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After Chennai rains, UN has some grim weather predictions for South India

The ongoing El Nino weather pattern in the Asia and Pacific is likely to be one of the strongest since 1998 and will continue into early 2016, according to the advisory, which asks regional cooperation for early warning, in-season mitigation and long-term adaptation strategies to curb climate risk..

People wade through a flooded road in Chennai, December 5, 2015.

Reuters
Southern India could continue to experience higher than normal rainfall and this could cause further flooding due to El Nino, a phenomena which sparks global weather extremes, according to a UN report.The ongoing El Nino weather pattern in the Asia and Pacific is likely to be one of the strongest since 1998 and will continue into early 2016, according to the advisory, which asks regional cooperation for early warning, in-season mitigation and long-term adaptation strategies to curb climate risk.”The impact of the 2015-2016 El Nino could be even more severe in certain locations, such as the uplands of Cambodia, central and southern India, eastern Indonesia, the central and southern Philippines, central and northeast Thailand,” said the Third Advisory Note on El Nino issued jointly by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES).<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While many southeast Asian countries, particularly India and Sri Lanka, expect to face severe flooding caused by heavy rainfalls, some Pacific islands Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu, among others have been experiencing a serious drought, causing water shortage and food insecurity, according to the report. The 2015-2016 El Nino is likely to be one of the strongest El Nino events since 1997-1998.Sri Lanka and southern India could continue to experience higher than normal rainfall and this could cause further flooding, particularly urban flooding, in certain locations, the report said. In India, Chennai was hit exceptionally hard, with numerous deaths recorded due to severe flooding.Up to 21.7 inches of rain was recorded, which drenched Tamil Nadu and over 7.9 inches fell in large areas of southeastern India and northern Sri Lanka. Record-setting rainfall since November 2015 has generated severe floods resulting in the death of a large number of people, the report said.”While there is no detailed scientific investigation into whether there is a direct link between the 2015-2016 El Nino and Chennai city flooding yet, the consensus that strong El Nino conditions has led to abnormal rainfall during the northeast monsoon season in South Asia indicates that El Nino had a part to play in the sequence of extreme weather events in India,” the advisory said.

Here’s what Rahul Gandhi did during his 60-day secret sabbatical

A private company had sent him on the holiday which included visit to Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The report says that his visit to Myanmar was deemed unsafe by SPG.

Rahul Gandhi’s break of over 50 days, the topic turned into a huge debate. Just before the Parliamentary Budget session had begun Gandhi had gone for a ‘break’ abroad, with the details of his trip very much under the wraps. However, according to an India Today report, he had gone for a 60-day vacation. A private company had sent him on the holiday which included visit to Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. As per the report, he has spent 11 days in Cambodia, 12 days in Vietnam and 15 days in Thailand. He was accompained bu Congress leader Satish Sharma’s son Sameer. <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The report says that his visit to Myanmar was deemed unsafe by SPG. Rahul had left for the trip just before the beginning of Parliamentary Budget session and discussion on land bill.

India and Asean two bright spots of optimism in a world of uncertainties: PM Modi in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday sought enhanced cooperation from Asean to fight the scourge of terrorism while saying that India and the southeast Asian regional grouping remained the two bright spots of optimism in these troubled global times.

“We meet at a time of multiple global challenges: economic uncertainties, political turmoil and security threats,” Modi said in his address as the 13th Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-India Summit got underway here.

“In this difficult moment, India and Asean are two bright spots of optimism,” he said.

PM Narendra Modi at the Asean Business Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. AP

PM Narendra Modi at the Asean Business Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. AP

Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The prime said terrorism has become a “major global challenge that affects us all here”.

“We have excellent bilateral cooperation with Asean members. And, we should see how we can enhance our cooperation at the regional and international level, including through support for adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism,” he said.

On economic relations, he said India has emerged as the fastest growing economy with a growth rate of 7.5 percent while Asean’s economy continued to forge ahead with dynamism and energy.

“I have no doubt that we will reinforce prosperity for our 1.9 billion people,” he said.

Modi said that after a temporary decline, trade between India and the Asean copuntriues increased to about $76.5 billion in 2014-15.

“Asean remains the largest investment partner, both for inward and outward flows,” he said.

He, however, said that much of the potential for economic partnership between the two sides remained untapped.

“I am confident that our trade and investment will expand, as our economies grow.”

Modi also expressed hope for progress in negotiations for a balanced and ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that would cover goods and services as well as investments.

