Tag Archives: india

India exits Recession.

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The government has forecast economic growth of 11 percent in the 2021-22 financial year, in line with the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of 11.5 percent.

India’s economy grew 0.4 percent year-on-year in the final quarter of 2020, official data showed Friday, ending its first recession since independence as easing coronavirus restrictions sparked a modest recovery.

The country has struggled to claw back lost ground after a stringent, months-long lockdown caused the labour market to collapse and the economy to contract by nearly a quarter between April and June.

India entered a “technical recession” last year for the first time since gaining independence in 1947 after registering two successive quarters of contraction. The government now estimates annual GDP will fall eight percent in 2020-21.

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The latest figures, which fell shy of the expectations of a Bloomberg survey of economists pegging growth at 0.5 percent, will nonetheless bring some cheer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s beleaguered government.

Key sectors such as construction and manufacturing showed an improvement compared to the same quarter last year, Friday’s data revealed.

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And in January car sales in the bellwether automobile sector increased by more than 11 percent compared to a year earlier, according to industry figures.

Restrictions have been relaxed as coronavirus infections have slowed in the country of 1.3 billion in recent weeks, allowing economic activity to resume.

But the government still faces the tough task of creating enough jobs for India’s overwhelmingly young population, as millions of migrant workers make their way back to cities, reversing a massive exodus sparked by the lockdown.

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“We can’t say we are completely out of the woods,” Mumbai-based economist Ashutosh Datar told AFP.

“The real test would be what happens next financial year. Today’s number is not a major surprise,” he said.

The government has forecast economic growth of 11 percent in the 2021-22 financial year, in line with the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of 11.5 percent.

But experts have warned that India, whose tally of 11.1 million infections is second only to the United States, could experience another wave and be hit by new variants of the virus, as has happened in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

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The financial and film capital of Mumbai imposed fresh pandemic restrictions on Monday, banning religious gatherings and political rallies after infections spiked to levels last seen in October.

New Delhi is hoping that the economy will get a further boost from a massive vaccination drive that kicked off last month but which is already running behind schedule, with 12.2 million shots administered so far to health workers and other frontline staff.

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#Newsworthy

Just in: India’s Glacier Disaster Highlight Himalayan Dangers.

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The dangers were plain to see in 2013 when a flash flood killed 6,000 people in Uttarakhand and devastated the region.

Long before this month’s deadly flash flood in a remote Indian Himalayan valley, Kundan Singh Rana knew that all the construction work in the fragile region would one day mean disaster.

“The rivers, mountains and trees are like our gods and any sacrilege will have consequences,” Rana told AFP in his village, overlooking the hydroelectric project that was obliterated by what was believed to be a glacier collapse on February 7.

“The Rishi Ganga river and our mountains have been scarred beyond repair by human greed. This flood is God’s retribution,” the 43-year-old farmer said.

Scientists may not share his belief in divine punishment, but they agree that the blame for this latest disaster which killed 60 people and left 150 others missing lies largely with human activity.

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The anthropogenic impact includes the shrinking of glaciers in the Himalayas, one of the regions hardest hit by global warming.

The recent disaster is thought by experts to have been caused by a chunk of glacier 15 football fields long and five across breaking off, bringing with it part of a rock face.

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This dammed up a small river high in the mountains until the mass of backed-up water broke through with awesome ferocity and speed.

The roaring deluge of water, rocks and soil hurtled down a V-shaped valley, sweeping away homes, roads and bridges as well as around 200 people, many of whom have still not been found almost two weeks on.

Climate change and development
The latest catastrophe “is clearly a fallout of climate change and in itself a tell-tale of our future”, H.C. Nainwal, one of the several glaciologists who visited the site, told AFP.

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In the Indian Himalayas, some 10,000 glaciers are receding at a rate of 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 metres) per decade.

The runoff can form glacial lakes which can then burst their banks in spectacular and destructive fashion.

The other factor can be heard in the regular thuds of dynamite ringing through the valleys of Uttarakhand state, where the recent flood struck.

Some of this explosive activity is for new roads to beef up the disputed border with China following last year’s clash that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

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An 800-kilometre (500-mile) highway is also being built to connect four religious sites — a pet project of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But the biggest problem is the construction of hydroelectric plants across the vast network of Himalayan rivers, part of India’s drive to boost renewable energy.

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Over 75 small and large power projects are operational in Uttarakhand and dozens more are planned — many without proper attention to the potential risks, experts say.

No trust in the government
Experts say that these projects make other devastating flash floods more likely, while also increasing the risk of landslides.

The dangers were plain to see in 2013 when a flash flood killed 6,000 people in Uttarakhand and devastated the region.

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In its wake, India’s top court-appointed a scientific committee that recommended no more hydro plants be built in the area — advice which is being ignored.

Locals in the area — home to a famous 1970s campaign to protect trees — say that they have seen none of the promised economic benefits of the development and that their concerns have been ignored.

They launched a campaign in 2019 and petitioned a court over illegal sand mining and the dumping of muck in the Rishi Ganga river that they said was contributing to landslides and floods.

But deforestation for infrastructure projects, sand mining and quarrying continues.

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“We used to trust the government and believed that it was working for our welfare but that’s not the case,” Surinder Singh, 55, told AFP.

“Any dam or road that threatens our lives and the mountains will be fought tooth and nail.”

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#Newsworthy

Driver, 38 others dead as bus dives into canal.

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High-speed vehicles jostling with motorbikes, pedestrians and cyclists combine with poor infrastructure and poorly maintained vehicles to make India’s roads treacherous.

Thirty-nine people were killed Tuesday when a bus plunged into a deep canal in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, officials said, with seven others managing to swim to safety.

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The accident happened when the bus, which was carrying more than 50 passengers, veered off a bridge and crashed into the 30-feet (9.1-metre) deep canal in Sidhi district early on Tuesday morning.

It was unclear what caused the bus to swerve, but India’s vast network of roads is poorly maintained and notoriously dangerous.

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Local media reported the bus was completely submerged, and images showed officials in orange life jackets using rescue boats to look for survivors.

Officials said the driver and six others swam to safety. Several other people remain missing.

“The death toll in the bus accident has risen to 39,” district magistrate Ravindra Kumar Choudhary told reporters.

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Sixteen women and a child, whose age was not released, were among the dead. Some of the men who died were on their way to an employment exam for a job at Indian Railways.

The state government has ordered an inquiry.

An initial investigation suggested the driver lost control of the privately-owned bus, reports said. The vehicle then hit the boundary of the bridge before crashing into the water.

Local officials stopped the release of water into the canal, which sped up rescue operations by divers and allowed cranes to pull the blue bus out.

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Treacherous roads
The Times of India newspaper quoted sources saying it took three hours to lift the vehicle out.

Images showed bodies lined up on the banks of the canal as distraught relatives hugged each other and cried.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office tweeted that the families of those killed in the “horrific” accident would receive 200,000 rupees ($2,750) in compensation.

