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Environment

India to establish regional climate centre for Himalayas, to benefit country, neighbours: IMD chief

India is planning to establish a regional climate centre for the Himalayan mountain region which will not only provide weather-related advices within the country but also to its neighbours, India Meteorological Department (IMD) Director General Mrutunjay Mohapatra said on Monday. Mohapatra said the work for establishing such a centre has already begun and talks are also on with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

China is also building a similar regional climate centre on its side of the Himalayas, he said. Addressing a webinar on ‘Weather and Climate Services over Mountains Region’, Mohapatra said India has the eastern ghats, western ghats along the east and the west coast and the Myanmar hills in the northeast. Considering the size of Himalayas and its role in India’s hydrology, meteorology, disaster management, ecosystem and many other activities, the world has correctly recognised it as the ‘third pole of the world’, he noted.

As a part of the ecosystem, as a part of the land, ocean, atmosphere system, the mountains, including the Himalayas and all other hill ranges play a significant role, Mohapatra stressed. Being a data sparse region, the relative observational network is limited as compared to the plain ranges of the country, Mohapatra observed. He said there is a scope to improve further the physical understanding of various processes occurring in these mountains regions, their modelling and hence the forecasting and warning services.

“At the same time, we have to develop the climate applications scenarios, especially with respect to water sector, industries, tourism, agriculture, specifically in these mountains regions.

“We are planning to establish a regional climate centre for the mountains region and it will be providing advices not only to India but also to the entire region in the Himalayas,” he said.

The RCC is likely to come up in Delhi, Mohapatra later told the PTI. The RCC will provide weather-related services specially for the farmers and tribes residing there. He added that Himansh, the country’s remote and high altitude research centre, established in 2016, will also undertake weather research activities in the Himalayas. Mohapatra said a lot of initiatives have been taken by the Ministry of Earth Sciences and IMD for augmentation of observational network with deployment of doppler radars and automated weather stations and with the development of region specific numerical models and application activities with improvement in forecast activities and warning services. He said the disasters in the mountainous regions play a dominant role in deciding socio-economic activities.

Mohapatra said natural calamities in Himalayas like the earthquakes are well-recognised — the heavy rainfall leading to cloud bursts and also many other phenomena that affect the local agriculture, local industry, local bio-system, local lives. “We also have various types of disaster phenomenon in other hill ranges like western and eastern ghats. In the recent times, we all have witnessed that because of the monsoon rains, how the landslides, which have generally realised in the Himalayan ranges or the northeast states… how disastrous landslides have been realised in Karnataka and Kerala states,” Mohapatra said.

He added that similar landslides have taken place when cyclones have crossed Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Rare Himalayan Serow spotted in Spiti

Himalayan Serow, a goat antelope, was sighted and captured in a camera by the state wildlife wing for the first time in Spiti valley today.

byDipender Manta

Himalayan Serow, a goat antelope, was sighted and captured in a camera by the state wildlife wing for the first time in Spiti valley today.

The near-threatened Himalayan Serow had almost disappeared from the cold desert. It was today spotted at Hurling village in Spiti valley of Lahaul-Spiti district, much to the delight of wildlife officials. The officials have captured the movement of this rare animal in the camera near a stream where it was grazing. It fled soon after sensing human movement.

Himalayan Serow is included under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and its hunting is prohibited. It is also listed among the endangered species by the International Union for Conservation for Nature. An official said it was an extremely shy animal and its habitat was dense forests. Only in winter its sighting was possible when it migrated to lower elevations, he said.

Archana Sharma, Principal Chief Conservator, Wildlife Department, congratulated the officials and directed them to ensure the protection of this rare animal. She said Himalayan Serow was earlier spotted at Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu, and in Chamba district. She said the wildlife officials at Kaza had been asked to keep a tight vigil as hunting increased during winters when wild animals descended into lower regions due to heavy snow in higher reaches.

Indigenous no-state people

Indian-Origin Couple In UK Among 1st In World who Get Covid Vaccine

Hari Shukla from Tyne and Wear said he feels it is his duty to receive his first of the two-dose vaccine, a moment UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed as a “huge step forward”

London: An 87-year-old man and his 83-year-old wife from the north east of England on Tuesday became the first Indian-origin couple in the world to get a vaccine against COVID-19, after they got injected with their first of two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab at a hospital in Newcastle.
Dr Hari Shukla, a race relations campaigner based in Tyne and Wear, had been contacted by the National Health Service (NHS) based on the criteria set for the world’s first vaccine to receive regulatory approvals in the UK last week.