“Connectivity is the pathway to shared prosperity. The Trilateral (India-Myanmar-Thailand) Highway project is making good progress and should be completed by 2018,” he said.

Stating that science, technology and innovation constituted a vital pillar of cooperation between India and Asean, the prime minister said that the Asean-India Science and Technology Development Fund would be enlarged from the current $1 million to $5 million.

“We also intend to set up an Asean-India Innovation Platform to facilitate commercialization of low cost technologies, technology transfer and collaborative R&D projects,” he said.

He also invited the Asean nations to join his proposed solar alliance.

“I have also proposed an international solar alliance of 122 solar-rich countries, which French President (Francois) Hollande and I will launch in Paris on November 30. We look forward to your participation in the launch and the alliance,” he said.

On Asean-India cultural links, Modi said that India proposed to open an Asean Studies Centre in the Northeastern Hill University in Shillong, “which is our gateway to the East”.

Earlier on Saturday, Modi addressed the Asean Business and Investment Summit here.

He will also attend the 10th East Asia Summit here on Sunday.

IANS

India to host 18-nation mega Army joint exercise with ASEAN members and dialogue partners

Senior officials in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told dna that the exercise details are being worked out and it is likely to take place in Pune in the first week of March.

In what is slated to be the first-of-its-kind in scale, the Indian Army will hold a joint military exercise next year with 17 nations that include all the 10 member nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and eight dialogue partners — including India — of the regional strategic groupSenior officials in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told dna that the exercise details are being worked out and it is likely to take place in Pune in the first week of March.The Field Training Exercise (FTX-2016) will be a week-long engagement among the armies of the 18 nations over coordination, primarily on de-mining, and the entire activity will be a part of the larger roadmap of military humanitarian understanding in the years to come between India and ASEAN members and affiliates.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand are ASEAN member nations.Officials said that the dialogue partners apart from India, namely, China, Japan, South Korea, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Russia, are being coordinated with over their participation.The army’s mega-exercise will follow a grand Naval exercise in February next, at Vishakapatnam, where close to 50 country’s navies will come together for a five-day-long display of prowess and maritime capabilities.The Indian Army, has recently concluded a joint ‘hand-in-hand’ exercise with the Chinese army at China’s Kunming Military Academy and a two-week-long joint training in counter-terrorism operations with the Russian army at Suratgarh in Rajasthan.

Ramayana on the silver screen: MEA set to commission a film on the epic before Diwali

The so-called secularists may baulk at it. The Ministry of External Affairs is going to view presentations by leading filmmakers next week on the topic: “Ramayana – A Shared Culture in India and Southeast Asia”.

ibn live imageibn live image

ibn live image

The presentations may be held as early as just before Dussehra, immediately after the deadline for filing submissions ends on 19 October at 5.30 pm. The 26-minute film project is likely to be awarded to the best candidate by Diwali which falls on 11 November. This is the first time that the MEA is going to commission a film on Ramayana.

The film is likely to cost the MEA anywhere between RS. 40 to 50 lakh but it is no deterrent for the MEA.

The Narendra Modi government feels that Ramayana, the eternal battle between good and evil, holds a borderless appeal and carrying the message of the Ramayana to international audience is the need of the hour.

The MEA commissions films worth crores of rupees every year. Normally it stays away from religious topics and chooses subjects which give it heft for soft power projection or furthers national interests or promotes relations with friendly countries.

Three years ago, the UPA government had commissioned a film on Christian nun from Kerala Saint Alphonso. However, earlier this year when MPs from Kerala wrote to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for commissioning second part of the film, she turned down the proposal.

But the Ramayana is a different ball game, even though it may lead to demands for commissioning films on scriptures of other religions as well.

Going by the vast appeal of Ramayana in Southeast Asian countries, most of which are either Buddhist or Muslim dominated, the Modi government’s decision to make a film on this timeless epic is not only understandable but laudable too.

If out of ten nations of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) at least seven nations — Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia –have received the influence of Hindu culture since the early days of Indian contacts, it is largely because of the influence of Ramayana.

Consider the following little known facts.

*The capital of early Thailand was called Ayutthaya, named after Lord Ram’s capital of Ayodhya. Another ancient city in Thailand is Lavpuri, named after Ram’s son Lav.

*The Royal king in Thailand is called ‘Bhumipal Athulyatej, Rama IX’.

*The country Laos is named after Ram’s son Lav.

*Thai kick boxing which is based on the military skills of Bali and Sugreeva, famous characters of Ramayana, is now an event in International Olympics.

