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Eleven reasons why India’s 7.4% GDP growth is simply not believable

By Vivek Kaul

Data released by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation shows that India’s gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the size of the economy, grew by 7.4% during the period between July to September 2015. These are fantastic numbers in a world where real economic growth is slowing down. Even China is finding it tough to grow at rates that it did in the past.

Where's the spark coming from? / ReutersWhere's the spark coming from? / Reuters

Where’s the spark coming from? Reuters

So what is driving India’s economy? Manufacturing grew by a 9.3%. Trade, hotel, transport, communication & services related to broadcasting grew by 10.6%. And financial, insurance, real estate and professional services grew by 9.7%. These three segments which formed 62.6% of the total economy between July to September 2014, helped the economy grow by 7.4%. Agricultural, forestry and fishing grew by just 2.2%.

The question is how believable is this growth of 7.4%? The short answer is—not very. It is worth mentioning here that GDP is ultimately a theoretical construct. Most real economic numbers suggest otherwise.

Let’s take a look at them one by one.

1) Exports have been falling eleven months in a row. In fact, between April and October 2015, exports have fallen by 17.6% to $154.29 billion, in comparison to the same period last year. Between April and October 2014, the exports had stood at $187.29 billion. A greater than 7% economic growth rate with falling exports is a little difficult to believe.

2) Corporate profitability continues to remain subdued. As a recent news-report in the Business Standard points out regarding the profitability for the period July to September 2015: “It was another muted quarter for India Inc, with aggregate profit growth at both the operating and net level growing at only under one per cent over a year-ago period. The sample is of 2,300 companies…The numbers are worse for the benchmark indices such as the Nifty, where operating and net profit are down between three-five per cent over the year-ago quarter, with aggregate numbers below expectations.”

3) Passenger vehicles sales, another good measure of economic recovery, have been subdued through most of this financial year, though there has been some recovery in October 2015, which doesn’t come under the July to September 2015 period, for which the economic growth number has been reported. Between September 2015 and September 2014, passenger vehicles sales went up by only 3.85%.

4) Motorcycle sales, a very good economic indicator in the Indian context, have fallen for most of the financial year, only to have recovered a little in October due to festival season sales. It remains to be seen whether the sales can be sustained for November 2015. Data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam) points out that motorcycle sales during the first six months of the year (April to September 2015) were down by 4.06% to 5.36 million units, in comparison to the same period last year.

5) Tractor sales have been falling for thirteen months in a row. Data from the Tractor Manufacturers Association shows that sales have fallen by 20% during the first six months of this financial year (i.e. April to September 2015). This is a clear example of weak agricultural growth.

6) The loan growth of banks continues to remain subdued. The sectoral deployment of credit data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) shows that bank loans grew by 8.4% between September 2014 and September 2015. In fact, they grew by an even slower 8.1% between October 2014 and October 2015.

7) Along with this, the bad loans of banks continue to pile up. As a recent report in The Indian Express points out: “Already burdened by bad loans, 37 banks, led by public sector ones, have reported a 26.8 per cent rise in non-performing assets (NPAs) over the 12-month period ending September this year.”

The overall non-performing assets of banks as of September 2015 stood at Rs 3,36,685 crore. This was an increase of Rs 71,000 crore, according to numbers put together by credit rating firm CARE.

8) The number of stalled industrial projects went up during the period July to September 2015. As a recent research note by Morgan Stanley points out: “The stock of stalled projects climbed in the September quarter, while existing capacity is being underutilized. This has, not surprisingly, lowered interest in greenfield investments, with industrial credit loan growth stagnating in single-digits.” The bulk of the stalled projects belong to the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. Further, there is a good anecdotal evidence to suggest that small and medium enterprises, a major source of job growth, continue to struggle.

9) The Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan recently pointed out that factories were running 30% below capacity as of now. A research report by DBS points out that the capacity utilisation rate was at 80% in 2011-2012. This suggests a significant slack in the economy. How is manufacturing then growing by 9%, as suggested by the data released by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation?

10) The real estate sector, a major employer of people, continues to be in the doldrums, with new launches coming down and the number of unsold homes going up.

11) Further, for two years in a row India has had a deficient monsoon. In its end of season report, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the nation’s weather forecaster, stated that “rainfall over the country as a whole was 86% of its long period average (LPA). Thus years 2014 & 2015 was the fourth case of two consecutive all India deficient monsoon years during the last 115 years.”

IMD uses rainfall data for the last 50 years to come up with the long period average. If the rainfall is between 96% and 104% of the 50 year average, then it is categorised as normal. If it is between 90% and 96% of the 50 year average is categorised as below-normal. And anything below 90% is categorised as deficient.

If something has happened only four times in 115 years, there is clearly reason to worry, given that nearly half of India’s population is dependent on agriculture. Also, this has clearly slowed down consumer demand in much of rural India.

On the positive side a lot has been written on the 36% jump in indirect tax collections. This has been offered as an example of a revival in economic activity. Nevertheless, much of this huge jump has come from the government increasing the excise duty on petrol and diesel and capturing much of the fall in oil prices. Excise duty collections have jumped by 68.6% during the course of this financial year.

In fact as a recent ministry of finance press release points out: “These collections reflect in part increase due to additional measures taken by the Government from time to time, including the excise increases on diesel and petrol, the increase in clean energy cess, the withdrawal of exemptions for motor vehicles, capital goods and consumer durables, and from June 2015, the increase in Service Tax rates from 12.36% to 14%. However, stripped of all these additional measures, indirect tax collections increased by 11.6% during April-October 2015 as compared to April-October 2014.”

As the Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian recently said in an interview: “Even if you take away all the new things, new taxes have been added, that number[indirect taxes number] is growing at a robust about 11.5 -12% and if that number is right, that means that the underlined economy is recovering.”

There are few other data points on the positive side. The commercial vehicle sales have been robust during the first six months of the financial year. At the same time consumption of petroleum products has also gone up by 8.5% between April and September 2015.

While the underlying economy might be recovering, it is very difficult to believe that it is growing at 7.4%. In fact, Subramanian and Rajan suggested the same in a very roundabout sort of way in a recent joint interview to a television channel.

To conclude, once you take all the factors I have listed above into account, the economic growth (or GDP growth) number of 7.4%, doesn’t look believable.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

To speed up growth, Modi needs to show Indians more reasons to save

MUMBAI: On paper, India’s households have more reason than ever to save. But convincing them that the central bank can keep inflation low is proving difficult, hindering the country’s ambitious growth plans.

PM Narendra Modi. PTIPM Narendra Modi. PTI

PM Narendra Modi. PTI

That raises the stakes for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government, which wants to channel more savings into investments that can generate both growth and jobs, to boost chances of winning a second term after its landslide victory in 2014.

Real interest rates have been positive for over a year, ending almost a decade of negative rates, during which fast-rising prices ate away at whatever savers earned on deposits, and hardened their preference to hold gold and property.

Now inflation is around record lows and gold and property prices are languishing.

But a lack of confidence that inflation will stay muted, combined with lacklustre income growth, means India’s overall savings growth rates are at the weakest level in years, following five years of decline.

“If the government really wants to propel savings in the economy, it would be the best time to roll out more instruments like the tax free bonds… or to increase the investment limit into tax-free provident funds,” said Deepti Taneja, a 32-year-old New Delhi college professor.

Making it easier for some 18 million state and local government employees, like Taneja, to save more, the government pay commission, which reviews public sector salaries every few years, has recommended an increase of several billion dollars.

“We hope at least to some extent this money from the pay commission will come as savings into the banking sector and not go towards physical assets,” a senior policymaker said.

But, people still want better incentives to make financial investments.

“I am really confused about what will I do with these surplus funds once they start crediting it to my salary, because most of the financial instruments presently offered by the government provide little tax exemption,” said Taneja, a mother of two.

If not enough of the rise in incomes goes towards savings it could lead to other problems for the economy.

“The government has to raise savings. It is a virtuous cycle that kicks in when savings goes up, investment goes up and GDP grows,” said D.K. Joshi, chief economist at CRISIL, a leading credit rating agency, which also advises on risk and policy.

“If on the other hand your investment goes up and savings doesn’t, your current account deficit gets bloated.”

There is work to do. The World Bank estimates the gross savings rate – corporate, government and domestic savings – dipped below 30 percent in 2014 for the first time in over a decade.

Bank deposits, a proxy for financial investments by India’s conservative households, grew just 10.6 percent in the September quarter. That is well below expected capacity, which some analysts put at 1.5 times economic growth: closer to 15 percent.

SAVE, SAVE, SAVE

Government initiatives to pull more cash out from under India’s mattresses have had little success.

A recent gold deposit scheme to monetise more of the 20,000 tonnes of gold Indians have hoarded has attracted just 400 grammes.

Another plan to raise 400 billion rupees ($6 billion) through tax-free infrastructure bonds was announced in this year’s budget, but the specifics are yet to be finalized.

New Delhi still hopes higher incomes, lower inflation and a push to create more than 190 million new bank accounts will boost gross savings back above 30 percent, but it is unlikely to hit the peak savings rate of over 36 percent soon.

But there are some encouraging signs that Indians are becoming more interested in financial investments: equity mutual funds have seen inflows of Rs 79,850 crore so far this year.

But overall equity participation in India remains paltry. Less than 2 percent of Indians hold shares, compared to 30 percent of Koreans and 10 percent of Chinese.

The last time India boosted pay and allowances for government officials in 2008, the household savings rate jumped to 25.2 percent from 23.6 percent.

That rate has since dropped closer to 18 percent, much of it still flowing into gold and property.

But if even 16.5 percent of the newly raised wages and pensions for the public sector flows into financial savings – a target set by the current five-year plan to 2017 – then close to $14 billion in new cash could be pumped into the system.

That would be more than double the amount that can be expected at the current savings rate, and it would be enough to cover almost 5 percent of planned government spending this fiscal year.

REUTERS

Winter Session: Failure to pass GST will cost India dear; BJP shouldn’t let that happen

Parliament’s Winter Session, which started today (Thursday) and follows a wasted monsoon session, is crucial not just for the NDA government but for Narendra Modi himself to reaffirm his reform intent to the world.

If Modi fails to deliver in this session that would send a horribly wrong signal to the world on India’s prospects to advance on the reform front.

The House will get down to actual business only on Monday with the first two days dedicated to discuss constitution. The Congress-led opposition is likely to do what any opposition in India does best — try creating obstructions to the incumbents to score brownie points by winning key legislations.

The BJP can’t complain if the Congress takes the obstructionist path because the BJP too had done no different in the past when it was in the opposition, even on the critical GST Bill.

PM Narendra Modi. PTIPM Narendra Modi. PTI

PM Narendra Modi. PTI

This time around, the BJP’s motormouths and some of Modi’s ministerial colleagues have given ample ammunition to Congress-led opposition to do a repeat of Monsoon-session theatrics. For sure, the entire issue on ‘intolerance’ will play out in full force, with the Congress likely to raise issues like murder of free-thinkers and attacks on minorities (read beef killings) and controversial comments by BJP ministers.

The only way the BJP can avoid an intolerance wash-out is if Modi himself takes the lead and makes the government’s stance clear and this is precisely what the Congress has been demanding. If the BJP tries to play down the issue and not address it, a replay of Monsoon session is well on the cards.

There are other issues too, where the opposition will also try to corner the government such as price rise of essential food items, mainly pulses.

The BJP’s Bihar defeat, which ended Modi’s political invincibility, would give more teeth to the Congress-led opposition to face the BJP, compared with the Monsoon-session.

GST – a political and economic challenge

If the GST Bill doesn’t get passed in the Winter Session, the government will miss the 1 April roll-out date.

For the outside world, where Modi has hard-sold the India story, the passage of key reform Bills in the Winter Session is all that matters. Particularly so, since the Land Bill is almost off the table for now with the power to decide on land acquisition now resting with the state governments.