His wife, Ranjan, then volunteered for the jab as she also falls within the first phase of people aged 80 and over, care home workers as well as NHS workers at high risk eligible to receive the “life-saving jab”.

“Hari Shukla and his wife Ranjan have become the first two patients at Newcastle Hospitals – and two of the first people in the world – to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said.

They join 90-year-old Margaret “Maggie” Keenan from Coventry as the very first in the world to receive her shot, followed by 81-year-old William Shakespeare in Warwickshire as the second.

“I’m so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help,” said Shukla, who was born in Kenya and whose father was from Mumbai.

“Having been in contact with the NHS [National Health Service], I know how hard they all work and the greatest respect for them – they have a heart of gold and I am grateful for everything they have done to keep us safe during the pandemic,” he said.

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Shukla, who has been honoured with an MBE, OBE and CBE for his work as the Director of the Tyne and Wear Race Equality Council over the years, was notified by the NHS based on the criteria set by the UK”s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation as part of a phased rollout plan based on those at the highest risk of death from the deadly virus.

“Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country. I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout,” said British Prime Minister Prime Johnson.

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However, he struck a note of caution to warn that mass vaccination will take time and urged the public to remain “clear-eyed” and continue to follow the lockdown rules over the winter months ahead.

The NHS said it is undertaking the biggest and most highly anticipated immunisation campaign in history at 50 hospital hubs, with more starting vaccinations over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up after the first set of doses arrived from Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Belgium.

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“We will look back on today, V-day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who got teary eyed during television interviews on Tuesday as he declared he felt “proud to be British”.

Since the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine got the green light from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week, the NHS said its workers have been working around the clock to manage the large-scale logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine.

“Coronavirus is the greatest health challenge in NHS history, taking loved ones from us and disrupting every part of our lives,” said Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive.

“The deployment of this vaccine marks a decisive turning point in the battle with the pandemic. NHS vaccination programmes which have successfully helped overcome tuberculosis, polio, and smallpox, now turn their focus to coronavirus. NHS staff are proud to be leading the way as the first health service in the world to begin vaccination with this COVID jab,” he said.

The MHRA has stressed that the vaccine has been cleared for mass rollout only after “rigorous” safety tests despite the process being speeded up due to the urgency of finding an effective vaccine against a pandemic which has been raging around the world.

NHS national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, has warned that the roll out of a vaccine will be a “marathon” not a sprint.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -70C before being thawed out and can only be moved four times within that cold chain before being used. General Practitioners (GPs) and other primary care staff have also been put on standby to start delivering the jab on a phased basis.

Vaccination centres treating large numbers of patients in sporting venues and conference centres will subsequently start up when further supplies of vaccine come on stream, with a bulk of the rollout expected in the early part of the New Year.

International

China strengthens dual-use Nyingchi airbase close to India-Tibet border

Satellite images indicate that China has hastened the pace of upgradation of airports to include air defence and other specific requirements of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force. ina has been steadily upgrading its dual-use airports all along the India-Tibet border over the past decade. In the wake of the India-China standoff in eastern Ladakh, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has, however, increased the upgradation of airports to include air defence and other specific requirements of the air force, including accommodations.

Satellite images indicate that the speed of construction of these facilities has increased manifold after March 2020.

The Nyingchi airbase is among the seven Chinese military airbases which have shown increased activity in the past few months and Indian agencies are closely monitoring them.

India Today’s OSINT team, through the latest high-resolution satellite imagery, tracks the progress of construction at the dual-use airport of Nyingchi opposite India’s Tuting sector, barely 15 km from the Indian border.

Nyingchi, being largely a military town, attains importance as it is home to the two main – 52nd and 53rd – mountain brigades of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Tibet. The Nyingchi airport can serve the two brigades for supply and reinforcements and can be used effectively for switching of forces by transport aircraft.

The satellite imagery parsed by India Today’s OSINT team over the past two decades indicates that construction of the Nyingchi airport started in 2004 and was complete by July 2006.