*Ministers in Malaysia take oath of office in the name of Lord Ram’s Paduka ‘Urusan Seri Paduka’ and the agong or royal president takes oath of office in the name of the dust of Ram’s Paduka ‘Urusan Seri Paduka Dhuli’, as the Malaysians consider the dust of Ram’s ‘paduka’ or footwear holier than the Paduka itself.

*One may find it strange but it is true that even if a mosque has to be built in Malaysia, the government orders are issued in the name of ‘Urusan Seri Paduka’.

*Predominantly Muslim countries in Southeast Asia like Brunei and Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic nation,  take pride in saying ‘Islam is our Religion but Ramayana is our Culture’.

*The Southeast Asian Games in 1997 used Hanuman as its mascot.

Did cyber fraudsters dupe ONGC of Rs 197 crore?

The company owed ONGC the money for a consignment of naphtha. The bogus emails instructed the company to transfer the money to a particular bank account.

The Mumbai cyber crime police station (CCPS) at Bandra-Kurla Complex is investigating a case, wherein fraudsters faked Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) email IDs and sent it to a Saudi Arabia-based company that was supposed to make a payment of Rs 197 crore to the company.The company owed ONGC the money for a consignment of naphtha. The bogus emails instructed the company to transfer the money to a particular bank account.According to CCPS sources, a few months ago, ONGC had floated a tender for selling naphtha. After the Saudi Arabian company won the bid, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”In September, the consignment was shipped to the company, which was supposed to make the payment in October. However, ONGC never received the payment. When ONGC officials made inquiries with the Saudi company, they were shocked to learn that the latter had received an e-mail from ONGC asking them to transfer the money to a certain bank account.”ONGC officials sought details about the e-mail IDs from the company. Details about the bogus email ID then came to light,” said a crime branch officer.The police are now probing whether the Saudi company has fallen into the trap of cyber fraudsters. “We have got details about the bank account. The account belongs to a bank in Bangkok, Thailand. Someone who was in the know the deal must have played a role in this fraud. All angles are being probed,” the officer said.Additional commissioner of police, crime, KMM Prasanna, confirmed that a case has been registered under under Sections 419, 420, 465, 468, 471 IPC and 66C, 66D of the Information Technology Act but refused to divulge details as the probe is on.

Bangkok blast: Two Indians taken into custody for questioning

Bangkok: Two Indians have been taken into custody for questioning after they were seen on CCTVs talking to a foreign suspect wanted in Thailand’s deadliest bombing at a temple in Bangkok while a person arrested in the case told police that the mastermind of the attack had fled the country.

Bangkok blast. AP

The Bangkok blast killed 20 people and injured many others. AP

The two Indians, who were not identified, have been taken to a military camp for questioning, The Nation quoted police as saying.

“Nothing is really known so far about the Indians and it is not clear what the questioning is about,” sources told PTI.

The two Indians, whose names were withheld, were taken away for questioning after Assistant Police Commissioner General Prawut Thawornsiri led a team to search the Maimuna Garden Home apartment in Minburi at 9 pm on Sunday night.

The two Indians were staying in the room next to the one where police found bomb making materials, the paper said.

A foreigner who lived at the room and a Thai woman who rented the room for him are now wanted in the case.

Thai police is closely combing areas in search of people behind the 17 August bomb blast at the popular Erawan Brahma Shrine which killed 20 people and injured more than 100 others.

A combined force of police and army officers on Sunday raided several apartment buildings and rented houses in Minburi district.

Coloner Wattana Yichin, deputy commander of the Metropolitan Police overseeing Minburi police station, said the raid was part of crime suppression measures as many foreigners rent apartments and houses in the area.

Police so far have issued arrest warrants against ten suspects in connection with the case.

Two foreign suspects have been arrested. One of them was carrying a Chinese passport.

Meanwhile, a suspect who was arrested near the Cambodia border identified as Yusufu Meralli, told military interrogators he assembled the bomb for the actual bomber, who is yet to be nabbed.

The first man arrested, Adem Karadak, also known as Bilal Mohammed, has been shifted from military custody to prison.

Meralli admitted he assembled the bomb before handing it to a yellow-shirted suspect who was seen on CCTV at the shrine leaving behind a backpack which would have had the explosive device.

Mieraili had told the military that he was asked to assemble the bomb, Bangkok Post quoted police sources as saying. Mieraili identified the mastermind of the attack only as Izaan. He said Izaan commanded the operation by using WhatsApp chatting application.

According to a source, Mierali testified that Izaan left Thailand via Suvarnabhumi International Airport on 16 August, a day before the bombing, to China and then headed to Bangladesh.