If the Modi government can make GST happen, it will be seen as a big victory of this government by the investor community and the biggest reform India has witnessed in a decade. The GST will subsume several different taxes into one and will significantly improve the tax revenues over a period of time.

Economists estimate up to 2 percent addition to the country’s GDP when GST improves tax revenues.

Its passage can silence Modi’s critics who have cited absence of major reforms, except a few incremental steps and FDI liberalisation. This will also give ample time to the NDA government to work on rest of the reform agenda, such as Land and labour reforms.

Tackling Congress

The Congress party has been demanding certain changes in the GST Bill, but they do not seem to be in a mood to block the it if the BJP is ready to address their concerns and arrive at a mutually agreeable formula. This is partly because Congress realises that beyond a point, opposing GST will give them the tag of a reform-spoiler, which wouldn’t do well for the party in the run up to a series of state elections and finally, the 2019 general elections.

This is where the opportunity lies for the BJP if it really wants to push the GST Bill and Modi should use it to his advantage. The Congress has mainly sought a few changes in the GST Bill.

First, it wants to cap the GST rate at 18 per cent. Second, it doesn’t want the 1 per cent tax on inter-state sales and the third it wants inclusion of tobacco, alcohol and electricity in GST.

Finally, the party has sought a dispute resolution mechanism to be included in the amendments and not left for the GST council to decide later. All these points are valid and genuine issues, which the government should consider to reach a consensus path. A GST rate, too high, would hurt consumer and services states and a rate too low too wouldn’t be acceptable. A rate of 18 percent would be a safe-middle path.

A final picture on the rate-structure is yet to emerge since a panel, headed by chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian will submit its report on the revenue-neutral rate only in the first week of December. The point of contention then would be whether to include the cap of 18 percent in the constitutional amendment, as the Congress wants it, or leave to the GST council, but not something which is insoluble.

The demand of the Congress to remove 1 percent inter-state sales tax fully makes sense since additional levy can dilute the very basic character of a uniform tax regime, something former finance minister, P Chidambaram has pointed out. Such an additional levy will take away the character of GST as a destination-based tax.

Speaking at an event in Bangalore, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, repeated that his party is all for GST provided the Modi government doesn’t show off its majoritarian approach to opposition and discuss issues to resolve the differences on GST.

The BJP should use this commitment to its advantage and pass the onus of getting the Bill through on the Congress, accommodating its own demands (which are genuine). This will also help the BJP to get the Congress-ruled states on the GST board, which is also crucial at next stage of implementation.

If the BJP wins the GST battle, that would help Modi restore his fast losing image as India’s reforms agent and set the stage for next phase of high economic growth. If Modi fails to build a consensus and winter turns a repeat of monsoon, Modi will face even tougher days ahead.

More critically, it will send a bad signal to the global investors about India’s reform course and thus future investment prospects. As global rating agency, Moody’s Investors Service warned on Wednesday, there are clear potential headwinds looming over India from a loss of reform momentum.

India’s sales tax should be below 20 pct – Congress party | Reuters

NEW DELHI India’s proposed sales tax should be set at less than 20 percent, the opposition Congress party said on Thursday, signalling a willingness to compromise as long as the government takes into account its concerns.

The comments by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma came as parliament opened its winter session, with a proposed goods and services tax (GST) topping the priorities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government.

“The government should come up with structured proposals on GST,” Sharma, chief tax negotiator for Congress and its deputy leader in the upper house, told Reuters.

Congress first proposed the tax when it was in government, but political hostilities since Modi’s general election triumph 18 months ago have stalled the measure. It would is intended to create a single market and boost commerce in India’s $2 trillion economy.

Now, after a defeat for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar state elections earlier this month and criticism of Congress for paralysing parliament, the two sides appear to be inching toward a compromise.

Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said he was hopeful a consensus will now be reached with the government.

Asked whether he thought the bill would be passed in the current session, Tharoor said: “It will be rash to predict anything in the political environment … but having said that, on balance I would think so.”

The bill has passed the lower house of parliament but has been blocked in the upper house, where Modi’s coalition lacks a majority.

Congress would like to cap the rate of GST at less than 20 percent, scrap a proposed state levy and create an independent mechanism to resolve disputes on revenue sharing between states.

The government is trying to win over small regional parties to build the two-thirds majority required to pass a key constitutional enabling amendment. It needs to bring Congress round to be sure it can pass.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in a television interview on Wednesday night that the three demands by Congress had not been included in its original GST bill.

“GST was not our idea – it was a Congress idea, but it’s a good idea,” Jaitley told the NDTV news channel. “I hope the Congress sticks to the good it proposed rather than flaw it.”

(Additional reporting by Paritosh Bansal and Aditya Kalra; Editing by Larry King)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Over 300 projects pending with railways, says NITI Aayog’s transport adviser

New Delhi: The Railways’ target of doubling of 12,000 km of existing corridors in the next five years, has been termed as “aggressive” by the transport advisor, who also said that more than 300 projects are still pending with it due to lack of resources and other constraints.

Transport Advisor in Niti Ayog, Manoj Singh said the track record of Railways has “not been very impressive” and multiple-gauging of 12,000 km of corridor will be challenging.

Pending projects in Railways. AFPPending projects in Railways. AFP

Pending projects in Railways. AFP

“12,000 kms of doubling in the next five years is very aggressive. They have not done it before. Railways has done only 3,500 kms in the past five years. So, against their historical record, it is aggressive. Also, in the sense of huge projects that they still have to complete,” he said.

Singh was speaking at an event during the ‘Urban Mobility India Expo 2015’ in New Delhi.

He said there are more than 300 projects that are pending with the Railways due to various reasons.

“Many projects have lacked behind schedule due to lack of resources. More than 300 projects including that of new line, doubling and gauge converging are pending,” he said.

Finding sufficient resources for projects and their timely execution are the two key challenges the railways has to deal with, he said.

“The resource requirement is mammoth. Around (Rs) 3 lakh crore is required for the pending projects. Another (Rs) 1 lakh crore is needed for the capacity expansion by doubling the corridors. So, total (Rs) 4 lakh crore is required, though Railway is confident of mobilizing it,” Singh said.

Singh said apart from the financial constraints, Railways has all the expertise to deliver the projects.

“There are a large number of Railway engineers working on major projects like the Konkan project, metro and the dedicated freight corridors. It has the technical expertise to deliver,” he said.

PTI

Seventh pay panel questions sole right of IAS over top posts, says 11 other services to be empanelled

The Seventh Pay Commission has handed a financial bonanza to Central government employees and sent a strong message to dismantle the present hierarchy that is heavily loaded on the side of seniority over performance.

The report says “Civil servants today need to be focused on outcomes, not processes, and have to be more accountable for delivery. They have to be agents of change and to this end need to be more agile, more technically savvy and to be able to ensure the economic and public service reforms that are essential.”

A peon’s starting salary has gone up by 2.54 times to Rs 18,000 per month and topmost bureaucrat, the cabinet secretary would now draw Rs 2.5 lakh per month plus other perks costing a total of Rs 1,02,000 crore to the exchequer. But there are reasons for the most coveted of the All India Services, officers from Indian Administrative Services (IAS) to read the report carefully because it recommends a tectonic shift in the way the higher bureaucracy functioned.

The Chairman of the Seventh Pay Commission, Justice A.K. Mathur submitted its report to the Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting, Shri Arun Jaitley, in New Delhi on 19 November 2015. Image courtesy PIBThe Chairman of the Seventh Pay Commission, Justice A.K. Mathur submitted its report to the Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting, Shri Arun Jaitley, in New Delhi on 19 November 2015. Image courtesy PIB

The Chairman of the Seventh Pay Commission, Justice A.K. Mathur submitted its report to the Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting, Shri Arun Jaitley, in New Delhi on 19 November 2015. Image courtesy PIB

Dismantling of superiority in the officialdom has form long been demand of officers drawn from non-IAS officers. The pay panel though does not say that in as many words but talks about need for a paradigm shift.

The report says “Civil servants today need to be focused on outcomes, not processes, and have to be more accountable for delivery. They have to be agents of change and to this end need to be more agile, more technically savvy and to be able to ensure the economic and public service reforms that are essential.”

The chairman of Seventh Pay Commission justice Ashok Mathur and member Rathin Roy suggest that in the present scenario, it is keenly felt that there needs to be a paradigm shift and the methodology that has been adopted in the past, namely of a seniority driven approach within the various services, has to be revisited. With the role of government in development and in making the country a market driven, investor friendly economy, key functionaries who should be evolving policy and driving the development process should be ones who have the requisite domain knowledge and sufficient experience in the departments and areas that they are required to head.

“In this context, that the service related claims for any top position are not relevant anymore, and what is important is that the right person is selected for every job. The analysis and the recommendations in the paragraphs that follow reflect this approach,” they say.

The approach suggested by this committee was that the skills and background of officers be carefully matched to the requirements of particular positions, while not confining individual officers to narrowly defined tasks or sectors. It was recommended that eleven domains (other than IAS) be identified and as part of the empanelment process at joint secretary and additional secretary levels each officer’s domain expertise be specifically identified.

Given the complexities of modern day governance, the existing system of generalists (read IAS) manning senior policy making positions and shifting from one field to another in short spans of time, is considered not just outmoded but inimical to effective policy making.

Justice Mathur writes in his concluding note “that the main cause for resentment among services is that over a period of time IAS has arrogated to itself all power of governance and relegated all other services to secondary position. All posts covering majority of domains are today manned by IAS, be it a technical or administrative which is the main cause of grievance. It is time that government take a call that subject domain should be the criteria to man the posts and not a generalist. If fair and equitable treatment is not given to all Services, then the gap between IAS and other services will widen and it may lead to a chaotic situation and it will not be good for the governance and country.”

In the present bureaucratic set up of a total of 91 secretaries, IAS officers occupy 73, scientists 10, Indian Police Service 1, Indian Legal Service 2, Indian Information Service 1. At Additional Secretary and joint secretary level posts, the IAS virtually monopolise. The Pay Commission recommends dismantling of existing system to be more inclusive and more transparent in selection process.

A member, Vivek Rae a former IAS officer, however, disagrees with chairman and economist Member. Rae argues for continuance of IAS officers unflinching superiority in the babudom.

Rae is of the view that “the observations made by the panel’s Chairman call for a paradigm shift from a cadre based Civil Service structure to a post based structure including induction of lateral entrants from outside government. While this issue can be debated (and has been debated), it falls well beyond the mandate of this Commission.”

He extensively quotes Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to underline his argument to have IAS’s generalist superiority and then adds by himself: “It is only the IAS which has a much wider remit, cutting across various domains which figure in the Central List, State List and Concurrent List under Schedule VII of the Constitution. The IAS comprise a general management cadre, constituted to provide leadership spanning the entire spectrum of functional responsibilities and administrative boundaries of government at Central, State and Local level. It is this broad spectrum job profile which equips IAS officers to occupy senior positions under the Central Staffing Scheme. Their pivotal role in servicing Parliamentary democracy, both at the Central and State level, and keeping the wheels of the Indian Federal structure well lubricated, is also crucial.”

Wall St opens higher; Fed minutes eyed | Reuters

U.S. stocks opened higher on Wednesday ahead of the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s October meeting, but investors remained cautious due to heightened security concerns after last week’s attacks in Paris.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 27.66 points, or 0.16 percent, to 17,517.16, the S&P 500 gained 5.11 points, or 0.25 percent, to 2,055.55 and the Nasdaq Composite index added 17.33 points, or 0.35 percent, to 5,003.35.

(Reporting by Sai Sachin R in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi vows to call shots after election landslide | Reuters

YANGON/MANDALAY, MyanmarMyanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi made it clear on Tuesday she was ready to defy attempts by the country’s powerful military to clip her wings, as fresh results from Sunday’s historic election showed her party heading for a resounding win.

As vote tallies trickled in, Suu Kyi’s long-oppressed National League for Democracy (NLD) looked set to take control of most regional assemblies as well as forming the central government, a triumph that will reshape the political landscape.

