Archive for ‘mumbai’

15/04/2019

India gold smuggling slowed by election seizures of cash, bullion

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s gold smugglers have slowed their operations over worries their shipments will be caught up in seizures of cash, bullion, booze and drugs that are aimed at controlling vote-buying in the country’s national elections, industry officials told Reuters.

In India, political parties and their supporters often offer money or goods in exchange for votes. The Election Commission, which monitors the polls, tries to prevent this by setting up highway checkpoints to seize cash, gold, liquor and other high-value items that candidates avoid mentioning in their expenses due to a cap on the amount they can spend.

Last month in Mumbai, in one of the biggest seizures since the current election was announced on March 10, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence seized 107 kg of gold, worth about 300 million rupees ($4.3 million).

The slowdown in smuggling has boosted gold imports at banks in the world’s second-biggest buyer of the precious metal, allowing them to charge a premium over global prices.

“After a big seizure in Mumbai, smuggling has gone down drastically. Grey market operators don’t want to take the risk during the election period,” Anantha Padmanabhan, chairman of All India Gem and Jewellery Domestic Council (GJC) told Reuters.

India’s Election Commission as of April 14 has seized $365 million in cash, liquor, gold, drugs and other goods over the last month, more than double the $172 million confiscated in the last election cycle in 2014.

(GRAPHIC – Drugs, gold, cash, alcohol: The gifts that buy votes (JPG), tmsnrt.rs/2D7Z2w5)

The random checking of vehicles and seizures have made it nearly impossible for smugglers and other “grey market” operators to move cash and gold from one place to another, said the head of the bullion division at a Mumbai-based private bank.

Gold smuggling surged in India after the government raised the import duty to 10 percent in August 2013. Grey market operators – businesses that smuggle gold from overseas and sell it in cash to avoid the duties – got a further boost in 2017 when India imposed a 3 percent sales tax on bullion.

The grey market operators can sell gold at discounts to prevailing market prices as they evade paying the 13 percent tax, said Harshad Ajmera, a gold wholesaler in Kolkata.

But this week, even in the cash market, gold was sold at the market price, said Ashok Jain, proprietor of Mumbai-based gold wholesaler Chenaji Narsinghji.

Dealers were charging a premium of up to $2.50 an ounce over official domestic prices, the highest in nearly five months.

Up to 95 tonnes of gold was smuggled into India in 2018, according to the World Gold Council, although India’s Association of Gold Refineries and Mints and other industry bodies put the figure at more than twice that.

Election Commission rules makes it mandatory for people to show valid documentation if they are carrying more than 50,000 rupees ($722) in cash, or else it could be seized. This rule has been hurting the jewellery industry, especially in rural areas where more than half of gold is bought in cash.

The limit of 50,000 rupees is “too low for the jewellery industry” as even a small 20-gram (0.7-ounce) gold chain costs more than that, said Padmanabhan of GJC.
“Demand has fallen due to the cash restrictions. We have requested that the Election Commission raise the limit.”
Source: Reuters
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07/03/2019

The British woman who fought for India’s freedom

A portrait photo of Freda taken in Lahore in the early 1940
Image captionFreda Bedi’s is a remarkable story

Freda Bedi lived an unusual life. Born in a small town in England, she moved to India for love and ended up joining the independence movement. Her biographer, Andrew Whitehead, writes about her remarkable story.

“There are things deeper than labels and colour and prejudice, and love is one of them.”

These were the words of Freda Bedi, an English woman who overcame prejudice to marry an Indian Sikh and went on to challenge Indian notions about the role of a woman and a wife.

Freda and her boyfriend, Baba Pyare Lal Bedi (his friends called him BPL), met at Oxford where both were students.

This was the early 1930s and romances across the racial divide were rare – almost as rare as a girl from Freda’s background securing a spot at a top university. She was born, quite literally, above the shop in the city of Derby in England’s East Midlands, where her father ran a jewellery and watch repair business.

Freda could barely remember her father. He enlisted during the First World War and served in the Machine Gun Corps, where casualties were so high it was known as the “suicide club”. He died in northern France when his daughter was just seven years old. “This death shadowed my whole childhood,” she recalled – it shaped her political loyalties and prompted her lifelong spiritual quest.

Her years at Oxford were “the opening of the gates of the world”, as Freda once put it. She was part of “the Depression generation” – those who were students at a time of global crisis, mass unemployment and the rise of fascism.

She made firm friends at her college with young women who were rebellious by nature, and went with them to meetings of the Labour Club and the communist October Club.

The engagement photo of Freda and BPL taken at Oxford in 1933
Image captionFreda and BPL met as students at Oxford University

Driven by curiosity and by sympathy with those struggling against the Empire, she also went along to the weekly meetings of the Oxford Majlis, where radicals among the university’s small number of Indian students asserted their country’s case for nationhood. BPL Bedi, a handsome and cheerful Punjabi, was a regular there. A friendship developed into intellectual collaboration and, within months, Freda and BPL were a couple.

In the early 1930s, women’s colleges at Oxford were obsessed with sex or rather with preventing it. If a male student came to have tea in a female student’s room, a chaperone had to be present, the door left wide open and the bed had to be taken into the corridor. Freda’s college did its best to derail her relationship – she was disciplined for visiting BPL without a chaperone in what she was convinced was a case of racial discrimination.

But she was fortunate in her student friends. Barbara Castle, who later became a commanding British woman politician of her era, was thrilled when Freda confided that she intended to marry her boyfriend. “Well, thank goodness”, Barbara exclaimed. “Now at least you won’t become a suburban housewife!” Freda’s mother didn’t see things that way though. Her family were sternly disapproving, until BPL made a visit to Derby and managed to charm them.

Freda commented that the engagement caused “a minor sensation” in Oxford. That was an understatement. She believed she was the first Oxford woman undergraduate to marry an Indian fellow student. Some didn’t hide their disapproval. The registrar who conducted the marriage ceremony pointedly refused to shake hands with the couple.

From the moment she married, Freda regarded herself as Indian and often wore Indian-style clothes. A year later, husband and wife and their four-month old baby, Ranga, set off by boat from Trieste, Italy, on the two-week journey to the western Indian city of Bombay (now Mumbai). “The nightmare was to get milk for myself to drink because I was feeding the baby”, Freda recalled. “And I remember the millions of cockroaches that used to come out at night in the ship’s kitchens – I used to go in and attempt to get milk.”

Presentational grey line

Read more stories by Andrew Whitehead

Presentational grey line

The couple had already been marked out by the British authorities as revolutionaries and potential trouble makers because of their student activism. When they disembarked in Bombay, their bags and cases were inspected for seven hours to check for left-wing propaganda. “Even Ranga’s little napkin was taken off and searched,” recalled Freda, “because they thought I might be carrying messages in it”.