Onlookers stand along a canal as rescue teams search for survivors after a bus plunged into a canal killing at least 37 passengers, in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh state on February 16, 2021. (Photo by Uma Shankar MISHRA / AFP)

“The entire state is standing with those affected,” Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said in a video message.

High-speed vehicles jostling with motorbikes, pedestrians and cyclists combine with poor infrastructure and poorly maintained vehicles to make India’s roads treacherous.

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In 2019 more than 150,000 people died — 410 every day or 17 an hour — in almost half a million accidents, according to the government.

The United States sees nearly five times more accidents than India every year but the number of deaths in India is four times higher, according to the Times of India.

The main causes are excessive speed, not wearing helmets — sales of two-wheelers far outstrip those of cars — and not using seatbelts.

Earlier this month, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari inaugurated Road Safety Month, saying that the government aimed to halve road deaths and accidents by 2025.

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In the same month an out-of-control dumper truck crushed 15 people to death as they slept by the roadside in the western state of Gujarat.

The dead included a baby girl, eight women and six men. The truck collided with a tractor carrying sugarcane just after midnight at a crossroads.

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#Newsworthy

Officials in search of 200 after flash flooding in India.

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14 glaciers overlook the river in Nanda Devi national park — the topic of scientific studies because of growing fears over climate change and deforestation.

At least 200 people are missing in northern India after a piece of Himalayan glacier fell into a river, causing a torrent that buried two power plants and swept away roads and bridges, police said on Sunday.

Three bodies have been found and a desperate operation has been launched to rescue about 17 people trapped in a tunnel, the Uttarakhand state police chief said.

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The massive burst of water tore through the Dhauliganga river valley, destroying everything in its path, videos taken by terrified residents showed.

“There was a cloud of dust as the water went by. The ground shook like an earthquake,” local inhabitant Om Agarwal told Indian TV.

Most of the missing were workers at two power plants that were battered by the deluge, caused by a huge chunk of glacier that slipped off a mountainside further upstream, said the police chief Ashok Kumar.

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“There were 50 workers at Rishi Ganga plant and we have no information about them. Some 150 workers were at Tapovan,” he added.

This handout photo taken on February 7, 2021 and released by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) shows members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) during a rescue operation after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads, at Reni village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Three people were confirmed dead and at least 200 were missing in northern India after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads on February 7, police said. Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) / AFP

“About 20 are trapped inside a tunnel. We are trying to reach the trapped workers.”

With the main road washed away, the tunnel was filled with mud and rocks and paramilitary rescuers had to climb down a hillside on ropes to get access to the entrance.

Hundreds of troops and paramilitaries along with military helicopters and other aircraft have been sent to the region.

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‘Grim reminder’
Authorities emptied two dams to stop the flood waters reaching the Ganges at the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, where authorities barred people from going near the banks of the sacred river, officials said.

Villages on hillsides overlooking the river were evacuated, but as night fell authorities said the main flood danger had passed.

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Scores of social media users captured the disaster, with footage showing the massive burst of water tearing through a narrow valley below the power plant, leaving roads and bridges destroyed in its wake.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was monitoring the relief operation.

“India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there,” he said on Twitter.

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14 glaciers overlook the river in Nanda Devi national park — the topic of scientific studies because of growing fears over climate change and deforestation.

“Avalanches are common phenomena in the catchment area,” M.P.S. Bisht, director of the Uttarakhand Space Application Centre, told AFP. “Huge landslides also frequently occur.”

Devastating monsoon floods in Uttarakhand in 2013 killed 6,000 people and led to calls for a review of development projects in the state, particularly in isolated areas like those around the Rishi Ganga dam.

Uma Bharti, a former water resources minister, said that she had called for a freeze on hydro electric projects in “sensitive” Himalayan areas such as the Ganges and its tributaries when in government.

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Vimlendhu Jha, founder of Swechha, an environmental NGO, said the disaster was a “grim reminder” of the effects of climate change and the “haphazard development of roads, railways and power plants in ecologically sensitive areas.”

“Activists and locals have constantly opposed the massive river valley projects,” he added.

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#Newsworthy

PayPal to halt online payment services. [Reason]

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The firm did not say why it was ending its online payments service, available on a number of popular Indian apps.

Online payments giant PayPal said Friday it will halt domestic financial transactions within India, bowing out of a vast market buoyed by recent coronavirus restrictions.

Multinational giants, including WhatsApp, Google and Alibaba, have for months been locked in a tense battle over the fast-growing digital payments market in the nation of 1.3 billion, expected to be worth $500 billion by 2025.

But PayPal on Friday said it would instead focus on developing more international sales for Indian businesses from April.

FILE PHOTO: The German headquarters of the electronic payments division PayPal is pictured at Europarc Dreilinden business park south of Berlin in Kleinmachnow, Germany, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH

“This means we will no longer offer domestic payment services within India from 1 April,” the California-based company added in a statement.

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The firm did not say why it was ending its online payments service, available on a number of popular Indian apps.

PayPal said it processed $1.4 billion worth of international sales for over 360,000 merchants in India last year.

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#Newsworthy

Security tightens as Thousands join Indian farmer protest.

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But outside, on top of the internet cut, police blocked a main road into the Ghazipur camp on the outskirts of Delhi.

Indian police tightened security Saturday around camps where farmers have been protesting against new agricultural reform laws, as thousands more arrived to join the campaign.

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Authorities cut internet links to most of the camps where tens of thousands of farmers have been based since November as they demand the repeal of the laws.

Tensions have been rising since a mass tractor rally on Tuesday turned into a rampage across Delhi where clashes between farmers and security forces left one dead and hundreds injured.

At least 10,000 new protesters have arrived since Thursday to bolster the campaign, according to observers.

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In the camps, many farmers held a one-day fast on Saturday — the 73rd anniversary of the assassination of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi — in a bid to show their tactics are peaceful.

Additional security forces were deployed after clashes erupted Friday between farmers and opponents of their campaign.

Some local groups say they want the protesters to go home but the farmers’ leaders are adamant they will stay. There have been accusations that right-wing activists have manipulated the counter-protests.

The new laws allow farmers to sell their produce on the open market after decades of selling to state-run bodies.

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Farmers say the changes will mean the takeover of the agriculture industry, which employs two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion population, by conglomerates.

The government says the changes will boost efficiency and rural incomes.

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#Newsworthy

Breaking: Indian farmers call off parliament protest after deadly attack.

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The events came after protest leaders held lengthy talks with police and promised an enormous but peaceful rally along a pre-determined route.

Indian farmers on Wednesday called off a march to parliament on February 1, the day of the government’s budget announcement, following violent clashes with police a day earlier that left one person dead and hundreds injured.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for two months to demand the withdrawal of three farm laws passed last year, which they say benefit big private buyers at the expense of growers.

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On Tuesday, a protest parade of tractors around the fringes of the capital to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned into chaos when some farmers diverged from agreed routes and broke through barricades.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organising the protests, condemned the violence which saw protesters – some carrying ceremonial swords – storm into the historic Red Fort complex as police used tear gas and batons to constrain them.