The small airport with a 3 km-long airstrip is located along the Brahmaputra River and is very close to the Indian border.

The airport saw expansion of the apron and a new larger reception and lounge building besides the previous structures from 2014 to 2017.

After the Doklam standoff, by the end of 2017, China had planned to upgrade this dual-use airport to a more air force-oriented airbase.

Airstrip expansion and new taxiway
In 2020, hectic activity was observed at the airbase. Levelling and grading work for possibly a taxiway that can be used as a second airstrip had begun.

The airstrip has been expanded on the south-western end of the runway by 150 m and has more space on the north-eastern side for expansion.

Once expanded on either side, the runway of 60m width will be 3,500m long and will be able to support any major transport aircraft of the PLAAF inventory.

The new taxiway constructed on the western side of the runway is 45m wide and 3,000m long. In case of emergencies, it can also be used as a runway.

Apron expansion
The apron constructed in 2006 was only 140 m long and 140 m wide. It was expanded by almost 200 m in 2014.
The airport got a larger terminal building constructed during the Doklam standoff capable of handling four additional large aircraft.

The recent construction seen in satellite images indicates another expansion of the apron in 2020.

The apron has been expanded by almost 370 m in width and can easily accommodate seven large transporters, with a total handling capacity of almost 12 aircraft at a time.

New surface-to-air missile battery
An area of 620 m x 320 m was cleared early this year by felling forest cover and levelling the area, as reported earlier by India Today.

The construction seen in high-resolution satellite imagery now indicates that this area was cleared for a surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery.

The area has three radar ramps and six launch pads with a circular layout. The size of 160 m diameter of the layout suggests that it could be an HQ-6 SAM battery that is likely to be located here.

Previous spotting of HQ-16 in this area could also be another possibility that needs to be verified once deployment takes place.

The PLA’s Red Banner-6 or Hongqi-6 or HQ-6 is an indigenous short-range air defence missile system with 18 km range flying at Mach 1 speed, whereas the Red Banner-16 or Hongqi-16 or HQ-16 is a medium-range SAM system with 40-70 km range flying at Mach 3 speed.

New assorted buildings
A large number of new buildings for accommodating troops and other equipment have been created to the eastern side of the airstrip.

The infrastructure facilities saw additions during the Doklam standoff in 2017 when China built possible vehicle parks for armoured vehicles and to accommodate more troops. The construction is now complete and new buildings have come up this year.

There are 15 new garages constructed this year with two of them having high bays, indicating that these two will be used by SAM battery.

A large shopping complex has been created outside the airbase possibly catering to the needs of this military township, suggesting that it would be manned by the PLA rather than civil agencies like Haifa Mall.

Dam

Chinese company to build mega dam on downstream on its part of Brahmaputra

A dam at the Great Bend would raise fresh concerns considering its location just across the border from Arunachal Pradesh.

China’s media reported on Sunday that authorities have given the go-ahead for a Chinese hydropower company to construct the first downstream dam on the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river, or Yarlung Zangbo as it is known in Tibet, marking a new phase in China’s hydropower exploitation of the river with potential ramifications for India.

A report in the Chinese media said the State-owned hydropower company POWERCHINA had last month signed “a strategic cooperation agreement” with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government to “implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River” as part of the new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).

China in 2015 operationalised its first hydropower project at Zangmu in Tibet, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being developed, all on the upper and middle reaches of the river. The report said this will be the first time the downstream sections of the river will be tapped.

Yan Zhiyong, POWERCHINA’s chairman, told a conference of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering last week that “there is no parallel in history” and the downstream reaches of the river offered “a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry”, the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper reported.

The report did not mention the location of POWERCHINA’s planned downstream project, but quoted Mr. Yan as talking about the particular potential offered at the “Great Bend” of the Brahmaputra and at the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Medog county, where the river falls spectacularly over a 2,000 metre-drop and turns sharply to flow across the border into Arunachal Pradesh.

He said this 50-km section alone offered the potential of developing 70 million kWh “which equals more than three Three Gorges power stations”. He said “the 60-million kWh hydropower exploitation at the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River could provide 300 billion kWh of clean, renewable and zero-carbon electricity annually” and the project “will play a significant role in realising China’s goal of reaching a carbon emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060”.

