Archive for ‘India alert’

24/07/2017

China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

China’s defense ministry on Monday warned India not to harbor any illusions about the Chinese military’s ability to defend its territory, amid a festering border dispute.

The stand-off on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the neighbors, who share a 3,500-km (2,175-mile) frontier, large parts of which are disputed.

“Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the People’s Liberation Army is hard,” ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a briefing, adding that its ability to defend China’s territory and sovereignty had “constantly strengthened”.

Early in June, according to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian guards crossed into China’s Donglang region and obstructed work on a road on the plateau.

The two sides’ troops then confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from its close ally, Bhutan, and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land connecting India and its remote northeastern regions.India has said it warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications.

The withdrawal of Indian border guards was a precondition for resolving the situation, Wu reiterated.

“India should not leave things to luck and not harbor any unrealistic illusions,” Wu said, adding that the military had taken emergency measures in the region and would continue to increase focused deployments and drills.

“We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region’s peace and tranquillity,” he said.

Speaking later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, would attend a meeting in Beijing this week of security officials from the BRICS grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Lu would not be drawn on whether the border issue would be discussed at the meeting, hosted by China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, meant to discuss multilateral issues.

“China hopes to maintain the peace and stability of the China-India border area, but certainly will not make any compromise on issues of territorial sovereignty,” Lu said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit China early in September for a summit of BRICS leaders.Indian officials say about 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 meters (yards) apart on the plateau.

They have told Reuters that both sides’ diplomats have quietly engaged to try to keep the stand-off from escalating, and that India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down without loss of face.

Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than its defeat suffered in a brief border war in 1962. China’s military has held live fire drills close to the disputed area, they said this month.

Source: China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

21/07/2017

Why India and Pakistan hate each other

EVERY AFTERNOON AT sunset, at a point midway along the arrow-straight road between Amritsar and Lahore, rival squads of splendidly uniformed soldiers strut and stomp a 17th-century British military drill known as Beating Retreat (pictured).

Barked commands, fierce glares and preposterously high kicks all signal violent intent. But then, lovingly and in unison, the enemies lower their national flags. Opposing guardsmen curtly shake hands, and the border gates roll shut for the night.

As India and Pakistan celebrate their twin 70th birthday this August, the frontier post of Wagah reflects the profound dysfunction in their relations. On its side Pakistan has built a multi-tiered amphitheatre for the boisterous crowds that come to watch the show. The Indians, no less rowdy, have gone one better with a half-stadium for 15,000. But the number of travellers who actually cross the border here rarely exceeds a few hundred a week.

Wagah’s silly hats and walks serve a serious function. The cuckoo-clock regularity of the show; the choreographed complicity between the two sides; and the fact that the soldiers and crowds look, act and talk very much the same—all this has the reassuring feel of a sporting rivalry between teams. No matter how bad things get between us, the ritual seems to say, we know it is just a game. Alas, the game between India and Pakistan has often turned serious.

After the exhaustion of the second world war Britain was faced with two claimants to its restless Indian empire, a huge masala of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups (half of which was administered directly and half as “princely states” under 565 hereditary rulers subject to the British crown). Just about everyone wanted independence. But whereas the Congress Party of Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a unified federal state, the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah argued that the subcontinent’s 30% Muslim minority constituted a separate nation that risked oppression under a Hindu majority. Communal riots prompted Britain’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to make a hasty decision. He split the country in two—or rather three, since the new state of Pakistan came in two parts, divided by the 2,000km (1,240-mile) expanse of the new state of India.

When the two new states were proclaimed in mid-August 1947, it was hoped the partition would be orderly. Lines had been drawn on maps, and detailed lists of personnel and assets, down to the instruments in army bands, had been assigned to each side. But the plans immediately went awry in a vast, messy and violent exchange of populations that left at least 1m dead and 15m uprooted from their homes.

Within months a more formal war had erupted. It ended by tearing the former princely state of Kashmir in two, making its 750km-long portion of the border a perpetual subject of dispute. Twice more, in 1965 and 1971, India and Pakistan fought full-blown if mercifully brief wars. The second of those, with India supporting a guerrilla insurgency in the Bengali-speaking extremity of East Pakistan, gave rise to yet another proud new country, Bangladesh; but not before at least half a million civilians had died as West Pakistan brutally tried to put down the revolt.