It said on Wednesday the unions would hold rallies and a hunger strike on Saturday but there would be no planned events on Monday, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is due to present the annual budget.

A farmer holds a sword during a protest against farm laws at the historic Red Fort in Delhi [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

“Our march to parliament has been postponed,” farm leader Balbir Rajewal told a news conference. “[But] our movement will go on.”

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At a separate news conference, Delhi’s chief of police SN Srivastava said 394 police officers and constables had been injured in the violence.

“The violence occurred because terms and conditions were not followed,” he said. “Farmer leaders were involved in the violence.”

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More than 25 criminal cases had been filed, with 19 arrests and 50 people detained to date, Srivastava added.

It was not clear how many protesters had been injured but one farmer died after his tractor overturned during the clashes.

Leaders of the farmers’ unions bemoaned the violent turn protests took, saying it undermined their cause.

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“These incidents have only delayed our fight,” said farmer leader Darshan Pal.

Agriculture employs about half of India’s population of 1.3 billion and unrest among an estimated 150 million land-owning farmers is one of the biggest tests Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced since coming to power in 2014.

Farmers seen at the Red Fort as they protest on India’s Republic Day on January 26 [Sajjad Hussain/AFP]

While the protests are beginning to undermine support for Modi in the countryside, he retains a solid majority in parliament and his government has shown no sign of bending to farmers’ demands.

The government says the agriculture laws will open up new opportunities for farmers.

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‘It all happened suddenly’
During a huge “tractor rally” on Tuesday, several hundred demonstrators breached the outer walls of Delhi’s Red Fort – one of its most recognisable landmarks – before raising flags from the ramparts and clashing with police.

Among those who reached the fort was Vikramjit Singh, who said farmers had not originally planned to storm the historic complex, a favourite tourist attraction where prime ministers deliver the annual Independence Day speech.

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“Nobody had given a call to go to Red Fort,” said Singh, a farmer from Punjab’s Tarn Taran district. “It all happened suddenly.”

Balbir Singh Rajewal, a protest leader, said the demonstrations had been hijacked by a tiny minority.

“Ninety-nine percent of the protesters were peaceful,” he told NoRM‘s known reporters.

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Police had removed protesters from the Red Fort complex by Tuesday evening, but a heavy security presence remained on Wednesday.

Roads across the New Delhi remained closed while extra police, including paramilitary units, were at protest sites on the outskirts.

The government blocked the internet in some parts of the capital and mobile speeds were low.

Farm leaders from the eastern state of Odisha to the western state of Gujarat said on Wednesday they would continue to support protesters in Delhi.

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“We have already made it clear that we want all three agriculture bills to be repealed,” said Raman Randhawa, a farm leader from Rajasthan state.

“We will not step back before the laws are scrapped totally by the government.”

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19 vaccine maker plant blast kills 5 in India

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The company is also getting ready to produce a vaccine being developed by the United States company, Novavax Inc.

Five people have died after a fire tore through a building in the world’s biggest vaccine production hub in western India on Thursday.

The fire broke out at a plant being built for the Serum Institute of India (SII) but it will not affect the production of coronavirus vaccines, a source close to the firm said.

Television channels showed a huge cloud of grey smoke above the site in Pune in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

“Five people have died,” Pune city mayor Murlidhar Mohol told reporters.

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Local media reported that rescue workers discovered five bodies in the under-construction building after the blaze was brought under control.

“We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” Adar Poonawalla, the firm’s CEO, tweeted.

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The SII is manufacturing millions of doses of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca for India and many other low- and middle-income countries.

Pune’s fire office told Reuters news agency five fire trucks had been sent to the site.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the fire.

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Earlier this month, Indian regulators approved two coronavirus vaccines – Covishield, produced by the SII, and Covaxin, made by local firm Bharat Biotech.

India began one of the world’s biggest vaccine roll-outs on Saturday, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by July with both Covishield and Covaxin.

Many other countries are relying on the SII to supply them with the vaccine.

India began exporting the vaccines on Wednesday, with the first batch sent to Bhutan and the Maldives, followed by two million doses to Bangladesh and one million to Nepal.

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The country plans to offer 20 million doses to its South Asian neighbours, with Latin America, Africa and Central Asia next in line.

The SII also plans to supply 200 million doses to Covax, a World Health Organization-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to poor countries.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: India launches world’s largest vaccination drive.

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The sheer scale has its obstacles. For instance, India plans to rely heavily on a digital platform to track the shipment and delivery of vaccines.

India launched one of the world’s largest coronavirus vaccination drives on Saturday as the coronavirus pandemic spread at a record pace and global COVID-19 deaths surged past two million.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed healthcare workers through video conferencing, will not immediately take the vaccine himself as India is initially prioritising nurses, doctors and others on the front line.

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“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said in his address. He implored citizens to keep their guard up and not to believe any “rumours about the safety of the vaccines”.

“Please do not start being careless once you get vaccinated, do not take off your mask or forget social distancing,” said Modi.

But public health experts point out the internet remains patchy in large parts of the country, and some remote villages are entirely unconnected.

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For workers who have pulled India’s battered healthcare system through the pandemic, the shots offered confidence that life can start returning to normal. Many burst with pride.

“I am excited that I am among the first to get the vaccine,” Gita Devi, a nurse, said as she lifted her left sleeve to receive the shot.

“I am happy to get an India-made vaccine and that we do not have to depend on others for it,” said Devi, who has treated patients throughout the pandemic in a hospital in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh state in India’s heartland.

India gave the nod for emergency use of two vaccines: one developed by Oxford University and UK-based drug-maker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech on January 4. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.

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Health experts worry the regulatory shortcut taken to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine without waiting for concrete data that would show its efficacy in preventing illness from the coronavirus could amplify vaccine hesitancy.

At least one state health minister has opposed its use.

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India’s health ministry has bristled at the criticism and said the vaccines are safe, but maintains that health workers will have no choice in deciding which one they get.

According to Dr SP Kalantri – director of a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state – such an approach was worrying because he said regulatory approval was hasty and not backed by science.

“In a hurry to be populist, the government [is] taking decisions that might not be in the best interest of the common man,” Kalantri said.

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Against the backdrop of the rising global COVID-19 death toll – it topped two million on Friday – the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible. But the campaign has been uneven.

India is second to the United States with 10.5 million confirmed cases, and ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the US and Brazil, with 152,000.

More than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford.

While the majority of COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been snapped up by wealthy countries, COVAX – a UN-backed project to supply shots to developing parts of the world – has found itself short of vaccine, money and logistical help.

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As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist warned it is highly unlikely that herd immunity – which would require at least 70 percent of the globe to be vaccinated – will be achieved this year.

As the disaster has demonstrated, it is not enough to snuff out the virus in a few places, experts say.

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#Newsworthy

India reopens ‘Ladakh’ lake bothering China.

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A video shot by an Indian soldier and shared on social media showed soldiers from both nations engaged in fistfights and stone-pelting at the LAC.

Even as the standoff between Indian and Chinese armies continues in the Himalayan region of Ladakh for eight months now, the local administration’s decision to reopen the Pangong Tso lake for tourism has come as a glimmer of hope for the local residents.