Under the constitution drawn up by Myanmar’s former junta, Suu Kyi is barred by the constitution from taking the presidency because her children are foreign nationals, a clause few doubt was inserted specifically to rule her out.

But in two interviews on Tuesday, the Nobel peace laureate said that regardless of who was appointed president by the newly elected houses of parliament, she would call the shots.

She told the BBC she would be “making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party” and Channel News Asia that the next president would have “no authority”.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was created by the junta and is led by retired soldiers, has conceded defeat in a poll that was a milestone on Myanmar’s rocky path from dictatorship to democracy.

A CLEAR WIN

The NLD said its tally of results posted at polling stations showed it was on track to take more than two-thirds of seats that were contested in parliament, enough to form Myanmar’s first democratically elected government since the early 1960s.

The party would win more than 250 of the 330 seats not occupied by the military in the lower house of parliament, NLD spokesman Win Htein predicted on Tuesday. Under the junta-crafted constitution, a quarter of the seats are unelected and reserved for the armed forces.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the party’s estimates of its own performance.

The election commission said the NLD had won 78 of the 88 seats declared so far for the 440-strong lower house. The USDP had won five.

In the first upper house results declared on Tuesday, the NLD won 29 of 33 seats and the USDP two. Results for the regional assemblies also showed the NLD well ahead.

“The difference between the parties is huge. It’s a clear win,” said Sitida, a 37-year-old Buddhist monk in the central city of Mandalay who marched in the country’s 2007 “Saffron Revolution” protests that were crushed by the junta.

Sitida, who was sentenced to 70 years in prison for his role in the demonstrations but was given amnesty as part of political reforms in 2011, said the military would now have to accept the NLD’s win and negotiate an orderly retreat from politics.

“Daw Suu can make this happen. Daw Suu can convince them,” he said, referring to Suu Kyi with an honorific.

However, while the USDP has been cut down and much of the establishment shaken by the extent of Suu Kyi’s victory, the army remains a formidable power.

In addition to his bloc of parliament seats, the commander-in-chief nominates the heads of three powerful and big-budget ministries – interior, defence and border security – and the constitution gives him the right to take over the government under certain circumstances.

The military has said it will accept the outcome of the vote, and Suu Kyi said times have changed since the 1990 election she won in a landslide that the military ignored. She spent years under house arrest following that poll.

“I find that the people are far more politicised now than they were … so it’s much more difficult for those who wish to engage in irregularities to get away with it,” she told the BBC.

“NOW COMES THE HARD PART”

Still, analysts say a period of uncertainty may be looming for former Burma because it is not clear if Suu Kyi and the generals will be able to share power easily.

Sunday’s vote was Myanmar’s first general election since the military ceded power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, ushering in reforms and opening up to foreign investors.

Money from abroad flowed in quickly as sanctions were eased. Foreign direct investment stood at $8 billion in fiscal 2014/15, more than five times the flows recorded just two years earlier.

Religious tension, fanned by Buddhist nationalists whose actions have intimidated Myanmar’s Muslim minority, marred the election campaign. Among those excluded from voting were around a million Rohingya Muslims who are effectively stateless in their own land.

Suu Kyi, who has been criticised for saying little in defence of the Rohingya, said she would “protect everybody” in the country. It would be difficult to eradicate prejudice, but people “do not want to live on a diet of hatred and fear,” she told the BBC.

Washington welcomed the election as a victory for Myanmar’s people, but said it would watch for the democratic process to move forward before making any adjustments to remaining U.S. sanctions on a country long considered a pariah.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mark Toner, told a news briefing on Tuesday that early results “seem to indicate a landslide” for Suu Kyi’s party, but the slow vote count meant it was too early to determine this for sure.

Final results are due no later than two weeks after Sunday’s poll.

Toner said Washington understood some of the logistical difficulties and was not overly concerned about the speed of counting, but added: “That said, we want to see the process move forward as quickly as possible.”

President Barack Obama has invested significant personal effort in Myanmar, visiting the country twice in the past three years, hoping to make its democratic transition a legacy of his presidency and an element of his strategic “pivot” to Asia.

Daniel Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that after 50 years of military dictatorship, “this was a hell of a step forward for the democratic process in Burma” but added: “Now comes the hard part.”

(Additional reporting by Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by John Chalmers and Simon Webb; Editing by Mike Collett-White and James Dalgleish)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Modi, facing tight election, hits back at intolerance criticism | Reuters

NEW DELHI Prime Minister Narendra Modi, battling to win power in the heartland state of Bihar and revive stalled economic reforms, hit back at critics on Monday for painting a picture of intolerance in the country.

Rivals say the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is whipping up religious tensions to win the election in Bihar, the country’s third most populous state and critical to Modi’s plans to improve his party’s strength in the upper house of parliament.

Modi’s administration has faced a rising tide of criticism for failing to rein in hardline Hindu groups that are campaigning for issues such as cow worship in a multi-faith country.

Modi, addressing a political rally in Purnea, sidestepped the criticism and accused his long-time foe, the Congress party, of playing partisan politics.

Re-opening a sensitive chapter in recent history, Modi said hundreds of Sikhs were massacred in Delhi by supporters of the Congress soon after the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in November 1984.

“Should the Congress be giving lessons in tolerance?” he said to thunderous applause from supporters wearing saffron headbands. “Sikh families in Delhi are still grieving. Have you tried to wipe their tears?”

Modi himself has faced allegations that he looked the other way or was complicit in attacks on Muslims in Gujarat state, which he governed, after a mob set a train carrying Hindu pilgrims on fire. He has denied the charges and a Supreme Court ordered- investigation absolved him of any wrongdoing.

Hindus make up around 80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population, followed by Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

Members of the Modi government have expressed concern about the rising number of Muslims and want policies to control it.

“Growing Muslim population is a big threat and people must realise that fast,” said Giriraj Singh, a federal minister, in an interview with a news channel on Monday.

“We have to protect Hindu religion, Hindu temples and food habits.”

Since the BJP swept to power, Hindu groups have stepped up a campaign against intermarriage with Muslims, describing it as “love jihad”, have begun rewriting school textbooks to reflect a nationalist view and are demanding a ban on cow slaughter.

Last month a Muslim man was beaten to death by a mob for eating beef and another was murdered for espousing atheism.

“There is extreme intolerance,” Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan told India Today television channel. A string of writers have returned awards given by the government in protest against attacks on religious minorities.

Central Bank governor Raghuram Rajan also called for greater tolerance.

Modi promised voters that he would lift Bihar out of poverty. Control of Bihar is key to Modi’s ambition to secure a majority in Rajya Sabha.

(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Nick Macfie)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Radwanska wins classic to set up Kvitova final | Reuters

SINGAPORE Agnieszka Radwanska rallied past an exhausted Garbine Muguruza to book a maiden appearance in the WTA Finals title match with a 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5 victory over the Spaniard in a classic encounter on Saturday.

The Pole used all her guile and defensive skills to see off the powerful 22-year-old, setting up a showdown against Petra Kvitova, who stunned Maria Sharapova 6-3 7-6(3) in the second semi-final.

“I didn’t know I could come back after that first set,” world number six Radwanska said in a courtside interview.

“It was a great match from the beginning to the end, lots of ups and downs, so many rallies and a lot of running. I am just so glad I could win,” added the Pole, who secured a first final berth at the season-ending event in her seventh appearance.

The first set was a slow burner that turned into a thriller once both women had settled into a rhythm and the longer the contest progressed, the stronger Radwanska became against an opponent who is also playing the doubles event in Singapore.

Radwanska worked her way into the contest after the fast-starting Spaniard wavered, reeling off four straight games and looking likely to ride the momentum to a one-set lead before Muguruza came storming back to force a tiebreak.

The Pole raced to a 3-0 lead but Muguruza recovered to surge ahead with some trademark aggressive groundstrokes and sealed the opener on her second set point when Radwanska found the net at the end of a brilliant rally.

Muguruza greeted the decisive point with a fist pump and a roar but her play at the start of the second set belied her positive body language as Radwanska forced a plethora of errors to race to a 4-0 lead that she never looked like relinquishing.

A mini revival mid-set brought Muguruza to within one game but Radwanska pulled away again and levelled the contest with her third break of the set.

The exertions of her first WTA Finals were now clearly visible on Muguruza, yet somehow she found the energy to rally from 4-1 down in the third set and put the contest back on a knife-edge before Radwanska finally got a decisive break in the 12th game.

ABSORBING TENNIS

The second semi-final pitted two former WTA Finals champions against each other and while it was shorter than the first match, Kvitova’s stunning comeback from 5-1 down in the second set was equally as absorbing.

Kvitova and Sharapova, two of the strongest servers on the Tour, traded early breaks before settling into a baseline battle until the Czech edged ahead in the seventh game of the opening set.

The world number five could sniff blood and broke again in the ninth game to take a surprise lead against a player who had won all three of her round-robin ties despite arriving in Singapore short of matches after a long injury layoff.

Kvitova, however, is prone to bouts of erratic play and the confidence she exuded in the opener was replaced by uncertainty as Sharapova, who has added greater variety to her game as she has grown older, raced 4-0 ahead.

The Russian somehow contrived to hand back the double break advantage, even wasting a set point at 5-2, as Kvitova rediscovered her top form to reel off five straight games and force a tiebreak.

The 2011 champion was now in full control, setting up three match points with a booming serve down the middle and when Sharapova sent a forehand sailing over the baseline, Kvitova had completed the most remarkable of second-set turnarounds.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

From $10 bn soft loan to farm support: PM Modi lays out his Africa strategy

Much of India’s development priorities and Africa’s vision for its future are aligned, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today at the third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on Thursday, announcing a slew of measures to support the continent.

“India is honoured to be a development partner for Africa. It is a partnership beyond strategic concerns and economic benefits. It is formed from the emotional bonds we share and the solidarity we feel for each other,” he said.

He added that Africa and India are the two bright spots of hope and opportunities in the global economy, which is witnessing a downturn.

“We will open our doors more; we will expand tele-education; and we will continue to build institutions in Africa,” he said.

Ever since the first such summit happened in 2008, India has given $7.4 billion in concessional credit to Africa, and also a $1.2 billion grant. More than this, India is building infrastructure on the continent. According to the prime minister, nearly 25,000 young Africans were trained and educated in India in the last three years alone.

PM Narendra Modi at the India-Africa Forum Summit on Thursday. Twitter @PIB_India

PM Narendra Modi at the India-Africa Forum Summit on Thursday. Twitter @PIB_India

Here are the key takeaways from the speech:

Help for Africa’s agriculture sector: India will help Africa in developing its agriculture sector, Modi promised. “Africa has 60 percent of the world’s arable land reserves and just 10 percent of the global output. India will help to develop Africa’s agriculture sector,” he said.

He said a spurt in Africa’s agriculture sector can drive the continent’s march to prosperity and also support global food security.

Appreciating the measures taken by the African countries in the fields of healthcare, education and agriculture, Modi said: “We see strong measures that are radically improving healthcare, education and agriculture. Primary school enrolment in Africa now exceeds 90 percent.”

Technology and innovation: Quoting Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz who said science brings people together with the light of its ideas, PM Modi said that technology will be a strong foundation of the partnership between India and Africa.

He said Africa has now joined the global mainstream of innovation. “The mobile banking of M-Pesa, the healthcare innovation of MedAfrica, or the agriculture innovation of AgriManagr and Kilimo Salama, are using mobile and digital technology to transform lives in Africa,” Modi said.

$10 billion credit: In addition to the ongoing credit programme, PM Modi committed a $10 billion credit programme.

“To add strength to our partnership, India will offer concessional credit of $10 billion over the next five years. This will be in addition to our ongoing credit programme,” said Modi.

Apart from this, Modi also pledged an assistance of $600 million to the continent, which includes 50,000 scholarships for African students in India, an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and an India-Africa Health Fund of $10 million. It will also support the expansion of the Pan Africa E-Network and institutions of skilling, training and learning across Africa, he said.