The key test of Freda’s marriage was still to come – the first meeting with her Indian mother-in-law, a widow and matriarch known in the family as Bhabooji. From Bombay, the Bedis travelled non-stop for a couple of days to reach the small Punjabi city of Kapurthala, arriving at the family home close to midnight. Freda was wearing a white cotton sari – “not the ideal travelling dress, and nursing Ranga had not improved it”.

BPL bowed to touch his mother’s feet in the traditional expression of respect. “I copied him, feeling a little awkward,” Freda said, “but all my shyness disappeared when she smiled at us both with tears in her eyes, and embraced us and the child as if she could not hold us close enough.”

Although Freda was determined to fit in with her Indian extended family, her lifestyle was anything but conventional. BPL’s political stand extended to rejecting any share in his family’s wealth. They made their home in Lahore, one of the largest cities in Punjab, in a cluster of thatched huts without power or running water, keeping hens and a buffalo. It can’t have been the sort of life Freda had expected – nor would she have been used to the idea of sharing the household with her mother-in-law.

“Nowhere had I seen a white woman trying to be a typical Indian daughter-in-law”, commented Som Anand, a frequent visitor to the Bedis’ huts. “It surprised me to see Mrs Bedi coming to Bhabooji’s hut in the morning to touch her feet. In household matters she respected the old mother’s inhibitions. Her mother-in-law was an equally large hearted person; despite all her conservatism she had accepted a Christian into the family without a murmur.”

Freda with a rifle when she was living in Kashmir, probably 1948 - she is holding hr son, Kabir, while her older son, Ranga, is sitting on the family's pet dog.
Image captionFreda and BPL moved to Kashmir after 1947 and remained politically active

When World War Two broke out, both BPL and Freda were outraged that India was being dragged into supporting the British war effort. BPL was detained in a desert prison camp to stop him sabotaging military recruitment in Punjab. Freda decided to make her own stand against her motherland.

She volunteered as a satyagrahi, a seeker of truth, and was among those chosen by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi to defy emergency wartime powers. She travelled to her husband’s home village of Dera Baba Nanak and announced that she would “break the law by asking the people not to support the military effort until India became democratic”. The authorities didn’t know how to respond to a white woman staging such a protest – they hurriedly sent an English police inspector to the village, deeming it inappropriate for an Indian policeman to arrest an Englishwoman.

Freda was brought before a visiting magistrate that same morning – she has left her own account of the trial:

It was finished in 15 minutes. The man on the other side of the table was quite young still, and looked as though he had been to Oxford. His face was red.

“I find this as unpleasant as you do,” he murmured.

“Don’t worry. I don’t find it unpleasant at all.”

“Do you want the privileges granted to an Englishwoman?”

“Treat me as an Indian woman and I shall be quite content.”

She was sentenced to six months in jail, which was fairly standard, and also to hard labour, which she regarded as vindictive.

That turned out to be no more onerous than supervising the prison gardens, where women imprisoned for criminal rather than political offences – many were locked up for killing their abusive husbands – did most of the work.

“It was my destiny to go to India,” Freda asserted. It was her destiny too to make history as an English woman who went willingly to jail in support of India’s demand for freedom.

The Bedis’ political prominence persisted after independence, when they moved to Kashmir – Freda joined a left-wing women’s militia and worked with the radical nationalists who gained power there. In the 1950s, her life changed utterly when, during a UN assignment in Burma, she encountered Buddhism for the first time and became an enthusiastic convert.

Freda as a nun, when she took the name Sister Palmo
Image captionFreda became a Buddhist nun in the 1950s

When thousands of Tibetans fled across the Himalayas in 1959 to escape Chinese oppression, Freda devoted herself to helping these “brave and wonderful” refugees. She became steeped in Tibetan spirituality. And once she felt that she had fulfilled her role as a mother (the film star Kabir Bedi is one of her three surviving children), she broke convention again by taking vows as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. In her sixties, she travelled relentlessly to spread the word about Buddhist teachings but never returned to live in the West.

“India is my womanhood and my wife-hood,” she once declared. “I too am ‘dust that England bore, shaped and made aware’. Yet I am living in an Indian way, with Indian clothes, with an Indian husband and child on Indian soil, and I cannot feel even the least barrier or difference in essentials between myself and the new country I have adopted.”

Throughout her life, Freda was determined not to be constrained by barriers of race, religion, nation or gender. She delighted in challenging convention and confounding expectations – that is what makes her story so beguiling.

Source: The BBC

07/03/2019

Pakistan seizes religious schools in intensified crackdown on militants

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan intensified its crackdown against Islamist militants on Thursday, with the government announcing it had taken control of 182 religious schools and detained more than 100 people as part of its push against banned groups.

The move represents Pakistan’s biggest move against banned organisations in years and appears to be targeting Islamic welfare organisations that the United States says are a front for militant activities.

Pakistan is facing pressure from global powers to act against groups carrying out attacks in India, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police.

The escalating tension in the wake of the bombing led to a major confrontation between the nuclear-armed rivals, with both countries carrying out aerial bombing missions and even engaging in a brief dogfight that prompted fears of a war.

Pakistani officials say the crackdown is part of a long-planned drive and not a response to Indian anger over what New Delhi calls Islamabad’s failure to rein in militant groups operating on Pakistani soil.

Previous large-scale crackdowns against anti-India militants have broadly been cosmetic, with the proscribed groups able to survive and continue operations.

The interior ministry said law enforcement agencies had placed 121 people in “preventive detention” as part of the crackdown that began this week.

“Provincial governments have taken in their control management and administration of 182 seminaries (madaris)”, the ministry said in a statement, referring to religious schools.

What to do with madrasas is a thorny issue in Pakistan, a deeply conservative Muslim nation where religious schools are often blamed for radicalisation of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.

The interior ministry said other institutions from different groups had been taken over, including 34 schools or colleges, 163 dispensaries, 184 ambulances, five hospitals and eight offices of banned organisations.
Many banned groups such as JeM run seminaries, which counter-terrorism officials say are used as recruiting grounds for militant outfits
Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which operates hospitals and a fleet of ambulances, is estimated to run about 300 madrasas across the country. Pakistan’s government banned the group this week.
JuD calls itself a humanitarian charity but the U.S. State Department has designated it a “foreign terrorist organisation” and calls it a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistan-based group accused of orchestrating attacks in India, including the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.
An image casts doubt on India airstrike claims
JuD called the crackdown unfair and said it would seek to counter the government action in courts.
“The whole nation is asking that what message the government wants to send by sealing welfare organisations and kicking students out,” said JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid.
Pakistan has long used Islamist groups to pursue its aims in the region, but it has denied New Delhi’s accusations it actively supports militants fighting Indian forces in India’s part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The South Asian neighbours have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir which they both claim in whole but rule in part.
Source: Reuters
06/03/2019

‘War’ and India PM Modi’s muscular strongman image

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, American political journalist Michael Kinsley said.