Border War: India blames China

China-India Border War: Indian Soldier Killed.

China, India agrees to withdraw troops from border.


On Sunday, the administration of the newly-created federal territory of Ladakh opened the world’s highest saltwater lake, almost a year after it was closed for tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions followed by the military standoff along the disputed border between the two Asian giants.

Both sides accuse each other of intruding across the loosely-demarcated de facto border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with Pangong Tso, located 14,000 feet (4,270 metres) above sea level in Ladakh, being one of the flashpoints.

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The standoff began in May last year after a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese troops at the lake, resulting in 11 soldiers being injured on both sides.

Ladakh Lake Bothering China reopened. (Noble Reporters Media, Olamide)

The military standoff intensified a month later when 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops were killed in hand-to-hand combat on June 15, 2020 – the worst clashes between the two forces in decades.

The LAC dividing the two nuclear-armed nations passes through the landlocked 135km (84 miles) long, boomerang-shaped lake, which is 6km (3.7 miles) wide at its broadest point. One-third of the lake falls under the Indian territory while the remaining area is under Chinese control.
The western end of Pangong Tso lies 54km (33 miles) southeast of Leh, the main city in Ladakh region.

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Welcome move, say locals
“The majestic Pangong Lake has been reopened for tourists starting January 10. So, get inner line permit (ILP) and visit this spellbinding lake,” the local administration said in its announcement on Sunday.

The move has revived hopes among the locals of a good upcoming tourism season in the Himalayan region.

“It’s a really good news because the Pangong Lake is one of the most visited places for tourists in Ladakh. It will definitely help the local tourism industry,” Kochak Stanzin, an elected councillor from the region, told NoRM‘s known Media

Stanzin, who represents Ladakh’s Chushul constituency where the Pangong Lake is located, said 60 percent of Leh’s population depends on tourism. He invited the tourists to visit the frozen lake before winter ends.

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Though tourism was hit globally due to the coronavirus pandemic, its impact was felt harder in Ladakh where tourism season is squeezed to just a few months, mostly from April to mid-October, due to the freezing winters in the region.

Delex Namgyal, a travel and tour operator in Leh, told NoRM‘s known Media over the telephone that the timing of the reopening of the lake for tourists could not have been better since January and February are the months when bookings for the summer season begin.

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“The timing is good. It will give a positive message that Ladakh is opening up for tourists,” said Namgyal, adding that almost 80 percent of Indian tourists arriving in Leh visit the lake.

India reopens ‘Ladakh’ lake neighboring China. (Noble Reporters Media, Olamide)

While just a few thousand tourists visit Ladakh during winters, Namgyal said that number can go up to more than 250,000 during summers.

Tsewang Yangjor, a hotelier in Leh, told Al Jazeera 2020 was a “disastrous year” for the local tourism industry and they are “happy that things are improving and the lake has been opened for the tourists”.

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“I think the situation [along China border] might be normal now and that is why they have decided to give permit [to visit the lake],” he said.

India-China tensions
But the situation along the LAC is far from normal, with both sides deploying a large number of troops along the Himalayan frontier. Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks between the two nations have failed to end the standoff.

The decision to reopen the Pangong Tso lake came a day before India handed back a Chinese soldier apprehended along the southern bank of the lake after he transgressed into the Indian side.

India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday said relations with China have been “profoundly disturbed” after last year’s deadly border clash.

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China and India fought a war in 1962 and continue to be engaged in several disputes along the 3,488km-long (2,167 miles) frontier they share. Yet, the two countries have remained focused on expanding commercial relationships despite the tensions.

Though happy with the Ladakh administration’s decision to reopen the lake situated along the tense India-China border, tour operator Namgyal has a word of caution: “The standoff can still have a negative impact [on tourism] if the situation worsens.”

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Russia links with India for mass production of Sputnik V while Germany hit million cases

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France took the unusual step Thursday of allowing its winter sports resorts to stay open but ordering ski lifts to stay shut.

Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged its one-millionth case on Friday, as Russia announced a partnership with India to mass-produce its controversial Sputnik vaccine.

Like much of Europe, Germany is battling a resurgence of a pandemic that is filling hospitals and forcing countries to shut down for business while they wait for help from a clutch of vaccines that could start rolling out for use next month.

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Some of the excitement about the new jabs dampened when Britain’s pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca admitted that further research was needed after a mixup in its third-stage trial.

But Russia unexpectedly stepped in with an announcement that an Indian generic drugmaker would start producing 100 million doses of its government-backed vaccine in early 2021.

Germany had largely contained the spread when the virus descended on Europe from China at the start of the year after first emerging in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

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Yet its careful approach failed to avert a second wave, imperilling the health of Europe’s biggest economy and dampening the mood heading into the winter holidays.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the country’s total beyond the one million mark.

More worryingly, number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.

It has shuttered restaurants, bars, sporting facilities and cultural venues, though schools and shops remain open.

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‘I won’t take it’
Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and nearly 61 million infections have been recorded, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until the new vaccines kick in.

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Russia’s proposed solution for the global health crisis has been shrouded in mystery and speculation.

It became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August, long before the candidate had undergone large-scale clinical trials.

Russia said this week that interim results showed Sputnik V — named after the pioneering Soviet satellite — was 95 percent effective, although crucial phase three trials are still underway.

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The importance of these large trials was underscored when AstraZeneca admitted that its candidate — developed jointly with the University of Oxford — proved to be most effective when younger people were given half a dose by mistake.

“We need to do an additional study,” AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg.

One person not taking any of the vaccines approaching approval is Brazil’s populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who caught the virus after playing down its impact and refusing to wear a mask.

“I’m telling you, I won’t take it,” he said in a video posted to social media. “It is my right.”

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Black Friday
In the meantime much of the world faces a gloomy winter dampened by lockdowns, economic anxiety and mental strain.

Bulgaria allowed its stores to enjoy one last spurt of business on Black Friday — usually, the day shops are packed with people looking for holiday deals — before closing almost everything for three weeks shortly before midnight.

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“People have only just started returning in the past three days and now we’ll be shutting down for three weeks,” one Sofia restaurant owner lamented.

The mood was just as sour in the West Bank, where police in face masks set up roadblocks on the first day of new restrictions that included weekend curfews.

“I doubt the curfew will be fully respected,” said Amer Salamin, an accountant in Ramallah.

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Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save healthcare systems from collapse.

Restaurant owners in Istanbul organised a protest after Turkey — hitting one-day records of 174 deaths and more than 29,000 infections on Thursday — switched to takeout and delivery service nationally.

Ski break debate
Nations are now trying to gauge how people, exhausted by one of the most traumatic years in generations, can enjoy a small holiday break without spreading the disease.

“Four hundred people on a Paris metro won’t get infected but four people on a ski lift will,” Jean-Luc Boch, the head of France’s Alpine mayors’ association, fumed.

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Playing it safe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for all EU resorts to be closed until January 10, making Switzerland — which is outside the bloc and is staying open — the go-to destination for ski fans.