Combatting climate change: “No one can be more conscious of climate change than Indians and Africans,” Modi declared calling for cooperation between the two to combat climate change.

Both Africa and India want to “light up lives of our people and power their future”, but it should be done in such a manner that “snow on Kilimanjaro does not disappear, the glacier that feeds the River Ganga does not retreat,” he said.

He, however, pointed out that excess of a few cannot become the burden of many, alluding to the differences between developing and developed nations on the issue. At the meet in Paris in December, India will do its part for it, but also wants to see “a genuine global public partnership that makes clean energy affordable; provides finance and technology to developing countries to access it; and the means to adapt to the impact of climate change”.

Solar alliance: He invited the African nations to join an alliance of solar-rich countries that India has proposed to launch in Paris on 30 November at the time of COP-21 meeting.

“Our goal is to make solar energy an integral part of our life and reach it to the most unconnected villages and communities.”

Together for a global trading regime: He said India and Africa should also seek a global trading regime that serves the development goals and improves the trade prospects of both the regions.

UNSC reforms: Lastly, Modi also exhorted India and Africa to speak in one voice for reforms in international institutions like the UN Security Council.

“The world is undergoing political, economic, technological and security transition on a scale and speed rarely seen in recent history. Yet, our global institutions reflect the circumstances of the century that we left behind, not the one we are in today,” the prime minister said.

With inputs from IANS

Arhar Mahadev! Dal prices hit Rs 210 per kg; govt recovers 36,000 t from hoarders, blames states

Dal prices rose to a record high of Rs 210 per kg sending the government into fire fighting mode. About 36,000 tonnes of pulses have been recovered from hoarders and this will be pushed into the market to cool prices.

Prices have shot up after a season of deficient rainfall which sank total output by 2 million tonnes.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley blamed the states for not doing enough to crack down on hoarders and black marketeers.

PULSESPULSESJaitely said 5,000 tonnes of imported pulses have already arrived and are being distributed to the states and another 3,000 tonnes are on the way.

In New Delhi, imported tur dal (pigeon peas) is being sold at a subsidised rate of Rs 120 per kg at nearly 500 outlets of Kendriya Bhandar and Safal.

A maximum of 23,340 tonnes was seized in Maharashtra, followed by 4,525.19 tonnes in Chhattisgarh, 2,546 tonnes in Telangana, 2,295 tonnes in Madhya Pradesh, 1,168 tonnes in Haryana, 859.8 tonnes in Andhra Pradesh, 479.6 tonnes in Karnataka, 68.47 tonnes in Rajasthan, 4.32 tonnes in Tamil Nadu and 2.44 tonnes in Himachal Pradesh, the Consumer Affairs Ministry said.

The Centre has also asked the Haryana state cooperative supply and marketing federation Ltd. to buy pulses from the open market and sell thought its outlets in the state.

In Uttarkhand, mandi samitis have opened retail outlets in Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar for selling tur dal at Rs.145 per kg. The state government has also been directed to distribute pulses at the fixed rate through ration shops.

In Tamil Nadu, the government is selling ‘urad’ at Rs.30 per kg.

The Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments are distributing red gram at Rs.50 per kg.

Following action against hoarding in some states, ‘tur’ prices declined marginally on Wednesday to Rs.205 per kg from Rs.210 on Tuesday in retail markets.

Prices of ‘moong’, ‘masoor’ and ‘chana’ also showed a slight decline to Rs.130, Rs.110 and Rs.82 per kg respectively, while ‘urad’ rates remained unchanged at Rs.198 on Wednesday, government data showed.

IANS

Arun Jaitley to launch the first Arab-India Economic Forum in Dubai

Dubai: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will launch the first Arab India Economic Forum in Dubai next month to highlight investment opportunities in India and discuss solutions to meet investor challenges in the country.

Jaitley_ArunJaitley_ArunJaitley will address dignitaries, government officials and business leaders from around the Arab region during the forum to be held from November 16-17.

Arab India Economic Forum (AIEF) will feature discussions on the extensive economic opportunities that can be leveraged between Arab nations and India for investment as exemplified by the activities of leading companies from the region like
Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation, DP World, and Jumeirah Group.

Jaitley will shed light on the business and investment opportunities in India regarding ‘Make in India’ and Digital India initiatives as well as energy (traditional and
renewable), infrastructure, financial services and tourism, including medical and wellness tourism.

The forum will also address the policy framework and guidelines required to draw the attention of Arab investors and industrialists while providing a strong platform for
Indian businesses aiming to explore the Middle East market.

The two-day event is expected to attract over 300 delegates, mainly political and business leaders from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Egypt and India.

Jaitley will be joined by a distinguished panel of speakers from Dubai Department of Economic Development and Mumbai Stock Exchange as well as invited speakers from
Ministry of Tourism-India, Ministry of Economy-UAE, Ministry of Commerce and Industry-Saudi Arabia and Ministry of Economy and Commerce-Qatar.

Aimed at discussing strategies and solutions to meet investor challenges in India, the forum also builds on the new vigour which the Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit brought to Indo-UAE relations in August 2015.

The visit was followed by the India-UAE Joint Commission meeting on Technical and Economic Cooperation, co-chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister, and Foreign Minister Sushma
Swaraj.

As per official reports, India is the UAE’s second largest trade partner after China as trade between India and the UAE crossed USD 59 billion per year, with Indian exports
worth USD 33.3 billion to the UAE and USD 26 billion worth of UAE’s exports to India.

The relationship is set to get stronger under the new government which is keen to implement investor friendly policies.

The ‘Make in India’ initiative is expected to provide a much needed boost to the Indian manufacturing sector, much of which will be exported and re-exported via Dubai

PTI

Industrial production grew at 6.4 percent in August, shows CSO data

New Delhi: Industrial production grew at a nearly three-year high of 6.4 percent in August on account of improvement in manufacturing as well as mining activity and better offtake of capital goods.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The factory output had grown by 0.5 percent in August last year.

Industrial output, measured in terms of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), was at 4.1 percent in the April-August period against 3 percent in the year-ago period, the data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed on Monday.

The index grew at 8.4 percent in October, 2012. After that, it has touched the highest level of 6.4 percent in August. The IIP growth for July has been revised slightly downwards to 4.1 percent from provisional estimate of 4.2 percent last month.

The manufacturing sector, which constitutes over 75 percent of the index, grew by 6.9 percent in August, 2015 against a contraction of 1.1 percent in the same month last year.

During April-August period, manufacturing sector grew at 4.6 percent as compared to 2 percent growth in same period a year ago.

The mining sector growth was at 3.8 percent in August against 1.2 percent in the same month last fiscal. During April-August period, the sector grew at 1.2 percent.

The output of capital goods, a barometer of investment, grew at an impressive rate of 21.8 per cent as against a contraction of 10 percent in the same month last year.

During April-August, the capital goods output grew by 7.4 percent as compared to 4.8 percent in the year-ago period. However, power generation growth slowed to 5.6 percent in August as compared to 12.9 percent in the same month a year ago.

During April-August period, it grew by by 3.2 percent as compared to 11.7 percent in same period a year ago. In terms of industries, 15 out of 22 groups in the manufacturing sector showed positive growth in August.

PTI

Moody’s at it again: This time round it clubs India with terrorist hotbeds

More than three decades ago, Justice Krishna Iyer in his usual bombastic style thundered – who will judge the judges, who will police the police and who will audit the auditors?

In those days, rating agencies had not made their mark outside of the US. Had they, Iyer would have added for good measure who would rate the raters? Because rating agencies right from their inception have not covered themselves with glory, and in fact have been suffering from credibility crisis along with their brethren, auditors.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

Both charge their fees from companies engaging them thus resulting in worst conflict of interest – you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. While auditors at least can be proceeded against for dereliction of duties, credit rating agencies shrug off catastrophic events not predicted by them as hazard everyone has to take in their strides!

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee in the US constituted to investigate the 2008 financial crisis originating in the US but enveloping the whole world thanks to the greenback’s reserve currency status minced no words in condemning the big three — Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch — for their less than professional role in awarding triple-A ratings blithely to what turned out to be junk bonds albeit backed by mortgages.

Moody’s in particular was generous in awarding between 2000 to 2007 triple-A ratings (safest) to as many as 45,000 mortgage-backed securities when it had during that period done so only for six private sector companies. The rater knew as well as anybody that home loans were granted mostly to the NINJA category — no income, no jobs and no assets — from whom recoveries could be made only by enforcing the mortgage when push came to shove. But it gave the best rating to the bonds backed by such mortgages through slicing and dicing, euphemism for mixing bad loans with good.

Be that as it may, these worthies didn’t predict the 1997 Asian financial crisis either.

Now, in a report dated 6 October 2015 Moody’s says “more than 60% of all (terrorist) incidents in 2013 were concentrated in just four countries. Iraq (24% of terrorist incidents, Pakistan 19%, Afghanistan 12% and India 5.8%.”

The report concedes that at 690 attacks, it translates into less than half attack per million of Indian population as opposed to the global average of 2.4 attacks per million but nevertheless has chosen to caution the world against India.

That the events of 2013 have been reported in 2015 speaks volumes about the rating agency’s efficiency and motives especially given the fact that it has deemed it fit to make India an unsafe investment destination in the eyes of foreign investors.

That India has been bracketed with terrorist hotbeds — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq — would rankle every patriotic Indian when the facts are to the contrary. Unlike these three nations, India does not harbor and nurture terrorists but like Israel is a victim of hostile neighbors’ designs. By Moody’s syllogism, even the US and the UK are terror states whereas the truth is they too are victims, actual or potential, of terrorist attacks.

The report sounds hollow, dubious and contrived coming as it does at a time when India has attracted the highest FDI and FIIs are still the movers and shakers of its bourses.

Terrorism indeed slows down growth and increases the cost of sovereign debts besides leaving its impact for a long time as the report says but these dire warnings apply to terrorists infested states and not to India whose new government at the center has been fairly successful in halting terrorists in their tracks.

True, India growth is slackening and as a direct fallout unemployment is increasing but these by no means are due to the fanciful perception that India is an unsafe destination. On the contrary, India shines as a beacon of hope and development with China running out of steam and a large part of Europe still in tatters due to a variety of reasons including the ill-conceived economic union it forged 15 years ago.

If the FDI is not pouring into India at a torrential pace, it is because the US and European companies have to first set their own houses in order.

Moody’s knew all these but blithely chose to release a report that is a non sequitur — its own statistics do not support its conclusions. The report is just plain mischievous.

Modi, Obama to push strategic cooperation on areas of security, terrorism

New York: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama on Monday decided to “further refine” the Indo-US strategic partnership while pushing ahead with cooperation in the areas of security, counter-terrorism, defence, economy and climate change.

During the talks, Modi underlined the need for concrete outcomes at the upcoming global conference on climate change in Paris even as Obama said India’s leadership at the meet will set the tone for decades to come.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs US President Barack Obama in New York on Monday. PTI Photo/TwitterPrime Minister Narendra Modi hugs US President Barack Obama in New York on Monday. PTI Photo/Twitter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs US President Barack Obama in New York on Monday. PTI Photo/Twitter

“We discussed how we can further refine our strategic vision,” said Obama after the hour-long talks, third between the two leaders in over a year.

He said the two leaders discussed how to move forward in various areas like security, economy, trade and investment as also cooperation to defence procurement.

“On all these issues, the Prime Minister has been an outstanding partner,” Obama said.

Appreciating the US President’s “friendship, vision and commitment for the relationship”, Modi said the bilateral partnership addresses a broad range of strategic and security concerns – counter terrorism, cyber security, training.

“Our defence cooperation, including defence trade and training is expanding. As existing terrorism threats grow and new ones emerge, we have resolved to further deepen cooperation on counter-terrorism and radicalism,” the Prime Minister said.

With regard to climate change, both Obama and Modi expressed their commitment to meet the challenge faced by the world.

“Much of our discussion today was focussed on the upcoming Climate Conference in Paris. We are encouraged by the aggressive nature of Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to clean energy,” the US President said about the meet beginning November 30.