Even periods of relative peace have not been especially peaceful. In the 1990s Pakistan backed a guerrilla insurgency in Indian Kashmir in which at least 40,000 people lost their lives. In 1999 Pakistani troops captured some mountain peaks in the Kargil region, which India clawed back in high-altitude battles. A ceasefire in Kashmir that has held since 2003 has not stopped Pakistan-sponsored groups from striking repeatedly inside India. Pakistan claims that India, too, has covertly sponsored subversive groups.

Analysts discern a pattern in this mutual harassment: whenever politicians on both sides inch towards peace, something nasty seems to happen. Typically, these cycles start with an attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir by infiltrators from Pakistan, triggering Indian artillery strikes, which prod the Pakistanis to respond in kind. After a few weeks things will calm down.

Just such a cycle started in late 2015, prompted, perhaps, by a surprise visit to the home of the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, by his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Hopes raised by this overture dimmed within days when jihadist infiltrators attacked an Indian airbase. Another suicide squad struck an Indian army camp near the border, killing 19 soldiers. Faced with public outrage, Mr Modi ordered a far harder response than usual, sending commando teams into Pakistan. In the past, India had kept quiet even when it hit back, leaving room for Pakistan to climb down. This time Mr Modi’s government moved to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, rebuffed behind-the-scenes efforts to calm tensions and sent unprovoked blasts of fire across the Kashmir border.

 India’s loss of patience is understandable. It has a population six times Pakistan’s and an economy eight times as big, yet it finds itself being provoked far more often than it does the provoking. When Mr Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, it promised to put muscle into India’s traditionally limp foreign policy. “India for the first time is being proactive, not just responding,” says Sushant Singh, a military historian and journalist. “This is a huge shift.”

Yet Mr Modi’s pugnacity raises the risk of a dangerous escalation. “After a routine operation, the adversary may or may not escalate; after a publicised operation he will have only one option: to escalate,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India’s more thoughtful intellectuals.

Whether India and Pakistan are reckless enough to come to serious blows would not matter so much if they simply fielded conventional armies. But they are equipped with more than 100 nuclear warheads apiece, along with the missiles to deliver them. Since both countries revealed their nuclear hands in the 1990s, optimists who thought that a “balance of terror” would encourage them to be more moderate have been proved only partially right. Indians complain of being blackmailed: Pakistan knows that the risk of nuclear escalation stops its neighbours from responding more robustly to its provocations. Worryingly, Pakistan also rejects the nuclear doctrine of no first use. Instead, it has moved to deploy less powerful nuclear warheads as battlefield weapons, despite the risk that fallout from their use might harm its own civilians.

India does espouse a no-first-use nuclear doctrine, but its military planning is said to include a scenario of a massive conventional blitzkrieg aimed at seizing chunks of enemy territory and crushing Pakistan’s offensive capacity before it can respond. India’s arsenal includes the hypersonic Brahmos III, the world’s fastest cruise missile, which can precisely deliver a 300kg payload to any target in Pakistan. An air-launched version could reach Islamabad in two minutes, and Lahore in less than one. And in a grim calculation, India, with four times Pakistan’s territory, sees itself as better able to absorb a nuclear strike.

Alarmists will probably be proved wrong. Both countries are prone to sabre-rattling theatrics, but they are well aware that the price of full-blown war would be appalling. And despite the uncertainties generated by the rise of China, the continuing troubles in Afghanistan and the incalculability of Donald Trump’s America, the international community still seems likely to be able to pull Pakistan and India apart if need be.

As this special report will argue, though, both Pakistan and India should more openly acknowledge the costs, to themselves and to the wider region, of their seven decades of bitter separation. These include not only what they have had to spend, in lives and treasure, on waging war and maintaining military readiness over generations, but the immense opportunity cost of forgoing fruitful exchanges between parts of the same subcontinental space that in the past have always been open to each other. Trade between the two rivals adds up to barely $2.5bn a year.

Perpetual enmity has also distorted internal politics, especially in Pakistan, where overweening generals have repeatedly sabotaged democracy in the name of national security. Pakistan has suffered culturally, too; barred from its natural subcontinental hinterland, it has opened instead to the Arab world, and to the influence of less syncretic and tolerant forms of Islam. For India, enmity with Pakistan has fostered a tilt away from secular values towards a more strident identity politics.

