U.S. representatives after Trump decided to avoid the annual meetings for a second straight year.

No Trump or Pence in Bangkok Has Asia Questioning U.S. Strategy

“RCEP is not much of an agreement,” Ross told Bloomberg. “It’s not a free trade agreement, it’s not anything remotely like TPP, nor anything remotely like our separate arrangements with Japan and with South Korea. So I don’t think you want to blow that out of proportion. It’s a very low-grade treaty.”


Indian PM welcomes ASEAN´s decision to review FTA

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has welcomed the decision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to review its free trade agreement (FTA) with India, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

Speaking at the 16th ASEAN-India Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday, the Indian PM said the re-examination will make their economic links stronger and trade more balanced.

An integrated, unified and economically developed ASEAN will serve India’s fundamental interests, he said.

The two sides were committed to building stronger links with road, maritime, air and digital connectivity, he added.

Modi also revealed India’s intent to integrate itself further with Southeast Asia.

Last month, ASEAN and India started reviewing the FTA on goods to make the deal more user-friendly, simple and trade facilitative.

In 2003, the two sides signed a framework agreement on comprehensive economic cooperation to establish ASEAN-India trade and investment region, creating the basis for the subsequent FTAs including goods, services and investment.

They agreed to review the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA) inked in 2009.

Founded in 1967, ASEAN groups 10 member countries, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


India runs Kashmir council vote despite lockdown and boycott

Village council elections are being conducted Thursday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but the absence of mainstream local politicians leaves worry the polls will install puppets of the central Hindu-nationalist government that revoked the disputed region’s semi-autonomous status in early August.

Officials are hoping the elections of leaders for more than 300 councils will lend credibility amid a political vacuum and contend they will represent local interests better than former corrupt state-level government officials.

But the elections are being boycotted by most political parties, including those whose leaders had been sympathetic to the central government but are now in makeshift jails or under house arrest. India’s main opposition Congress party is boycotting as well, possibly allowing a clean sweep for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP has a very small base in the Kashmir valley, the heart of a decades-old anti-India insurgency in the region of about 12 million people.

Predominantly Muslim Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the region in its entirety. Insurgents in the Indian-controlled portion demand independence or a merger with Pakistan.

In the elections, members of the more than 300 Block Development Councils formed last year will choose chairs. Each block comprises a cluster of villages across Jammu and Kashmir, a state that India’s Parliament downgraded in August to a federal territory, a change that takes effect on Oct. 31.

About 1,000 people are running. In at least 25 councils, candidates are running unopposed.

Most of the candidates and thousands of council members, the electorate for Thursday’s vote, have lived for months in hotels in Srinagar, the region’s main city, over security concerns. In the past, militants fighting against Indian rule have targeted poll contestants.

Officials tout the councils, which will be responsible for allocating government funds, as grassroots democracy.

But observers say the system lacks legitimacy in Kashmir.

Political scientist Dr. Noor Ahmed Baba said the exercise, at least in theory, is an “important layer of democracy” but questioned conducting it in “extremely difficult and abnormal times.”

“When most people are bothered about their basic freedoms and livelihood, facing crushing restrictions, you’ve these elections,” Baba said. “This is more like completing a formality. It looks more like an artificial exercise.”

The council elections held last December were boycotted by separatist leaders and armed rebel groups who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir. Both rebels and separatists in the past have called elections in Kashmir an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

About 60% of the 21,208 village council seats in the Kashmir valley are vacant because no one ran for them. The winners of another 30% were elected unopposed.

Police chief Dilbagh Singh said authorities have made security arrangements for the Thursday’s elections to be conducted smoothly.

Before downgrading Kashmir’s status, New Delhi sent tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarized regions, imposed a sweeping curfew, arrested thousands, and cut virtually all communications.

Authorities have since eased some restrictions, lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and some mobile phones. They have encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, but Kashmiris have largely stayed home, in defiance or fear amid threats of violence.

The Modi government says removing a constitutional provision that had given Kashmir some measure of autonomy since independence from British rule in 1947 was necessary to give rights afforded other Indian citizens, to usher in greater economic development and do away with the sense of separateness that BJP leaders say has cultivated the separatist movement.

But as the crackdown continues, Kashmiris have quietly refused to resume their normal lives, confounding India at their own economic expense.

Shops have adopted new, limited hours of operation in the early morning and evening. Taxi drivers haven’t returned to the roads.

Shailendra Kumar, the chief electoral officer, said the government had planned for the polls in June.

Conducting the polls amid an ongoing crackdown “could be a discussion point,” Kumar said, “but should we delay it for another year? I don’t think so. This is a clear-cut system governed by rules, and rules don’t ask me to gauge mood and sentiments but to facilitate the process.”

Some Kashmiris view the polls cynically, as a move to create a new political elite loyal to the Modi government that found its plans widely rejected in the region.

“Every election here is meant to pull wool over eyes of Kashmiris and create a smoke screen that everything is fine here,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a college teacher. “It’s also meant to convey to the world that India is a democracy and Kashmir is part of this vibrant democracy.”

To Abdullah and other Kashmiris still reeling from the changes in the region, Thursday’s polls suggest the opposite.


India’s Telecom Regulator Says ‘Market Forces’ Easing Price War

 India’s telecommunications regulator said that while courts have blocked its attempts to reign in “predatory pricing” by carriers, market forces are easing a tariff war that has left the country’s three big carriers saddled with debt.

In one signing of easing competition, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. earlier this month said it was imposing a charge on voice calls that were formerly free. The move reversed an offer that, along with cheap data packages, had accelerated a years-long competitive battle that pushed the market price for 1GB of data per month to less than a dollar.

“Market forces are working on predatory pricing,” Ram Sewak Sharma, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman, said in an interview.

Jio, which pushed its way into first place this summer after jumping into the market in 2016 with a promise of free voice calling for life, is raising prices just as rivals Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Vodafone Idea Ltd. are posting losses and selling some assets to raise cash. Jio’s reversal on free calls could mark a turning point in their quest for profitability.

Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea Jump After Jio Call Price Revision

For its part, the government said late Wednesday it will spend about 410 billion rupees ($5.8 billion) on two unprofitable state-run telecommunication companies to help them take on competition. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., which provides services in Mumbai and New Delhi, and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., that serves the rest of the nation, would merge under the plan, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a briefing in New Delhi. MTNL has reported losses in nine of the past 10 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

While Jio’s competitors have cried foul over its strategy of entering the market with free services, courts haven’t gone along with TRAI’s attempts to regulate pricing, Sharma said. Attention has focused again on the government as carriers prepare to upgrade networks to 5G. The government has said it may ask as much as $84 billion to license airwaves needed for the high-speed services.

The $84 Billion Dilemma Vexing India’s Three Telecom Tycoons

Carriers have said they need lower spectrum prices to make 5G affordable.

Sharma said the regulator sees prices set by the government for spectrum as “reasonable,” and that it’s up to carriers to take the next step.

“Government has done everything it needs to do for 5G,” said Sharma. He also said carriers should not have to pay up-front for spectrum licenses, but instead should pay two years first, then every year after that.

He said TRAI has already made its spectrum recommendations to the government and that he couldn’t comment further.