“It is a project for national security, including water resources and domestic security,” he was quoted as saying.

It remains unclear whether technical feasibility studies for the downstream dams will be approved, as POWERCHINA is not the first hydropower company to push for ambitious dams downstream on the Zangbo.

Chinese hydropower groups have long campaigned to tap the “Great Bend”, but projects have so far not taken off over concerns over the technical feasibility in the steep Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon.

India has expressed concerns to China over the four dams on the upper and middle reaches, though Indian officials have said the dams are not likely to impact the quantity of the Brahmaputra’s flows in India greatly because they are only storing water for power generation and the Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows with an estimated 35% of its basin is in India.

A dam at the Great Bend, if approved, would raise fresh concerns considering its location downstream and just across the border from Arunachal Pradesh

Health

China’s vaccines may have ‘appeal’ in developing countries, economist says


An exhibitor shows inactivated COVID-19 vaccine candidate from China National Biotec Group of Sinopharm Group during the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services at the Beijing Olympic Park on September 5, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Getty Images —- Developing countries may have face a long wait if they want a vaccine developed in the West, but there’s always the option of turning to China, says an economist from DBS.
Beijing’s willingness to provide vaccines to developing countries adds to the appeal of the China’s vaccines, said Taimur Baig of DBS Group Research.
China has not released much data on the efficacy of its home-grown vaccines and not a lot of scientific information about them is readily available.

By Han Haidan | China News Service —
SINGAPORE – Developing countries may face a long wait if they want a vaccine made in the West, but there’s always the option of turning to China , says an economist from DBS.

“Considering the billions of doses needed, and the risk [of] falling at the back of a very long line for Western vaccines, the appeal of the Chinese vaccines is apparent,” Taimur Baig, chief economist and managing director at DBS Group Research, said in a note.

There will be a rush to procure Western vaccines when they’re approved by regulators, and poorer countries may find them unaffordable.

According to Citi, developed countries have collectively secured 85% of total bilateral pre-orders of coronavirus vaccines. Countries such as the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan and those in the European Union have ordered supplies that exceed their populations, Citi said.

China has five home-grown vaccine candidates in phase three trials, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That’s usually the last step before government regulators vet the vaccine for approval.

Sinopharm, or China National Pharmaceutical Group, reportedly submitted an application to Chinese authorities last week seeking approval. The firm has two vaccine candidates, but it’s unclear if both are being considered for regulatory approval.

Beijing has already promised to help countries including Cambodia and Malaysia.N

‘Unconventional’ approach
Based on late-stage trials, Moderna as well as Pfizer-BioNTech announced this month that their vaccine candidates are more than 90% effective against Covid-19.

China has not released much data on the efficacy of its home-grown vaccines, and little scientific information about them is readily available. The state-controlled Global Times this month published a story touting China’s vaccines as “very effective.”

According to Reuters, the country has allowed three vaccines to be given to limited groups under an emergency use program. Nearly one million people have received an experimental vaccine developed by Sinopharm, Reuters reported, citing the company.

Such an approach is “unconventional,” said Dale Fisher, a professor in the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

“It is normal to wait for an analysis of phase three trials before ramping up a vaccine program through emergency use authorization,” said Fisher, who is also chair of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

Fisher told CNBC in an email that said such a move would be “unacceptable” in the West, but could fast track learning about the virus if there is good surveillance of those vaccinated.

“They will obtain a lot of data doing it this way, but it can be difficult to interpret in the absence of controls,” he added.

Phase 3 trials are best at determining the efficacy of the vaccine and the duration of its effectiveness, he said.

‘Vaccine diplomacy’
Still, Baig of DBS said lower costs and Chinese willingness to provide vaccines add their appeal.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies have relied on older methods than Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, which use messenger RNA technology. The latter’s production process is more capital-intensive, and the vaccines need to be stored at extremely low temperatures, said Baig.

Messenger RNA technology, known as mRNA for short, uses genetic material to trigger the body’s own infection-fighting process.

“Hence, [Chinese vaccines] are likely to be cost competitive and logistically easier to handle,” he said.

Additionally, China has signed agreements to test and produce vaccines in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Mexico.