Reflexive fear of India prompts Pakistan’s generals to meddle in Afghanistan, which they see as a strategic backyard where no foreign power can be allowed to linger. In turn, India, because of the constant aggravation from Pakistan, has become bad-tempered with its smaller neighbours. Small wonder that intra-regional trade makes up barely 5% of the subcontinent’s overall trade, compared with more than a quarter in South-East Asia. And it is no surprise that Pakistan has opened its arms to China, which is offering finance, trade and superpower patronage.

This special report will seek to unravel the causes of this irrational enmity, and to explore the contrasting internal dynamics in both countries that sustain it. It will examine new factors in this complex geopolitical board game, such as the rise of China. And it will consider what might be done to nudge the two rivals away from the vicious circle that binds them.

Source: Why India and Pakistan hate each other

21/07/2017

India says in quiet diplomacy with China to tackle border stand-off

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of a regional conference last month, officials said they reached an understanding not to let the two countries’ long-standing “differences become disputes”.

Yet within days, Chinese and Indian soldiers were jostling in a desolate but disputed border region in the Himalayas that has since grown into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation from which neither army is ready to back off.

The flare-up is the latest incident in a steadily deteriorating relationship between the Asian giants who are unable to agree on their 3,500 km (2,175 miles) border, over which they went to war in 1962.

Indian officials said diplomats from the two sides were now quietly trying to ensure the stand-off near the three-way border between India, its ally Bhutan, and China does not escalate into a conflict, invoking the agreement reached by their leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Astana.

Behind the scenes, India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down from confrontation on the Doklam plateau – which China calls Donglang – without losing face, an Indian government source aware of the sensitive negotiations told Reuters.

In public, the two sides are saying little about the delicate diplomatic engagement.

“We want both sides to call back troops and work things out with talks,” Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament on Thursday.

China says India must first pull back its troops from the area before meaningful discussions can take place.

“Of course, we have said before, China-India bilateral diplomatic channels are always open,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, when asked whether talks with India were being held to defuse the situation.

“But with regard to this incident, we have emphasised many times that the Indian border defence personnel who illegally crossed the boundary withdrawing to the Indian side of the line is the basis and precondition for China and India conducting any kind of meaningful dialogue.

“Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than then the defeat it suffered in their border war in 1962.

Strategic Rivals

In recent years, the two have clashed over China’s strategic ties with India’s arch rival Pakistan, including a massive trade corridor that China is building through the disputed territory of Kashmir.

New Delhi has also been stung by China’s veto of United Nations sanctions against the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group and Beijing’s refusal to let it become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a global cartel.Beijing has bristled at the Modi government’s public embrace of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader whom it regards as a dangerous splittist. It has also grown concerned at India’s military ties with both the United States and Japan.Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said diplomatic channels between Delhi and Beijing were open and being used to tackle the border crisis.

“Diplomatic communications to the best of my understanding have never stopped,” he said. “There are diplomatic communications taking place.”

He would not go into further details.

Flashpoint

The latest trouble began when Chinese forces were spotted constructing a road with bulldozers and other heavy equipment in an area claimed by the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, prompting an intervention by Indian troops stationed nearby.

Groups of soldiers pushed and shoved each other, military officials said, but no weapons were used.

India said its action was guided by its special relationship with Bhutan as part of a 2007 treaty to cooperate on security issues, but also by the threat posed by the alleged Chinese incursion in Doklam to its own security.

The plateau lies close to the “Chicken’s Neck”, a 20-km wide corridor that links India to its northeastern states. The biggest fear among India’s military planners is that a Chinese offensive there could cut off the link.

China, which is engaged in a massive regional infrastructure drive to boost trade, says the area where the road was being constructed is part of its territory, and that in any case India does not have a role in what it sees as a bilateral matter with Bhutan.

About 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 metres (yards) apart on the Doklam/Donglang plateau, 10,000 feet (3,050 metres) above sea level, Indian officials say.

Behind them in the barracks below are thousands of troops ready to be deployed on either side. So far there has been no sign of either side trying to mobilise more troops, military officials in New Delhi said.

One possibility is that the weather may force the two sides to quietly disengage, the Indian government source said. Construction activity in the area can only take place between June and September before it becomes snowbound.

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-india-china-idUKKBN1A51S9

17/07/2017

Voting under way to elect new India president – BBC News

Voting is being held in India to elect a new president.

Mukherjee wins Indian presidency

India president not ‘Excellency’

The front-runner is a former state governor and Dalit (formerly untouchable) leader, Ram Nath Kovind.