Mieraili claimed he had never met the yellow-shirted suspect before.

He said Izaan told him to buy bomb-making chemicals via Internet to make bombs. He reported to Izaan after the bombs were made, the paper said.

He was then ordered to carry a backpack with a bomb to leave it under a bench on a bank of Phadung Krungkasem Canal near Hua Lampong Railway station.

Mieraili said the man in yellow shirt came to switch his backpack with the one with the bomb. He said he did not meet the man in yellow in person.

He said the mastermind also instructed him to take a video clip of the bomb attack but he dared not do it for fear of being arrested.

Mieraili was carrying a Chinese passport which mentioned his place of birth as China’s western region of Xinjiang, but it is not known if it was forged.

PTI

dna Must Read at 6 pm: PM Modi’s Haryana trip, Sooraj Pancholi on life post Jiah Khan’s death, the latest in refugee crisis and more

Here are the top stories on dna at 6 pm.

Here are the top stories on dna at 6 pm :1) PM Modi in Haryana: Read all about what the Prime Ministers’ had to say about the launch of Beti Bachao scheme, the Metro and slammed the opposition over OROP in Faridabad 2) Australian all-rounder Shane Watson retires from Test cricket: Read what Watson had to say about his decision to hang up his the boot in theTests here.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>3) Actor Sooraj Pancholi talks about life after Jiah Khan’s death: The actor who was embroiled in a huge controversy following Jiah Khan’s death says that he has emerged stronger after the tragedy, read more here.4) Thailand’s military-appointed council rejects new constitution: Read about the country’s ongoing political turmoil here5) Cyprus rescues 114 fleeing Syrians on fishing boat: Read all about the latest in the refugee crisis

New Asian highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand put into service

Yangon: The Myawaddy-Thinggan Nyenaung-Kawkareik section of the Asian highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand has been put into service, the media reported.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Myanmar Vice President U Nyan Tun, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Chairman of the Kayin National Union General Saw Mutu Sae Po attended an inaugural ceremony of the service on Sunday, Xinhua reported.

With the 25.6-km-long section becoming operational, travel time between Thinggan Nyenaung and Kawkareik will be reduced from three hours to 45 minutes.

The construction of the Asian highway section started in 2012 with the assistance of Thailand.

The Asian highway runs from Moreh in India to Thailand’s Maesot via Myanmar’s Tamu, Mandalay and Myawaddy.

The section, also part of the East-West economic corridor of the Greater Mekong Subregion, will not only enhance trade between Myanmar and Thailand, but also contribute to better links among people in the region.

A cornerstone laying ceremony was also held at Myawaddy on Sunday for the building of Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Bridge No.2 to link Thailand’s Maesot with Myanmar’s Myawaddy.

IANS

On the cards, India-US deal to choke ISI’s fake currency business

In the next round of homeland security meet, the two countries are expected to sign an MoU to share real-time intelligence on terror financing and source of materials used in counterfeiting.

In a move that can throttle ISI’s (Inter Service Intelligence) counterfeit currency business, India and US are set to ink a crucial agreement that would declare counterfeiting of currency as the instrument for destabilising the monetary and financial stability of a country.Indian agencies have strong evidence to suggest that ISI has been manufacturing fake Indian currency notes (FICN) in Rs1000 and Rs500 denominations and pumping them through Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and Dubai routes for terror financing. According to sources, to make this high risk business lucrative, the ISI is supplying FICN @ of Rs300-500 per Rs1000.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In the next round of homeland security meet, the two countries are expected to sign an MoU to share real-time intelligence on terror financing and source of materials used in counterfeiting.”Both India and US are in agreement that the huge profits derived out of this criminal activity pose AML (anti-money laundering) and CFT (combating the financing of terrorism) risks,” said sources.The meet will also consider bringing all currency material manufacturers (CMM) in world under certain safeguards, standards and obligations on a reciprocal basis between India and US so that they cannot be instrumental in supplying same currency material – paper, ink or other intricate design to any other country, sources said.Under the proposed definition of default under the MoU, any CMM associated with sale, manufacture and trade of currency printing machine, equipment, services and consumables like paper and ink, would be blacklisted by both countries if found to be involved in a) supplying machine, material of services to a country or entity known to be printing counterfeit currency; b) violating Indo-US code of conduct on sourcing of its production processes and materials from identified countries and c) maintaining excess inventory of raw material than required.Besides, the two countries are also expected to sign an agreement for exchange of terrorist screening information between Terrorist Screening Centre (TCS) of USA and Intelligence Bureau (IB) of India.TCS, under FBI, consolidates several terrorist watch lists maintained by different US agencies into a single Terrorist Screening Data base for identifying those known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activity. The data base includes name, nationality, date of birth, photos, finger prints and passport number etc.But before signing the agreement, on IB’s insistence, India wants to settle privacy issues and also wants to secure from the US side progress in areas of concern in counter terrorism to the Indian side, such as access to internet related data held by US based servers.A sub committee under Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) of the IB, having representatives of R&AW, CBI and NIA, has recommended that to begin with only information on Red Corner Notices (RCN) may be shared with the TCS and later, in addition, the sub committee may scrutinize names of other wanted criminals and terrorists and decide if they should be shared with the TCS or not, sources said.”If this system works properly on equal footing, it would be very beneficial for us to get quick information on possible fugitives and terrorists and also crucial leads on terrorists who use internet services to plan terror strikes,” said sources

