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India must take three steps “immediately” to stem the damage of the coronavirus pandemic: former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

India must take three steps “immediately” to stem the damage of the coronavirus pandemic, according to its former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Dr Singh, who is widely regarded as the architect of India’s economic reforms programme, and is now a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party, spoke to BBC this week in an email exchange. The coronavirus pandemic ruled out a face-to-face interview and Dr Singh declined a video call.

During our exchange, he laid out three steps he believes the government has to take to stem the crisis and restore economic normalcy in the coming years.

First, the government should “ensure people’s livelihoods are protected and they have spending power through a significant direct cash assistance”.

Second, it should make adequate capital available for businesses through “government-backed credit guarantee programmes”.

Third, it should fix the financial sector through “institutional autonomy and processes”.

India’s economy was already in the throes of a slowdown before the beginning of the pandemic – GDP grew at 4.2% in the 2019-20, its slowest pace in nearly a decade. The country is now gradually unlocking its economy after a prolonged and grinding shutdown, but the future looks uncertain as infection numbers rise. On Thursday, India became the third country to pass two million Covid-19 cases .

Economists have since warned that India’s GDP for the 2020-21 financial year is likely to contract sharply, leading to the worst technical recession since the 1970s.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES India migrant worker family
Image caption Millions of migrant workers and the poor lost their livelihoods during the lockdown
“I do not want to use words like ‘depression’ in a cavalier fashion,” Dr Singh said, but a “deep and prolonged economic slowdown” was “inevitable”.

“This economic slowdown is caused by a humanitarian crisis. It is important to view this from the prism of sentiments in our society than mere economic numbers and methods,” he said.

Dr Singh pointed to a consensus forming among economists over an economic contraction in India in nominal terms, “which if it happens, will be the first time in independent India”.

“I hope the consensus is wrong,” he said.

India locked down early, at the end of March, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many believe the lockdown was hastily executed and did not anticipate the exodus of millions of out-of-work migrant workers from cities.

Dr Singh believes India did what other nations were doing, and “perhaps a lockdown at that stage was an inevitable choice”.

“But the government’s shock and awe approach to the lockdown has caused tremendous pain to people. The suddenness of the announcement and the stringency of the lockdown were thoughtless and insensitive,” he said.

“Public health emergencies such as this are best dealt with locally by local administrators and public health officials, with broad guidelines from the Centre. Perhaps, we should have devolved the Covid-19 battle to the state and local administrations much sooner.”

As finance minister, 29 years ago, Dr Singh helmed an ambitious economic reform programme in 1991 after a balance of payments crisis nearly plunged India into bankruptcy.

The 1991 crisis was a domestic crisis induced by global factors, he said. “But today’s economic situation is unprecedented in its ubiquity, scale and depth.”

Not even during World War Two had the “whole world shut down in such a synchronised fashion as it is now”, he said.

In April Narendra Modi’s BJP-led government announced a $266bn (£212bn) stimulus, including a range of liquidity measures and reforms to kickstart the economy. India’s central bank also introduced rate cuts and moratoriums on loans.

With tax receipts plummeting, economists have debated about how a cash-strapped government would be able to get the money to fund direct transfers and provide more capital to ailing banks and credit to businesses.

The answer, said Dr Singh was borrowing.

“Higher borrowing is inevitable,” he said. “Even if we have to spend an additional 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to cater to the military, health and economic challenges, it must be done.

He acknowledged that it would increase India’s debt to GDP ratio, but if borrowing “can save lives, borders, restore livelihoods and boost economic growth, then its worth it”, he said.

“We must not be shy of borrowing but we must be prudent on how we use that borrowing,” he said.

Image copyright REUTERS Employees work inside a sari, a traditional clothing worn by women, manufacturing factory in Surat, India, March 8, 2019
Image caption India needs to produce more for its domestic market
In the past, taking loans from multilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank have been taken as signs of India’s economic weaknesses. But now India could “borrow from a position of strength, compared to other developing nations,” Dr Singh said.