He is being challenged by opposition candidate and India’s first woman speaker Meira Kumar who is also a Dalit.

Indian presidents are not elected directly by the people but by an electoral college made up of members of parliament and state assemblies.

The results of the poll are expected to be announced on 20 July.

The winner will replace Pranab Mukherjee, a political veteran of the main opposition Congress party, who has held the post from 2012.

Polling began in parliament in the capital, Delhi, and state capitals, at 1000 (04:30GMT). Voting is expected to end at 1700 hours.

A total of 4,896 lawmakers – parliamentarians and legislators – are expected to vote in Monday’s election.

Image copyright EPA

Mr Kovind, 71, a trained lawyer, has been a two-time BJP MP and governor of the Bihar state. If elected he will be India’s second Dalit president. Congress veteran Meira Kumar, 72, a former lawyer and diplomat, is also from the Dalit community. She has been elected to parliament five times and holds a seat in the state of Bihar.She is the daughter of the late Babu Jagjivan Ram, a prominent Dalit leader and former deputy prime minister of India.The Indian president’s position is largely ceremonial, but presidents do play decisive roles in in determining who forms the government when national elections do not produce clear results.

Source: Voting under way to elect new India president – BBC News

14/07/2017

India alarm over rising tiger deaths – BBC News

Wildlife activists have accused Indian authorities of a culture of secrecy around steadily rising tiger deaths.

At least 67 tigers have died this year – many as a result of conflict with humans, including poachers, they say.

“There is no transparency in these matters,” Theodore Baskaran, a former trustee of WWF-India, told the BBC.India is home to 60% of the world’s tigers but they face increasing habitat loss and demand for their body parts in China and other parts of Asia.Senior officials of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) confirmed to the BBC that the bodies of 58 tigers had been recovered between January and June this year, as well as body parts from nine other tiger fatalities.

Karnataka state in the south recorded 14 deaths, more than any other, while the central state of Madhya Pradesh accounted for 13.

“Wildlife activists are alarmed mainly because of the secrecy surrounding the deaths. Also there is no co-ordination between researchers and the forest department,” Theodore Baskaran said.

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But NTCA authorities say each case is dealt with according to standard operating procedures. They said they were unable to divulge the causes for this year’s tiger deaths until final reports from field officers had been received.

On current trends this year’s mortality rate could surpass last year, when 120 deaths were recorded, the highest number since 2006. Tiger deaths have steadily gone up in India in recent years. In 2015 officials reported 80 tiger deaths, and 78 in the previous year.

Demand for tiger body parts continues to fuel poaching, activists say

It is thought India had about 100,000 tigers a century ago. Numbers had plummeted to fewer than 1,500 by the early years of this millennium.

Tigers are now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of endangered animals.They are found in just 2% of India and encroachment by humans on their habitat – as well as poaching for body parts and trophy hunting – is a key factor in their decline.

Since 2006 conservation efforts have yielded significant results, however. India’s tiger population rose from 1,706 to 2,226 during the period 2011-2016.

But conservationists say much more needs to be done.Theodore Baskaran and other activists want forest officials to cultivate the goodwill of forest dwellers around sanctuaries.

“The digital camera revolution coupled with uncontrolled tourism inside tiger territory is a worrying trend,” he said.”As thousands of camera-toting tourists go closer and closer into their habitat, the big cats get used to human proximity. This helps poachers get close to the animals and kill them.”

Conservation groups are worried about the impact of a rise in tiger tourism

Tigers also face extensive health dangers from diseases such as canine distemper spread by stray dogs from villages close to sanctuaries, scientific studies show.

“The higher number of deaths in the current year so far is also due to natural mortality. Deaths due to poaching and accidents are preventable and those are the ones that worry us,” Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), told the BBC.

According to WPSI records, so far this year 17 tigers died due to infighting and 18 were reported to have been found dead, with cause of death unknown.

The group says 19 tigers died at the hands of poachers. She and other conservation activists are concerned about the growing number of tigers killed by electrocution and and other methods in the human-tiger conflict.

“Tiger numbers have increased, and this in turn will be reflected in the number of natural deaths. While conservation efforts have had an effect there are still improvements needed, which include improved intelligence and enforcement of laws,” she says.

Human-tiger conflict poses a huge challenge to conservation efforts. For a tiger to survive it needs about 25,000 acres of forest land.