Last week, a prominent leader of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have done exactly that. BS Yeddyurappa said the armed aerial hostilities between India and Pakistan would help his party win some two dozen seats in the upcoming general election.

The remark by Mr Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, was remarkable in its candour. Not surprisingly, it was immediately seized upon by opposition parties. They said it was a brazen admission of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was mining the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals ahead of general elections, which are barely a month away. Mr Modi’s party is looking at a second term in power.

Mr Yeddyurappa’s plain-spokenness appeared to have embarrassed even the BJP. Federal minister VK Singh issued a statement, saying the government’s decision to carry out air strikes in Pakistan last week was to “safeguard our nation and ensure safety of our citizens, not to win a few seats”. No political party can afford to concede that it was exploiting a near war for electoral gains.

A billboard displaying an image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a rifle is seen on a roadside in Ahmedabad on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe BJP has put up election posters of Mr Modi posing with guns

Even as tensions between India and Pakistan ratcheted up last week, Mr Modi went on with business as usual. Hours after the Indian attack in Pakistan’s Balakot region, he told a packed election meeting that the country was in safe hands and would “no longer be helpless in the face of terror”. Next morning, Pakistan retaliated and captured an Indian pilot who ejected from a downed fighter jet. Two days later, Pakistan returned the pilot to India.

Mr Modi then told a gathering of scientists that India’s aerial strikes were merely a “pilot project” and hinted there was more to come. Elsewhere, his party chief Amit Shah said India had killed more than 250 militants in the Balakot attack even as senior defence officials said they didn’t know how many had died. Gaudy BJP posters showing Mr Modi holding guns and flanked by soldiers, fighter jets and orange explosions have been put up in parts of the country. “Really uncomfortable with pictures of soldiers on election posters and podiums. This should be banned. Surely the uniform is sullied by vote gathering in its name,” tweeted Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist and author.

Mr Modi has appealed to the opposition to refrain from politicising the hostilities. The opposition parties are peeved because they believe Mr Modi has not kept his word. Last week, they issued a statement saying “national security must transcend narrow political considerations”.

‘Petty political gain’

But can the recent conflict fetch more votes for Mr Modi? In other words, can national security become a campaign plank?

Many believe Mr Modi is likely to make national security the pivot of his campaign. Before last month’s suicide attack – claimed by Pakistan-based militants – killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, Mr Modi was looking a little vulnerable. His party had lost three state elections on the trot to the Congress party. Looming farm and jobs crises were threatening to hurt the BJP’s prospects.

Now, many believe, Mr Modi’s chances look brighter as he positions himself as a “muscular” protector of the country’s borders. “This is one of the worst attempts to use war to win [an] election, and to use national security as petty political gain. But I don’t know whether it will succeed or not,” says Yogendra Yadav, a politician and psephologist.

Indian people feed sweets to a poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the Indian Air Force"s air strike across the Line of Control (LoC) near the international border with PakistanImage copyrightEPA
Image captionMany Indians have celebrated India’s strike in Pakistani territory

Evidence is mixed on whether national security helps ruling parties win elections in India. Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science at Brown University in the US, says previous national security disruptions in India were “distant from the national elections”.

The wars in 1962 (against China) and 1971 (against Pakistan) broke out after general elections. Elections were still two years away when India and Pakistan fought a war in 1965. The 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought the two countries to the brink of war happened two years after a general election. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 took place five months before the elections in 2009 – and the then ruling Congress party won without making national security a campaign plank.

Things may be different this time. Professor Varshney says the suicide attack in Kashmir on 14 February and last week’s hostilities are “more electorally significant than the earlier security episodes”.

For one, he says, it comes just weeks ahead of a general election in a highly polarised country. The vast expansion of the urban middle class means that national security has a larger constituency. And most importantly, according to Dr Varshney, “the nature of the regime in Delhi” is an important variable. “Hindu nationalists have always been tougher on national security than the Congress. And with rare exceptions, national security does not dominate the horizons of regional parties, governed as they are by caste and regional identities.”

Presentational grey line

Read more from Soutik Biswas

Presentational grey line

Bhanu Joshi, a political scientist also at Brown University, believes Mr Modi’s adoption of a muscular and robust foreign policy and his frequent international trips to meet foreign leaders may have touched a chord with a section of voters. “During my work in northern India, people would continuously invoke the improvement in India’s stature in the international arena. These perceptions get reinforced with an event like [the] Balakot strikes and form impressions which I think voters, particularly on a bipolar contest of India and Pakistan, care about,” says Mr Joshi.

Others like Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, echo a similar sentiment. He told me that although foreign policy has never been a “mass” issue in India’s domestic politics, “given the proximity of the conflict to the elections, the salience of Pakistan, and the ability of the Modi government to claim credit for striking back hard, I expect it will become an important part of the campaign”.

But Dr Vaishnav believes it will not displace the economy and farm distress as an issue, especially in village communities. “Where it will help the BJP most is among swing voters, especially in urban constituencies. If there were fence-sitters unsure of how to vote in 2019, this emotive issue might compel them to stick with the incumbent.”

How the opposition counters Mr Modi’s agenda-setting on national security will be interesting to watch. Even if the hostilities end up giving a slight bump to BJP prospects in the crucial bellwether states in the north, it could help take the party over the winning line. But then even a week is a long time in politics.

Source: The BBC

27/02/2019

Live updates| PM Modi holds key meet on Pak situation with top officials

IAF strike on Jaish camp in Pakistan updates: IAF pilot who engaged Pakistan jets missing in action, said the government. India verifying Pak claims on his custody. Follow live updates here:

Pakistani aircraft violated Indian air space in the Nowshera sector of Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district on Wednesday morning. The Indian Air Force scrambled jets and pushed them back. News agency ANI has reported that a Pakistan Air Force F-16 was shot down in Indian retaliatory fire in Nowshera’s Lam valley.

The Pakistani jets had entered into Indian air space over Rajouri district this morning, sources said.

The air space violation by Pakistani jets comes a day after Indian Air Force jets flew across the Line of Control to blow up Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest terror camp.

