Tag Archives: South Asia

India exits Recession.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

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

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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.”

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Driver, 38 others dead as bus dives into canal.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Dozens of oil tanker blast triggers inferno on Afghanistan-Iran border.

Advertisements

Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.

Dozens of oil and gas tankers carrying millions of dollars’ worth of fuel caught fire on Saturday, creating an inferno at Afghanistan’s biggest trade crossing with Iran, officials said.

The blaze broke out in the early afternoon at Islam Qala port, 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the western city of Herat, engulfing the tankers that were parked nearby after crossing the border.

Advertisements

“There were between 200 and 300 fuel tankers there and we managed to save some, but most have been engulfed and the fire is so huge that nobody can get to within even a kilometre of it,” said Younus Qazi Zada, head of the Herat Chamber of Commerce.

“The initial estimate is of millions of dollars of losses, but we have to wait until the fire is extinguished for a proper assessment of damage.”

At least 17 people have been taken to hospital, some of them with serious burns, said Ibrahim Mohammadi, head of the Herat ambulance service.

A security forces personnel walks amidst wreckage of gas tankers after a fire accident at Islam Qala on the outskirts of Herat, in the border between Afghanistan and Iran on February 14, 2021. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI / AFP)

Jailani Farhad, the spokesman for the governor of Herat province, said dozens of tankers were ablaze.

Advertisements

“We don’t have the required facilities to contain it, so through the foreign ministry, we have asked the government of Iran to help us contain the fire,” he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown, he added.
Advertisements

Videos posted on social media show towering flames and huge clouds of thick black smoke billowing into the sky.

Around 60 percent of Herat province was without power as a result of the fire, Afghan energy company DABS said.

Islam Qala is one of the major ports in Afghanistan, through which most official trade with Iran is conducted.

Advertisements

Afghanistan has received waivers from Washington allowing it to import oil and gas from Iran despite US sanctions.

Iran foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the border “was held open for trucks, cars and people running from the fire” towards Iran.

He added that authorities from both countries were helping to tackle the blaze.

Taking advantage of the situation, Taliban insurgents attacked a nearby security post after the blaze broke out, Farhad added.

Advertisements

Afghanistan has been hit by a surge in violence despite peace talks that started in September between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.

The rise in violence has led US President Joe Biden’s administration to launch a review of a deal signed between Washington and the Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of all American troops in the coming months.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Officials in search of 200 after flash flooding in India.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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.

Advertisements

‘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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

PayPal to halt online payment services. [Reason]

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Family of Daniel Pearl to query Pakistan murder acquittals

Advertisements

Lawyers for Pearl’s family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in organising the abduction and detention of the journalist before ordering his captors to kill him.

The family of American journalist Daniel Pearl will challenge an order by Pakistan’s top court to release a British-born militant acquitted of masterminding his kidnapping and brutal murder in 2002.

Advertisements

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the acquittal of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three other men last year, triggering outrage from the United States.

Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted and beheaded by jihadists in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants.

Advertisements

“The Pearl family intends to file a review petition against the illegal and unjust majority decision,” parents Ruth and Judea Pearl said in a statement that was tweeted by the murdered journalist’s friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani.

They join both the federal government and Sindh provincial government of which the city of Karachi is the capital in launching a plea for the latest verdict to be reviewed.

Defence lawyers, however, say he was a scapegoat and sentenced on insufficient evidence.

Advertisements

“It is beyond belief that Ahmad Omar Sheikh — who after 18 years of lies, had finally admitted in a handwritten letter to the court his role in the kidnapping for ransom of Daniel Pearl — has been given a clean slate and let loose once again upon the world to continue his international terrorist activities,” Pearl’s family said in the statement.

The four men — who have been detained under the emergency orders of Sindh government since their acquittal last year — still have multiple court challenges linked to their case.

Sheikh, a British-born jihadist who once studied at the London School of Economics and had been involved in previous kidnappings of foreigners, was arrested days after Pearl’s abduction.

He was later sentenced to death.

Advertisements

US President Joe Biden’s administration was “outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision”, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters last week.

The new US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, on Friday spoke with Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, pressing his “concern about the potential release of these prisoners”, a spokesman for the US Department of State said.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Security tightens as Thousands join Indian farmer protest.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

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

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.”

Advertisements

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.”

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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.

Advertisements

‘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.

Advertisements

“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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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.”

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Pakistani ‘killed’ during TikTok stunt.

Advertisements

A young man was hit and killed by a train in Pakistan while being filmed walking along the tracks for a TikTok stunt, police and rescue officials said Saturday.

The accident happened on Friday in the Shah Khalid neighbourhood of Rawalpindi city, near the capital Islamabad.

Advertisements

Hamza Naveed, 18, was walking next to the tracks while a friend filmed him, Raja Rafaqat Zaman, a spokesperson for the local rescue agency, told AFP.

“The moving train hit him while he was posing for a video and walking on the railway track,” Zaman said.

Rescue workers rushed to the site, he said, but the young man was already dead.