Shrinking forest leads to scarcity of prey and the tigers are forced to invade villages and hunt cattle on which many local communities depend for their livelihood.

In retaliation tigers are poisoned, killed or captured.

Source: India alarm over rising tiger deaths – BBC News

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05/07/2017

H-1B and Modi: India Real Time Reveals the Secret Reading Habits of India’s Elite – India Real Time – WSJ

India Real Time started in 2010 as the first attempt by a global newspaper to offer a news product for Indian readers through the internet. Seven years and crores of clicks later, The Wall Street Journal is winding down the successful blog.

We will continue to offer the content Indian readers want through the more popular paths of distribution: WSJ subscriptions, apps and social media.

All those years monitoring the India Real Time reader has given us unprecedented insight into what educated India watchers are actually reading and we will continue to apply that knowledge to how we choose and craft stories.

We also discovered the types of stories they weren’t reading. One surprising example was the English-speaking elite just weren’t that mesmerized by cricket or Bollywood. Our readers were either getting that news elsewhere or maybe they just weren’t as film and cricket crazy as people in India are supposed to be.

Here are five other lessons we learned about India’s news junkies: Visa Power

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to revamp the H-1B visa guest worker program, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, April 18, 2017. PHOTO: SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

H-1B may be bureaucratic jargon that means little to most Americans but it is click bait for others. Our readers couldn’t get enough news about how Washington is tinkering with the high-skilled worker visas. Stories like “H-1B Visas: How Donald Trump Could Change America’s Skilled Worker Visa,” and “So What Does Obama’s Immigration Reform Mean for India’s High-Skilled Worker?” were by far the most read, attracting millions of readers.

Modi Magic

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmadabad, India, June 30, 2017. PHOTO: AJIT SOLANKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

India’s prime minster appeals to tech-savvy Indians at home and abroad and our readers wanted to know everything he was up to whether it was his pop-star  performance at Madison Square Garden or the vanity suit he wore when he met President Barack Obama.

Battle of the Billions

The Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai, Dec. 2, 2016. PHOTO: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A theme that resonated with our readers was how India was doing relative to China. As India’s economy has grown it has become increasingly aware it is living in the shadow and slipstream of its giant neighbor. When our readers saw headlines like “The Difference Between Indian and Chinese Migrants,” “India Ranked Less Corrupt Than China for the first time in 18 years,” and “India Passes China to Become Fastest-Growing Economy,” they tapped on their smartphones to read more.

Tech Triumphs

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket lifted off carrying India’s Mars spacecraft from the east coast island of Sriharikota, India, Nov. 5, 2013. PHOTO: ARUN SANKAR/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Our readers couldn’t get enough of technology trends and inventions.  From stories about how India pulled off its Mars mission and how outsourcers are coping with the cloud to blogs on an Indian-designed smartshoe and a roti-making machine, IRT was rewarded when it covered India’s contribution to the tech world.

Please Explain

An Indian Oil Corp. employee counted Indian rupee banknotes in the village of Mangrauli, Uttar Pradesh, India, July 19, 2016. PHOTO: PRASHANTH VISHWANATHAN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Years of traffic to the blog showed us readers want reporters to sometimes step back and explain the history and context of a story as well as how it will affect their lives. “How Can Indians Living Abroad Exchange Their Old Rupee Notes?”  and “Who is Anna Hazare?” are great examples of stories that went viral because they explained the basics. The blog also had a lot of popular quirky explainers including “A Short History of the Kiss in India,” and “India Shining: We Unravel the Secret Behind Delhi’s Dazzling Sweater Vests.”The list of hits could go on and on—in fact it will but not on a separate blog page—there were great graphics like the rape map  and the global comparison of wages.  There were stories that made waves like a multi-part long form series on the history of Ayodhya as well as a quick hit that exposed how some Indian snacks from Haldiram’s and others were getting blocked from entry into the U.S.The Wall Street Journal is taking all the experience and insight gained through India Real Time and will continue to deliver its unique take on what is happening in India and what matters to Indians. It will continue to use the largest team of international newspaper journalists in South Asia to deliver the stories that matter through its websites, apps and social media pages.

Source: H-1B and Modi: India Real Time Reveals the Secret Reading Habits of India’s Elite – India Real Time – WSJ

05/07/2017

What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? – BBC News

For four weeks, India and China have been involved in a stand-off along part of their 3,500km (2,174-mile) shared border.