“India’s track record as a borrower from multilateral institutions is impeccable, It is not a sign of weakness to borrow from these institutions.”

Many countries have decided to print money to fund government spending to tide over the ongoing economic crises, and some prominent economists have suggested the same for India. Others have raised fears about excess supply of money leading to inflation.

Monetisation of the fiscal deficit directly by India’s central bank used to be norm until the mid 1990s. India, Dr Singh said, had moved away from the practice to bring about “fiscal discipline, institutional separation from the Reserve Bank of India [central bank] and the government and to curb unhealthy impulses of seemingly free money”.

“I am aware that the traditional fear of high inflation due to excess money supply is perhaps no longer valid in developed nations,” he said. “But for countries such as India, other than costs of institutional autonomy of the central bank, unbridled printing of money can have attendant impacts on currency, trade and imported inflation.”

Dr Singh said he was not ruling out printing money to finance the deficit, but “merely suggesting that let the barrier for that to be very high and use it as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted”.

He warned against India following some other nations in becoming more protectionist – imposing high trade barriers duties on imports. India’s trade policy over the last three decades had brought “enormous economic gains to not just the top but across all sections of our population”, he said.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES In this photograph taken on May 11, 2016, people eat food inside a restaurant in DLF Cyber City area of Gurgaon, 32 kilometres southwest of the capital New Delhi. The satellite town of Gurgaon near the Indian capital is home to scores of top multinational companies, and the influx of foreign capital has brought with it gleaming shopping malls enjoyed by India’s rising middle class seeking an outlet for their disposable income
Image caption India’s rising upper middle class has substantial disposable income
As Asia’s third largest economy, India today is in a far stronger position today than in the early 1990s. I asked Dr Singh whether these strengths would help India stage a robust recovery after the pandemic ends.

“India’s real GDP is 10 times stronger than what it was in 1990, and India had lifted more than 300 million people from poverty since then,” he said. “So yes, the Indian economy is intrinsically much stronger now.”

But a significant driver of that growth was India’s trade with the rest of the world. The share of global trade in India’s GDP increased nearly fivefold in this period.

“India is much more integrated with the rest of the world now,” Dr Singh said. “Hence, what happens in the global economy will have a significant impact on India’s economy. In this pandemic, the global economy is severely dented and that will be a big cause of concern for India.”

Ultimately, no one yet knows the full economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, nor how long nations will take to recover from it. But one thing is clear, it has defied the experience of even seasoned economists like Dr Singh.

“The previous crises were macroeconomic crises for which there were proven economic tools,” he said. “Now we have an economic crisis caused by an epidemic which has induced fear and uncertainty in society, and monetary policy as an economic tool to counter this crisis is proving to be blunt.”


Draft EIA 2020: How it may impact North East The region, with eight per cent of India’s total geographical area, has 25 per cent of India’s forest cover

By Sayan Banerjee:

The north-eastern region continues to face a violent extractive regime by the Indian state. Photo: RK Srinivasan
India’s northeastern region — comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura — is a unique biodiversity hotspot. The region, however, faces many environmental problems.

Successive Indian forest surveys in 2015, 2017 and 2019 reported net deforestation of 628, 630 and 765 square kilometres in the region respectively.

This gradual decline in general and decrease of very dense forests — with canopy cover greater than 70 per cent — is particularly alarming. During 2001-2018, 75 per cent of the total tree cover loss outside the recorded forest area in India occurred in this region.

The region is prone to multiple cycles of heavy floods, grade-V earthquakes and landslides due to hydrological and seismic fragility.

In 2020, almost 28 of 33 districts at the Barak and Brahmaputra valleys in Assam reeled under floods, 23 small-scale earthquakes hit Mizoram within five weeks and multiple causalities due to landslides occurred in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and other hilly areas.