Friends of the young man told rescue workers he was posing for the video to post it on TikTok and his other social media accounts, Zaman said.

Advertisements

A police official at the local station confirmed the accident and other details.

Taking selfies and making videos for social media is wildly popular in Pakistan, as in other countries, with many youngsters using the posts to update their Facebook, Twitter and TikTok accounts.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

COVID-19 vaccine maker plant blast kills 5 in India

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

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

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Storyline: India slumps into worse economy recession ever

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

#Newsworthy

Just in: Pakistan populous city bans invasive rape test

Advertisements

A similar case is also underway in the southern province of Sindh with momentum growing for a nationwide ban.

Authorities in Pakistan’s most populous province on Saturday banned an outdated medical procedure in which rape victims are subjected to an invasive physical examination.

The move comes after critics of the “two-finger test” this year sued the government of Punjab province, home to about 110 million people, in a bid to stop the practice dating back to the time of British colonial rule.

Proponents of the internal examination claim it can assess a woman’s sexual promiscuity and her “honour”, and whether she had been “habituated to sexual intercourse”.

Backlash to the test has been growing in recent years, with critics saying it provides zero useful information and is traumatic for rape victims.

Advertisements

Punjab health authorities in September admitted the test held “limited evidentiary value” but the practice continued.

Saturday’s ban, which takes immediate effect across Punjab, effectively preempts the ongoing court case.

Welcoming Punjab’s ban, Sidra Humayun, a case manager for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, told AFP it would be a challenge to ensure compliance by medical workers.

The mentality that still “links the reliability of a rape victim’s claims to her virtue and honour” in legal cases also must be addressed, she added.

Advertisements

The World Health Organization has declared the test “unscientific, medically unnecessary and unreliable”.

Neighbouring India banned the two-finger test in 2013 and Bangladesh followed suit in 2018.

Sameer Khosa, the lawyer behind Punjab’s court petition, welcomed the ban but said other problematic practices such as virginity testing through the examination of the hymen are still being performed.

Pakistan is a deeply conservative and patriarchal nation where victims of sexual abuse often are too afraid to speak out, or where police frequently fail to investigate cases seriously.


#Newsworthy…

Pakistan van fire: 15 Casualties.

Advertisements

At least 15 people were killed when a passenger van travelling in southern Pakistan crashed and caught fire, officials said Sunday.

The van was carrying passengers from Karachi to Hyderabad city when it struck an object and careered off the road late Saturday.

“The death toll in the unfortunate accident has reached 15,” Owais Shah, the transport minister of Sindh province, told AFP.

Advertisements

Five other people were injured, three of them critically, he said.

Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, said Faisal Edhi, head of the non-profit Edhi Foundation which runs the morgue the bodies were taken to.

Investigators were looking to see if a natural gas cylinder aboard the bus had contributed to the inferno.

Such incidents occur frequently on Pakistan’s roads, where speeding, dilapidated vehicles, and badly maintained roads all contribute to the accident rate.


#Newsworthy…

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

Advertisements

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…

Storyline: Warships join fight to put out oil tanker inferno off Sri Lanka

Advertisements

New Diamond, travelling from Kuwait to Paradip, is carrying cargo of 270,000 tonnes of crude and 1,700 tonnes of diesel.


A new fire broke out on a supertanker carrying about two million barrels of oil in the Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka’s eastern coast as Russian and Indian warships joined the battle to put out the blaze.

The New Diamond, travelling from Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip with a cargo of 270,000 tonnes of crude and 1,700 tonnes of diesel, issued a distress call on Thursday, navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said.

The vessel had a crew of 18 Filipinos and five Greeks. One crew member was missing, another was injured, and the rest were rescued from the Panama-flagged vessel, according to the navy.

“An Indian coastguard vessel and one of our ships are now in the process of dousing the flames that have spread to the deck of the tanker’s service area,” de Silva told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

Advertisements

There was no immediate danger of a leak from the stricken vessel, he added, which was 60km (38 miles) from the coastal town of Sangamankandi Point.

Photographs taken by Sri Lanka’s air force showed extensive damage to the tanker’s funnel, and thick black smoke and flames coming from the bridge, which is just behind the cargo area.

Two Russian warships, which were at Sri Lanka’s southern port of Hambantota to take on food and water, were now headed to the New Diamond’s location to help with the rescue.

India was sending three navy vessels and two more coastguard vessels in addition to providing aerial reconnaissance.

Advertisements

De Silva said rescuers were trying to prevent the fire from spreading to the cargo area and ensuring there was no leak.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Protection Authority said it would take measures to prevent any possible oil leak.

Such a spill could cause an “environmental disaster” Ashok Sharma, managing director of shipbroker BRS Baxi in Singapore, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

Thursday’s incident happened just over a month after a state of “environmental emergency” was triggered by the spill of about 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil from a Japanese bulk carrier, MV Wakashio, when it ran aground on a reef in Mauritius.


#Newsworthy…

India panel grills Facebook over anti-muslim posts

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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…

COVID-19: India quarterly growth jumps by 23.9%

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.”

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

“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…