The two nations fought a war over the border in 1962 and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, causing tensions to rise from time to time.

Since this confrontation began last month, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

How did the row begin?

It erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Thimphu. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.

Indian military officials told regional analyst Subir Bhaumik that they protested and stopped the road-building group, which led Chinese troops to rush Indian positions and smash two bunkers at the nearby Lalten outpost.

“We did not open fire, our boys just created a human wall and stopped the Chinese from any further incursion,” a brigadier said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Chinese officials say that in opposing the road construction, Indian border guards obstructed “normal activities” on the Chinese side, and called on India to immediately withdraw.

What is the situation now?

Despite hostilities, the two countries have growing trade and economic ties

Both India and China have rushed more troops to the border region, and media reports say the two sides are in an “eyeball to eyeball” stand-off.

China also retaliated by stopping 57 Indian pilgrims who were on their way to the Manas Sarovar Lake in Tibet via the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. The lake is a holy Hindu site and there is a formal agreement between the neighbours to allow devotees to visit.Bhutan, meanwhile, has asked China to stop building the road, saying it is in violation of an agreement between the two countries.

What does India say?

Indian military experts say Sikkim is the only area through which India could make an offensive response to a Chinese incursion, and the only stretch of the Himalayan frontier where Indian troops have a terrain and tactical advantage.

They have higher ground, and the Chinese positions there are squeezed between India and Bhutan.

India and China fought a bitter war in 1962. Photograph: Hulton Archive

“The Chinese know this and so they are always trying to undo our advantage there,” retired Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh, who commanded troops on the border, told the BBC.Last week, the foreign ministry said that the construction “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India”.

Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also warned that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962, and the country was well within its rights to defend its territorial integrity.

What does China say?

China has reiterated its sovereignty over the area, saying that the road is in its territory and accusing Indian troops of “trespassing”.

It said India would do well to remember its defeat in the 1962 war, warning Delhi that China was also more powerful than it was then.

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On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the border in Sikkim had been settled in an 1890 agreement with the British, and that India’s violation of this was “very serious”.

The Global Times newspaper, meanwhile, accused India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, although Bhutan has since asked China to stop construction.

What’s Bhutan’s role in this?

Bhutan’s Ambassador to Delhi Vetsop Namgyel says China’s road construction is “in violation of an agreement between the two countries”.

Bhutan and China do not have formal relations but maintain contact through their missions in Delhi.

An Indian soldier on the China border – Beijing has reiterated what it says is its right to territory

Security analyst Jaideep Saikia told the BBC that Beijing had for a while now been trying to deal directly with Thimphu, which is Delhi’s closest ally in South Asia.

“By raising the issue of Bhutan’s sovereignty, they are trying to force Thimphu to turn to Beijing the way Nepal has,” he said.

What next?

The fact that Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama resides in India has also been a sticking point between the two countries.

This stand-off in fact, comes within weeks of China’s furious protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China claims and describes as its own.

The Dalai Lama during his visit to Tawang near the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh on April 10, 2017Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionChina recently protested against Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state Beijing claims as its own

Relations between the Asian giants, however, may not slide further as China has allowed 56 Hindu pilgrims, who entered through the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, to visit the Manas Sarovar site.

“They are heading for the lake and they are safe,” senior tourism official Dheeraj Garbiyal said last week.

This, experts say, shows that the Chinese are not raising tensions on the whole border but specifically on the Sikkim-Bhutan stretch.

Source: What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? – BBC News

05/07/2017

What Rosneft’s purchase of Essar’s oil refinery means

CONGLOMERATES sometimes sell their least promising units, thereby ginning up returns for the remaining empire. But groups saddled with huge debts do not have that luxury; only by disposing of the most profitable parts can they raise enough funds to satisfy creditors. Such is the story of the Essar Group, which is in the final stages of selling its crown jewel, India’s second-biggest private oil refinery, to a consortium led by Rosneft, a Russian oil titan. The slimming of what was once the country’s third-largest diversified corporate group is a welcome signal that an era of powerful industrialists running rings round their creditors is ending.

The purchase by Rosneft (along with a Russian investment fund and Trafigura, a trading firm) of the giant Vadinar refinery in the state of Gujarat for $12.9bn will be the largest-ever foreign investment in India. It has been a long time coming. It was first mooted over two years ago and jointly announced with fanfare in October by India’s Narendra Modi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The deal includes an Indian port and a network of coveted petrol stations.

