Archive for ‘New Delhi’

14/03/2019

New Delhi feels betrayed by China on Masood Azhar; bilateral ties could suffer

The bonhomie witnessed between India and China over the last one year after the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan April last year has clearly evaporated following the Chinese action

Source: The Statesman
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10/03/2019

India political parties asked to stop using armed forces images for campaigns

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s election commission issued a notice asking political parties not to use images of the country’s armed forces in their campaign posters and other advertising during its upcoming general election.

The notice followed pictures posted to social media recently showing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party used images in their campaign posters of a captured Indian Air Force pilot recently returned by Pakistan after a clash with India over the disputed Kashmir territory.

It called for “strict compliance” with the order.

The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down on Feb. 27 by Pakistani aircraft during clashes between the two nuclear-armed powers that began after a terror attack last month in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police.

India blamed Pakistan for the attack and harbouring the militants that claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan denies the charges.

India later attacked a site inside Pakistan it claimed was a militant training camp. That triggered aerial clashes that led to Varthaman’s capture. Pakistan released him last week as a peace gesture.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed his release and claimed the clashes with Pakistan were an Indian victory. Nationalistic passions in India have risen since the terror attack.

Recent social media posts showed a campaign poster on a billboard in Indian capital of New Delhi with Varthaman’s face alongside Modi’s, along with the words: “If Modi is in power, it is possible! NaMo again 2019!” NaMo is an acronym for Modi.

Later on Sunday, the Election Commission is due to announce the polling schedule for the upcoming general election, which will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Source: Reuters

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
02/03/2019

Pakistan and India step back from the brink, tensions simmer

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – A flare up between arch-foes India and Pakistan appeared to be easing on Saturday after Islamabad handed back a captured Indian pilot, but tensions continued to simmer amid efforts by global powers to prevent a war between the nuclear-armed neighbours

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who became the face and symbol of the biggest clash between India and Pakistan in many years, walked across the border just before 9 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Friday in a high-profile handover shown on live television.

Shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) that acts as a de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region, a frequent feature in recent weeks, continued on Saturday.

Pakistan’s military said on Saturday its air force and navy “continue to be alert and vigilant”, while two of its soldiers were killed after exchanging fire with Indian troops along the Line of Control. India’s military said on Saturday that Pakistan was firing mortar shells across the LoC.

Pakistan touted Abhinandan’s return as “as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India” after weeks of unease that threatened to spiral into war after both countries used jets for bombing missions this week.

Global powers, including China and the United States, have urged restraint to prevent another conflict between the neighbours who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

Tensions escalated rapidly following a suicide car bombing on Feb. 14 that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

India accused Pakistan of harbouring the Jaish-e Mohammad group behind the attack, which Islamabad denied, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a strong response.

Indian warplanes carried out air strikes on Tuesday inside Pakistan on what New Delhi called militant camps. Islamabad denied any such camps existed, as did local villagers in the area, but Pakistan retaliated on Wednesday with its own aerial mission, that led to both sides claiming to have shot down jets.

The stand off came at a critical time for Modi, who faces a general election that must be held by May and who had been expected to benefit from nationalist pride unleashed by the standoff.

Pakistani leaders say the ball is now in India’s court to de-escalate the tensions, though the Pakistani army chief told top military leaders of the United States, Britain and Australia on Friday that his country would “surely respond to any aggression in self-defence”.

“COLLIDE HEAD-ON”

The Indian pilot’s ordeal since being shot down on Wednesday had made him the focal point of the crisis and he returned to his homeland to a hero’s welcome, with crowds thronging the Wagah border crossing and waving Indian flags.

Before his release, Pakistani television stations broadcast video of Abhinandan in which he thanked the Pakistani army for saving him from an angry crowd who chased him after seeing him parachute to safety.

Pakistan frees Indian pilot as crisis thaws
“The Pakistani army is a very professional service,” he said. “I have spent time with the Pakistan army. I am very impressed.”
On Friday, four Indian troops and one civilian were killed in a clash with militants in the Indian-administered Kashmir, where a further three people were killed and one wounded from Pakistani shelling.
Pakistan’s military said two civilians were killed and two wounded since Friday afternoon on Pakistan’s side of Kashmir from a barrage of Indian shelling.

In a sign of the unease, residents say they are afraid another conflagration is likely.

“The way situation is developing along the LoC makes me feel that both sides may collide head-on anytime now,” said Chaudhry Jahangir , a Pakistani resident of the Samahni sector in Kashmir.