“I am very bitter because I’m convinced the ski stations could reopen safely,” said Giovanni Brasso, a ski lift operator in the Italian Olympic village of Sestriere.

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#Newsworthy

Storyline: India slumps into worse economy recession ever

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The shutdown in the vast country of 1.3 billion people left huge numbers of people jobless almost overnight, including tens of millions of migrant workers in the shadow economy.

India’s economy contracted 7.5 percent between July and September, performing the poorest among major advanced and emerging economies and entering a technical recession for the first time since independence, official data showed Friday.

Although the figures were an improvement on the record 23.9-percent contraction recorded last quarter, they indicate that Asia’s third-largest economy is in for a tough fight as it attempts to revive demand and create jobs even as coronavirus infections climb.

The two successive quarters of contraction mean that the country has now entered a “technical recession” for the first time since 1947.

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After virus-led lockdowns ravaged the globe, the growth recorded by major economies including the United States, Japan and Germany during the quarter ending on September 30 raised expectations that India would also enjoy a revival.

But, while consumer businesses saw a boost due to increased spending in the run-up to the October-November festive season, hopes of a broader recovery were dashed, with the construction and hospitality sectors taking a hit.

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Farming continued to be a relatively bright spot, while manufacturing activity also increased during the July-September period after plunging nearly 40 percent during the previous quarter due to the lockdown.

New Delhi has struggled to kick-start an economy that is expected to shrink 9.5 percent this year, according to estimates released by India’s central bank governor Shaktikanta Das last month.

The International Monetary Fund has meanwhile predicted that India’s economy would contract by 10.3 percent this year, the biggest slump for any major emerging economy and the worst since independence.

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A report by Oxford Economics released earlier this month said that India would be the worst-affected economy even after the pandemic eases, stating that annual output would be 12 percent below pre-virus levels through 2025.

India’s economy had struggled to gain traction even before the pandemic, and the hit to global activity from the virus and one of the world’s strictest lockdowns combined to deal the country a severe blow.

The government has since been easing restrictions to revive activity, announcing two stimulus packages to offer farmers easier access to credit and dole out benefits to small-scale businesses.

The relaxation measures have been deployed even as the coronavirus continues to ravage the country, which has registered more than 9.3 million infections — second only to the United States — and over 135,000 deaths.

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In a speech Thursday, central bank governor Das warned that the recent surge in virus cases and the imminent threat of new lockdowns posed further risks to the economy.

“We need to be watchful about the sustainability of demand after the festivals and a possible reassessment of market expectations surrounding the vaccine,” Das said.

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#Newsworthy

India, Kashmir clash; 6 killed.

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The clash was the deadliest since April when nine suspected militants and three soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Three Indian soldiers and three suspected rebels were killed in fighting near the de facto Kashmir border with Pakistan, the army said Sunday, in the deadliest clash to hit the contested region in months.

The fighting began early Sunday after soldiers detected “suspicious” movements in the northern forested Machil area near a military fence that marks the de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC), Colonel Rajesh Kalia said.

One Indian border guard and one suspected militant were killed in an initial exchange of gunfire, before more troops were “rushed to the area”, he said in a statement.

Two more soldiers and two more suspected rebels were later killed while two other injured troops were taken to hospital, Kalia added.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947 and there have been regular exchanges of gunfire and mortars across the LoC.

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The flare-ups have increased since August last year when India’s Hindu-nationalist government revoked the restive region’s semi-autonomous status.

Tensions have remained high since then and there has also been growing anger over a measure allowing outsiders to buy land in the disputed territory.

Many Kashmiris have accused the government of seeking to water down the local population in India’s only Muslim-majority territory.

Last week, Islamabad said it would grant provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan — a mountainous territory bordering China and Afghanistan in Pakistan-administered Kashmir that India also claims — a move that angered New Delhi.

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The nuclear rivals have fought two wars over Kashmir. Rebels groups have also waged an insurgency against Indian soldiers for more than three decades over their demands for independence or a merger of the entire territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people — mostly civilians.

New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebel groups to launch attacks on Indian forces, a charge Islamabad denies.


#Newsworthy…

China, India agrees to withdraw troops from border.

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In joint statement, Wang Yi and S Jaishankar say current situation in border areas not in the interest of either side.

The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement on Friday that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff at their long-disputed Himalayan border.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow to try and end the dispute, the most serious in decades at the undemarcated border.

“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” the statement said.

Separately, China’s foreign ministry said it would maintain communications with India through diplomatic and military channels and commit to “restoring peace and tranquillity” in the disputed border area.

China and India have agreed to quickly disengage from a standoff at the countries’ disputed border in the Himalayas [File: Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

Elaborating on the Moscow meeting, China said Wang had told Jaishankar that the “imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”.

All personnel and equipment that have trespassed at the border must be moved and frontier troops on both sides “must quickly disengage” in order to de-escalate the situation, Wang added.

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“This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months. That will be the crucial test,” said Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington, the United States.

This deal is significant but on the other hand I am still cautious. Let’s wait and see what transpires in the next few weeks and months.
SUMIT GANGULY, A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY

“I think both sides have considerable reasons to de-escalate,” he told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media.

“In the case of India, the economy has cratered in the wake of the COVID crisis and the shambolic handling thereof. And consequently India can ill afford to devote significant resources to the military at this particular juncture,” he said.

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“The Chinese did not want it to become a major distraction as their economy is finally recovering, and they are focused on the November elections in the US.”

Speaking on the five-point agreement between the two countries, Ganguly said they would probably involve withdrawing troops from eyeball-to-eyeball contact with one another.

“They would involve reducing certain kinds of actual deployment of artillery and other weaponry along particular band of territory.”

‘State of puffing’
The Global Times, a tabloid controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, took a more strident tone in an editorial published ahead of the two ministers’ meeting.

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“The Chinese side must be fully prepared to take military action when diplomatic engagement fails, and its front-line troops must be able to respond to emergencies, and be ready to fight at any time,” the paper said.

It accused India of holding a grudge over the 1962 conflict, and described the country as in “an unprecedented state of puffing”.

Wang and Jaishanka’s meeting took place after a border clash earlier this week when each accused the other of firing in the air during a confrontation on their border in the western Himalayas, a violation of long-held protocols on the use of firearms on the sensitive frontier.

The Chinese ministry said the two countries reached a five-point consensus on reducing tension in the area including the need to abide by existing agreements to ensure peace.


#Newsworthy….

Border War: China, India blames each other.

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Beijing accuses New Delhi of ‘severe military provocation’ but India denies its soldiers crossed the disputed border.

China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their flashpoint Himalayan border in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals.

The relationship between the two countries has deteriorated since a hand-to-hand combat clash in the Ladakh region on June 15 in which 20 Indian troops were killed.

Experts fear the latest incident will intensify a months-long standoff between the Asian giants that erupted in late April.

Beijing’s defence ministry accused India of “severe military provocation”, saying soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western border region on Monday and “opened fire to threaten the Chinese border defence patrol officers”.