“I think India’s leadership in the upcoming conference will set the tone not just for today but for decades to come,” he said, adding he has confidence in the ability of the two countries to partner with other large countries like China in this regard.

Modi said, “President and I share an uncompromising commitment on climate change, without affecting our ability to meet the development aspirations of humanity. We have both set ambitious national agendas.”

Pressing the need for developing mechanisms to ensure affordable as well as accessible sources of clean energy, the Prime Minister said, “We look forward to comprehensive and concrete outcome in Paris with a positive agenda on combating climate change.

He said the outcomes of the Paris meet should focus on access to finance and technology for the developing world, especially the poor countries and small island states.

“I also thank President Obama for his positive response to my call for a global public partnership for developing affordable clean energy sources that will enable faster adoption of clean energy across the world,” he said.

PTI

Sri Lanka plans S.Africa-style commission to confront war crimes | Reuters

GENEVA Sri Lanka’s new government said on Monday it was setting up a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to look into atrocities during its civil war, as it came under renewed pressure to prosecute perpetrators.

South Africa, which confronted its own apartheid-era crimes through such a body, would advise the nation on how to use the commission to provide remedy to victims and to track down missing people, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.

He outlined the plan, and other proposals to set up a criminal justice mechanism and compensate victims, to the U.N. Human Rights Council, hours after the world body announced it would release a long-delayed report on Wednesday calling for accountability for Sri Lankan war crimes.

Successive governments have promised to look into crimes committed by both sides during the 26-year conflict between government forces and separatist “Tamil Tiger” rebels.

According to an earlier U.N. report, around 40,000 ethnic minority Tamils were killed in a final offensive ordered by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2009.

But world organisations have been frustrated by a string of failed plans and a lack of criminal indictments.

Samaraweera said the government planned an independent and credible “Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence.

“The reputation of the vast majority of armed forces was tarnished because of the system and culture created by a few people in positions of responsibility,” he said, without elaborating.

INTERNATIONAL, INDEPENDENT

Rights groups say Sri Lanka has failed to address continuing incidents of torture by the police and military against minority Tamils, whose leaders call for an international investigation.

“We will judge the government by the actions they take, not the promises they make,” Fred Carver, director of the Sri Lanka Campaign, told Reuters on Monday.

Human Rights Watch urged the council to set out concrete benchmarks for an effective justice and accountability mechanism, including a majority of international judges in an independent system and an independent international prosecutor.

“The families of Sri Lanka’s dead and disappeared have waited years and in some cases decades for justice. This Council must not fail them,” said John Fisher of the New York-based group.

Within the commission, leaders from the island’s main religions would form a “Compassionate Council” to help victims “discover the truth, understand what happened and help remedy any sense of injustice”, Samaraweera said.

The United Nations was meant to release its report on Sri Lanka in March, but agreed to hold off for six months to let the new government look into why suspects had not been prosecuted.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who defeated Rajapaksa’s bid for a third term in January, has made tentative steps towards reconciliation at the head of a broad reform coalition.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein praised the government’s efforts but said it was time to publish the report whose findings were “of the most serious nature”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo and Douglas Busvine in New Delhi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Two British women killed as Kalka-Shimla toy train derails | Reuters

NEW DELHI Two British women were killed and 11 people injured on Saturday after three carriages of a tourist train derailed on its way to the Himalayan city of Shimla, a railways spokesman said.

The women were part of a group of 37 British tourists who had chartered four carriages on the Kalka-to-Shimla train, a popular heritage journey in northern India. Three of the carriages derailed about 15 minutes after setting off from Kalka at 1245 IST, said Neeraj Sharma, a spokesman for Indian Railways’ northern division.

Three of the tourists were injured seriously and are being treated in a hospital in the city of Chandigarh, Sharma said, and eight have already been discharged.

The cause of the derailment is not yet known and the railways are investigating, said Anil Saxena, a Delhi-based spokesman for the railways.

Accidents are common on India’s railways, where investment has failed to keep up with the needs of the network.

Famed for its panoramic views as it climbs more than 4,000 feet through heritage tunnels and along multi-arched bridges, the narrow-gauge 96 kilometre Kalka-to-Shimla route is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The line, known affectionately as the “toy train” line, was opened in 1903 to connect Shimla, the summer capital under British colonial rule, to the north Indian plains.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes, editng by Larry King)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

NDA launches special forum at Global Skills Summit to train 400 million people by 2022

New Delhi: Consider the following data:

India ranks 100th among 124 nations on World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Index.

The Indian industry’s projected demand for workforce by 2020 is 109 million skilled workers.

45 million people need to enhance their skills or acquire skills by next decade.

Only 5 percent of youngsters in India get proper training.

Nirmala Sitharaman. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Nirmala Sitharaman. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

The above set of data speaks volumes about the demand-supply ratio of skilled workforce in India and how India, with a large young population, could be the hub of skilled manpower.

Keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for skill development for 400 million people by 2022, the Minister of State for Commerce & Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman launched ‘CEOs4Skills’ – a premium forum of top CEOs, during the Global Skills Summit in New Delhi on 10 September.

The premium forum of chief executives will come together to participate and contribute in achieving the PM’s vision of training 400 million people by the year 2022.

The forum will act as a platform, where industry captains and the skill providers, through a body like FICCI, can come together to address and find solutions for the wide gap between demand and supply of skilled workforce.

It aims to establish thought leadership in developing a strategic direction in the skill-building landscape, play a key role in bringing together training, skill-building and job creation with a common purpose and also play a lead role in social transformation.

“In order to provide the youth of India with additional skills in every sector and to make them employable, the Ministry of Skill Development has been linked with 35 sectoral areas for imparting training. There’s a need for greater participation of industry in driving ahead the movement of ‘Skill India’,” said Sitharaman at the summit organised jointly by the Ministry of Skill Development and industry body FICCI.

Referring to the cohesive ecosystem of Silicon Valley, Sitharaman added, “Many Indian brains were being nurtured at the Silicon Valley and they were acquiring skills and employing it effectively at work. Hence, India too needs a similar ecosystem where talent and skills can be nurtured. Keeping this in mind, the Indian government created the Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, which is working with skill councils of various sectors to bridge the gap between the skill demand of employers and skill development of the workforce.”

“The PM wants India to be the ‘Skill Capital’ of the world and it can fulfil the shortage of 57 million workers that will arise by 2020. The government will use a lot of public funds for the purpose,” the minister mentioned.

Jyotsna Suri, president, FICCI added, “Employers have cited lack of trained manpower as one of the major concerns for their growth aspirations. Hence, the ‘Make in India’ would boost manufacturing in India and create more jobs. A greater integration of the ‘State Skill Missions’ that would drive the Skill agenda in the states, ‘Skill India’ mission and ‘Make in India’ are essential with the active participation of all stakeholders.”

TV Mohandas Pai, chairman, Manipal Global Education Services, emphasised on labour-intensive industry to absorb the emerging workforce for the success of ‘Make in India’ programme.

“Instead of incentivising capital, there’s a need to incentivize job creation and labour, which will encourage entrepreneurship and result in creation of jobs for emerging workforce of 24 million people,” added Pai.

Indian woman who sued Uber over rape accusation ends lawsuit | Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO A woman who sued Uber after accusing one of its drivers of raping her in India has voluntarily ended her lawsuit against the company, according to a court filing on Tuesday.

The passenger, who reported being raped and beaten after hailing a ride with the Uber driver in Delhi last year, sued the online car service in a U.S. federal court in January, claiming the company failed to maintain basic safety procedures.

The driver was arrested by Indian police and appeared in court in December. Uber’s Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick at the time called the incident “horrific” and pledged to help “bring this perpetrator to justice.”

However, Uber also argued in court filings that the woman sued the wrong corporate entity as the driver had a contract with Uber B.V., a Netherlands-based entity with no U.S. operations.

The court filing did not disclose any details on how the case was settled, and representatives for Uber and the woman declined to comment.

India is one of Uber’s largest markets outside the United States by the number of cities covered. The rape allegation triggered protests and reignited a debate about the safety of women in Asia’s third-largest economy, especially in New Delhi, which has been dubbed India’s rape capital.

Uber, valued at around $50 billion this year, has said it would introduce additional safety measures including more stringent driver checks and an in-app emergency button.

In the lawsuit, the woman, who resides in Delhi and was not named, called Uber the “modern day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking.”

“Buyer beware – we all know how those horror movies end,” the lawsuit stated.

Earlier this year, both sides had agreed to participate in private mediation to try to resolve the lawsuit, according to court filings.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Doe vs. Uber Technologies Inc, 15-424.

(Reporting by Dan Levine, editing by Alan Crosby)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

U.N. chief concerned at violence on disputed Kashmir border | Reuters

UNITED NATIONS United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday voiced alarm at the latest upsurge in violence along the disputed border of India and Pakistan in Kashmir and urged restraint on the part of both governments.

Officials said on Sunday that Indian and Pakistani troops intensified firing along their disputed frontier in Kashmir, killing at least eight people and wounding 14.

“(Ban) expresses serious concern about the recent escalation of violence along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, which reportedly resulted in a number of casualties on both sides, including civilians,” the U.N. press office said in a statement.

It added that Ban “calls upon the governments of India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint and take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians.”

The statement noted that the U.N. chief urged India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through dialogue.

Frontier clashes have intensified in recent months and the latest violence will put more strain on ties between the nuclear-armed rivals, who are scheduled to hold talks between top security officials on Aug. 23-24 in New Delhi.

The U.N. statement said Ban welcomed that scheduled meeting.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two over Kashmir, and relations chilled again after the election of the right-winger Narendra Modi as Indian prime minister last year.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Sri Lankans to elect parliament in ‘referendum’ on Rajapaksa comeback | Reuters

COLOMBO Sri Lankans elect a new parliament on Monday in what amounts to a referendum on ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback bid, with the reformist alliance that swept him from power in January seeking a stronger mandate for reforms.

The nationalist strongman has set his sights on becoming premier of a government led by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). But the former ally who beat him at the polls in January, President Maithripala Sirisena, now leads the party and he rules that out.

The tangled personal rivalry has overshadowed campaigning on the Indian Ocean island of 20 million people, which has a history of political feuding that has often spilled over into violence and even the assassination of its leaders.

Sirisena, in a cross-party alliance with a government led by the United National Party (UNP), has sought to break with that troubled past by passing reforms to weaken his own presidency and make the government more open and accountable.

“We all united and voted against Rajapaksa to send him into retirement,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at his last campaign stop on Friday night. “If he hasn’t got the message, we should unite to make sure he understands it now.”

Minority Tamils and Muslims have rallied behind the centre-right coalition led by Wickremesinghe’s UNP, which pundits say has the best chance of forming the largest bloc in the 225-seat parliament.

A stronger UNP mandate would help complete the “unfinished business” of the reform process that has stalled because the party and its allies now lack a majority, said political analyst Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

Rajapaksa, 69, is revered as a war hero by many of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala speaking Buddhist majority for crushing a 26-year Tamil uprising in 2009. Opponents accuse him of running a corrupt, brutal and dynastic regime – charges he denies.

“This government chased the investors away and welcomed the underworld. In our period, we chased the underworld and brought investors,” Rajapaksa has said in answer to his critics.

At stake for the wider world is whether Sri Lanka sticks to its pro-Western course or turns back towards China. Under Rajapaksa, Beijing pumped billions of dollars into making the island part of a new “Maritime Silk Route”.

IT’S PERSONAL

Sirisena quit Rajapaksa’s government last year to run against him, pulling off a stunning victory in presidential elections on Jan. 8.

Yet he has moved only belatedly to assert his control over the SLFP and to block the path to the premiership of his erstwhile ally and party rival.

In a widely leaked letter, he accused Rajapaksa of holding the party “hostage” and ruled out naming him prime minister. Sirisena, 63, has also used his power as party leader to purge Rajapaksa loyalists from key posts in recent days.