Source: Reuters

26/02/2019

Exercise restraint, says China after strike on Jaish’s biggest terror camp

The IAF strike on Jaish camp in Balakot deep across LoC comes a day before the foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China (RIC) are expected to meet in the eastern China town of Wuzhen under the RIC mechanism.

INDIA Updated: Feb 26, 2019 15:56 IST

Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Wuzhen (China)
China on Jaish,Masood Azhar,Indian Air force
China has urged India and [pakistan to exercise restrain after the Indian Air Force hit a Jaish camp in Balakot acro(AP file photo)

China on Tuesday urged India to fight terrorism through “international cooperation” hours after the Indian air force carried out a targeted strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camplocated across the Line of Control (LoC).

India should create “favourable” conditions internationally to fight terrorism, China added possibly in an oblique reference to New Delhi’s failure to convince Beijing to allow Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Azhar Masood to be designated as a terrorist at the UN Security Council.

Follow live updates here

The strike comes a day before the foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China (RIC) are expected to meet in the eastern China town of Wuzhen under the RIC mechanism.

Responding to a question on the air strike, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang said both India and Pakistan — one of China’s closest allies — should maintain restraint.

“We have taken note of relevant reports. I want to say that India and Pakistan are both important countries. A sound relationship and cooperation serve the interests of peace and stability in South Asia. Both parties (should) remain restrained and do more to improve bilateral relations,” Lu Kang said.

Read: Nation in safe hands, says PM Modi

“As for India’s claims on taking action against terrorism, fighting terrorism is a global practice. It needs to be dealt with international cooperation. And India needs to create a favourable condition internationally for the same,” Lu said.

The Chinese foreign ministry’s reaction came soon after foreign secretary, VK Gokhale confirmed that Indian forces carried out a strike on the biggest camp of the terror group Jaih e Mohammed in Balakot area early on Tuesday.

“Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary,” the foreign secretary said.

The Chinese foreign ministry reacted carefully, keeping in mind its close ties with Pakistan and the fact that India’s decision to carry out the strike was triggered by JeM-planned Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel.

Read: After IAF strike on terror camp, Army tweets poem on power and peace

Interestingly, Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke over phone about the Pulwama attack and its aftermath over the phone on Monday evening.

“Qureshi informed Wang of Pakistan’s stance on and measures to deal with the attack, reaffirming the country’s sincerity and resolution to communicate with India and find out the truth of the incident,” a report by China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said.

“Qureshi said Pakistan’s position on maintaining regional peace and fighting terrorism will remain unchanged and it is willing to join hands with other countries to cooperate in this area,” it added.

In the phone conversation, Wang said China supports Pakistan and India to resolve the issue through dialogue as soon as possible and avoid an escalation of the situation.

“He called on both sides to collaborate on fighting terrorism and jointly safeguard the security and stability of South Asia,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the Pulwama terrorist attack and the listing of Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN is expected to prominently figure at the 16th RIC foreign ministers’ meeting being held here on Wednesday.

Besides attending the annual trilateral meeting, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj would also hold bilateral talks with Chinese FM Wang and Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the meeting.

Swaraj’s meeting with Wang assumes significance as it will be the first high-level interaction between the two countries after the Pulwama terror attack and Tuesday’s air strike.

China, a veto-wielding member of the UNSC, has consistently blocked India, the US, the UK and France’s efforts to list Azhar as a global terrorist since 2016 but endorsed a scathing statement issued by UN Security Council on February 21 on the Pulwama attack.

Source: Hindustan Times

25/02/2019

‘Give peace a chance’: After PM Modi’s ‘Pathan’ dare, Imran Khan says he ‘stands by’ his words on Pulwama

PM Modi said that he told him ‘let us fight against poverty and illiteracy’ and Khan gave his word saying he is a Pathan’s son, ‘but went back on it’.

SNS Web | New Delhi | 

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday asked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to “give peace a chance” and assured him that he “stands by” his words and will “immediately act” if New Delhi provides Islamabad with “actionable intelligence” on the Pulwama attack.

 

Khan’s remarks came a day after PM Modi in a rally in Rajasthan, recalled his conversation with the Pakistan PM during a congratulatory call after he became the country’s premier.

PM Modi had told him “let us fight against poverty and illiteracy” and Khan gave his word saying he is a Pathan’s son “but went back on it”.

“There is consensus in the entire world against terrorism. We are moving ahead with strength to punish the perpetrators of terrorism…The scores will be settled this time, settled for good…This is a changed India, this pain will not be tolerated…We know how to crush terrorism,” PM Modi further said.