“According to the Chinese side, Chinese troops approached the India side for negotiations, and then they say some Indian troops fired at the Chinese side,”

“As a result, China’s military said it was forced to take countermeasures – although we don’t know what those countermeasures were, or if there were any casualties,” she added.

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India denies transgression
New Delhi was swift to give its own account, accusing Chinese border forces of “blatantly violating agreements” and firing “a few rounds in the air” to intimidate their Indian rivals.

“It is the PLA that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres,” the Indian army said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Despite the grave provocation, (our) own troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” the statement said.

Reporting from New Delhi NRM said that, according to India, “China’s army was trying to close in on one of India’s positions – and that when they [China] were dissuaded by their own troops, they fired in the air”.

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The countries fought a brief border war in 1962 but, officially, no shots have been fired in the area since 1975 when four Indian troops were killed in an ambush.

A spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gave no specifics and did not report casualties, calling on India to investigate the incident.

India has deployed thousands of soldiers following deadly border clashes in June [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

China’s western military command said the incursion occurred on Monday along the southern shore of Pangong Tso Lake in the area known in Chinese as Shenpaoshan. On the Indian side, the area is known as Chushul, where the two countries’ local military commanders have held several rounds of talks to defuse the tense standoff.

Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the PLA, said India had violated agreements reached by the two countries and warned their actions could “easily cause misunderstandings and misjudgements”.

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China’s foreign ministry said Indian troops had illegally crossed the LAC and had been the first to fire shots. “This is a serious military provocation,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

Late last month, India said its soldiers had thwarted the Chinese military’s moves “to change the status quo”, also on the southern shore of Pangong Lake, in violation of a consensus reached in past efforts to settle the standoff. In turn, China also accused Indian troops of crossing established lines of control.

Both sides have sent tens of thousands of troops to the disputed Himalayan border, which sits at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres (13,500 feet).

China said the incursion occurred on Monday along the southern coast of Pangong Lake in the area known in Chinese as Shenpaoshan [File: Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

Their troops have had several showdowns since the June 15 clash. China has also acknowledged it has had casualties but not given figures.

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Detailed border protocols in place for peaceful disengagement seem to have broken down since the June clash. India’s military has also reportedly changed its rules of engagement, allowing troops to carry guns.

Military commanders and diplomats have held several rounds of talks since July to reduce tension, but have made little progress to calm the border tensions.

Last week, defence ministers from the two countries spoke in Moscow on the sidelines of an international meeting – with both sides later releasing rival statements accusing each other of inflaming the showdown.

And earlier this week, an Indian minister said New Delhi had alerted China to allegations five men had been abducted by the PLA close to the disputed border in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh


#Newsworthy

COVID-19: India becomes second most hit country in World.

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Indian health ministry reports another daily record of 90,802 COVID-19 cases raising total to over 27 million worldwide.

  • India’s health ministry reported another daily record of 90,802 cases on Monday, bringing the total to over 4.2 million and overtaking Brazil to become the second-hardest-hit country.
  • COVID-19 cases are rising in 22 of the states in the US, according to a Reuters analysis, as the country celebrates its end-of-summer Labor Day weekend.
  • The world’s coronavirus cases have hit 27 million, more than 18 million people have recovered and more than 882,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • At least 200 UN staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Syria, according to a leaked document, as the organisation steps up efforts to contain the spread of the disease in the war-torn country.

#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Tension rise in India as cases top 4 million.

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With record surge in daily infections, India is set to overtake Brazil as the second worst-hit nation in the world.

India became the third country to cross four million coronavirus cases on Saturday, also setting a new global record for a daily surge in infections and closing in on Brazil’s total as the second-highest in the world.

The 86,432 cases added in the past 24 hours pushed India’s total to 4,023,179.

Brazil has confirmed 4,091,801 infections while the United States has 6,200,186 people infected, according to Johns Hopkins University.

India’s health ministry on Saturday also reported 1,089 deaths for a total of 69,561.

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Initially, the virus ravaged India’s sprawling and often densely populated cities. It has since stretched to almost every state in India, spreading through villages and smaller cities where access to healthcare is crippled.

With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, India’s massive caseload does not surprise experts. The country’s delayed response to the virus forced the government to implement a harsh lockdown in late March. For more than two months, the economy remained shuttered, buying time for the underfunded healthcare system to prepare for the worst.

But with the economic cost of the restrictions rising, authorities saw no choice but to reopen activities.

Most of India’s cases are in western Maharashtra state and the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.

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‘Worst is yet to come’
In rural Maharashtra, the worst-affected state with 863,062 cases and 25,964 deaths, doctors said measures like wearing masks and washing hands had now largely been abandoned.

“There is a behavioural fatigue now setting in,” said Dr SP Kalantri, the director of a hospital in the village of Sevagram.

He said the past few weeks had driven home the point that the virus had moved from India’s cities to its villages.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Kalantri. “There is no light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Even as testing in India has increased to more than a million a day, a growing reliance on screening for antigens or viral proteins is creating more problems.

These tests are cheaper and yield faster results but are not as accurate. The danger is that the tests may falsely clear many who are infected with COVID-19.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with a limited healthcare system, the situation is already grim. With a total 253,175 cases and 3,762 deaths, the heartland state is staring at an inevitable surge and with a shortage of hospital beds and other health infrastructure.

Sujata Prakash, a nurse in the state’s capital, Lucknow, has recently tested positive for the coronavirus. But the hospital ward where she worked diligently refused her admission because there were no empty beds. She waited for more than 24 hours outside the surgical ward, sitting on patients’ chairs, before she was allotted one.

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“The government can shower flower petals on the hospitals in the name of corona warriors, but can’t the administration provide a bed when the same warrior needs one?” said Prakash’s husband, Vivek Kumar.

Others have not been so lucky.

When journalist Amrit Mohan Dubey fell sick this week, his friends called the local administration for an ambulance. It arrived two hours late and by the time Dubey was taken to hospital, he died.

“Had the ambulance reached in time, we could have saved Amrit,” said Zafar Irshad, a colleague of the journalist.


#Newsworthy…

India panel grills Facebook over anti-muslim posts

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Social media giant faces scrutiny after media reports revealed it ignored anti-Muslim hate speech by BJP leaders.


An Indian parliamentary committee has grilled Facebook representatives after the social media giant was accused of bias and not acting against anti-Muslim posts on its platform.

The closed-door hearing on Wednesday followed accusations in newspaper reports that the social media giant was allowing hate speech on its platform and that its top policy official in India had shown favouritism towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The social media giant has denied the allegations and the outcome of the hearing was unclear.

Facebook came under scrutiny after a series of reports by the United States-based Wall Street Journal (WSJ) showed the company ignored anti-Muslim hate speeches by BJP leaders while Facebook’s India policy chief, Ankhi Das, made decisions favouring Modi.

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On Tuesday, New Delhi-based English daily the Indian Express reported that following a request from the party, Facebook removed pages critical of the BJP months before the 2019 general elections.

In email exchanges reported by the Express, the BJP had told Facebook the pages were “in violation of expected standards”, with posts that were “not in line with facts”.