The manoeuvring could determine whether Sirisena can form a unity government comprising Wickremesinghe’s centre-right alliance and his own loyalists from the SLFP, sending Rajapaksa to the opposition benches, say analysts.

In the election, 196 lawmakers will be elected from party lists in multi-member districts. The rest will be elected from national lists, with party leaders deciding who gets a ticket.

Fifteen million people will have the right to vote after what observers say has been an unusually clean campaign.

Polls open at 7 am (0130 GMT) and close at 4 pm. The final count is due on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez and Sunil Kataria in Colombo; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Dean Yates)

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Badminton World Championships: Chen overcomes Lee, Marin beats Nehwal | Reuters

JAKARTA China’s Chen Long produced a fitting display for a top seed and defending champion to claim a second straight world title with a pulsating 21-14 21-17 victory against Malaysian nearly-man Lee Chong Wei on Sunday.

Lee has topped the world rankings for a record 298 weeks during a long and illustrious career but once again came up short against a Chinese player at the top of his game in a fourth world championship final defeat in as many matches.

Chen has replaced Lin Dan as the top male player following his breakthrough world title triumph a year ago and the rangy 26-year-old has also replaced his compatriot as Lee’s arch nemesis after repeating last year’s win over the Malaysian.

Lin has beaten Lee in four major finals, including the last two Olympics, but Chen has emerged from the shadow of a player many believe to be the greatest ever with a complete game built on his supreme agility, speed, power and fitness.

At 1.87 metres, Chen also boasts a court-covering reach and used all of his attributes to rein in the fast-starting Lee, realising he was dominating when he attacked and coming off second best in the tactical rallies.

Once he took the lead at 11-10, Chen looked unstoppable and reeled off 16-of-20 points to claim the opening game before storming out of the blocks in the second to forge a six-point lead by the interval.

Lee battled gamely as Chen’s intensity levels dropped but the Malaysian was unable to get any closer than within two points of his opponent in the second game as a packed Istora Senayan roared in approval.

“Lee is a good player but I was better today,” Chen said in a courtside interview. “This is a very special arena, so it feels great to win the world title here.”

MARIN DEFENDS

Carolina Marin also enjoyed a successful title defence, the top-seeded Spaniard beating Saina Nehwal 21-16 21-19 in a high-class encounter to deny India a first world badminton title.

(See pictures from the match here)

The world number one had been under an injury cloud in the build up to the championships but twice relied on her ability to quickly string together points at crucial times to rally from behind in both games and secure victory in 56 minutes.

“I didn’t think I would be here when I was struggling with my injuries but my coaches said I should keep training and try to play at the world championships and just do the best I could in the tournament,” Marin said.

“I knew from the beginning it was going to be a very tough match because Saina is really good but I kept fighting until the end and am very happy with my performance today.”

Earlier, top seeds Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei stormed to a third mixed doubles world title with a comfortable 21-17 21-11 victory over compatriots and former junior world champions Liu Cheng and Bao Yixin.

Zhao returned to the court a few hours later to successfully defend another title when the 28-year-old partnered Tian Qing to a 23-25 21-8 21-15 win over Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl as they retained the women’s doubles crown.

The home fans were then rewarded for their patience as Indonesia’s Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan regained the men’s doubles title they won in 2013 with a 21-17 21-14 victory over China’s Liu Xiaolong and Qiu Zihan in the last match of the day.

(Reporting by John O’Brien in Singapore; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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Virat Kohli rues lack of intent from batsmen | Reuters

GALLE, Sri Lanka India captain Virat Kohli slammed his team’s batsmen for lack of intent during their failed chase of 176 in the opening test at Galle and said the touring side did not do enough to counter Sri Lanka’s spin threat.

India dominated most of the match after dismissing Sri Lanka for 183 on the first day and taking a first-innings lead of 192 but Dinesh Chandimal’s swashbuckling unbeaten 162 allowed the hosts to stage a fightback.

The experienced Rangana Herath picked up seven wickets while young off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal took three to bundle out India for 112 and power Sri Lanka to a spectacular comeback win by 63 runs.

“We did not counter what was being thrown at us. The need of the hour was to take calculated risk when you are chasing a small total,” Kohli told reporters.

“The intent has to be there which I think was lacking. It’s something we need to improve on.

“It was a case of us not playing fearless cricket and not going out there and being positive. We have been let down by our batting today. There are no excuses.”

The hosts, who lost their last test series at home to Pakistan, put immense pressure on India with tight bowling and smart catches in the first session on Saturday.

The batsmen failed to find scoring opportunities, with first-innings centurion Shikhar Dhawan taking 36 balls to score his first run. That came from a streaky four with the ball narrowly missing the leg stump after taking an edge.

The lack of runs allowed Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews to surround the batsmen with close fielders, hastening India’s capitulation.

“We have had batting collapses in the past as well where we have lost wickets in bunches,” Kohli added.

“Every time if you sit down and analyse it’s been because we have ended up being too tentative.

“Today was a classic example of guys not backing themselves enough to express their ability out there. You have to do something to disrupt a bowler’s length.”

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ed Osmond)

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Independence Day: Modi scores on development focus, but gets some things wrong

Narendra Modi‘s second Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort stood out for three things.
One, his focus on economic development continues. Casteism and communalism, he said, can only be wiped out through the amrit dhara (the nectar) of development.

Two, he seemed to have been tempered by one year in office. There was the almost apologetic line about last year’s speech – ‘I kept some ideas before you, I was new, I spoke about what I saw and what I felt.’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waving to the people after addressing the Nation on the occasion of 69th Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi on 15 August 2015. Image courtesy PIBPrime Minister Narendra Modi waving to the people after addressing the Nation on the occasion of 69th Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi on 15 August 2015. Image courtesy PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waving to the people after addressing the Nation on the occasion of 69th Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi on 15 August 2015. Image courtesy PIB

Three, and most important, the jibes about “suit-boot sarkar” and anti-farmer, anti-tribal policies had hit home; he was determined to correct the impression.

Hence, statements like the development pyramid will be strong only if the base, made up of the poor, is strong. Team India can move only on the strength of the poor. Who are the banks for, if not the poor? Garibon ki ameeri (the wealth of the poor). And so on and so forth.

Hence, the criticism about not respecting the rickshaw-puller, the auto driver, the newspaper vendor and the exhortation to make dignity of labour a part of our national character.

Hence also, the listing of what the government had done for the poor – mainly financial inclusion, social security. He reeled out statistics about the success of the Jan Dhan Yojana and other social security schemes. He spoke about the initiatives taken in agriculture – the more-crop-per-drop initiative, the compulsory neem coating of all urea to prevent diversion and improve productivity (though this was not something this government can take full credit for; 75 percent of urea was neem coated earlier).

But what of the future? His statements about what his government planned to do were good in parts and flawed in other parts.

The announcement about spending Rs 6,000 crore a year on development in mineral-rich tribal areas – a clear attempt to counter criticism about being anti-tribal for liberalising mining and land acquisition – is a welcome one. Modi clearly scores on this, especially when he pointed out that these areas make the rest of the nation wealthy but remain mired in backwardness.

The country needs to move away from the mindset that tribals want to live in the way they have always done, in pristine forest areas, bereft of the benefits of development. Better infrastructure in tribal areas is the need of the hour and is a far more sustainable way of helping them than the welfare-driven approach of the past. Better infrastructure is also needed to counter the left-wing menace in these areas.

The Naxalites won’t allow this to happen, they will step up attacks, but the government has to counter this and soldier on. How the government will implement this plan will be the key, since there will have to be a buy-in from state governments as well.

Where Modi slipped up was on the announcement of the renaming of the agriculture ministry as agriculture and farmer welfare ministry (Krishi evam Kisan Kalyan Mantralaya) and a new scheme, Kisan Kalyan Yojana.

If a name change was all that was required to change mindset and policy focus, then the renaming of the education ministry as human resource development ministry in the 1980s should have worked wonders. One needs to wait for the contours of the Kisan Kalyan Yojana to be unveiled but till then it appears to be another meaningless sop-driven scheme that one hoped the Modi government would avoid.

Both these announcements appear extremely defensive and out of sync with the understanding that Modi appeared to have of the reasons for agricultural stress in his speech – agricultural infrastructure, falling landholding sizes, power, irrigation. Pity, also, that he said nothing about freeing agriculture from the shackles of the government – it still remains the largest regulated private sector activity.
On the face of it, setting a 1,000-day target (a little short of three years) for electrification of 18,500 un-electrified villages is a great announcement. But putting up one electric pole in a village or even ensuring a connection in every village home will not work, with not enough attention being paid to regular electricity supply and making the exercise viable for state-run distribution companies (discoms).

Electrification of villages has been done earlier but without these problems being tackled, what has resulted is de-electrification of villages. States too have to be taken on board to improve the financial health of the state electricity boards (SEBs) – that’s not only a huge challenge but also a very complicated one.

The aspirational and empowering Modi was back in action when he spoke about encouraging start-ups and entrepreneurship. There should be no block or district without a start-up, he said. Some critics see this as moving away from a jobs focus to a self-employment focus, but there is nothing wrong with this.
But it is slightly worrying when he exhorts banks to get each of their 1.25 lakh branches to resolve to finance start-up ventures to at least one adivasi or dalit youth. Creating 1.25 lakh entrepreneurs is a wonderful dream and more empowering than job reservations for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. But there is a danger that this could result in pressure to meet targets, leading to unviable projects being financed and creating another source of stress for banks.

Will this be worse than stress created by lending to big business? That is not the point. The fact that banks have lent to bad projects of big business should not become a justification to lend to bad projects by start-ups. Yes, banks should be encouraged to lend to start-up ventures, but they should not be pressured to do so and adequate safeguards need to be put in place.

But financing is not the only hurdle to start-ups (though it is an important one). There are still too many regulatory hurdles to starting a business, many of which are at the state and local level. What was missing from Modi’s speech was a reference to this.

His government has done quite a bit in easing the business scenario and a lot still remains to be done. His silence on this was perplexing. Perhaps he wanted to play down the pro-industry image that his detractors keep playing up. But ease of doing business is not about big business alone; it affects small entrepreneurs much more.

It would have been better if Modi been more combative on this than in defending the draconian black money law and labelling all opposition to it as coming from those benefiting from black money.
Well, he can’t get everything right all the time. And, hey, this is only a speech. Let’s wait for action.

Senior Pakistan cleric offers to help Taliban heal leadership rift | Reuters

PESHAWAR, Pakistan A senior Pakistani cleric widely known as the “Father of the Taliban” offered on Thursday to mediate to resolve a leadership dispute that threatens to split the insurgent movement in Afghanistan after confirmation of founder Mullah Omar’s death.

Maulana Sami-ul Haq, an influential figure among members of the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, said he had urged the newly declared head of the group, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, to sit down with rivals who have challenged his right to the leadership.

“I would arrange for members of the two rival factions together to sit down in front of each other, ‎and in the presence of other leading religious scholars, we would listen to both sides and overcome this issue amicably,” he told Reuters.

He said by telephone that both sides had expressed their trust in him and appealed to him to help resolve the dispute.

The comments underline efforts within the movement to patch up a potentially dangerous rift that could split the Taliban, open the door to more defections to Islamic State and threaten the future of peace talks with the government in Kabul.

Some senior Taliban figures support the fledgling negotiations, while others are opposed to talks.

Meanwhile, the movement is pressing its insurgency against government forces in Afghanistan which has claimed thousands of lives since 2001 and intensified since most NATO troops left the country by the end of 2014.

Mansour, longtime deputy to the movement’s reclusive founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, was named leader last week after Taliban officials confirmed Omar was dead. Afghan officials and some senior Taliban say he died two years ago but his death was kept secret.

“MINOR DIFFERENCES”

Mansour’s swift appointment by the Taliban leadership council in the Pakistani city of Quetta has angered many within the movement, including members of Mullah Omar’s family who have denounced Mansour and called for a new leadership council.

Haq, who backs Mansour’s leadership, said he had met members of Omar’s family and others in the faction opposed to the new leader and urged them to overcome what he called “minor differences”.