Most analysts approve of Rosneft’s intiative as a way of diversifying away from upstream activities in Russia. But what is most telling is why the assets came up for sale in the first place. Essar, whose interests span power plants, steel, infrastructure and shipping, says that it saw a good opportunity to monetise an asset it has nurtured for years. It may have had little choice. An investment splurge starting in 2011 has left various Essar operating entities, along with a holding company based in the Cayman Islands, with a combined debt of around $20bn. Although the company does not disclose updated financials (it is privately held by the Mumbai-based Ruia family) few firms in its various industries make the sort of money it would need to pay down such a debt.

In the past, bosses at Indian state-run banks (which conduct over two-thirds of all lending) could easily be convinced to overlook trifles such as a debtor’s inability to repay loans. It takes over four years for an insolvency process to return a meagre 26 cents on the dollar to creditors, so bankers often preferred to behave as if even the most distressed company might somehow find a way of repaying a loan.

A bad-loan crisis followed. Around one in five loans made by state-owned banks are either set to default or have already done so. The central bank is pushing bankers to get tough on errant borrowers. In recent weeks it has threatened to push a dozen firms with huge debts into insolvency unless deals to refinance their debts could be reached quickly. One was Essar Steel.

Banks are still allowed to forgive a part of a company’s debt. But there is now pressure to show that shareholders pay a price, by having to forfeit large chunks of their equity to the banks. Advisers involved in the talks over Essar Steel say the group will have to give up over half its equity in the steel business to convince lenders to refinance loans. That is new: in past cases, parts of Essar have moved in and out of debt restructurings without the central group having to give up any stakes.

Part of the reason the Rosneft deal was held up for so long, insiders say, is that state-owned banks insisted that the Ruia family clear debts from other bits of the Essar empire first, including from the central holding company. They refused to agree to a sale until that was done (Essar repaid in part by taking out a bridge loan from Vneshtorgbank, a big Russian lender). That shows a savvy few thought state-owned bank executives possessed.

The cash from the sale to Rosneft will take away about half of Essar’s $20bn of debt but will also deprive it of its main source of profits. Essar’s pain in having to sell the oil refinery is the corporate system’s gain. Resolving festering bad loans, either by forcing asset sales or seizing ownership, is an essential part of restoring the health of Indian banking. Credit to Indian industry is currently shrinking for the first time in two decades. Resolving this mess can only help companies—including what will remain of Essar.

Source: What Rosneft’s purchase of Essar’s oil refinery means

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05/07/2017

Indian utility bets $10 billion on coal power despite surplus, green concerns | Reuters

India’s state-run power utility plans to invest $10 billion in new coal-fired power stations over the next five years despite the electricity regulator’s assessment that thermal plants now under construction will be able to meet demand until 2027.

In the first phase, India’s biggest power producer, NTPC (NTPC.NS), plans to build three new plants with a combined capacity of more than 5 gigawatts (GW), nearly double the capacity of those currently being phased out, five senior company officials said.

The company has not made the investment public because it has not yet received government approval.If approved, the plan could set back efforts by the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter to control carbon output and raise questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vow to stand by commitments under the Paris climate accord.

The proposal also comes as several coal-fired stations built in the last power boom a decade ago are standing idle due to softer-than-expected demand. State-controlled Coal India (COAL.NS) is struggling to sell its stockpile as a result.

But other indicators indicate demand will pick up, a top NTPC executive said, asking not to be named because the plan had not yet been announced.

“I don’t think (the current) electricity surplus will be there for a long time,” he told Reuters. “We should not fool ourselves.”

More than 300 million of India’s 1.3 billion people are still not hooked up to the grid, according to NITI Aayog, which makes policy recommendations to the government.

As connections improve, the panel reckons, the country’s per-capita power consumption could jump around a third to up to 2,924 kilowatt-hours by 2040 from 2012 levels.

In the next decade, the around 50 GW of capacity from thermal plants due to come online by 2022 will meet demand, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) said. Additional supplies will come from sources such as solar and wind, it said.

Asked about NTPC’s plan, CEA chairman RK Verma said the commercial decisions of the company were its own affair.

“NTPC is a commercial organization and they must be having their own commercial considerations,” Verma said.For its part, a spokesperson at NTPC would say only: “NTPC takes decisions after consulting both the CEA and the ministry of power.”