A recent government report presented in the climate summit at Katowice, Poland found the north-eastern states to be highly vulnerable to climate change due to low adaptive potential of demographic and livelihood factors.

The development of this region, thus, requires sound socio-ecological planning with proactive mitigation strategies to control the damage to the region’s ecology and society.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA), in this regard, becomes a mandatory exercise for ecologically sound development projects envisaged for the region.

Draft EIA notification 2020

In order to ensure ‘ease of doing business’, the draft EIA notification 2020 weakens the basic vision of EIA, that is, a proactive analysis of impacts on the environment by development projects and providing risk-mitigation strategies.

The proposed changes grant post-facto environmental clearance to industries that operate and pollute without consent from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The participation of affected communities and the public in general was further limited by reducing the notice period for public hearing to 20 days from 30 days.

Several large-scale projects were re-categorised as B2 (projects that do not require EIA) and thus exempted from it. Given the environmental fragility of the North East, these changes can usher irreversible damage to the region.

Development outlook at north-eastern states

The northeastern region continues to face a violent extractive regime by the Indian state. Following Dolly Kikon’s work on extractive regimes at the Assam-Nagaland border, the entire northeastern region can be described as a “militarised hydro / carbon frontier”.

Successive governments visualised Arunachal Pradesh as the cradle of India’s hydropower, with there being a plan to develop almost 170 hydro-electric projects that provide around 70,000 megawatts (MW) of power, more than a third of India’s total hydro potential.

Only five per cent of the proposed hydropower projects were established till now, with the ecological future of this state bleak if the remaining hydro-potential is realised. A recent campaign against the proposed 3,097 MW Etalin hydropower project showed such projects were cleared with a limited understanding of socio-ecological impacts.

Assam, Meghalaya and parts of other states have experienced extraction of coal, allied minerals and oil and gas since the occupation of the British. The current extraction by Coal India Ltd in Assam is at 465 million tonnes (MT), out of the total coal prospect of 525 MT.

A devastating blowout and fire at one of the gas wells owned by Oil India Ltd occurred at Baghjan, within the eco-sensitive zone of Dibru-Saikhowa. Photo: Vivek Menon / Twitter

The coal bearing region of Assam overlaps with the areas adjoining the Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and elephant reserve that harbour dense evergreen forests. Clearance for coal mining at the Saleki proposed reserve forest situated at the vicinity of the sanctuary recently caused a huge uproar from the state’s youth-led environmental groups.

Data from the Union Ministry of Coal suggested only 15 per cent and two per cent of the total coal prospect was established in Meghalaya and Nagaland respectively, with scope for further expansion. The total potential hydrocarbon reserve in the region was estimated to be around 5,040 MT, of which only 44 per cent was established, according to the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

This left considerable scope for further extraction, with the Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for the northeastern region aiming to double the production of oil and natural gas.

The present extraction is concentrated in the Upper Assam Shelf Basin. This basin is adjacent to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Dihing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary.

A devastating blowout and fire at one of the gas wells owned by Oil India Ltd occurred at Baghjan, within the eco-sensitive zone of Dibru-Saikhowa. Future oil and gas exploration in the region aims to exploit the Assam-Arakan Basin that comprises of the hilly areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, according to the Hydrocarbon Vision.

Bleak socio-ecological future of the North East

The recent Baghjan blowout and fire incident provides the greatest example to show how poor or no EIA of extractive development projects can impact the local ecology and society in future.

OIL was extracting oil and gas without proper environmental clearances and biodiversity impact assessment. It violated all environment-related acts and rules of the country during its operation.

The draft EIA 2020 aims to legalise such environmental violations through post-facto clearance without punitive action. Article 371 and the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution provides community ownership over resources in these states.

Each community has their own unique socio-political history, language, social structure and cultural belief system.

The draft EIA 2020 is subverting the Constitution by limiting the inclusion of local decision-making bodies and public participation in the region. The draft also takes away power from affected communities to report environmental violations.