Watch| India lost one MiG 21, pilot who engaged Pak jets ‘missing in action’: Govt

 

Follow live updates here:

4:55 pm IST

Army’s Eastern Command chief visits Panagarh base in West Bengal amid escalating tensions

Amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, Army’s Eastern Command chief Lt General Manoj Naravane visited Panagarh base in West Bengal on Wednesday and reviewed operational preparedness, a defence official said.

Lt Gen Naravane, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command, emphasised the need for remaining alert at all times to meet the emerging security challenges, the official said.

4:50 pm IST

“Whole country is proud of this brave son,” Arvind Kejriwal tweets for IAF pilot’s safe return

“I pray for the safety of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan,” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal. “Whole country is proud of this brave son and everyone is hoping for his safe return. We all stand united to keep our country safe and strong,” Arvind Kejriwal said in the tweet.

4:35 pm IST

Pakistan has long denied its role in terror acts in India

In his last televised statement, Imran Khan appeared to ignore the claims made by Jaish. Pakistan has long denied its role in terror acts in India, which has handed it over several dossiers containing evidence of involvement of terror groups working from its soil.

4:33 pm IST

Imran Khan’s fresh call for dialogue comes in the wake of Pulwama terror attack

Imran Khan’s fresh call for dialogue comes in the wake of India’s effort to corner Pakistan among international community in the wake of Pulwama terror attack, in which at least 40 soldiers were killed. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack.

4:26 pm IST

Imran Khan calls for talks to de-escalate rising tensions with India over Kashmir

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan calls for talks to de-escalate rising tensions with India over Kashmir.

3:57 pm IST

Better sense should prevail: Imran Khan after Pak strike

“We offered that we are ready for any kind of investigation after Pulwama attack in India. We didn’t take action on Tuesday morning because we weren’t aware of the damage caused by air strike by India. We did not want to cause much collateral damage in India when there was not much damage on our side. The only motive of Pakistan’s strike today was to demonstrate that we have the capability to hit back.

All the wars have happened due to miscalculation. With all the weapons that Pakistan and India have, can we afford to miscalculate. If we take to war neither I nor Mr Narendra Modi would be in a position to control its course. This is why I suggest that better sense should prevail,” said Imran Khan.

3:25 pm IST

IAF pilot who engaged Pak jets missing in action: Govt

IAF pilot who engaged Pakistan jets missing in action, said the government. India verifying Pak claims on his custody.

Pakistan used air force to target military installations, attempt foiled successfully, the government added.

3:20 pm IST

Foreign ministry and Air Vice Marshal brief media

Foreign ministry and Air Vice Marshal briefed the media.

3:00 pm IST

Maharashtra on high alert amid border tensions

Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai have been put on high alert’ in the wake of the rising tensions on the country’s north-west border, official sources said in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Heightened security was seen in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country. Police vigil has been enhanced in Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nashik and Kolhapur as well. The government is ensuring there is no disturbance to the ongoing HSC (Class XII) examinations in the state, reported news agency IANS.

2:45 pm IST

Pakistan closes its airspace for commercial flights

Pakistan has closed its airspace for commercial flights, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced on Wednesday amid escalating tensions with India.

The aviation authority made the announcement on Twitter after Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Pakistan Army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), acknowledged the closure of Pakistan’s airspace due to the security situation, Dawn News reported.

2:35 pm IST

Air India avoiding route of Pakistan air space with immediate effect

Air India avoiding route of Pakistan air space with immediate effect. India use Pakistan airspace for flights to Gulf countries, Europe and USA, said an Air India official

1:25 pm IST

Pakistan says 2 IAF jets shot down, India rejects claim

There are no reports of any IAF jet suffering damage in action by India’s adversaries, defence sources said on Wednesday according to news agency PTI.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan claimed it shot down two Indian military aircraft over Pakistani air space and arrested at least one of the pilots, according to PTI.

1:20 pm IST

Army, BSF troops along IB, LoC on highest degree of alertness: Officials

The Army and BSF have been put on the highest degree of alertness along the border in Jammu after air space violations by the neighbouring country and the night-long heavy firing and shelling by Pakistani troops on forward and civilians areas across the LoC which stopped on Wednesday, reported news agency PTI.

Authorities have ordered temporary closure of educational institutions in a 5-km radius along the Line of Control (LoC) in Rajouri and Poonch districts on Wednesday amid mounting tensions between the two countries, following the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 and an Indian air strike on Jaish-e-Mohammed camp inside Pakistan on Tuesday.

1:14 pm IST

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman chairs DAC meeting

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman met here today and accorded approval for acquisition of defence equipment for about Rs 2700 crores.

Approval was granted for procurement of three Cadet Training ships for the Indian Navy, which would be utilised to provide basic sea training for officer cadets including women officer undertrainees. The ships would be capable of undertaking Hospital Ship duties, providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, undertaking Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations.

1:08 am IST

China reiterates call for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint

China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said it reiterated its call for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang made the comment at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

1:00 pm IST

PM Modi rushes to review security situation: Report

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cut short his address at a function in Vigyan Bhawan on Wednesday and rushed to attend a meeting to review the security situation arising out of Pakistan’s attempt to violate Indian air space, reported news agency ANI.

Modi was replying to the questions from youngsters during the National Youth Festival 2019 when he was handed over a small piece of paper by an official of Prime Minister Office (PMO).

The Prime Minister immediately stopped and walked towards the panelist where Union minister Rajyavardhan Rathore was also present.

12:53 pm IST

Pakistan stops domestic, international flight operations from Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Islamabad

Pakistan immediately stops its domestic and international flight operations from Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Islamabad airports, reported news agency ANI.

12:30 pm IST

Sensex turns negative; cracks over 200 points

The benchmark BSE Sensex gave up all early gains and fell over 200 points in afternoon trade Wednesday on widespread selling after Pakistani fighter jets violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir.

After dropping 238 points, the Sensex was trading 161.74 points, or 0.46 per cent, down at 35,811.97 after hitting a low of 35,735.33. The gauge rallied nearly 400 points in morning trade.

The 50-share Nifty also fell 62.55 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 10,772.75.

According to brokers, investor sentiment took a beating after Pakistan claimed that it shot down two Indian military aircraft over Pakistani air space and arrested one of the pilots.

The Pakistani fighter jets on Wednesday violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Nowshera sectors.

12:08 pm IST

Rajnath reviews security situation

Home Minister Rajnath Singh Wednesday reviewed the security situation in the country, especially along the border with Pakistan, a day after Indian fighter jets bombed the biggest camp of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad in that country, officials said.

During the meeting, attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval among others, a detailed presentation was given about the security situation in the country and steps taken to ensure peace in all sensitive places.

Singh directed the officials to ensure the Border Security Force, which guards the India-Pakistan border continues to remain on highest level of alertness so that any misadventure from across the border could be foiled, a home ministry official said.