A statement released by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office said, “PM Imran Khan stand by his words that if India gives us actionable intelligence, we will immediately act.”

PM Modi should “give peace a chance”, Khan said in the statement.

In his first statement issued since the February 14 attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had on Tuesday accused India of blaming his country “without evidence” and warned of retaliation against any military action by India.

However, he assured India that he would act against the perpetrators of the deadly Pulwama terror attack, carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror group and said that the issue between the two countries can be solved through dialogue.

India had called Khan’s offer to investigate the attack if provided proof as a “lame excuse”.

The already sour relations between India and Pakistan have worsened over the past few weeks as New Delhi accused Islamabad of the Pulwama attack.

India has accused Islamabad’s spy agency ISI of being involved in the attack and has maintained that the terror group JeM is a “child of the Pakistan Army”.

Following the attack, India immediately withdrew the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status granted to Pakistan and initiated steps to isolate the neighbouring country from the international community.

Earlier, India had also announced its decision to stop the flow of its share of water from the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej to Pakistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in many of his public speeches after the attack, said that the security forces have been given full freedom to decide the future course of action regarding the terrorist attack in Pulwama.

India’s neighbours, including Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan—and other countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Russia, Germany, Canada, UK, Australia and Canada came out in strong support of New Delhi following the terror attack.

Over 44 CRPF personnel were killed and many injured on February 14 in one of the deadliest terror strikes in Jammu-Kashmir when a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden vehicle near their bus in Pulwama district.

The bus was part of a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying around 2500 CRPF personnel from Jammu to Srinagar.

Source: The Statesman
23/02/2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take holy dip at Kumbh on Sunday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be paying a visit to the ongoing Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj on Sunday where he will take a holy dip at the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati, considered the centre of the earth according to Hindu scriptures.

At Prayagraj, PM Modi will participate in the Swachh Kumbh Swachh Aabhaar event and interact with the “Safai Karmacharis”.

He will later address a gathering and distribute the Swachh Kumbh Swachh Aabhaar awards to safai karmacharis, swachhagrahis, police personnel, and naviks.

The Swachh Kumbh Swachh Aabhaar event is being organized by the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation.

The Kumbh Mela commenced on January 15 (Makar Sankranti) and will conclude on March 4 (Mahashivratri).

Over a period of 49 days of the mega celebration, more than 22 crore devotees have visited the Kumbh Mela.

On Friday, Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh led a delegation of around 200 delegates of more than 185 countries to the Kumbh Mela 2019. The foreign representatives took a holy bath at Sangam and witnessed cultural programmes at Sanskriti Gram.

Singh told reporters that the idea behind the visit was to make “them see that Kumbh is not just confluence of rivers but also of different religions and faiths”.

Earlier on Saturday, PM Modi interacted with foreign delegates from 185 countries at Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra in New Delhi where he said that there is a huge potential for tourism in the country.

Source: The Statesman

20/02/2019

Ready to share intelligence, cooperate with India to destroy terrorism: Saudi Crown Prince

MoUs on tourism, cooperation in the field of housing, International Solar Alliance among others were exchanged between the two countries.

SNS Web | New Delhi | 

MoUs on tourism, cooperation in the field of housing, International Solar Alliance among others were exchanged between the two countries.

On his first state visit to the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the Saudi Crown Prince saying that Saudi Arabia was India’s “close friend”.

India and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding relationship, PM Modi said adding that in the 21st century, Saudi Arabia was among India’s most important strategic partners.

The Prime Minister, in a joint press conference with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also welcomed Saudi investment in Indian infrastructure.

In a major development, Saudi Arabia also joined the International Solar Alliance, informed PM Modi adding that the two leaders also discussed how to further strengthen the defence cooperation between the two nations.

“We have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the areas of renewable energy. We welcome Saudi Arabia to the International Solar Alliance. The peaceful use of nuclear energy, especially water desalination and health, will be another dimension of our cooperation,” PM Modi said.

Speaking on the Pulwama terror attack that killed at least 44 CRPF personnel, the Prime Minister said the two leaders agreed on the need to destroy the infrastructure of terror and clamp down on countries supporting terror.

“We have also vowed to increase pressure on any country that promotes terror activities,” the Prime Minister said.

This comes after Salman’s high-profile tour of Pakistan on January 17 where he said dialogue was the only way to resolve “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan.

Addressing the joint press conference, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country shares India’s concerns over terror.

“Terrorism is a common concern. We will cooperate with India in every way, like intelligence sharing. India has played a positive role,” he said.