Beijing also joined Covax, a vaccine alliance backed by the World Health Organization, which seeks to grant equal access to all participating countries when a vaccine is developed. The goal is to provide a lifeline to lower-income countries who would not have been able to afford these vaccines otherwise.

Baig said China needs a “big diplomatic, image-boosting win” in 2021. That could include debt-rollover or partial forgiveness for poor countries.

“But a far wider-reaching move would be to aggressively produce and deliver vaccines worldwide,” he said, adding that the bank expects a lot of “vaccine diplomacy” from China next year .

— CNBC’s Yen Nee Lee contributed to this report.

Environment, Nature

Bird Watching, Cherry Blossoms: PM Modi On Connect With Nature

PM Modi advised everyone to connect with bird watching as well and added that he also recently spent time with birds in Gujarat’s Kevadia.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 71st radio programme Mann ki Baat today spoke about how our lives have taken a drastic turn due to the coronavirus pandemic but has brought us closer to nature. He said the pandemic has given us an opportunity to experience nature in a “new manner”.
PM Modi spoke about cherry blossoms first. As we step into winter, the prime minister said, the internet is abound with photos of beautiful cherry blossoms, found distinctly in Japan. However, the photos that have caught the attention of many are not from Japan, the PM adds.

“These are pictures of Shillong of our Meghalaya. These cherry blossoms have further enhanced the beauty of Meghalaya,” PM Modi said.

PM Modi said that our perspective in observing nature has also undergone a change.

November 12 marked the 125th birth anniversary of renowned ornithologist Dr Salim Ali also known as the “Birdman of India”. Praising Dr Ali highly for his illustrious life and career, PM Modi said his work attracted a large number of bird watchers to India.

“I have always been an ardent admirer of people who are fond of bird watching. With utmost patience, for hours together from morn to dusk, they can do bird watching, enjoying the scenic beauty of nature; they also keep passing on the knowledge gained to us,” PM Modi said.

He advised everyone to connect with bird watching as well and added that he also recently spent time with birds in Gujarat’s Kevadia.

The Prime Minister had visited Geodesic Aviary Dome in Kevadia late in October and shared a number of photos from the visit.

He added that time spent among birds will bring people closer to nature.

“It will also inspire you towards the environment,” PM Modi added.(NDTV)

International

Beijing takes its South China Sea strategy to the Himalayas

The construction, recorded by satellite photos, followed a playbook China has used for years. It has brushed aside neighbours’ claims of sovereignty to cement its position in territorial disputes by unilaterally changing the facts on the ground.
By New York Times
,Just in time for its National Day in October, China completed construction of a new village high in the mountains where the Chinese region of Tibet meets the kingdom of Bhutan. A hundred people moved into two dozen new homes beside the Torsa River and celebrated the holiday by raising China’s flag and singing the national anthem.

“Each of us is a coordinate of the great motherland,” a border guard was quoted as saying by an official state news agency, China Tibetan News.

The problem is, these new “coordinates” are more than a mile inside what Bhutan considers its territory.
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The construction, documented in satellite photos, followed a playbook China has used for years. It has brushed aside neighbours’ claims of sovereignty to cement its position in territorial disputes by unilaterally changing the facts on the ground.

It used the same tactics in the South China Sea, where it fortified and armed shoals claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines, despite promising the United States not to do so.

This year, China’s military built up forces in the Himalayas and crossed into territory that India claimed was on its side of the de facto border. That led to China’s bloodiest clash in decades, leaving at least 21 Indian soldiers dead, along with an unknown number of Chinese troops. The violence badly soured relations that had been steadily improving.

Even when challenged, China’s territorial grabs are difficult to reverse short of the use of force, as the Indian government has learned. Since the dispute at the border, Chinese troops have remained camped in areas that India once controlled.

“In the end, it reflects the consolidation of China’s control over the area it claims,” said M. Taylor Fravel, director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on China’s military.

Over the past year, China has moved aggressively against many of its neighbours, seemingly with little regard for diplomatic or geopolitical fallout. Its actions reflect the ambition of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to assert the country’s territorial claims, economic interests and strategic needs around the world.

Xi often cites China’s historical grievances against foreign encroachment and colonisation, using its past to justify its aggressive strategic activities.

