Archive for February, 2016

29/02/2016

India unveils fire-fighting budget to placate voters, sustain growth | Reuters

The government unveiled a fire-fighting budget on Monday that seeks to win back support among rural voters for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government and sustain growth against a grim global backdrop – all without borrowing more.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley‘s third budget marked a strategic shift by addressing rural distress in a country of 1.3 billion, where two-fifths of families rely on farming and are reeling from two years of drought.

At the same time it hiked public investment in India’s woeful infrastructure by 22.5 percent, while taking further steps to revive corporate investment that Modi needs to create new jobs for India’s burgeoning workforce.

“We have a shared responsibility to spend prudently and wisely for the people, especially for the poor and downtrodden,” the 63-year-old finance minister told lawmakers in his 100-minute address.

India holds several state elections this year, including in the farming state of West Bengal, with the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, going to the polls in 2017. A strong showing will be vital to Modi’s chances of a second term.

Despite commanding a large majority in parliament’s lower house, Modi’s government has failed to pass several key measures since sweeping to power almost two years ago, raising doubts over the impact of its reform agenda.

Jaitley called Asia’s third-largest economy a bright spot in a gloomy global landscape, and reiterated a forecast that it would grow by 7.6 percent in the fiscal year that is drawing to a close.

Source: India unveils fire-fighting budget to placate voters, sustain growth | Reuters

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29/02/2016

China expects to lay off 1.8 million workers in coal, steel sectors | Reuters

China said on Monday it expects to lay off 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel industries, or about 15 percent of the workforce, as part of efforts to reduce industrial overcapacity, but no timeframe was given.

It was the first time China has given figures that underline the magnitude of its task in dealing with slowing growth and bloated state enterprises.

Yin Weimin, the minister for human resources and social security, told a news conference that 1.3 million workers in the coal sector could lose jobs, plus 500,000 from the steel sector. China’s coal and steel sectors employ about 12 million workers, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics.

“This involves the resettlement of a total of 1.8 million workers. This task will be very difficult, but we are still very confident,” Yin said.

For China’s stability-obsessed government, keeping a lid on unemployment and any possible unrest that may follow has been a top priority.

The central government will allocate 100 billion yuan ($15.27 billion) over two years to relocate workers laid off as a result of China’s efforts to curb overcapacity, officials said last week.

Source: China expects to lay off 1.8 million workers in coal, steel sectors | Reuters

28/02/2016

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s visit to Punjab — Kejriwal vows to curb mining mafia in Punjab – The Hindu

Alleging that a “mining mafia” in Punjab was extorting money from owners of stone crushing units, Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday vowed to put an end to the menace “within 24 hours” if his party comes to power in the 2017 Assembly election.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the people at Dhilwan in Punjab on Sunday.

“I am shocked to know that legal crusher owners have to pay ‘goonda tax or jizya’ to the mining mafia in Punjab. I vow that within 24 hours of AAP’s coming into power, this will be curbed in the state,” Mr. Kejriwal, who is on a five-day tour of Punjab to reach out to voters ahead of the Assembly elections, said at a rally here.

Members of the business community, including owners of crushing units, on Sunday met Mr. Kejriwal and alleged that no action was being taken against the extortionists. They also claimed that false cases were being registered against them.

Mr. Kejriwal said once voted to power, AAP would set up a commission to review such cases and take action against officials who had lodged them.

Reacting to reports of a large number of posters which had sprung up in Jalandhar questioning his governance record, the Delhi Chief Minister hit out at the Akali Dal saying they had ruined the state during their 10-year rule.

“People know who has ruined his state for about 10 years and who is a failed CM,” he said.

Mr. Kejriwal also claimed that no government could have achieved in 65 years what his government had accomplished in one year in Delhi.

“What we have done in our one year rule in Delhi, I challenge that no state government could have done in the last 65 years. I am confident if Delhi goes to polls today, other parties will not be able to win even a single seat,” he said.

He also met people from different walks of life, including industrialists, advocates, shopkeepers and members of the Christian community.

Earlier, BJP workers led by district president Suresh Bhatia and Municipal Council president Naresh Mahajan, tried to gherao Mr. Kejriwal at Gandhi Chowk, but were stopped by police who resorted to mild lathi-charge, in which one person was injured.

Around 80 protesters were detained later released after the Delhi Chief Minister left, police said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kejriwal visited the Golden Temple and Durgiana Mandir in Amritsar.

Talking to media in Amritsar on Saturday night, he said he met various associations of traders who were not “happy” with the ruling government in Punjab because of “rampant corruption” in government departments. Moreover the state government had failed to “support” traders, he alleged.