Requests for comment from Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) to Facebook went unanswered.

India is Facebook’s biggest market with more than 300 million users while the company’s messaging app, WhatsApp, boasts 400 million users in the world’s second-most populous nation.

The BJP spends more than any political party in India on Facebook advertisements.

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Dozens of Muslims have been lynched in the past six years by vigilantes, with many of the incidents triggered by fake news regarding cow slaughter or smuggling shared on WhatsApp.

The WSJ had reported last month that Das refused to apply the company’s hate speech policies to BJP politicians and other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups”.

Facebook allowed anti-Muslim posts on its platform to avoid ruining the company’s relationship with the BJP, the WSJ said. Time Magazine made similar allegations last week.

Das last month apologised to Muslim staff for sharing a post that dubbed Muslims in India a “degenerate community”, according to a report by US media outlet BuzzFeed News.

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Opposition attacks Facebook
The Facebook deposition was originally slated for Tuesday but was deferred following the death of former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.

The opposition Congress party said in a statement on Tuesday that there was a “blasphemous nexus between the BJP and Facebook”.

“The aim of the BJP is ‘divide and rule’ and the social media giant Facebook is helping them achieve this,” it said in the statement.

Opposition parliamentarian Derek O’ Brien, in a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, also said there was “enough material in the public domain, including memos of senior facebook management (in India)” to show bias favouring the BJP.

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Meanwhile, senior BJP leader and India’s communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed in a letter he sent to Zuckerberg that ahead of the 2019 national elections, “there was a concerted effort by Facebook … to not just delete pages or substantially reduce their reach but also offer no recourse or right of appeal to affected people who are supportive of right-of-centre ideology”.

Facebook has more than 328 million users in India, its largest audience globally [Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto/Getty Images]

Prasad also alleged in the letter that recent press reports were the result of “selective leaks … to portray an alternate reality”.

“This interference in India’s political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable,” Prasad said.

Ajit Mohan, Facebook’s India chief, has defended the company’s actions and denied any bias. But the company also admitted it had to do better on tackling hate speech.

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Right-wing bias?
Facebook’s alleged favouritism towards India’s Hindu nationalists is not the first time the social media giant has been accused of tacitly supporting right-wing groups.

Last year, campaign group Avaaz said that the tech giant was failing to rein in a “tsunami” of hate posts inflaming ethnic tensions in India’s northeast state of Assam.

Avaaz said the dehumanising language – often targeting India’s Bengali Muslims – was similar to that used on Facebook about Myanmar’s mainly Muslim Rohingya before an army crackdown and ethnic violence forced 700,000 Rohingya to flee in 2017 to Bangladesh.

The platform has also come under fire in Myanmar over hate speech directed against the Rohingya over the past decade.

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Investigators from the United Nations said Facebook played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence.

The company admitted two years ago that it had been “too slow” to address the problem.

Also last month in the US, a Facebook engineer was reportedly fired for internal posts revealing that right-leaning groups and individuals in the US were given preferential treatment by preventing their posts from being removed, despite violating content rules.

Far-right news website Breitbart, non-profit group PragerU and Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, were some of the organisations and personalities favoured by Facebook, according to internal posts seen by Buzzfeed.

SOURCE: NOBLE REPORTERS MEDIA, NEWS AGENCIES


#Newsworthy…

China-India Border War: Indian Soldier Killed.

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A Tibetan-origin soldier with India’s special forces was killed in the latest border showdown with Chinese troops on their contested Himalayan border, a Tibetan representative said Tuesday.

The death is the first reported from two incidents in 48 hours on the border which has heightened tensions between the giant nations just two months after a battle that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.

India and China, which fought a border war in 1962, have accused each other of seeking to cross their unofficial frontier in the Ladakh region in a bid to gain territory on Saturday night, and then again on Monday.

Neither side has announced any casualties but Namghyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) that the Tibetan-origin soldier was “martyred during the clash” on Saturday night.

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She said another member of the Special Frontier Force that reportedly includes many ethnic Tibetans who oppose China’s claim to their home region was wounded in the operation.

“Provocative military movements”
The world’s two most populous countries have sent tens of thousands of troops to the region since a brutal June 15 battle fought with wooden clubs and fists.

India has said 20 troops were killed. China acknowledged casualties but did not give figures.

The two sides blamed each other for the latest incidents.

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India’s defence ministry said Chinese troops “carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo” at the border on Saturday.

FILE: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir on June 17, 2020.  Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP

China’s People’s Liberation Army said that India was “seriously violating China’s territorial sovereignty” with its operation staged Monday and demanded that Indian troops withdraw.

India’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that China had caused the latest incident “even as ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation.”

Indian media reports, quoting military sources, said PLA forces tried to take hilltops traditionally claimed by India around Pangong Tso, a lake at 4,200 metres (13,500 feet) altitude.

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India’s defence ministry said its troops “undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground.”

Newspaper (new to Noble Reporters Media) said that the SFF had been used to take heights that China considers its own. The Indian government does not comment on the special force’s operations.

Amid calls for boycotts of Chinese goods, India has stepped up economic pressure on China since the June battle and repeatedly warned that relations would suffer unless its troops pull back.

India has banned at least 49 Chinese owned-apps, including the TikTok video platform, frozen Chinese firms out of contracts and held up Chinese goods at customs posts.


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: India quarterly growth jumps by 23.9%

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Steep drop in Asia’s third-largest economy in June-ended quarter reflected impact of a months-long nationwide shutdown.


India’s economy shrank by 23.9 percent between April and June, the worst contraction on record since New Delhi started publishing quarterly statistics, government data showed on Monday.

The steep dip in Asia’s third-largest economy in the June-ended quarter reflected the impact of a months-long nationwide shutdown that saw most industrial and manufacturing activity grind to a halt.

The coronavirus lockdown is largely to blame. India has reported more than 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 – third behind only the United States and Brazil.

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Continuing restrictions on transport, educational institutions and restaurants – and weekly lockdowns in some states – have hit manufacturing, services and retail sales, while keeping millions of workers out of jobs.

Shilan Shah, India economist at Capital Economics, Singapore, said in a note on Friday the economic damage caused by pandemic-related lockdowns was much worse in India than any other country in Asia.

A rickshaw puller wearing a face mask waits for passengers amid the spread of coronavirus in New Delhi, India [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

“Timely indicators show that the post-lockdown recovery is now stalling, underscoring the long and difficult road ahead for India’s economy,” said Shah.

Some private economists said the fiscal year that began in April could see a contraction of nearly 10 percent, the worst performance since India won independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced a $266bn stimulus package in May, including credit guarantees on bank loans and free food grains to poor people, but consumer demand and manufacturing are yet to recover.

The Reserve Bank of India has reduced the benchmark repo rate – the rate at which it lends money to commercial banks – by a total of 115 basis points since February and kept rates on hold in August amid rising inflation.

Policymakers said federal and state governments are unable to increase spending, following a more than 40 percent fall in tax receipts in the June quarter.