The construction of the Himalayan village suggests that China has extended a broader campaign to fortify its southern flanks to include Bhutan, a Buddhist nation of 800,000 people that popularised the concept of “gross national happiness.”

As the construction was underway on that long-disputed border, China added a new claim this summer to nearly 300 square miles of territory in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, a preserve on the other side of Bhutan from where the village was being built.

In pushing its boundaries, China appears to have brushed aside decades of quiet and ultimately fruitless talks to finalize the two countries’ border. A 25th round of talks this year was postponed because of the coronavirus.

“The Chinese obviously seem to be losing patience,” Tenzing Lamsang, editor of the newspaper The Bhutanese and president of the Media Association of Bhutan, wrote on Twitter.

The dispute stems from different interpretations of a treaty signed in 1890 by two now-defunct imperial powers, Britain as India’s colonial ruler and the Qing dynasty in China.

The new village is near the Doklam plateau, where the borders of China, India and Bhutan converge. The plateau was the site of a 73-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017 that began over the construction of a road into Bhutanese territory. India, which is obliged to defend Bhutan under a long-standing security pact, pushed troops forward to halt the Chinese work.

Bhutan, which in recent years has felt squeezed between the two giants, poses no military threat to China. For China, control of the area would give its forces a strategic position near a narrow strip of land in India called the Siliguri Corridor. That area, which Indian military strategists also call the Chicken Neck, connects the bulk of India to its easternmost provinces bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

Lamsang noted that Bhutan has long had to defer to India’s security interests. In its repeated talks with the Chinese, Bhutan has so far been unwilling to make any territorial concessions along the western and central borders. “Given Bhutan’s refusal to concede in the talks or even agree to compromises by China we are now paying a price,” Lamsang wrote.

Neither the Bhutanese nor the Chinese foreign ministry responded to requests for comment.

Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper that often echoes a hawkish view among Chinese officials, ridiculed the claims that the newly built village was in Bhutan, blaming India for stoking tensions with China’s southern neighbours. A day later, the newspaper warned against “looming foreign forces backing the China-bashing campaign across the Himalayas.”

The exact location of the new village, called Pangda, emerged in a series of satellite images published recently by Maxar Technologies, a company based in Colorado. They showed that construction began late last year and was completed, it seems, not long before Oct. 1 — China’s National Day. China’s version of the border lies south of the village.

The images also showed extensive new road-building and the construction of what seem to be military storage bunkers, according to a Maxar spokesman, Stephen Wood. The bunkers are in undisputed Chinese territory, though, indicating that China has sought to build up its military presence along much of the Himalayan border area. The images of China’s new construction were earlier reported by NDTV, a broadcaster in India.

China has made no secret of the construction, as evidenced by several state media reports on the village. One recounted an inauguration ceremony Oct. 18 that was attended by senior officials from Shanghai, including Yu Shaoliang, deputy secretary of the city’s Communist Party committee.

In China, richer provinces often sponsor development projects in poorer regions, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang. China absorbed Tibet beginning in 1950, with the new communist government seeking to reassert sovereignty over the Tibetan people and territory that had been lost after the fall of the Qing dynasty. Although the Chinese called its annexation the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet,” many Tibetans are unhappy with Chinese rule.

Fravel of MIT said that with its recent construction, China appeared to have backed away from potential compromises that it floated in earlier rounds of border talks with Bhutan, in which it offered to trade swathes of territory.

“Previous compromise ideas from the 1990s may no longer be on the table,” he said, “as China may be unwilling or unlikely to withdraw from territory where it has erected such infrastructure.”

Agriculture

India police use tear gas, water cannon to stop farmers’ march

Thousands of protesting farmers scuffled with police during a march against new laws, which they fear will benefit corporations.

A police officer fires tear gas to stop farmers opposing the newly passed farm bills from entering the national capital New Delhi at Singhu border [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]
A police officer fires tear gas to stop farmers opposing the newly passed farm bills from entering the national capital New Delhi at Singhu border [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]
27 Nov 2020
Police in India have fired several rounds of tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of farmers on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi to prevent the protest march from entering the city centre.

Protesting Indian farmers scuffled with police on Friday during a march to the capital, against new laws, which will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and enter into a contract with private companies.