He also thanked the people of India and the Government for the warm welcome.

“The relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is over thousands of years old. It is even older than history, and this relationship has grown stronger in the last 50 years. Our objectives are similar be it in energy, agriculture or technology,” he added.

Salman also called for common planning between the two nations to tackle various issues and said that “Saudi Arabia has invested $44 billion in India”.

Earlier in the day, PM Modi and Salman held delegation-level talks on key areas of mutual interest such as trade and investment, energy, defence and security, nuclear and space, civil aviation, renewables, counter-terrorism, community welfare and regional challenges.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also met Salman and discussed ways to add further momentum to the strategic ties between the two nations besides deepening engagement in areas of trade and investment.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Saudi Crown Prince was accorded a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan by President Ram Nath Kovind.

After meeting President Ram Nath Kovind, the Saudi Arabia Crown Prince said, “Today we want to be sure that this relation is maintained and improved for the sake of both countries. With the leadership of the President and the Prime Minister, I am sure we can create good things for Saudi Arabia and India”.

Earlier on Tuesday, in a special gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke the protocol to personally receive the Saudi prince and welcomed him with a warm hug at the Palam airport.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said that the first state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince marks a “new chapter in bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Salman’s visit comes in the backdrop of the escalating tension between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama terror attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror group in which at least 44 CRPF personnel were killed.

Saudi Arabia had on Friday said it stood with India’s fight against terrorism and extremism and denounced as “cowardly” the attack.

India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was USD 27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its fourth largest trading partner.

Saudi Arabia is also a key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17 per cent or more of crude oil and 32 per cent of LPG requirements of India.

The Crown Prince is expected to travel to China from India.

Source: The Statesman
17/02/2019

Saudi crown prince heads for Pakistan amid India tensions

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday at the start of his tour of South Asia and China, but the visit risks being overshadowed by escalating tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.

The trip comes days after a suicide bomber killed 44 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region. New Delhi has accused Pakistan of having a hand in the bombing and vowed to punish Islamabad, which denies involvement.

Prince Mohammed had also planned to visit Indonesia and Malaysia during the Asian tour, but those trips have been postponed, according to Malaysian and Indonesian officials. No reasons for the postponements or alternative tour dates were given.

Cash-strapped and in need of friends, Pakistan is welcoming the crown prince with open arms for a visit during which he is expected to sign investment agreements worth more than $10 billion.

Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped keep Pakistan’s economy afloat by propping up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

The visit marks a deepening in ties between allies whose relationship has in the past centred on oil-rich Saudi Arabia backing Pakistan’s economy during difficult periods, and in return Pakistan’s powerful army lending support to Saudi Arabia and its royal family.
As the guardians of most holy sites in the birthplace of Islam, the Saudi royal family carries vast religious clout in Pakistan, a staunchly conservative and mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people.
“What is happening in this relationship is a renewal of Pakistan’s commitment to help protect the royal family and the order as it exists in Saudi Arabia,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, Senior Fellow at Tabadlab, a Pakistani think tank focussed on global and local public policy.
“On the flip side, there is reassurance that Saudi Arabia will not only continue to serve as a strategic friend who will help shore up Pakistan’s finances when needed, but it’s also going to become a participant in the wider investment in Pakistan.”
Pakistan is shutting down its airspace and has stepped up security in Islamabad for the crown prince, who is set to become the first guest to stay at the Prime Minister’s House. Pakistan’s new populist premier, Imran Khan, has refused to use the residence in a bid to save taxpayers’ money.
Pakistani hopes for further investment opportunities from Saudi Arabia were dealt a blow on Saturday when the government announced that the Pak-Saudi Business Conference had been “postponed”.
Pakistani officials have already flagged up that Saudi Arabia will announce eight investment agreements, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port.
But the crown prince’s arrival comes amid a vow by India to isolate Pakistan internationally following the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades.
New Delhi is demanding Islamabad act against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group, which it says has the backing of the Pakistani state, over the bombing. Islamabad denies playing a role and has called for an investigation.
In Islamabad, the crown prince is expected to meet Khan and Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa.
44 killed in worst Kashmir attack in decades
He is also set to meet representatives of the Afghan Taliban militant group to discuss peace negotiations to end the 17-year civil war in Afghanistan, Pakistani government and Taliban sources say.
“We arrived in Islamabad today Sunday and others are on their way,” one senior Afghan Taliban figure told Reuters. “As per the plan we know so far, we are going to meet Mohammed bin Salman and his delegation members today at night and then on Monday.”
Source: reuters
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

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