All you need to know about ‘mother of all insurgencies’ NSCN-IM

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All you need to know about the formation of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the breaking away of NSCN-K and the peace process with Centre.

Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muiva

File Photo
The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) signed a peace accord with the Modi-led BJP government on Monday. The agreement came eighteen years since 1997 when the talks had begun with the insurgent group.About the NSCNThe National Socialist Council of Nagaland was formed in January 1980. The founders, Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang had created the group to oppose the Naga National Council’s decision to accept the Indian Constitution. They were against the Shillong Accord of November 1975 which was signed by Angami Zapu Phizo’s Naga National Council.
The objective of the group was to create a sovereign nation ‘Naglim’ which would have all regions in the Northeast and Myanmar that are inhabited by the Naga tribes. The group follows Mao Zedong’s ideaology and Christianity with the underlying principle of socialism for economic development and a spiritual outlook – ‘Nagaland for Christ’.
The faction NSCN-IM, which came to be known as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’ after a split between two clans in the group. In April 1988, Khaplang leading the Konvaks clan announced the formation of NSCN-K after making an unsuccessful attempt on Muivah’s life. Khaplang now heads the recently-floated United National Liberation Front of Western South-East Asia, an umbrella group of five more rebel outfits from northeastern region, including ULFA, PLA and NDFB(S). NSCN-K, along with a few Manipuri outfits, were responsible for the killing of 18 army men in Chandel district of Manipur on June.
The NSCN-IM was thus created by Tangkhul clan under its leaders Isak and Muivah. Both NSCN-IM and NSCN-K have been accusing each other of working for the government of India.
The NSCN-IM<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The group reportedly runs a parallel government in regions which it controls. The regions include several districts in Nagaland as well as neighbouring Assam, Arunachal Pradesh. The leaders and members have lived or traveled to countries like Pakistan, China and Thailand. The group reportedly has support from the Naga community in Thailand.
The group has reportedly reached out to UN Human Rights Organisations in Geneva, Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation (UNPO) at the Hague and the UN Working Group on Indigenous People (UNWGIP).
NSCN-IM agreed to a ceasefire in 1997 which led to the beginning of the peace process with the Indian government.
However the process ran into a hurdle when the group demanded for a separate flag and its demand to get all Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative umbrella.
In 2011, Chairman Isak Chishi Swu accepted an Indian passport on his return from Bangkok, Thailand last month, encouraging the peace process.
In June 2015, the group offered to assist Centre to take down its rival NSCN-K. It had expressed its desire to help security forces hunt down its arch rival NSCN-K rebels, who killed 18 soldiers in Manipur in June, 2015. The Centre was turned down the offer saying it was capable of dealing with the NSCN-K.
A five-point resolution was passed by the Nagaland legislative assembly on July 27, which also included “integration of all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas”, reports The Hindustan Times. This was unanimously supported by the representatives of Naga civil society.
Other resolutions which were passed were the resumption of ceasefire between New Delhi and NSCN-Khaplang and removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1958 from Nagaland, adds the report. The NSCN-K in March 27, 2015, walked out of the peace process that was signed in April 2001 this year.
The resolution has caused worry among Nagaland’s neighbours Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipuras over the “integrating Naga-inhabited areas”. The resolution has evoked a feeling of threat to the states’ territorial integrity.
Violent protests have followed the Nagaland’s demand. In Manipur a mob had set fire to the state assembly in 2001.