“I told them that people would never forgive you if you wasted sacrifices of thousands of Afghan Mujahideen by creating divisions within the Taliban movement,” he said.

Taliban sources said a group that supports Omar’s son Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob told Haq that they would not accept Mansour as leader until his appointment was approved by a larger leadership group backed by religious scholars.

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the group opposed to Mansour, confirmed that Haq was mediating in the dispute and said a large group of as many as 300 religious scholars or ulema had met to try to find a solution.

“We have a clear-cut stance that Mullah Mansour would have to resign, hand over the Emirate of Afghanistan to the ulema council and the ulema will then choose the new leader,” he said. “Anyone appointed as leader by the council would be acceptable to us.”

The dispute has set off a series of tremors within the Taliban leadership.

Syed Mohammad Tayab Agha, director of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, resigned his post on Monday, criticising the decision to make the appointment outside Afghanistan and backing calls for a new leadership council.

He has since been replaced by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, a senior negotiator in preliminary peace meetings with Kabul government officials in May and a former deputy foreign minister in the Taliban government toppled in 2001.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Donati in Kabul; Writing by James Mackenzie)

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Equity fund inflows near record as retail investors return | Reuters

MUMBAI, July 23 – Investment in Indian equity mutual funds by domestic retail investors has hit the highest since 2008, signalling the return of individual players drawn to a stock market that is outperforming physical assets such as gold and real estate.

Domestic net inflows into equity mutual funds in June were the second-highest ever – second only to January 2008 before the financial crisis took hold, according to data from the Association of Mutual Funds in India. Retail investors are now set to make July the 15th straight month of net inflows, fund managers say.

Retail investors are helping extend an almost two-year stock market rally just as India’s $100 billion social security and pension fund too begins to invest in equities for the first time. “Retail investors are finally coming back to the market, after almost five years of muted participation,” said Sundeep Sikka, chief executive officer of Reliance Capital Asset Management.

The increase in domestic investors, fund managers say, could help reduce price volatility, even if domestic retail investment flows remain a fraction of the size of foreign investment in India. This matters, at a time when an expected U.S. interest rate hike could lead to some foreign investors pulling out in the short term.

Mutual funds owned about 3.33 percent of India’s stock market capitalisation compared with 25.3 percent held by foreign institutional investors, as of March, according to an analysis of the constituents of the BSE 200 index .BSE200 by investment bank Kotak. But an outperformance by mutual funds, compared to the broader market, is helping to increase that proportion. The top 100 equity mutual funds, which manage a combined $42.1 billion in assets, gained about 21.4 percent over the past year, beating a 10 percent rise in the benchmark NSE index .NSEI, Lipper data shows.    

Flows into equity funds: link.reuters.com/byx25w

(Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Ryan Woo)

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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi says party will run in election | Reuters

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Left high and dry: India leaves Brics summit with nothing it really wanted

India was left high and dry at the just-concluded seventh Brics summit in Ufa, Russia which failed to mention the crucial UN Security Council resolution 1267 in the Brics Declaration. Significantly, India has cited this resolution at various international platforms and pitched for taking action against Pakistan for releasing the 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi.

Take, for instance, clause 36 of the Brics Declaration which primarily deals with terrorism. Indian interests were ignored in this regard as there is no mention of UN Resolution 1267. This clause mentions other UN Security Council resolutions like 2170, 2178 and 2199 which deal with suppression of financing and other forms of supporting terrorists and also emphasize on principles of respect for the sovereignty of the states.

PTI imagePTI image

PTI image

China had recently blocked Indian efforts to invoke UN resolution 1267 and the 1267 sanctions regime before the 1267 Committee in the case of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Lakhvi. This particular resolution and all other resolutions which modified and strengthened the 1267 resolution adopted by the UNSC in 1999 do not find a mention in the Brics Declaration.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup had made the following statement after China blocked Indian efforts in the 1267 Committee: “The government had taken up the issue of violation of the 1267 sanctions regime in respect of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Our concerns in this matter were conveyed to the Chair of the 1267 Committee. We also raised this bilaterally with the other members of the Committee. In the case of China, this matter has been taken up at the highest level.” (Details of the sanctions regime can be accessed here http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/)

This document says that the sanctions regime was first established by resolution 1267 (1999) on 15 October 1999 and has been modified and strengthened by subsequent resolutions, including resolutions 1333 (2000), 1390 (2002), 1455 (2003), 1526 (2004), 1617 (2005), 1735 (2006), 1822 (2008), 1904 (2009), 1989 (2011), 2083 (2012) and resolution 2161 (2014) so that the sanctions measures now apply to designated individuals and entities associated with al Qaeda, wherever located.

It stipulates the following three measures:

– freeze without delay the funds and other financial assets or economic resources of designated individuals and entities [assets freeze],

– prevent the entry into or transit through their territories by designated individuals [travel ban], and

– prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer from their territories or by their nationals outside their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, spare parts, and technical advice, assistance, or training related to military activities, to designated individuals and entities [arms embargo].

The Brics Declaration pays lip service by disapproving a selective approach to terrorism even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there should be no discrimination between the sponsors, groups or targeted nations, in an apparent message to China which recently protected Pakistan over the Lakhvi issue. It uses the routine and inane phrase of “condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

This gives rise to the obvious question: What did India get from the just-ended seventh BRICS summit in Russia?

For instance, Russia scored a few diplomatic points by bringing the five-nation grouping on the same page in its running battle with the US-led western world as the bloc opposed Western sanctions against it over the Ukraine conflict.

The Brics Declaration has the following comment which bolsters Russian position in its ongoing spat with the West. “We condemn unilateral military interventions and economic sanctions in violation of international law and universally recognized norms of international relations… Bearing this in mind, we emphasize the unique importance of the indivisible nature of security, and that no State should strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others.”

This position of BRICS can also be seen as the grouping’s support to Iran.

China managed to extract an unambiguous statement from the outfit that the BRICS Bank, known as New Development Bank (NDB), will not compete with China’s pet project , the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB).  All BRICS nations are members of the AIIB, with India as its second largest stakeholder.

Brazil and South Africa are to benefit a lot from both NDB as well as AIIB. The two institutions are tipped to work closely and NDB is to approve its inaugural investment projects in the first quarter of 2016 and work closely with AIIB. Both Brazil and South Africa are to get several projects funded by the NDB. Besides, the two will also benefit from  enhanced economic cooperation in fields such as agriculture, manufacturing, technology, services, human resources and sustainable development.

While it is obvious that like all other BRICS member countries India too will stand to benefit from the NDB, proposed trade among member countries in national currencies (a move which is still a long way from implementation), investment projects funded by NDB, other developmental projects in diverse fields and the overall economic cooperation, but the question is whether that’s enough.

India can achieve all that with all other BRICS member countries while dealing with each one of them bilaterally – and India is doing so anyway, like every other country is doing. The importance of a grouping flows from the political successes that accrue from it and the political leverage available to the member countries. This happens only when like-minded nations get together.

But India had to face lot of disappointment on the major political issue of terrorism. China threw a spanner in the works for India in this matter.

The writer, a Consulting Editor with Firstpost, is a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.

Lankan great Sangakkara to quit during India series | Reuters

COLOMBO Sri Lankan great Kumar Sangakkara will quit international cricket during the test series against India in August, the island nation’s most prolific batsman said on Saturday.

“I have decided to call it a day…(after) the second test of the India series,” the 37-year-old told reporters on the sidelines of the ongoing second test against Pakistan of his decision to end a 15-yer-old illustrious career.

Sangakkara said he wanted to quit all formats of the game after Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaign this year but promised to be available for the back-to-back home series against Pakistan and India.

“But at the same time I said that I would be unable to play six test matches. I could do four and if that was okay, I will give my 100 percent commitment to these four test matches,” said Sangakkara who will skip the third and final test against Pakistan.

India arrive in early August to play three tests in Sri Lanka but the dates and the venues have not been finalised.

“I wish I could keep on playing but I know when the time comes you have to go and I know this is my time,” he added.

Sangakkara made his international debut in 2000 and is currently playing his 132nd test against Pakistan, having amassed 12,305 runs at an average of over 58 and including 38 centuries.

Sangakkara is the fifth highest test scorer of all time and is one short of Australian great Donald Bradman’s record of 12 double centuries in tests.

Before giving up keeping, Sangakkara made 20 stumpings to go with his 179 catches in tests.

His ODI record is no less impressive, having totalled 14,234 runs in 404 matches, averaging nearly 42 and including 25 centuries. He took 402 catches in ODIs and has 99 stumpings against his name.

Adjudged ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2012, the former Sri Lanka captain was part of the 2014 Twenty20 World Cup-winning squad.

He was also a member of the teams which reached the 50-over World Cup finals in 2007 and 2011.

Sangakkara’s retirement, following that of his former team mate Mahela Jayawardene, creates a big void for Sri Lanka but the he has no doubt the team under Angelo Mathews will cope.

“Angelo is a fantastic captain, a fantastic cricketer. I think he is the ideal man to lead this team of youngsters,” Sangakkara said.

“They are into the future and I just wish that there’ll be a real culture of fearless cricket, positive cricket where they are unafraid to make mistakes.”

(Writing by Amlan Chakraborty; editing by Ed Osmond)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Huge amount of funds locked up due to litigation: Natchiappan

Hyderabad: More than 2.5 crore cases involving Rs 4 lakh crore are currently pending at different stages in various courts across the country, justice Natchiappan, Head of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice said in Hyderabad today.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Natchiappan told reporters at a press conference in Hyderabad that the committee would decide about setting up District Commercial Courts to deal with all cases of a commercial nature by July end.

“There is huge number of backlog cases pending. More than 2.5 crore cases are pending from subordinate courts in the Supreme Court. Around 320 posts of high court judges as against a total 740 posts, are to yet to be filled up,” he said.

“There is no direct data but more or less at least one crore of commercial cases are pending in courts. These cases have locked up huge funds of public sector banks and undertakings. It costs more than Rs 2 lakh crore in different sectors. Similarly, though we don’t have statistics, nearly Rs 2 lakh crore of private sector funds are locked up,” he said.

The committee met Hyderabad High Court judges and senior officials of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana government today.

Answering a query, he said that the committee is yet to visit some of the states to assess views of various stakeholders about setting up commercial courts.

“We have been asked to submit a report within two months.

We have until July last week (more or less) to submit the report,” he said.

He said that once Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Bill, 2015, is passed as well as implemented, it would fast-track commercial litigation.

PTI

Murray stays on course for fourth Queen’s title | Reuters

LONDON Andy Murray eased past Fernando Verdasco at the Aegon Championships on Thursday but an expected quarter-final showdown with the man who beat him at Wimbledon last year was scuppered by Luxembourg left-hander Gilles Muller.

Top seed Murray, bidding for a record-equalling fourth title at the prestigious Queen’s Club, fended off some typically ferocious hitting by Spaniard Verdasco to win 7-5 6-4 and delight a large Centre Court crowd.

Earlier defending champion Grigor Dimitrov, who stunned Briton Murray in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, became the latest high-profile seed to fall, losing 6-4 7-6(5) to Muller.

Bulgarian Dimitrov, the sixth seed, struggled to deal with Muller’s dangerous serve as he joined French Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka and 14-times major winner Rafa Nadal on the casualty list of a tournament boasting increased prize money and ranking points this year.

The 32-year-old Muller has served 56 aces in two matches so far and will now take aim at Murray for a place in the semis.

“It’s these challenges that I’m working for to play those matches on the big courts against the best guys in the world,” Muller, who has battled his way back into the top 50 after sliding to 374 in the ATP rankings in 2013 after elbow problems.

Muller broke in the 10th game when Dimitrov made some sloppy mistakes and then hit back from 0-3 in the second set tiebreak to clinch victory with a wrong-footing forehand winner.

Murray, dressed head to toe in white, made a fast start against left-hander Verdasco and marched into a 3-0 lead.