These changes foreground an attitude of profit over people and wildlife, which treats the region only as an extraction frontier that will feed the ‘national interest’.

The draft aims to set up industries within 100 km of the international borders without public consultation. This would affect large sections of all the north-eastern states.

The massive land requirement will lead to large scale displacement and disruption of livelihood of already marginalised communities. Indigenous cultures that evolved by living in the local ecology will likely be lost with the displacement and destruction of the local environment.

The Hydrocarbon Vision from the region will lead to huge land conversion, especially forested areas, increasing the deforestation rate and carbon footprint of the national economy.

This region, with eight per cent of India’s total geographical area, has 25 per cent of India’s forest cover.

If the staggering number of mining and dam building projects get a nod, the resulting deforestation and earth removal may lead to increased hydro-seismic fragility of the region, causing more intense floods, earthquakes and landslides.

Oil and gas exploration and highway expansion was exempted from the purview of EIA. Without proper environment impact assessments, such developments will increase the vulnerability of the region to climatic shifts.

Land-levelling or securing land through erection of walls or fences and land conversion in general will destroy terrestrial and aquatic habitats that fall under the Himalaya and India-Burma biodiversity hotspots and Central Asian and East Asia-Australian Flyway.

It will exacerbate the survival of various endemic species and impede movement of long-ranging animals like Asian elephants and tigers.

Given the fragile ecology of the northeastern region, there is a massive gap between the requirement of ecologically sound development policy and the actual development outlook of the region.

A strong EIA can bridge this gap with mandatory identification of sustainable development initiatives.

The draft EIA 2020, however, brought forward changes that are both anti-environment and anti-people. It should, thus, be rejected to secure the socio-ecological future of the north-eastern states.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.


Indian-American groups laud historic selection of Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice presidential candidate

Leading Indian-American groups across the US have lauded the selection of Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris as the Vice Presidential candidate by Democratic party presidential nominee Joe Biden, saying it was a moment of pride and celebration for the entire community in America.

Biden on Tuesday named Harris as his Vice-Presidential running mate, making history by selecting the first black woman to compete on a major party’s presidential ticket.

Harris, 55, whose father is an African from Jamaica and mother an Indian, is currently the US Senator from California.

“What an electric moment for the Indian-American community! Indian-Americans are now truly a mainstream community in the national fabric,” M R Rangaswami, an eminent Indian-American and the founder of Indiaspora, told PTI.

“On a personal note, it’s great to have a woman on the ticket whose mother hails from my hometown of Chennai in India,” Rangaswami said.

Harris herself was a presidential aspirant until last year before she dropped out of the race because of lack of popular support.

Welcoming the decision, IMPACT, the leading Indian-American advocacy group and PAC, said that it will raise USD 10 million for the campaign.

“Kamala Harris’s story is the story of a changing, inclusive America. At a time of rapid change, she ties all our national threads together. The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, Kamala Harris represents the future and promise of this country. Her candidacy is historic and inspiring, not only for Black Americans, but for millions of Asian American voters, the fastest growing voting bloc in the country,” IMPACT’s executive director Neil Makhija said.

“An estimated 1.3 million Indian-Americans are expected to vote in this year’s election, including nearly 200,000 in Pennsylvania and 125,000 in Michigan, both must-win battleground states. IMPACT is gearing up to raise USD 10 million to fight for inclusive democracy and candidates who share our values like Senator Harris,” Makhija said. He said Harris knows both the Black American and South Asian-American experiences.

“Harris knows the Black American experience. She knows the South Asian American experience. She knows the immigrant experience. She knows the aspirational power of the American dream. She is the running mate for this moment,” Makhija had wrirtten in an op-ed titled Harris’ ability to mobilise voters and unite the country In 2016, 77 per cent of Indian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, according to stats by the same research firm. “But Democrat support in 2020 is not assured,” he wrote. A recent survey carried out by Trump supporter Al Mason claims that 50 per cent of Indian-American voters in key battle ground States are moving away from the opposition Democratic Party towards Trump.