THERMAL VS RENEWABLE

Solar power generation capacity in India has more than tripled in three years to more than 12 GW since Modi targeted raising energy generation from renewable sources to 175 GW by 2022, against total installed capacity at the end of May of 330.3 GW.

Around 78 percent of generated power in India at the moment still comes from coal-fired plants, however, making it one of the biggest users of the dirty and cheap fuel in the world.

Carbon dioxide emissions from India’s thermal plants are expected to jump to 1,165 million tonnes by 2026/27 from 462 million tonnes in 2005, the CEA estimates. Emission intensity, measured in carbon dioxide emissions versus GDP, is likely to fall, however.India is undergoing a program to retrofit several coal-fired plants to reduce emissions.

The plants planned by NTPC are “supercritical”, meaning they are 2-3 percent more efficient than conventional plants and therefore have lower emissions.

NTPC’s proposal is likely to be greeted with alarm by environmental activists who are already worried by the CEA’s statement that existing power plants are unlikely to meet India’s emission norms before the Paris deadline of December this year.

“Adding more power plants would aggravate health impacts even further,” said Sunil Dahiya, an energy activist with Greenpeace in New Delhi, when asked about the possibility of new coal-fired plants.NTPC’s proposal is to build plants of two 660 megawatt (MW) units each at Singrauli in central India’s Madhya Pradesh and Talcher in Odisha in the east.

The biggest plant, with a capacity of 2.4 GW in the eastern state of Jharkhand, was close to getting clearance from the environment ministry, one of many steps in the process of getting government approval, one of the senior company officials said.

A plan announced by NTPC last year to generate 10 GW of energy from renewable sources by 2022 was making slow progress due to land acquisition issues, another company official said.

Source: Exclusive: Indian utility bets $10 billion on coal power despite surplus, green concerns | Reuters

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01/07/2017

India launches new economic era with sales tax reform | Reuters

India early on Saturday introduced its biggest tax reform in the 70 years since independence from British colonial rule.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) replaces more than a dozen federal and state levies and unifying a $2 trillion economy and 1.3 billion people into one of the world’s biggest common markets.

The measure is expected to make it easier to do business by simplifying the tax structure and ensuring greater compliance, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic credentials before a planned re-election bid in 2019.

At a midnight ceremony in parliament’s central hall Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee together launched the new tax by pressing a button.

“With GST, the dream of ‘One India, Great India’ will come true,” Modi said.

For the first midnight ceremony in the central hall in two decades, Modi was joined by his cabinet colleagues, India’s central bank chief, a former prime minister and major company executives including Ratan Tata.

The launch, however, was boycotted by several opposition parties including the Congress Party, which first proposed the tax reform before it fell from power three years ago.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the architect of India’s economic reforms – also gave it a miss.

It has taken 14 years for the new sales tax to come into being. But horse trading to get recalcitrant Indian states on board has left Asia’s third-largest economy with a complex tax structure.In contrast to simpler sales taxes in other countries, India’s GST has four rates and numerous exemptions.

The official schedule of rates runs to 213 pages and has undergone repeated changes, some taking place as late as on Friday evening.

Many businesses are nervous about how the changes will unfold, with smaller ones saying they will get hit by higher tax rates.

Adding to the complexity, businesses with pan-India operations face filing over 1,000 digital returns a year.

While higher tax rates for services and non-food items are expected to fuel price pressures, compliance is feared to be a major challenge in a country where many entrepreneurs are not computer literate and rely on handwritten ledgers.

“We have jumped into a river but don’t know its depth,” said A. Subba Rao, an executive director at power firm CLP India.

Poor implementation would deal a blow to an economy that is still recovering from Modi’s decision late last year to outlaw 86 percent of the currency in circulation.

In a bid to mitigate the impact on the farm sector, the GST rates for tractors and fertilizer were slashed on Friday to 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

HSBC estimates the reform, despite its flaws, could add 0.4 percentage points to economic growth.

An end of tax arbitrage under the GST is estimated to save companies $14 billion in reduced logistics costs and efficiency gains.

As the GST is a value added tax, firms will have an incentive to comply in order to avail credit for taxes already paid. This should widen the tax net, shoring up public finances.

“The old India was economically fragmented,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “The new India will create one tax, one market for one nation.”

Source: India launches new economic era with sales tax reform | Reuters

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