Source: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s visit to Punjab — Kejriwal vows to curb mining mafia in Punjab – The Hindu

24/02/2016

China cuts more red-tape – Xinhua | English.news.cn

I wish the UK government would follow this excellent lead.

“The State Council, China’s cabinet, has decided to abolish another 13 items of administrative approval to reduce intervention in the economy.

The items released on Tuesday involve finance and business qualification reviews.

The decision will help vitalize the economy and strengthen growth, the State Council said.

Facing a complicated global landscape and pressure from an economic slowdown at home, the central government has made transforming government functions a top priority.

State Council agencies have canceled or delegated administrative approval powers on 599 items since March 2013, meeting the target to cut the number of items requiring approval by one-third within the term of this government ahead of schedule.”

Source: China cuts more red-tape – Xinhua | English.news.cn

24/02/2016

U.S. Design Company Redesigns the Cycle Rickshaw to Make it ‘Sexy’ – India Real Time – WSJ

It is not quite reinventing the wheel, but one company is trying to overhaul an old-fashioned form of public transport–the cycle rickshaw.

Funded by the Asian Development Bank, Colorado-based Catapult Design has produced a new, flashy design for the vehicle — ubiquitous in Indian and other South Asian cities — that includes electrical assistance and gears for tricky hills.

Cycle rickshaws, or pedicabs, in South Asia provide backbreaking but vital work for the drivers who pedal passengers often on short “last mile” trips from other forms of transport to their final destination.

Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, has half a million cycle rickshaws alone, Bradley Schroeder, who is leading the $340,000 project to develop an open-source design of the pedicab, said. But the design hasn’t improved much in 40 years.

The ADB will spend $150,000 on manufacturing 60 prototype vehicles and testing them in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, and Lumbini, a tourism hotspot in the Himalayan nation and the birthplace of Buddha, over the coming months.

Half of the new rickshaws will be pedal-only, and the rest will have built-in electrical assistance provided by a lithium-ion battery, the company said.

Most rickshaws are currently made from tubular steel and if they have electrical assistance, it is provided by a heavy car battery, Mr. Schroeder said. Exposed parts of the rickshaw’s mechanics mean that clothes such as saris can become caught and cause accidents.

The new design is made from stainless steel and the mechanics are fully enclosed and include gears. The lithium batteries are more lightweight and the electrics comply with European Union standards, he added. The vinyl cover on the rickshaw provides protection from the elements.

“We wanted to make the body very sexy,” Mr. Schroeder said. The designers talked about adding seatbelts but decided against it since the the speeds were so low.

The new cabs are more expensive – they will cost $750, compared with about $400 for an average rickshaw. That cost, Mr. Schroeder says, is a result of the reduced weight and the addition of smartphone vehicle-hailing and driver-evaluation technologies as well as touch screens that can deliver tour guides to passengers.

“Weight is everything in the pedicab industry,” Mr. Schroeder wrote in an emailed response. The lighter model will mean that the pedicab will have a top speed of 15.5 miles an hour, but, Mr. Schroeder wrote, “essentially the vehicle will go as fast as the wallah (driver) can pedal and since the vehicle is lighter and now has gears, the wallah should be able to go faster.”

The drivers of the rickshaws for the trial in Nepal will be taken from the existing pool of the cities’ rickshaw chauffeurs, Mr. Schroeder said.

His team spent several months interviewing drivers, owners and garages. “There are a lot of questions, it’s not always easy. But over time we win them over and they are happy,” he said.

“They live on the fringes of society and are very concerned about making money every day,” he said. “They can see their industry is in decline.’

But although the cycle rickshaw is steeped in tradition, its drivers aren’t resistant to change.

“If you show them a 3-D printed model of the design, they’re blown away,” Mr. Schroeder said.

After the trial, Mr. Schroeder hopes a bicycle, motorcycle or auto company picks up the unpatented design and uses it to manufacture the product.

Source: U.S. Design Company Redesigns the Cycle Rickshaw to Make it ‘Sexy’ – India Real Time – WSJ

24/02/2016

China Inc.’s Nuclear-Power Push – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China wants to shift from customer to competitor in the global nuclear industry as it seeks to roll out its first advanced reactor for export, a move that adds new competition for already struggling global firms.

As WSJ’s Brian Spegele reports:

  • Two state-owned firms teamed up to design the advanced indigenous Hualong One reactor with plans to sell overseas. On Tuesday, one of them, China General Nuclear Power Group, hosted dozens of business executives from Kenya, Russia, Indonesia and elsewhere, as well as diplomats and journalists, at its Daya Bay nuclear-power station to promote the Hualong One for export.
  • Asked how much of the global market share for new nuclear reactors CGN wants Hualong One to win, Zheng Dongshan, CGN’s deputy general manager in charge of international business, said: “The more the better.”
  • The move marks a turnaround for China and the nuclear-power industry. For three decades, China served as a big market for nuclear giants including U.S.-based, Japanese-owned Westinghouse Electric Co. and France’s Areva SA. More than 30 reactors have been built across China since the 1990s with reliance on foreign design and technology.