Makhija argued that Harris’ vice-presidential candidacy would be historic and inspiring, not only for Black Americans, but for millions of voters of South Asian descent — like him. Asian Americans, more broadly, are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic voting bloc in the country, he said.

Indian-American entrepreneur from Silicon Valley Ajay Jain Bhutoria said its a great moment of pride and celebration for the Indo-American Community to have Harris as Vice Presidential Candidate with Joe Biden for President 2020. “Joe Biden is running to restore the soul of the nation and unite the country to move us forward. Joe knows more about the importance of the vice presidency than just about anyone and he is confident that Harris will be the best partner for him to finally get the country back on track,” he said.


Russia Claims 1st Covid Vaccine “Sputnik V”; Putin’s Daughter Inoculated

Russian vaccine works effectively enough: President Putin
A Russian health care regulator has become the first in the world to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus, President Vladimir V. Putin announced on Tuesday, though the vaccine has yet to complete clinical trials.

The Russian dash for a vaccine has already raised international concerns that Moscow is cutting corners on testing to score political and propaganda points.

Mr. Putin’s announcement came despite a caution last week from the World Health Organization that Russia should not stray from the usual methods of testing a vaccine for safety and effectiveness.

Mr. Putin’s announcement became essentially a claim of victory in the global race for a vaccine, something Russian officials have been telegraphing for several weeks now despite the absence of published information about any late-phase testing.

“It works effectively enough, forms a stable immunity and, I repeat, it has gone through all necessary tests,” Mr. Putin told a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning. He thanked the scientists who developed the vaccine for “this first, very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.”

Mr. Putin also said that one of his daughters had taken the vaccine.

The Russian vaccine, along with many others under development in a number of countries in the effort to alleviate a worldwide health crisis that has killed at least 734,900 people, sped through early monkey and human trials with apparent success.

But the Russian scientific body that developed the vaccine, the Gamaleya Institute, has yet to conduct Phase III tests on tens of thousands of volunteers in highly controlled trials, a process seen as the only method of ensuring a vaccine is actually safe and effective. Around the world, more than 30 vaccines out of a total of more than 165 under development are now in various stages of human trials.

Vaccines generally go through three stages of human testing before being approved for widespread use. The first two phases test the vaccine on relatively small groups of people to see if it causes harm and if it stimulates the immune system. The last phase, known as Phase III, compares the vaccine to a placebo in thousands of people. This final phase is the only way to know with statistical certainty whether a vaccine prevents an infection. And because it’s testing a much larger group of people, a Phase III trial can also pick up more subtle side effects of a vaccine that earlier trials could not.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has said that a new coronavirus vaccine would need to be 50 percent more effective than a placebo in order to be approved.

Russia’s minister of health, Mikhail Murashko, has said the country will begin a mass vaccination campaign in the fall, and said on Tuesday that it would start with teachers and medical workers this month.

The World Health Organization maintains a comprehensive list of worldwide vaccine trials. In the latest version of the list, there is no Russian Phase III trial.

Western regulators have said repeatedly that they do not expect a vaccine to become widely available before the end of the year at the earliest. Regulatory approval in Russia, well ahead of that timeline, could become a symbol of national pride and provide a lift for Mr. Putin, whose popularity ratings have fallen steadily under the weight of the pandemic and a faltering economy.


Lord Ram And The India-China Face-Off

– by Rajmohan Gandhi:
Until recent years, it seemed that any clear edge that India possessed over China was in ideology. Economically, China was much stronger. Militarily, although India’s capabilities along the Himalayas had greatly improved during the post-1962 decades, China seemed to possess a much larger array of resources.

However, as against an evidently totalitarian China, India was democratic. Whereas China was stifled by one-party rule, India was being constantly refreshed by free debate, competition among political parties, and new governments. Nationally and globally, democracy gave India immense advantages. Benefits that accrue when journalists, writers, poets, professors and film-makers are unfettered, when independent civil servants direct investigative agencies, and when judges can punish the powerful.