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National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K)NSCN (Issac-Munivah)NagalandNarendra ModiWeb ExclusiveAssamArunachal PradeshMyanmarPakistanChinaArmed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA)United Nations (UN)Isak Chisi SwuThuingaleng MuivaSS KhaplangspecialNSCN(IM)

India envisage more vigorous engagement with Southeast Asia: Sushma Swaraj

Bangkok: India on Sunday described Thailand as a valued partner in its ‘Act East’ Policy and said it envisage a more vigorous and proactive engagement with the strategic and economically vibrant Southeast Asia region as part of its efforts to reposition itself at the world stage.

“Our Government is resolved to move with a great sense of priority and speed to implement the ‘Act East Policy’,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said here today during an interaction with Indian business leaders.

Sushma Swaraj. AFPSushma Swaraj. AFP

Sushma Swaraj. AFP

“We envisage a more vigorous and proactive engagement with this economically vibrant region of our extended neighbourhood,” she said, insisting that the NDA government has engaged closely with India’s neighbourhood, strengthened bilateral ties with major countries, energised engagement with the East and repositioned India at the world stage.

She said that India’s ‘Look East’ Policy of the last two decades has been elevated to ‘Act East’ Policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I am happy to say that we have reached new milestones in our global outreach and made significant achievements in the last one year in transforming our relations with the outside world,” said Swaraj, who is here on a three-day bilateral visit and to attend the 16th World Sanskrit Conference.

Describing Thailand as an important pillar of India’s policy and a valued partner, she said the relationship between the two countries has expanded to virtually all areas of bilateral cooperation in recent years.

“Our bilateral relations with Thailand are based on deep-rooted cultural, religious and neighbourly association between the people of our two nations. Our common heritage of Buddhism and the philosophy of compassion, tolerance, non-violence and peace have laid strong foundations for this relationship,” she said.

“I am pleased to see that so many of you are in the leadership positions in corporates in Thailand and the region. In you I see the strength of our people-to-people relations. And in you I also see an influential group of leaders who can contribute to the economic growth of both Thailand and India,” she told the leading Indian business leaders.

She said her government is working on the simple 3C mantra – Commerce, Culture and Connectivity.

“In all these three areas I cannot overemphasise the importance of Thailand. We have embarked on ambitious projects for land connectivity with Thailand through Myanmar. We are also working on enhancing our sea connectivity with Thailand which is a maritime neighbour of India,” she said.

PTI

When an earthquake set them free to run for their lives

It’s a jail even the policeman says is not safe to venture into. Not because hardened criminals inhabit its dingy cells. But because the prison in Chautara, the headquarters of Sindhupalchowk, has been so severely damaged that an aftershock could bring down what remains of the day when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake destroyed 90% of the homes and wiped off 2% of the population in this district.But inside this prison lies preserved the events of those few minutes on the afternoon of April 25 when the earth shook and the prison opened its walls to give all 216 inmates a shot at freedom. All of them made a run for their lives through the collapsed walls of the jail. A majority of the escaped prisoners were convicted for murder and human trafficking. The jail still shows the last moments before 216 men escaped the prison while the earthquake destroyed their surroundings.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Chautara jail is situated on top of the town on a hill with the police control room and a local court in the vicinity. A 20 foot high wall reinforced with barbed wires surrounds the jail with two watch towers. The adjacent women’s prison is much smaller than the men’s but was equally well guarded.Inside the now destroyed jail, the escape of the prisoners remains frozen in time. Clothes of the inmates still hang outside their prison cells. Photographs of families and telephone books lie scattered on the jail walls. Spinning wheels used by prisoners to keep themselves busy lie idle in a damaged room. Bags and personal belongings of prisoners lay strewn on the floor, indicating the survival instinct that kicked in when the prison walls started falling down. Semi-finished bamboo stools lie abandoned in the prison courtyard. Cans of Made in Thailand Red Star energy booster drinks lie crushed and neatly piled in a corner. A couple of bibles lay strewn on the cracked staircase leading to the first floor of the single storey prison. A blue Victorian era fake suitcase lies open with its contents missing. Shoes and slip-ons of the prisoners lay everywhere indicating that many ran bare footed to survive the disintegrating prison. And then there is the usual prisoners’ paraphernalia – razor blades and an improvised stabbing weapon made with a spoon most likely siphoned from the jail kitchen.The policemen in the town are hoping that the prison collapses in an aftershock because it is too dangerous for anyone to go in and start demolishing or repairing it. dna went inside and photographed what was left of the prison after the April 25 earthquake. Here then is the story of what is left of the Chautara prison and what 216 inmates left behind while running for their lives and freedom on the afternoon the earthquake struck.