12:01 pm IST

‘Don’t want to escalate tensions, but we are prepared’, says Pakistan

“Today, Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across Line of Control from within Pakistani airspace. This was not a retaliation to continued Indian belligerence. Pakistan has therefore, taken strikes at non military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage. Sole purpose being to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self defence.

We have no intention of escalation, but are fully prepared to do so if forced into that paradigm. That is why we undertook the action with clear warning and in broad daylight. For the last few years, India has been trying to establish what they call “a new normal” a thinly veiled term for doing acts of aggression at whatever pretext they wish on a given day.

If India is striking at so called terrorist backers without a shred of evidence, we also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan. We do not wish to go to that route and wish that India gives peace a chance and to resolve issues like a mature democratic nation,” read a statement released by Pakistan on Wednesday.

11:50 am IST

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval arrives at Home Ministry

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval arrived at the Home Ministry in Delhi.

11:45 am IST

Hope India, Pak conduct dialogue to establish facts through investigation: Wang Yi

“As a mutual friend to both India and Pakistan, we hope that they can conduct dialogue to establish facts through investigation to keep things under control and maintain peace and stability in the region. In this process China is playing a constructive role not the opposite,” said China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

11:42 am IST

Russia, China and India reaffirmed strong opposition to terrorism: Wang Yi

“Russia, China and India reaffirmed strong opposition to terrorism. At the same time we (China) believe Pakistan has always been opposed to terrorism. China appreciates statements from Indian and Pak friends saying they’ll exercise restraint and avoid escalation of situation,” said China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

11:37 am IST

Pakistani jets violate Indian air space in Nowshera

Pakistani jets violated Indian air space in Jammu and Kashmir’s Nowshera sector but were successfully confronted.

An official said the jets were immediately pushed back by Indian jets on air patrol.

10:55 am IST

Discussed establishment of UN led global counter-terrorism mechanism: Swaraj

“We need a global strategy, global cooperation. I’m happy to tell you today we discussed the establishment of UN led global counter-terrorism mechanism and finalising CCIT (Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism) proposed by India to implement it,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in Wuzhen, China.

“As far as Pulwama is concerned, I had raised this issue in the bilateral meeting with Mr Wang Yi and also at RIC (Russia-India-China) forum,” she added.

10:42 am IST

All countries need to show ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism: Sushma Swaraj

Terrorists attacks like Pulwama are a grim reminder for the need of all countries to show ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Wednesday, a day after India conducted pre-emptive air strikes deep inside Pakistan hitting Jaish-e-Mohammad training camps.

The operation was carried out in light of Pakistan’s refusal to acknowledge and act against terror groups operating from its soil and credible information that JeM was planning attacks in India, she said.

10:10 am IST

India’s response to Pulwama attack top agenda of Opposition meet

Left parties will participate in the meeting of the opposition parties, scheduled to be held later today. They had earlier said that they will not participate in the meeting. Pulwama attack and India’s response to it are on the agenda of discussion, reported news agency ANI.

9:55 am IST

Defence minister to meet Army, IAF, Navy chiefs shortly

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba will attend DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) meeting shortly today.

9:35 am IST

Mumbai on high alert, govt asks schools to exercise caution

In the wake of air strikes carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot, the Maharashtra government has called for office bearers of the School & Co. Bus Owner’s Association to ensure the safety of school children keeping the prevailing situation in mind, reported news agency ANI.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state legislature that security has been tightened across the city and appealed to people not to panic.

After intelligence informed Mumbai police to be on high alert, the vigilance and CCTV surveillance has been increased in places like the airport, railway stations, and other key locations.

9:22 am IST

2 Jaish terrorists killed

At least two Jaish terrorists were killed in an encounter that broke out with security forces in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.

9:20 am IST

Villagers being shifted to safer places

After cross LoC shelling and ceasefire violations , the villagers in some areas of Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri are being shifted to safer places according to officials.

9:05 am IST

Balakot camp blown up by IAF was Jaish’s preferred training spot for 18 yrs

Balakot’s Jaba Top first emerged as a preferred training ground for militants in the time of President Zia-ul-Haq. It was an ideal place for a camp for non-state actors — remote, located near a small town, yet far enough from it, on a wooded hilltop, and on Pakistani territory in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. India crossed into Pakistan’s territory in 1971 (and then again, its aircraft on Tuesday), and so the Pakistanis may have thought it was a good place to host a training camp for militants whom the rest of the world called terrorists.

8:58 am IST

Underscore priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action: Mike Pompeo to Pak foreign minister

“I spoke to Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to underscore the priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action and the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil,” said US Secy of State Mike Pompeo, according to news agency ANI.

8:50 am IST

Objective was to act against terrorist infrastructure: Sushma Swaraj in China

“It wasn’t a military op, no military installation targeted. Objective was to act against terrorist infrastructure of JeM to preempt another terror attack in India. India doesn’t wish to see further escalation of situation. It’ll continue to act with responsibility and restraint,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the 16th Foreign Ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China.

8:45 am IST

Target selected to avoid civilian casualties: Sushma Swaraj

“In the light of continuing refusal of Pak to acknowledge and act against terror groups on its territory and based on credible info that JeM was planning other attacks in parts of India, GoI decided to take preemptive action and target was selected in order to avoid civilian casualties,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the 16th foreign ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China, reported news agency ANI.

8:43 am IST

Pakistan outrightly denied any knowledge of Pulwama attack: Sushma Swaraj

“Such dastardly terrorist attacks are a grim reminder for the need of all the countries to show zero tolerance to terrorism and take decisive action against it.

Following the Pulwama terrorist attack instead of taking seriously the calls by international community to act against Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terror groups based in Pakistan, it denied any knowledge of the attack and outrightly dismissed claims by Jaish-e-Mohammed,” said external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the 16th foreign ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen, China, reported news agency ANI.

8:40 am IST

Did the US know of India’s strike on Balakot? And how much?

Asked about India’s right to self-defence, President Donald Trump told reporters last week, “India is looking at something very strong. And, I mean, India just lost almost 50 people and… with an attack, so I can understand that also.”

And his national security adviser John Bolton had on his own told reporters at a briefing that he had conveyed to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval in a phone call “that we support India’s right to self-defence”.

8:37 am IST

Only 7 people knew of timing of air strike

On February 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the strike. According to intelligence officials, only seven people knew of this decision – Modi, Doval, the three service chiefs, and the heads of RAW and Intelligence Bureau.