Source: China Inc.’s Nuclear-Power Push – China Real Time Report – WSJ

23/02/2016

‘Weird’ new buildings banned in Chinese cities| Society

Cities will not be allowed to build more “oversized, xenocentric, weird” buildings devoid of cultural tradition in the future, according to a new directive from the central government.

The State Council, or the cabinet, and the Communist Party of China Central Committee issued the directive on Sunday. It says buildings should be “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye.”

Cities have built some unusually shaped buildings to create memorable skylines in recent years, but many have drawn criticism. Here is one of sixteen very weird buildings in China!'Weird' new buildings banned in Chinese cities

See the other fifteen at:

Source: ‘Weird’ new buildings banned in Chinese cities[12]| Society

23/02/2016

Angry victims heckle Haryana CM after Jat riots kill 19 | Reuters

A political ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shouted down on Tuesday by a crowd angered by rioting in Haryana that destroyed businesses, paralysed transport and cut water supplies to metropolitan Delhi.

Photo

The chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar was heckled by local people in the town of Rohtak after they objected to his comments promising that they would receive compensation.

More than a week of unrest involving the Jat rural caste has challenged the authority of Modi, who was elected in 2014 with the largest majority in three decades but has publicly ignored the outburst of anger over a lack of jobs.

Although Jat leaders reached a deal late on Monday to end more than a week of protests that killed 19 people and injured 170, anger was still boiling among the victims whose livelihoods had been ruined.

Live TV pictures showed Khattar giving up his attempt to address angry people on the street. After retreating indoors to give an impromptu news conference, he repeated his promise of compensation only to be shouted down again.

Soon after Modi won national power, Khattar led his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to power in Haryana, a state of 25 million people, for the first time.

TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION

There was a trail of destruction through the town, one of several to be hit by Jat agitation to demand more government jobs and college places, with one Hyundai dealership gutted. Traders who staged an earlier sit-down protest said they had lost everything.

“I had two showrooms on the road; both were first looted and then set on fire. I have nothing left now,” Anil Kumar told Reuters Television.

Kumar appealed to Modi and to chief minister Khattar for compensation: “Are we not humans? Don’t our votes count? Why did they not have any mercy on us? Don’t we pay our taxes?”

Modi has remained silent through the worst social unrest of his 20 months in office. A senior government official said he would give a statement in due course to parliament, which convened for its budget session on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley next week presents his annual budget. He is expected to announce big hikes in public sector pay that would make it hard to free up funds for investment without borrowing more money.

Thousands of troops were deployed to quell the protests, which flared on Monday near Sonipat when a freight train was torched and, according to reports, police shot dead three protesters. Jats also attacked buses in neighbouring Rajasthan.

Disruption has been huge, with at least 850 trains cancelled, 500 factories closed and business losses estimated at as much as $5 billion by one regional lobby group. India’s largest car maker, Maruti Suzuki, shut two factories at the weekend because its supply of components was disrupted.

The army on Monday retook control of a canal that supplies three-fifths of the water to Delhi, a metropolis with a population of over 20 million. A key sluice gate was reopened, but protesters sought to cut the water supply at another place.

“The canal was damaged by protesters and repair work will have to be done,” Delhi’s Water Resources Minister Kapil Mishra said. “The water crisis will continue for a few more days.”

Source: Angry victims heckle Haryana CM after Jat riots kill 19 | Reuters

21/02/2016

Xi takes nuclear option in bid to rule for life | The Sunday Times

Very worrying, if true.

CHINA is moving towards one-man rule as the state media step up demands for personal loyalty to President Xi Jinping, a departure from the Communist party’s collective leadership of recent decades.

Xi Jinping appears to be building a personality cult around him as Mao did

Last week the party’s flagship newspaper issued a call for Xi to have the power to “remake the political landscape of China”. The article, supposedly written by one of a literary group, was put out on a social media account run by the People’s Daily. It said all communists must be loyal to Xi and “line up with the leadership”.

The campaign to enshrine Xi as the infallible “core” of authority is worrying many inside the political elite and coincides with China exerting its military muscle and possibly preparing to change its nuclear weapons strategy.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has just stationed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea. The Chinese expansion comes as Barack Obama rallies Asian nations to support free navigation in the strategic waterway. The prospect of one man dominating the party, the state and the army in China could be the most challenging test in the next American president’s in-tray.