Did Lalit Modi visit China,Turkey, Thailand?

Recent photos uploaded by Modi on his Instagram feed showcase the lavish wedding of London-based industrialist couple Kimi and Pamela Grover’s son Ashwin to socialite Riya Khilnani in Venice.

Despite being served a blue corner notice Lalit Modi, the former Indian Premier League commissioner, seems to be having quite a time travelling to a number of countries, including China, Turkey, Cuba and Thailand, as suggested by his recent social media activity.Recent photos uploaded by Modi on his Instagram feed showcase the lavish wedding of London-based industrialist couple Kimi and Pamela Grover’s son Ashwin to socialite Riya Khilnani in Venice.Among the other recent uploads includes Modi holding a book titled Cuba by Korda, posing for a photograph while cozily tucked in what appears to be a private jet. Interestingly, the book has the photograph of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, a political figure whose ideology was supposed to be at odds with crony capitalism.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In other uploads, Modi is posing along with his family and friends after landing at the Havana airport. Another photograph showcases Modi along with his daughters in Italy and yet another one shows him attending his daughter’s graduation ceremony.A media report on Sunday landed the former IPL chief yet again in controversy after it revealed that Keith Vaz, the British MP of Indian origin, used external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s name to pressure Britain’s top immigration official to grant travel papers to Modi.Given by the long list of Modi’s visits, questions are being raised on the procedures employed while providing travel documents persons under criminal investigation.

India inks landmark cross border pact; more Saarc nations to join

Thimpu: India on Monday achieved a milestone with the signing of a motor vehicles pact with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh enabling seamless transit of passenger, cargo and vehicles with the first stage of the $8 billion road connectivity project set to begin in October.

Besides, Myanmar and Thailand have agreed to develop a motor vehicle pact on lines of the draft Saarc Motor vehicle agreement, which will pave the way for greater economic cooperation in the ASEAN region.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. PTIUnion Minister Nitin Gadkari. PTI

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. PTI

Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday signed the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) for Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic along with transport ministers of the other three nations here.

The BBIN MVA will not only reduce transport costs, but also foster development of multi-modal transport and transit facilities, enabling increased connectivity and promotion of greater trade between the four countries.

Transport Minister Gadkari addressing the conference at Thimpu said: “This MVA, which would eventually allow motor vehicles of all categories registered in our countries to move freely in the region, is a first and small but substantial step endorsing the commitment of our national leaders to deepen regional integration for peace, stability and prosperity.”

As per the agreement, the four countries will carry out a six-month work plan from July for the implementation of the BBIN MVA in accordance with the preparation of bilateral, perhaps trilateral or quadrilateral agreements and protocols, installation of the prerequisites for implementing the approved agreements, among others.

The staged implementation of the historic pact will begin in October this year.

In order to promote development of land transport that will connect supply and demand centres in the BBIN countries, a meeting of the Transport Secretaries of the four countries identified 30 priority transport connectivity projects with a total estimated cost of over $8 billion.

Gadkari said that India will work on signing a similar motor agreement with Myanmar and Thailand.

“I am happy to share with you all a significant initiative to strengthen connectivity of our sub-region to ASEAN. In this regard, a major breakthrough has been achieved between India, Myanmar and Thailand.

“Three nations have agreed to develop a similar framework MVA on the lines of draft SAARC Motor vehicle agreement,” he said.

Secretary level discussions were successfully concluded in Bengaluru this month and consensus has been reached on the text of the agreement, he added.

“On conclusion of this agreement, our sub-region will get access to the larger ASEAN market through seamless passenger and cargo movement,” the Minister said.

Transforming transport corridors into economic corridors could potentially increase intra-regional trade within South Asia by almost 60 percent and with the rest of the world by over 30 percent.

The corridors and their related routes were determined as per an analysis of regional and international trade patterns.

Gadkari said the MVA is the “over-arching” framework to fulfil the commitment to enhance regional connectivity. This will need to be followed through with formulation of required protocols and procedures in the shortest time possible to realise free movement of people and goods in the region.

This would need to be supplemented through building and upgrading roads, railways and waterways infrastructure, energy grids, communications and air links to ensure smooth cross-border flow of goods, services, capital, technology and people, he added.

“The agreement that we have drawn up gives ample flexibility to each country to take steps to operationalise the agreement as per the need and comfort of each nation.

“This endeavour was also actively supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which functioned as the interim secretariat for the four-countries,” Gadkari said in his speech.