Starting February 22, the Air Force started flying night sorties from various frontline bases to confuse the Pakistanis. On February 25, intelligence inputs suggested the presence of a large number of JeM terrorists, around 300-350, at the Balakot camp. The same evening it was decided to go ahead with the strike immediately. Modi knew by late evening that an attack could happen in the next few hours.

8:31 am IST

Exercise ‘maximum restraint’: UN chief to India, Pakistan

UN chief Antonio Guterres is following the situation between India and Pakistan “very closely” and has appealed to the governments of both nations to exercise “maximum restraint” to ensure the situation does not deteriorate further, a top UN official said Tuesday.

The UN Secretary General’s remarks came after Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a pre-dawn air strike on a terror training camp inside Pakistan.

8:27 am IST

Pak must take ‘action’ against terror groups: US after IAF strikes

Pakistan must take ‘meaningful action’ against terror groups, says US after IAF strikes on Jaish camp, reported news agency PTI

8:25 am IST

Encounter underway between militants, security forces in J-K’s Shopian

An encounter broke out on Wednesday between militants and security forces in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said. Security forces launched a cordon and search operation in Meemendar area of Shopian following information about presence of militants there, the officials said.

They said the search operation turned into an encounter after militants opened firing towards the security forces, who retaliated.

Source: Hindustan Times

22/02/2019

“Don’t mess with Pakistan,” India is told amid Kashmir tension

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan will respond to any attack by India with “full force”, the army’s spokesman said on Friday, amid heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours over Kashmir.

Major General Asif Ghafoor was speaking a week after a Pakistani-based militant group claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary policemen the Himalayan region disputed between India and Pakistan.

India’s top military commander in the region has alleged Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency was involved.

“We have no intention to initiate war, but we will respond with full force to full spectrum threat that would surprise you,” Ghafoor told reporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. “Don’t mess with Pakistan.”

The army’s response came two days after Prime Minister Imran Khan urged India to share any actionable evidence, offering full cooperation in investigating the blast.

He also offered talks with India on all issues, including terrorism, which India has always sought as a pre-requisite to any dialogue between the two arch-rivals.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which both the countries claim entirely.

Ghafoor also reiterated the talks offer.

“Kashmir is a regional issue,” he said. “Let us talk about it. Let us resolve it.”

India blames Pakistani Islamist militant groups for infiltrating into its part of Kashmir to fuel an insurgency and help separatist movements.

Washington and Delhi allege that the Pakistani army nurtures the militants to use them as a foreign policy tools to expand power in neighbouring India and Afghanistan. The army denies that.

One such group is Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India blamed for attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which killed 166 people, saying its founder, Hafiz Saeed, was the mastermind.

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his conviction over the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan has put him under house arrest several times and banned his Islamist groups, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), which the United States and the United Nations say are terrorist fronts for the LeT.

Islamabad reinstated the ban on the groups yet again on Thursday, but Saeed remains free, allowed to roam the country and make public speeches and give sermons.

Source: Reuters

21/02/2019

India Catholic Cardinal Oswald Gracias ‘failed abuse victims’

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, during the launch of the bishops' declaration on climate justice on 26 October 2018 in Rome, Italy.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionCardinal Oswald Gracias told the BBC it pained him to hear accusations that he had neglected victims of alleged abuse

One of the Catholic Church’s most senior cardinals has admitted that he could have better handled sexual abuse allegations that were brought to him.

Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai is one of four men organising a major Vatican conference on child abuse this week.

We found two separate cases where the cardinal, who is tipped by some to possibly become the next Pope, is claimed to have failed to respond quickly or offer support to the victims.

Victims and those who supported them allege that Cardinal Gracias did not take allegations of abuse seriously when they were reported to him.

India’s Catholics say there is a culture of fear and silence in the Catholic Church about sexual abuse by priests. Those who have dared to speak out say it has been an ordeal.

‘My heart was hurt’

The first case dates back to 2015 in Mumbai.

A woman’s life changed when her son returned from Mass at the church and told her that the parish priest had raped him.

“I could not understand what should I do?” she said. She did not know this yet, but this event would put her on a collision course with the Catholic Church in India.

Media captionWhy is India’s Catholic church silent about sexual abuse?

The man she reached out to for help was and remains one of the most senior representatives of the Church.

It was nearly 72 hours after the alleged rape that the family briefly met Cardinal Gracias, then president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India and Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

The issue of sexual abuse within the Church is being called the Vatican’s biggest crisis in modern times, and the integrity of the Catholic Church is said to ride on the outcome of this conference.

Pope Francis, flanked by Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias (L) and other bishops, arrives at Synod Hall in Vatican City on 24 October 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPope Francis with Cardinal Oswald Gracias (fourth from left)

Over the past year, the Catholic Church has been reeling under multiple allegations of sexual abuse around the world.

But while abuse claims have made headlines in North and South America, Europe and Australia, very little is known about the problems in Asian countries. In countries such as India there is a social stigma about reporting abuse.

Among Christians, who are a minority of nearly 28 million people, a culture of fear and silence makes it impossible to gauge the true scale of the problem.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago – a colleague of Cardinal Gracias on the four-member organising committee – has promised that decisive action in Rome and in dioceses worldwide will follow after the meeting so as to safeguard children and bring justice to the victims.

Cardinal Gracias will open the second day of the summit with a conversation about accountability in the Church.

Media captionBrigitte, a survivor of child sex abuse by a chaplain, explains why she is ready to speak now

This vital role given to him during this crucial conference has made some in India unhappy.

They say his track record in protecting children and women from abusers is questionable. Those we have spoken to who have taken cases to him say they received little support from him.

The mother of the abused boy said: “I told the cardinal about what the priest had done to my child, that my child was in a lot of pain. So he prayed for us and told us he had to go to Rome…my heart was hurt in that moment.

“As a mother, I had gone to him with great expectations that he would think about my son, give me justice, but he said he had no time, he only cared about going to Rome.”

The family say they requested medical help but were offered none.

The cardinal told us it pained him to hear this, and that he was not aware that the boy needed medical help – and if he had been asked, he would have immediately offered it.

The Archbishop's house in Mumbai

The cardinal admits he left for Rome that night without alerting the authorities.

By failing to call the police, Cardinal Gracias may have violated India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).

The provisions of this law state that if the head of any company or institution fails to report the commission of an offence in respect of a subordinate under his control, they shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, and with a fine.

The cardinal told us he had telephoned his bishop the next day, who told him the family had subsequently informed the police themselves.

Asked if he regretted not calling the police personally at the time, he said: “You know I’m being honest, I’m not 100% sure… but I must reflect on that. I admit whether immediately, the police should have got involved, sure.”

He says he was under a duty to evaluate the credibility of accusations by speaking to the accused man.

Emerging from that meeting, the family decided to go to a doctor.