The actualization of these democratic ideals was limited. In particular, our political democracy was slow to translate into social democracy. Hierarchies and oppressions continued. Even so, the world seemed far more comfortable with a loud, oft-chaotic, democratic India than with a more productive yet uniform China where dissenters could not speak, and where governments could not be voted out.

Not only was the world more at ease with a democratic India, there were indications that the people of China were curious about India’s freedoms. At least to a few in China, India’s modern experiment in democracy seemed to recall an ancient period when ideas travelled from India to China.

In the world, India’s appeal was particularly strong for nations containing diverse populations. Often run by dictators who play on the strength or numbers of a single tribe, sect or ethnic group, such nations were interested in spectacularly varied India. If India could be governed democratically and without one community bossing over the rest, there was hope for other heterogenous lands.

Far more important, however, than Indian democracy’s appeal to the world, or to the people of China, was the strength that a pluralist democracy brought to India. Hierarchies and oppressions notwithstanding, Adivasis, castes “low” and “high”, and Dalits could feel that India was theirs. And all in India – Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jews, atheists, whatever – could imagine that India belonged as much to them as to the Hindu majority.

Now, almost precisely when India’s equation with China has reached its most testing point in decades, we witness profoundly disturbing signals that threaten Indian solidarity. By involving himself as Prime Minister with the formal commencement of the construction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Narendra Modi has declared the Hindu-ness of the Indian state and struck at Indian society’s cohesion.

The question goes beyond the constitutional principles of secularism and pluralism. Mr. Modi seems to dismiss the realities that scream off India’s map. Muslim-majority Kashmir, bordering both China and Pakistan, occupies the north of India. Sikh-majority Punjab sits on India’s western boundary. Christians constitute either a majority or a strong minority in the eastern border states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya, in equally crucial Kerala on India’s southern extremity, and in Goa, small in size but known well to the whole world. And Tamil Nadu’s sharp opposition to religious majoritarianism has a long and powerful history.

Taking India as a whole, a policy of humiliating 200 million Muslims, disregarding Sikhs, frightening Christians and unsettling large numbers of Hindus who prize equality is hardly the way to unite a people for any long-drawn contest with China. For all its strategic value, a distant Quad cannot be a substitute for Indian cohesion. If it comes to a battle, no Quad country will fight China on India’s behalf. We should also recognize that a majority of the people of Japan, the U.S. and Australia, and of other nations that prize democracy and pluralism, will be as cautious about a so-called Hindu republic as they are about so-called Islamic republics.

As for what a “Hindu state” of India will do to attract the people of Bangladesh and Afghanistan, countries with a bearing on India’s stand-off with China, asking the question is enough.

It is true that today China encounters more questions from a Covid-afflicted world than it has faced for years. That, however, does not entitle New Delhi to alienate large sections of the Indian people. Nor is it prudent to rely on the possibility of internal discontent in China. Ambition for global ascendancy will probably override any political tussles within China.

Facing a driven and authoritarian China, the people of India will not be served well by religious majoritarianism. Their sense of being equal partners with fellow citizens has taken serious hits in recent years. Instead of restoring that sense, Prime Minister Modi has signalled that because of their religion one set of Indians are indeed “more equal” than the rest. All of us should be troubled.

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(Rajmohan Gandhi is presently teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)


Air India Express Hires US-Based Firm To Recover Baggage After Plane Crash

New Delhi: Air India Express said it has contracted a US-based company to recover and restore the baggage of the crew and passengers of its plane that crashed in Kozhikode.
The airline’s flight from Dubai with 190 people overshot the tabletop runway while landing amid heavy rain at the Kozhikode airport on Friday night, fell into a valley 35 feet below and broke into two, killing 18 people, including the pilots.