Verdasco, who was two sets up against Murray in the Wimbledon quarter-finals two years ago before the Scot came back to win and went on to claim an historic title, warmed to his task though and levelled it up at 4-4.

Murray took the opening set when Verdasco netted a forehand in the 12th game but had to fend off several break points early in the second set, coming back from 0-40 down at 1-1.

Serving at 4-5 Verdasco self-destructed, serving three double faults before seeing two aces chalked off on match point down because the ball brushed the net tape whizzing through.

Another forehand error sealed his fate as Murray took his career record over the 31-year-old to 11-1.

“It was a tricky match. Fernando is obviously an extremely powerful guy and you don’t have a chance to get into some of the rallies,” world number three Murray said on court before looking ahead to his next opponent.

“Gilles Muller served 37 aces in the first round — I haven’t served that many all year!”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Tony Jimenez and Toby Davis)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Afghan aid donors face quandary over future of police fund | Reuters

KABUL Afghanistan is locked in a wrangle with the United Nations over control of a fund for police salaries, highlighting a quandary for aid donors keen to disengage from the country but reluctant to do so until sustainable, graft-free systems are in place.

A bid to revamp the police has been one of the most expensive and problem-plagued projects Afghanistan’s Western allies have undertaken since stepping in to rebuild the country after the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

    The dispute between the government and the United Nations, exacerbated by a leaked U.N. report on police corruption, is over control of a Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, and raises the prospect of more than 100,000 police going unpaid if it is not resolved by the end of June.

    While police are expected to get their pay packets, even the suggestion they might not is likely to demoralise a force that is vital to security, especially after the withdrawal of most foreign troops, and struggling against a Taliban offensive.

    Despite the lavishing of more than $3 billion through the trust fund since 2002, the police have been unable to shake off a reputation for corruption and poor discipline.

    The surfacing of the U.N. report on police corruption, and a suggestion some U.N. officials tried to cover it up to hide their failings, has helped President Ashraf Ghani press his argument that the fund should be controlled by his government.

    While donors want the fund transferred eventually, several diplomats told Reuters they think ministries are too corrupt and they want strict conditions for transfer to Afghan control.

    Negotiations have been heated.

    At least one major donor has frozen millions of dollars. A diplomat whose country contributes to the fund said more help was conditional on the interior ministry being able to handle it “carefully and responsibly”.

    “The question of how deeply cuts are made will depend on security, reforms and corruption,” the diplomat said.

    Top government negotiator Narghis Nehan said talks were centred on an 18-month transition during which the UNDP would shift into the role of monitor.

    That would address Ghani’s concerns about UNDP management, which the president has objected to since it ignored demands last year to plan for a transition, and withheld the corruption report from both the government and donors, undermining trust between them.

Even though the June 30 deadline for a resolution looks set to pass, donors are optimistic a fix can be found to keep paying the force until agreement is reached.

    “You can’t just start firing dozens of officers in the middle of the fighting season,” said Franz-Michael Mellbin, ambassador for the EU, a major donor to the Trust Fund.

(Editing by Paritosh Bansal, Robert Birsel)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Iran’s Rouhani aims to limit nuclear inspections, warns of talks delay | Reuters

DUBAI Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday a comprehensive nuclear deal could be delayed if world powers brought new issues into play, and he would not accept a U.N. inspections regime that jeopardised state secrets.

Iran is aiming to strike an accord with six powers by June 30 that would curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions. But negotiators have hit an impasse in part over how much enhanced access International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors should have to Iranian sites. [ID:nL5N0YX22Y]

“Iran will absolutely not allow its national secrets to fall into the hands of foreigners through the Additional Protocol or any other means,” Rouhani said in a televised news conference, referring to an IAEA provision that would allow more intrusive inspections in the Islamic Republic.

U.S. and French diplomats have called for Iran to accept stringent measures including granting inspectors access to its military sites as well as inspections on as little as two hours notice — access that the Protocol could encompass.

Rouhani said Iran could embrace the Protocol, noting that other states that are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had done so without problem. But he insisted Iran should not face especially far-reaching measures.

“A problem we face on many issues is that when we reach a framework in one meeting, our negotiating partners go back on it in the next meeting,” said Rouhani, a pragmatist elected in 2013 on a platform of limited Iranian engagement with the West, after many years of deepening hostility.

“If the other side sticks to the framework that has been established, and does not bring new issues into play, I believe it can be solved… But if they want to take the path of brinkmanship, the negotiations could take longer.”

The IAEA has long had regular, if limited, access to Iran’s nuclear-related sites. But Tehran has refused to let the agency visit military sites, citing the risk of security-sensitive information being passed on to Western intelligence agencies.

The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said on Thursday that additional nuclear transparency measures were outlined in a preliminary deal reached in April between Iran and its negotiating partners. [nL5N0YX1X7]

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on Iran’s foreign and security policy, has ruled out several requests by the West, including on interviewing its nuclear scientists and “extraordinary supervision measures”. [ID:nL5N0YB1Z7]

The Additional Protocol would also permit the IAEA to collect environmental samples like soil that can unearth military dimensions to nuclear activities years after they have taken place.

Western powers have long suspected Iran of trying to develop the means to make atomic bombs, while Iran insists its uranium enrichment programme is purely for peaceful purposes.

Rouhani said: “What is important to Iran is that, in implementing this protocol, we make it clear to the world that the accusations we have faced about trying to build a bomb are baseless.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Noodle crisis: labelling dispute lands Nestle in hot water | Reuters

BARABANKI, India/NEW DELHI The packets of Nestle’s Maggi 2-Minute Noodles that triggered India’s worst food scare in a decade almost got lost in the post.

Returned months later to the north Indian food inspector who first sent the samples – after a detour via Shimla in the Himalayas – the consignment eventually reached a laboratory in Kolkata, where tests found seven times the legal levels of lead.

From there, what began as a minor labelling dispute that according to a local magistrate could have been settled with a $400 fine, spiralled into Nestle’s worst public relations crisis to date in India.

The scare over Maggi instant noodles, one of India’s most popular snacks, has gripped increasingly health-conscious consumers.

It has also highlighted shortcomings in the country’s food safety network.

Uttar Pradesh, where the crisis began, has a population the size of Brazil’s but the state’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only five laboratories – or one per 40 million people.

Asked by the central Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to run checks, FDA officials in another state did not know the lead limit, FSSAI head Yudhvir Singh Malik said.

“We need to strengthen the food safety infrastructure,” Malik told Reuters.

But the FSSAI has nonetheless stood by its testing, saying in a report on Friday they had “overwhelming evidence” that Maggi noodles were “unsafe and hazardous”. India has also filed for damages from Nestle. Regulators have not said how the product might have become contaminated.

The Swiss-based company has challenged the test findings and stresses its snack is safe. In its representations to the FSSAI, Nestle said the sample could have been contaminated during its lengthy transit, although it gave no evidence that was the case.

HOLI CHECKS

Nestle’s woes began last year, on the eve of Holi – India’s spring festival of colours and a time of indulgence for many – when inspectors were on the lookout for adulterated foods at retailers in Barabanki, a town of 150,000 in Uttar Pradesh.

“That is the time for aggressive checking of adulteration on food products – particularly snacks,” Barabanki food safety officer Sanjay Singh told Reuters at his shabby office.

Inspectors picked up samples of Maggi noodles, sold in an instantly recognisable bright yellow package for as little as a dozen rupees (under 20 U.S. cents), from a local supermarket.

The samples were sent to a state laboratory in Gorakhpur, which reported on April 24 that labelling containing the words “No added MSG” violated Indian regulations.

According to a local magistrate, the same Gorakhpur lab had found monosodium glutamate in Maggi noodles in 2013. The retailer who sold the noodles paid a fine of 25,000 rupees ($400) for a similar violation. That was the end of the matter.

Nestle appealed against the April 2014 ruling, however, stating that the noodles contained MSG as the result of a natural process.

“Nestle was apparently over-confident about their product, otherwise the company would not have preferred an appeal and instead paid up the penalty of 25,000 rupees,” said Yogeshwar Ram Mishra, a Barabanki district magistrate.

LOST IN THE POST

Nestle paid 1,000 rupees to have the sample from the Barabanki supermarket tested at the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata, a government referral lab. It was sent by government post only to be returned two months later from Shimla, said local food safety officer Singh.

When the Kolkata lab presented its results in a report dated April 7 – more than a year after the samples were first taken – as well as confirming the violation of labelling rules it said the sample had tested positive for lead.

Nestle said it would be inappropriate to comment on the details of the tests. But its arguments challenging the findings were presented in an eight-page notice published by the FSSAI on Friday that ordered the withdrawal of Maggi noodles.

The notice said Nestle bosses had argued at a meeting with the regulator that the tests at the Kolkata lab had “showed a very high level of lead because the samples remained open for a long period of time before being tested”. It did not elaborate on how that could have caused the sample to be tainted.

That argument was rejected by the FSSAI. The head of the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata, A.K. Adhikari, said: “We stick by the result and nothing can change it.”

Adhikari declined to comment when asked whether the Kolkata lab had found similar results in further tests on Maggi noodles. The test on the Barabanki batch showed a lead content of 17.2 parts per million (ppm), compared with a legal limit of 2.5 ppm, a copy of the lab report seen by Reuters showed.

In the first public appearance by management since the scare began, group CEO Paul Bulcke told reporters in New Delhi on Friday that Nestle’s own and third-party tests had found that the product was “safe for consumption”.

Nestle now has less than two weeks to convince the regulator why product approval for its noodles should not be withdrawn.

($1 = 63.7595 rupees)

(Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata, Clara Ferreira Marques, Nivedita Bhattarcharjee and Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Alex Richardson)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Delhi Uber drivers protest after government crackdown | Reuters

NEW DELHI Hundreds of taxi-drivers working for Uber and other online cab-hailing companies protested in Delhi on Monday, saying the government’s latest crackdown on their business had disrupted operations.

With the Delhi government determined to step up pressure on the companies after they defied a state-wide ban for six months, police officers have been using the taxi-hailing apps to book vehicles and impound them as they arrive.

“The police are treating us like terrorists,” said Sakil Ahmad Khan, 42, whose car was impounded last week. Without a job, he said, he did not know how he would repay a 500,000-rupee loan he had taken on his car.

The taxi companies were banned in December, after a driver contracted with Uber was charged with raping a woman passenger in a case that sparked national uproar and highlighted the absence of screening of drivers by the U.S.-based company.

Uber resumed operations in January even though the ban remained in place.

Police have impounded more than 600 cars belonging to their drivers since the Delhi government last week rejected licence applications from the taxi-hailing companies, saying they had not complied with the ban.

The taxi companies must comply with the law, said Muktesh Chander, Delhi’s special commissioner of police.

“They are arrogant and don’t want to run by the law,” he added. “If they think the law is unreasonable, they can challenge the law.”

In an emailed statement, Gagan Bhatia, Uber’s general manager in Delhi, said the company would continue working with the government to find an amicable solution.

On Monday, Uber’s app in New Delhi showed no cars available, or a surge in pricing, signalling a shortage of drivers.

Many of the drivers gathered at Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century observatory and traditional rallying point in central Delhi, said they would have to stop working for the taxi firms unless the government reversed its decision.

Krishan Kumar, 25, said police impounded his car a few days ago, after a customer called his taxi to a shopping mall. When he arrived, his vehicle was seized by officers and he was forced to pay a 5,000-rupee fine.

“I come from a small household and we don’t have much money,” Kumar said. “My entire family is dependent on me for a source of income and they will go hungry if I don’t have this.”

(Editing by Andrew MacAskill and Clarence Fernandez)

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Yemeni forces fire Scud missile at Saudi Arabia | Reuters

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FBI to investigate Russia, Qatar World Cup bids | Reuters

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Rough waters ahead for Modi sarkar as met predicts second consecutive drought

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Wawrinka trumps Federer in all-Swiss duel to reach semis | Reuters

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IMD cuts monsoon forecast to ‘deficient’, panicky farmers stare at drought

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