“He took one look at my boy and said that something has happened to him. This is a police case. Either you report it or I will… so we went to the police that night,” the mother said.

A police medical examination found that the child had been sexually assaulted.

Indian Catholics pray during Friday afternoon service at the Holy Name Cathedral in Mumbai on 15 March 2013.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionIndia is home to about 19 million Catholics

A current priest who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity said this was not the first time allegations about this priest had been brought to the cardinal’s attention.

“I met him some years before this [alleged] incident,” the priest told us.

“There were strong rumours about [the accused priest] in the diocese, and like these are about abuse that is taking place. And yet he seems to be moving from one place to another, one parish to another. The cardinal told me directly that he is not aware directly of all these things.”

The cardinal says he cannot recall the conversation. He says he did not recollect any “cloud of suspicion” over the man.

‘A lonely battle’

As part of our investigation, we wanted to see if there were other allegations of the cardinal being slow to act.

We found an instance dating back almost a decade, brought to his attention just a couple of years after becoming archbishop of Mumbai.

Virginia Saldanha.
Image captionCatholic activist Virginia Saldanha says three legal notices were sent to the cardinal, threatening court action unless took action about the claims of abuse

In March 2009, a woman approached him with accusations of sexual abuse by another priest who conducted retreats.

She says that he took no action against the priest so she reached out to a group of female Catholic activists, who say they forced the cardinal to act.

Under pressure, he finally set up an enquiry committee in December 2011. Six months after the enquiry, there was still no action and the accused priest continued working in his parish.

“We had to send the cardinal three legal notices to act, threaten to take the matter to the courts if he did not act,” said Virginia Saldanha, a devout Catholic who has worked on the women’s desk of multiple Church-affiliated positions for over two decades.

When the cardinal replied, he said: “The priest is not listening to me.”

Blurred image of family
Image captionThe family says they have been ostracised from the church and isolated within their communities since reporting the sexual assault

During the time, Saldanha said she had to leave the church because “I could not bear to see that man giving Mass in the church. I did not feel like going there.”

The priest was eventually removed from his parish, but the reasons for his departure were never made public.

The punishment, decided by the cardinal personally in October 2011, was a “guided retreat and therapeutic counselling”.

When we pressed him about the speed of process and punishment, the cardinal said it was a “complicated case”.

After a stay in the seminary, the accused priest was briefly given a parish again and still conducts retreats.

Meanwhile, the family of the allegedly raped minor feel abandoned by the institution that they had built their lives around.

“It has been a lonely battle,” the mother concedes. They say they have been ostracised from the church and isolated within their communities.

“After complaining to the police, when we would go into church, people would refuse to talk to us, to sit next to us during Mass. If I went to sit next to someone… they would get up and leave,” she said.

The hostility she encountered eventually “made us leave the church. But it got so difficult for us that we eventually had to change our home as well. We left it all behind”.

Church members say that it is this hostility that makes it harder for victims and their families to speak up.

Caught between an apparently unsupportive clergy and hostile social network, many find their voices faltering.

Source: The BBC

19/02/2019

Pakistan PM Imran Khan says ready to talk terror, then packs in warning against strikes

Pakistan PM Imran Khan has denied hand behind Pulwama terror attack stating if there is evidence, his government will act against the culprits.

INDIA Updated: Feb 19, 2019 14:50 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Imran Khan,Pulwama attack
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said if there is any evidence of involvement of any Pakistani national in Pulwama terror attack, his government will act against the culprits. (AP)

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied his country’s role behind the Pulwama terror attack, the worst in Jammu and Kashmir in decades. He claimed that India does not have any evidence to prove Pakistan’s role in terror attacks in Kashmir.

“You (India) have blamed the Pakistan government without any evidence…If you have any evidence, we will act,” Imran Khan said.

He said, “It is in our interest that nobody from our soil spreads violence. I want to tell Indian government that we will take action if evidence is found against anyone from Pakistan.”

“What has Pakistan to gain from this? Why will Pakistan do this at a stage when it is moving towards stability,” said Imran Khan adding that “this is a Naya Pakistan with a new mindset.”

Calling for a dialogue with India, he said, “If you thinks you will attack us and we will not think of retaliating…We will retaliate. We all know starting a war is in the hands of humans, where it will lead us only God knows. This issue should be solved through dialogue.”

Also Read | Eliminated Jaish leadership that planned Pulwama attack within 100 hours, says army

Imran Khan’s reaction comes days after at least 40 CRPF jawans were killed in a terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan-backed terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack.

Earlier, Pakistan sought an urgent intervention of UN Secretary-General in defusing tensions with India and help facilitate dialogue between the two countries.

Following the terror attack, India launched a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan with the ministry of external affairs reaching out to more than two dozen countries including P5 – the US, the UK, France, Russia and China, which has repeatedly blocked India’s bid to get Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar declared as global terrorist by the United Nations.

Also Read | Army major killed in Pulwama encounter made plans for first anniversary

China has used veto to shield Masood Azhar. Pakistan has also denied its support to the terror group. On Monday, in a joint statement Imran Khan and Saudi Arabia’s prince Mohammed bin Sultan “underlined the need for avoiding politicisation of UN listing regime.” This is being viewed as a snub to India’s renewed efforts to isolate Pakistan over its continued support to terror outfits and corner Masood Azhar’s JeM.

India withdrew the most favoured nation (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan in 1996. The MFN status had not been revoked even during the 1999 Kargil War and in the aftermath of 2008 Mumbai terror attack that killed more than 160 people.

Source: Hindustan Times

15/02/2019

Fire alarms “faulty” at Delhi blaze hotel, prompting mass reinspections

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A hotel that caught fire in the Indian capital on Tuesday, killing 17 people, passed safety checks 14 months ago, but an investigation has revealed breaches of regulations, such as faulty alarms, prompting a mass reinspection of other hotels.

Poorly enforced regulations lead to thousands of deaths in fires across India every year and officials in New Delhi say an overstretched fire service is hampering safety efforts.

The Hotel Arpit Palace passed a fire safety check in December 2017, but a copy of the initial police investigation seen by Reuters showed several breaches of fire regulations, including a lack of signs to guide guests to exits and fire alarms that did not work.

Delhi’s fire service, which is responsible for safety inspections as well as fighting fires, is now reviewing certificates issued to more than 1,500 hotels in one of India’s tourist hubs, a senior fire official told Reuters.

“Fire officers have to do a lot of work,” said Vipin Kental, Delhi’s chief fire officer. “We have to be inspectors and fight fires. We do not have the manpower.”

The city has around 1,700 firefighters, he said, which is less than an eighth of the number in New York, a city with less than half of Delhi’s population.