Air India Express said in a statement that Kenyon International specialises in recovery of baggage in case of a major accident. “Their expertise lies in identification of baggage with their specialised services through advanced technology,” it said.

The team of the US-based company will be arriving on Monday night, the statement said.

“The contract service provider Kenyon International will carry out the functions of restoration of personal effects with the help of Angels of Air India. Personal effects are items belonging to crew and passengers on board an aircraft involved in an aircraft accident,” it said.

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Angels of Air India is a special team of the airline to assist passengers and their family members at a time of accident. Air India Express is a wholly owned subsidiary of national carrier Air India.

A total of 56 passengers injured due to the crash have been discharged from various hospitals after obtaining complete fitness, said Air India Express.


Donald Trump Briefly Evacuated During Presser After Shooting Outside White House

Washington, United States: Secret Service guards shot a person, who was apparently armed, outside the White House on Monday, President Donald Trump said just after being briefly evacuated in the middle of a press conference.
The president was abruptly ushered out of the press event and black-clad secret service agents with automatic rifles rushed across the lawn north of the White House.

Minutes later, Trump reappeared at the press conference, where journalists had been locked in, and announced that someone had been shot outside the White House grounds.

The Secret Service tweeted that it “can confirm there has been an officer involved shooting at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Ave.”

“Law enforcement shot someone, it seems to be, the suspect. And the suspect is on the way to the hospital,” he said.

Trump said he knew nothing about the identity or motives of the person shot, but when asked if the person had been armed, he answered: “From what I understand, the answer is yes.”

“It might not have had anything to do with me,” Trump added, saying the incident took place “on the outside” of the White House perimeter.

“I don’t believe anything was breached, they were relatively far away,” he added.

Outside the White House, the situation was calm, but a portion of the surrounding streets had been blocked off, with a number of police and other official vehicles converging towards the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Philipos Melaku, a protester who has been camping in front of the White House for years, said he had heard a shot fired at around 5:50 pm (2150 GMT).

“I heard a gunshot and before that I heard screaming,” he told AFP.

“It was a male voice,” he said. “After that immediately, pointing their AR-15s, at least eight or nine men came in running.”

Following the security scare, Trump returned almost immediately to the White House podium where he resumed his scheduled press conference.

Asked if he was rattled by the incident, he replied: “The world’s always been a dangerous place. It’s not something that’s unique.”

Trump went onto praise the Secret Service as “fantastic people, the best of the best.”

“I feel very safe with Secret Service,” he said. “A lot of terrific looking people ready to go if something was necessary.”


Air India Boeing skidded off the runway and broke into pieces in Kerala: 18 Killed including both pilots

The pilots of the Boeing 737 aborted two landings due to tailwind and circled the airport several times before the final landing, which saw the plane overshoot the runway and roll 35 feet downslope.

New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram: An Air India special assistance team has reached Kerala to coordinate relief and counselling for families members of the 190 people who were on board the Air India Express flight from Dubai that crashed at Kozhikode airport on Friday evening. Eighteen people, including both pilots, were killed after the Boeing 737, skidded off the runway and broke into pieces during a landing attempt at the Kozhikode airport.

The special assistance team, called “Angels of Air India”, were flown from Mumbai to coordinate relief and counsel the injured passengers as well with the family members of the injured as well as dead passengers, Air India Express said.

“The Go Teams and Angels of Air India have reached Calicut for being with the injured passengers as well as with the family members of the injured as well as dead passengers,” Air India Express said in a statement.

Two special relief flights have been arranged from Delhi and one from Mumbai for humanitarian assistance to all the passengers and their family members, Air India Express, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the national carrier, said.

“The Emergency Response Director is coordinating with all the agencies in Calicut (Kozhikode), Mumbai as well as Delhi, Dubai for effective emergency response,” it said in a statement.

Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal, and Air India Express Chief Executive Officer K Shyam Sundar have already reached Kozhikode, according to the statement.