Xi’s grand plans include a total reorganisation of the Chinese military command structure that has included an internal debate about its nuclear weapons. Xi recently formed a dedicated PLA rocket force to control the nuclear ballistic missile arsenal. A report for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US-based group, says China may be considering placing its nuclear forces on alert, which means that, like America and Britain, its weapons would be ready to fire on command.

That would be a shift of position for a nation that affirms it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict. China has already started an ambitious programme to upgrade its older missiles with multiple warheads like those of other nuclear powers.

Rising military budgets show that despite the slower Chinese economy and big flows of capital out of the country, Xi is seizing any initiative to turn nationalism to his advantage. A source who grew up in the party’s privileged residential compounds in Beijing said the moves harked back to an earlier era: “There is a fear among the families, the long-time party members for generations, that this guy wants to make himself into another Chairman Mao and rule for life.”

It is clear that, like Mao, Xi, 62, is using articles and essays in the state media, often penned by pseudonymous authors or published in the provinces, to intimidate his enemies and promote himself.

Last week a social media platform controlled by the Beijing Daily, the voice of the capital’s municipal committee, launched a striking attack on a party faction opposed to Xi, the Communist Youth League. Officials connected to the league were “ambitious aristocrats whose self-serving attitude did no good to the party and led to scandals”, it sneered.

Targeting the league — whose members include the prime minister, Li Keqiang, and the former president, Hu Jintao — is a signal that Xi has broken with the consensus set after the unrest of 1989 that the party’s factions do not attack one another in public. In the past, a league connection meant a fast-track to promotion for young high-flyers. Now it seems to be a liability.

A study by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection — the party watchdog unleashed by Xi against rivals accused of corruption — has criticised the “mentality” of league members. The commission’s propaganda publication, the China Discipline Inspection Paper, warned against “those who form their own circles inside the party” and referred to fallen officials as “gangs”.

This Mao-era language singled out the “petroleum gang” under the purged security chief, Zhou Yongkang, whose cronies dominated the Chinese oil industry, and the “secretary gang” around Ling Jihua, a close aide to Hu and a former league stalwart. Ling is already under arrest on corruption and bribery charges.

Defining people as members of “gangs” or “cliques” is a classic tactic of communist infighting and a prelude to destroying them.

Chilled by the signals from the top, half the provincial party chiefs in the country this month pledged allegiance to Xi as “the core”.

The term represents a significant change from the language used about Xi’s predecessors, Hu and Jiang Zemin, who were referred to as being only “at the core” of a collective leadership. The last strongman in China, Deng Xiaoping, exercised his power behind the scenes and scorned a cult of personality.”

Source: Xi takes nuclear option in bid to rule for life | The Sunday Times

20/02/2016

A slow awakening | The Economist

AROUND 270m people have left China’s countryside to work in urban areas, many of them entrusting their children to the care of a lone parent, grandparents, relatives or other guardians.

By 2010 there were 61m of these “left-behind children”, according to the All-China Women’s Federation. In a directive released on February 14th, the government has at last shown that it recognises the problems caused by the splintering of so many families. The document acknowledges that there has been a “strong reaction” from the public to the plight of affected children. It describes improving their lot as “urgent”.

That is clearly right. There have been numerous stories in recent years revealing the horrors some of these children endure. Last year four siblings left alone in the south-western province of Guizhou apparently committed suicide by drinking pesticide. Numerous sex-abuse cases involving left-behind children have come to light.

The new proposals look sensible enough: minors may not be abandoned entirely; local institutions such as schools and hospitals must do more to notify the authorities of cases of abuse or neglect; social workers should monitor the welfare of left-behind children. Sadly, however, the government’s suggested remedies will achieve little. They largely replicate recent laws and policies designed to protect children (not just left-behind ones), which have been almost universally unenforced. It is already illegal to allow minors to live alone, for example. There is no indication that the new recommendations will be made law or implemented any more rigorously.

The new scheme mentions the importance of giving migrants urban hukou, or household-registration certificates, which are needed to gain access to public services such as education and health care. Most migrants leave their children in the countryside because they do not have such papers. In December the government announced plans to make it easier for migrants to gain urban hukou privileges. But few casual labourers are likely to fulfil the still-onerous conditions that must be met to qualify.

A study published last year by researchers at Stanford University found that among more than 140,000 children assessed in areas such as education, health and nutrition, left-behind ones performed as well as or better than those living in the countryside with both parents. But both kinds of children lagged far behind those who grow up in cities.

Source: A slow awakening | The Economist

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