PREVENTABLE TRAGEDY

The fire is believed to have begun on the hotel’s first floor, spreading quickly through wood-panelled corridors, police say. Among the dead were members of a wedding party from Kerala and a two Buddhist pilgrims from Myanmar.

“From the outside, the building looked intact, but inside everything was completely charred,” a police officer told Reuters.

Two of the 17 died after jumping out of windows in desperation after failing to find emergency exits, added the officer, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

“Fire preparedness is a matter of shockingly low priority in most parts of the country,” said an editorial in the Indian Express, one of the country’s leading newspapers.

A 2018 study by India’s home ministry that found the country had just 2,000 of more than 8,500 fire stations it needs.

More than 17,000 people died in fires in 2015, according to data from the ministry, the last year for which figures are available, one of the largest causes of accidental death in India.

Fire safety is an issue for shanty towns and some of the country’s most expensive real estate.

A day after the Arpit Palace disaster, more than 250 makeshift homes were destroyed in a slum in Paschim Puri, a poor area of New Delhi, though no one was killed.

In 2017, 14 people were killed during a birthday party at a high-end bar in India’s financial capital Mumbai.

In several upscale neighbourhoods in Delhi, police shut hundreds of shops and restaurants last year for trading on floors meant for residential use, though many continue to operate illegally, residents say.

By the boarded-up Arpit Palace in the Karol Bagh area of New Delhi, wires from adjacent hotels still trail across the street, though staff there told Reuters they were complying with fire regulations.

Adding to the safety problems, poorly paid staff in the hotel and restaurant industries are often unable to help guests when fires break out, Kental said.

“They are not trained. They don’t know what to do in the event of a fire,” he said.

Source: Reuters

29/12/2018

The Mumbai ‘toxic hell’ where poor are forced to live

  • 29 December 2018
A pile of rubbish alongside houses in Mahul
Image captionPiles of garbage are a common sight in Mahul

Tens of thousands of people are fighting to leave Mahul, a heavily industrialised neighbourhood in the western Indian city of Mumbai, saying the toxic pollution there is adversely impacting their health. BBC Marathi’s Mayuresh Konnur and Janhavee Moole report on the residents’ battle to be relocated.

Anita Dhole, 38, was forced to move to a “transit camp” set up by the civic authorities in Mahul in May 2017 after the illegal slum she was living in was demolished. Since then, she says, she has been suffering.

“I have breathing trouble and high blood pressure, and the pollution has also affected my eyesight,” she says.

Hers was one of more than 5,000 families – estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 people – that lost their homes in the demolition drive and were offered temporary housing in Mahul. They were told they would be given homes in another Mumbai suburb later but, residents say, Mahul is not fit for living, even for a short time.

Anita Dhole
Image captionMs Dhole has been living here since May 2017

A former fishing village, it’s now close to oil and petroleum refineries, chemical factories and fertiliser plants.

A report in 2013 by the King Edward Memorial Hospital said that around 67% of people living in Mahul complained of breathlessness several times a month and around 84% of them complained of eye-irritation. In 2015, India’s environment court National Green Tribunal said there was “a perceptible threat to [the] health of residents” in Mahul because of the “prevailing air quality in the area”.

But local municipal authorities say three different surveys by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board show “that the pollution levels in Mahul are not different from other areas of Mumbai”.

Yet residents blame breathing issues, asthma, skin diseases, tuberculosis and blood pressure-related problems on poor local conditions.

Ms Dhole says her parents fell so sick in Mahul that they soon left for their village.

A child scratches a rash on his arms
Image captionSkin infections are common among residents

Shamdas Salve, who also moved to Mahul last year, says his two-year-old son has had a persistent skin infection for the past five months.

“He doesn’t sleep the whole night and keeps scratching. I’ve consulted several skin specialists and changed his medication but he has had no relief. He cries and keeps scratching. He now has marks on his face too.”

His words are echoed by many of his neighbours – 10-year-old Sahil suffers from TB and so does 17-month-old Anshul Tusambad; Maya Goswami, 55, struggles with asthma; and 18-year-old Kavita Subramanyan has low BP and breathing problems.

Besides pollution, residents say they have no access to clean water and sewage facilities and that electricity supply is far from regular. There are also no hospitals or schools nearby. The area is poorly connected with other parts of the city and, as a result, many women have been forced to quit their jobs and stay home.

An overflowing sewer between homes in Mahul
Image captionOverflowing sewage in Mahul’s transit camp

The transit camp where Ms Dhole lives is actually a block of apartments that goes by the official name of Eversmile layout.

It has dozens of buildings and each is home to 300 congested one-room apartments. The complex is filthy – sewage pipes are broken, gutters are overflowing; electric wires are dangling everywhere; the air is stuffy, mosquitoes abound and rats scurry past us as we walk around the neighbourhood.

Most of these low-cost homes are meant for families who have been relocated because of demolition of unauthorised slums.

Every year, tens of thousands migrate from rural India to Mumbai in search of livelihood and most end up living in illegal shanty towns that often encroach on roads or other city infrastructure.

Locals walk on the Tansa water pipelineImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThousands were relocated to build the Tansa water pipeline

Most of those who were relocated to Mahul, including Ms Dhole, used to live in a slum along the Tansa pipeline – the 160km (99 miles) long water pipeline that runs through Mumbai, carrying water from Lake Tansa. It’s a major source of water for the city.

Just over half of the pipeline is overground and, over the years, unauthorised houses came up alongside it and, in some places, on top of it.

In 2006, a petition was filed in the high court in Mumbai asking the court to order the government to relocate those living in the slums to “ensure that the water, which is used by the citizens of Mumbai, is safe, and that these pipelines do not become a target for persons to attack the citizens of Mumbai”.

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In 2009, the court ruled that there must be a 10-metre gap between the pipeline and the nearest home, which meant that thousands of families had to move out. Their homes were subsequently demolished and they were told to relocate to Mahul.

Many initially refused because of the pollution, but were forced to move as the demolitions continued.

The fight to leave

Ms Dhole has started an online petition demanding that they be moved out of Mahul. She and other residents have also petitioned the high court.

In August, the court said the civic authorities could not force people to move to Mahul and that they must find alternative housing for them or pay rent for those families that did move out.

Mahul residents participate in a protest in June 2018Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionResidents have been protesting for months to be moved elsewhere

The protests have intensified in the past two months with many residents of Mahul’s transit camp demonstrating at the site where their homes once stood.

They have also launched a campaign on social media with the hashtag and Twitter handle MumbaisToxicHell – demanding that they are relocated again, this time to a safer and healthier environment.

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