However, following normal monsoon rains the farm sector, which accounts for 15 percent of economic output, may give hope that rural economy will be able to support millions of migrant workers, who returned to their villages from the cities when the lockdown began.

SOURCE: Noble Reporters Media, News Agencies


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: India economic growth slumps amid lockdown.

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India’s economic growth suffered a historic 23.9 percent decline between April and June, official figures showed Monday, as manufacturing and productivity were battered by a strict coronavirus lockdown.

The contraction was the biggest since New Delhi started publishing quarterly statistics in 1996, and the latest figures came as the country’s coronavirus cases surged past the 3.6 million mark.

The steep dip in Asia’s third-largest economy reflected the impact of a months-long nationwide shutdown that saw most industrial and manufacturing activity grind to a halt.

The virus restrictions dealt a severe blow to an economy that was already struggling with a protracted slowdown through 2019, hit by the twin shocks of shrinking consumer demand and rising unemployment levels.

The decline was worse than expected, with a survey of economists by Bloomberg earlier predicting a contraction of 18 percent.

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On Monday the government warned that the figures could be revised further since the pandemic had also affected the ability to collect accurate data on economic activity.

“The entire quarter was spent in lockdown and it was a complete washout for the Indian economy,” Mumbai-based economist Ashutosh Datar told AFP.

He added that the clouds of gloom were unlikely to lift “for the next few quarters”.

“We started publishing quarterly growth figures only from 1996 and this is the worst quarterly performance on record ever since,” he said.

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The sudden shutdown from late March prompted a huge exodus by millions of migrant workers who fled cities for their villages due to a lack of food and money.

Many have yet to return even as restrictions have eased, leaving factories struggling with labour shortages.

Bleak outlook
“This is a health crisis that has metamorphosed into an economic crisis,” State Bank of Baroda chief economist Sameer Narang told AFP.

“Manufacturing, trade, construction, transport and communication have all suffered.”

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a $266 billion package — 10 percent of the country’s GDP — to revive the battered economy, while India’s central bank has slashed interest rates and transferred billions of rupees in annual dividends to the government.

But the measures have yet to yield any positive economic impact or spur a pick-up in demand, while inflation has jumped to over six percent — far above the bank’s target range of four percent.

Rising inflation and unemployment have sharply hit demand, analysts said, underlining the need for the government to act quickly to jumpstart the economy.

“We have ample reasons to be pessimistic about demand as there is a huge… job and income loss so demand will not (return) rapidly,” said Sujan Hajra, a Mumbai-based economist with Anand Rathi securities.

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“The Modi government has to come forward with some form of fiscal stimulus urgently to help economic recovery.”

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections have hit new records across the country. India on Monday reached almost 65,000 virus deaths, overtaking Mexico as the world’s third-highest fatality toll behind the United States and Brazil.

The nation of 1.3 billion also has the third-highest number of infections worldwide.

The lockdown has failed to contain the spread of the disease which has travelled from crowded cities to remote villages where access to healthcare remains a huge issue.


#Newsworthy…

Border War: India blames China

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India says it has foiled Chinese attempt to change the status quo on their disputed Ladakh border in a fresh flare-up.


China has carried out “provocative military movements” in the Himalayan border area disputed between the two countries overnight from Saturday to Sunday, according to an Indian army statement, in a fresh flare-up between the two nuclear-armed countries.

Indian troops pre-empted Chinese army’s activity on the Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, part of which was transgressed by the Chinese soldiers in May, the statement said on Monday, adding that Indian troops took steps to thwart the Chinese attempt to “unilaterally change” facts on the ground.

“On the Night of 29/30 August 2020, PLA troops violated the previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh and carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo,” the Indian army said in a statement.

Army officials from the two sides are meeting to resolve the latest border dispute that comes more than two months after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in fighting that broke out between the two sides in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley.

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“Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground,” it said.

China has carried out ‘provocative military movements’ in the disputed Himalayan border area in Ladakh [File:Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The two Asian giants have held several rounds of military and diplomatic talks to resolve the border dispute that erupted in late April after Chinese troops transgressed into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control – the de facto frontier between the two countries.

There was no immediate comment from China.

For months, troops have been locked in a face-off in the western Himalayas, where each side accuses the other of violating their nearly 3,500km-long (2,000 miles) border, most of which remains undemarcated.

The recent border tensions are the most serious in more than half a century.


#Newsworthy

Over 70 trapped in India’s Storey building collapse; one dead.

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One person was killed and dozens feared trapped after a five-storey apartment building collapsed late Monday in western India, officials said, with a local legislator warning that the number could be as high as 200.

The structure comprised 47 flats, police in the town of Mahad — 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Mumbai — said in a statement.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear but building collapses are common during India’s June-September monsoon, with old and rickety structures buckling under the weight of non-stop rain.

Three rescue teams, armed with specialised equipment and sniffer dogs, had been deployed to the scene of the accident, a statement from India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said, with Home Minister Amit Shah tweeting that he was “praying for everyone’s safety”.

NDRF spokesman Sachidanand Gawde told reporters that emergency workers had retrieved the body of one victim, while Mahad police said at least 70 people were believed to be trapped under rubble.

“Fifteen injured people have been rescued and taken to hospital,” the police said in a statement.

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Local residents and police combed through tin sheets, metal rods and other wreckage in a desperate search for survivors as ambulances ferried victims to nearby hospitals.

Rescue workers search for people in the rubble of a five-storey apartment building after it collapsed in Mahad on August 24, 2020. Pritam SAKPAL / AFP

Mahad legislator Bharat Gogawale told the local TV9 Marathi channel that early estimates seemed to suggest that “over 200 people are stuck inside”.

“Our primary goal is to rescue as many people as possible who are trapped under the debris”.

“We cannot yet ascertain the reason for the collapse”, he added.

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– ‘Scary situation’ –

Local politician Manik Motiram Jagtap told the channel that the structure was 10 years old and built on “weak” foundations.

“It fell like a house of cards,” Jagtap said.

“It is a scary situation.”

As night fell, emergency workers used cranes to try and remove the rubble as relatives anxiously waited for news of their loved ones.

The office of Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of Maharashtra state, where Mahad is located, said on Twitter that he had been in touch with local representatives in the area.

“He has assured them that all possible support will be extended for speedy rescue and relief works,” the tweet said.

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The monsoon plays a vital role in boosting agricultural harvests across South Asia. But it also causes widespread death and destruction, unleashing floods, triggering building collapses and inundating low-lying villages.

The death toll from monsoon-related disasters this year has topped 1,200, including more than 800 lives lost in India alone.

Rescue workers search for people in the rubble of a five-storey apartment building after it collapsed in Mahad on August 24, 2020. Pritam SAKPAL / AFP

The accident brings yet more bad news for Maharashtra, which has already been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with the state accounting for over a fifth of India’s more than three million infections.

The pandemic has also cast a shadow on the ongoing Ganesha Chaturthi festival, with Hindu devotees ordered to sharply scale down celebrations and rituals honouring the much-loved elephant god in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.


#Newsworthy…