“The Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, Chief Executive Officer of Air India Express, Chief of Operations as well as the Chief of Flight Safety of Air India have already reached Calicut,” it said.

The pilots of the Boeing 737 aborted two landings due to tailwind and circled the airport several times before the final landing, which saw the plane overshoot the runway and roll 35 feet downslope. The Kozhikode airport has a tabletop runway, one of those located on the top of a plateau or hill with one or both ends adjacent to a steep precipice which drops into a deep gorge.

The airport is located on a hill, and several international airlines had stopped flying bigger aircraft including Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 jets into Kozhikode due to safety issues over the length on the runway.

“According to weather radar, approach was for runway 28 but as pilots found difficulties they went around twice and came from the opposite side on runway 10 and the plane crash-landed,” news agency ANI quoted an investigator of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) as saying.

The Air India Express flight IX-1344 from Dubai to Calicut was operating under the Vande Bharat Mission to repatriate Indians stranded abroad because of coronavirus lockdowns. The Air India Express, a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India, has only B-737 aircraft in its fleet.

There were 184 passengers on the plane, including 10 babies and 4 cabin crew members. Many passengers were workers returning home after losing their jobs due to the pandemic.

(with inpus from PTI)


After Ladakh, Chinese army’s eyes on Pamir Of Tajikistan

: Recent articles in the state-controlled Chinese media have called for Tajikistan’s Pamir mountain range to be ceded to ChinaThis despite the fact that the two countries signed a border agreement in 2011
China is opening up another front in its relentless drive to expand its territorial claims. The latest target of the Communist Party’s seemingly insatiable expansionist agenda is the central Asian republic of Tajikistan.

More than 90 per cent of the territory of this Muslim majority country is mountainous.

Recent articles in the state-controlled Chinese media, which don’t publish anything without the prior approval of the Communist Party, have called for Tajikistan’s Pamir mountain range, which runs along the Tajik border with Afghanistan and China, to be ceded to China.

According to a report in the Times of India, these include an article by a Chinese nationalist historian who cited official sources to make the audacious claim that the entire Pamir region rightfully belonged to China and needed to be returned.

This despite the fact that the two countries signed a border agreement in 2011. Clearly, the Xi Jinping regime is now emboldened enough to pay scant respect to both formal agreements as in the case of Tajikistan and informal understandings like it has with India regarding the Line of Actual Control.

China and central Asia

Part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, Tajikistan became independent in 1991 but the very next year it saw a civil war that lasted five years. Since then the country has been ruled with an iron grip by the dictatorial president Emomali Rahmon.

Because of its Soviet past, Tajikistan had remained in the Russian sphere of influence, but in the last two decades, there’s another giant, China, to reckon with which has much deeper pockets than Russia. China, which shares borders with more than a dozen countries, including Tajikistan, has ramped up investments in Central Asia.

In 2011, the parliament of Tajikistan ratified an earlier agreement to hand over 1,000 sq km of land in the Pamir mountains to China in return for debt forgiveness.

At that point, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said the dispute had been solved “according to universally recognised norms of international law through equal consultations”.

Just how much debt China decided to forego is not clear, but land for debt has been an integral part of China’s expansionist tactics in many parts of the world, some of them thousands of miles from China’s borders.

Five years after that land-for-debt swap, Tajikistan, which continues to be heavily debt-ridden, allowed China to open a military base.

The Tajik government, however, is quite sensitive about the Pamirs, where some local communities tend to be restive. Last month, following the publication of the article by the Chinese historian, the Tajik foreign ministry called China’s ambassador to complain.

China has followed a policy of carrots and sticks with its other central Asian neighbours — Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – as well. But under Xi Jinping, Beijing’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy has acquired a menacing edge.

From India and Japan to Taiwan and countries in Southeast Asia, China is not adding to its friends’ list with its bullying tactics and bellicose behaviour. Tajikistan may be too weak to stand up to China, but a loose alliance of counties fed up with Beijing’s actions can start pushing the dragon back.