But farmers demand the bills, passed by India’s parliament in September, be scrapped fearing the laws will leave them vulnerable to big corporates.

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Television footage showed plumes of smoke and some people throwing stones at police as thousands pressed against barricades, waving flags and sticks. Some rode tractors near the barriers.

Farmer leader Sukhdev Singh told Al Jazeera over the phone from Narwana, Haryana, they will continue marching towards the national capital no matter what.

“If the government thinks that it is going to stop us by using force or blocking the roads, that is not going to happen. We will reach Delhi no matter how much time it takes,” he said.

“This government doesn’t care about the farmers. It’s trying to destroy us and help big corporates.”

“We don’t want to jam the roads. We just want to march to Delhi but it’s the government which is resorting to violence and blocking roads and causing inconvenience to people.”

India farmers’ protest
Flames emerge from tear gas released by the police to stop farmers from entering New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]
Another protesting farmer Sukrampal Dhayana said the police tried to stop them with force, barricades and water cannon, but farmers have “decided to stay the course to make sure the government listens to the voice of millions of farmers”.
Suburban train services into New Delhi were suspended, Delhi Metro said in a post on Twitter, in a bid to stop the protesters from riding the trains.

Senior journalist P Sainath slammed the government’s decision to use security forces against farmers.

“It’s barbarism. Using the border security force against your own people,” said Sainath, the founding editor of People’s Archive of Rural India, an online portal focusing on rural issues.

The clashes come a day after police in New Delhi’s neighbouring state of Haryana, governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the farmers who tried to march towards the capital.

The farmers, most of them from the northern state of Punjab, were able to break the police blockade and marched to the New Delhi border on Thursday, but they are not being allowed to cross into the capital.

Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from New Delhi, said that police are citing the record high number of coronavirus cases in not giving permission to protest organisers, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of farmers from neighbouring states trying to reach Delhi for the second day.

“We’ve seen more extraordinary photos today of farmers using tractors to remove trucks, which police are using as barricades.

“They are determined because they want the government to repeal laws they say take away guarantees prices around their produce and leave them at the mercy of private investors. This is a huge issue in India.”

Earlier a police request to use stadiums as temporary jails was rejected by the city authorities, according to local media.

India farmers’ protest
People move away from tear gas released by the police at Singhu border [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]
Under the laws Modi called a watershed for agriculture, farmers are free to sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers, instead of at government-regulated wholesale markets where farmers are assured of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) – the price at which the government buys farm produce.

The laws also allow farmers to enter into a contract with private companies in a step the government hopes will bring private sector investments in the sector that has struggled for years.

Many farmer organisations and trade unions oppose the new law, saying it would leave small growers with little bargaining power. They also say they fear the government will eventually withdraw price support (MSP) for wheat and rice.

The government says there is no plan to eliminate the wholesale markets.

Agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of India’s GDP but employs nearly 60 percent of its population.

The government says the new laws are aimed at making the vast agriculture sector more efficient by freeing up farmers who want to sell directly to big retailers such as Walmart.

Critics, however, say the changes will end the purchase of grains at prices guaranteed by the government and leave farmers vulnerable to the market.

“They rushed through the farm bills and the labour bills. There was absolutely no reason to focus on the farm and labour bills at this time when you got a pandemic,” Sainath told Al Jazeera.

“They [government] did it because they thought this is the time to do it and these people [farmers] cannot organise and protest and that is how they pushed them through the parliament.”

The governing BJP party has accused the opposition Congress party, which governs Punjab state, of misleading the farmers.

“The opposition parties particularly the Congress party is misleading farmers about the laws. They are saying that MSP will be abolished which is not true, MSP is already existing even after the legislation was passed by the parliament,” Syed Zafar Islam, the BJP Spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“We took the farmers into confidence before passing the laws.”

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told ANI, a Reuters affiliate, that he had already invited farm leaders for talks next week.

Farmers in several regions of India, particularly in Punjab and Maharashtra state, have been facing a crisis in recent decades with a cycle of drought, failed crops and indebtedness.

In 2019 alone, 10,281 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide, according to government data.

India farmers’ protest
Police have sought permission from the Delhi government to use stadiums as temporary jails as it appears to thwart farmers’ march [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]