He further said: “I am informed that ADB is also ready to invest in road infrastructure projects…”

Progress and economic development of the countries in the region are inter-linked and an enhanced regional activity will give a boost to trade and commerce among the nations and with other regions through intra-regional and inter-regional trade.

Besides Gadkari, Bangladesh Minister of Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader, Bhutan’s Minister of Information and Communications Lyonpo D N Dhungyel and Nepal’s Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Bimalendra Nidhi represented their respective countries.

All the four countries agreed on a six-month work plan for the BBIN MVA, from July to December.

It includes formulation, negotiation, and finalisation of the necessary legal instruments and operating procedures for implementing the agreement.

It also includes installation of the pre-requisite systems and infrastructure for carrying out the approved arrangements, such as information technology systems, and tracking and regulatory systems.

The Saarc MVA was expected to be signed during the Saarc Summit in Kathmandu in November 2014, but it could not be signed due to Pakistan’s reservations.

The declaration at the then Kathmandu Summit encouraged member states to initiate regional and sub-regional measures for connectivity. Hence, a sub-regional MVA among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal was considered.

PTI

TG323 Bangkok to Delhi: What Rahul Gandhi’s ticket tells us about his vacation rumours

Where is Rahul Gandhi? Was he in Thailand or Italy or Greece or Vietnam? Is he on a vacation? Did he meet a secret lover?

These are questions we don’t have definitive answers for. Recent reports have revealed that he is back in India, and Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi have gone to visit him in him Tuglak Road home in Delhi.

And amid rumours of where he could have possibly been, Headlines Today has found a business class flight ticket from Delhi to Bangkok dated February 16.

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Source: India Today

A ticket to Bangkok could mean many things, from connecting flights to a layover. So based on this new piece of evidence, and with all the information we have at hand, we evaluate the many rumoured destinations of Rahul’s sabbatical, from least likely to most likely.

1. Camping in Uttarakhand

Blurred pictures of Rahul Gandhi emerging from a tent, and speaking on the phone in the middle of jungle, by the banks of Ganga River, were released by Congress worker Jagdish Sharma on Twitter. He told ABP News, “I was hurt to hear in a debate on a news channel that Rahul Gandhi is in Bangkok so I tweeted the pictures last night itself. Some big leaders in the Congress want Rahulji to be sidelined.”

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Rahul Gandhi spotted in Uttarakhand. Image from Twitter: @jagdishkumarsh4

Likelihood meter: Very low, considering Uttarakhand is in India. And those photos turned out to be old.

2. Catching up with friends in Italy

Sunday Guardian “confirmed” that Rahul was “holidaying in Italy with his childhood friend Samir Sharma, the son of family friend Satish Sharma” and was back in Delhi after a 2 month sabbatical. Apparently, he first went to Bangkok, then flew to London en route to catch up with his friend in Italy. Right fly east first and then around the world to Europe. He must have the most directionally challenged travel agent in the business.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTICongress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Representational Image. PTI

Likelihood meter: Medium since Bangkok could well be the last stop in a global tour. Think: around the world in 57 days.

3. Hanging in Greece

If he was in Italy, why not Greece which is just a hop, skip and jump away. A little souvlaki to ease the boredom of endless pasta.

Why is it so difficult to know where Rahul Gandhi is gone? PTI imageWhy is it so difficult to know where Rahul Gandhi is gone? PTI image

Representational Image. PTI image.

Likelihood meter: Low since Greece is no closer to Bangkok than Italy

4. Meditating in Myanmar

IBN Live has said that Rahul has returned to Delhi after a 2 month long visit to a meditation retreat in Yangon, Myanmar. His connecting flight from Bangkok was delayed and therefore, he arrived on Thursday morning. That’s a whole lot of vipasana, but then he probably needed it to face the music back home.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTICongress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Representational Image. PTI

Likelihood meter: High. We prefer to think Rahulji mixed it up on his vacation: Spirituality first (Myanmar), party later (Bangkok!).

5. Chilling in Thailand

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that Rahul Gandhi was vacationing to “”reflect upon recent events and the future course of the party”, while the Bangkok Post reported that he was taking an extended break in Thailand. There is no better place to contemplate Indian politics than a pricey spa.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTICongress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Representational Image. PTI

Likelihood Meter: Very high. We can indeed be sure he was in that country’s airport, but then again, who spends 57 days in Thailand?!

India will have the largest Muslim population by 2050, says new study

Washington: Hindus will become the world’s third largest population by 2050, while India will overtake Indonesia as the country with the largest Muslim population, according to a new study.

According to the Pew Research Center’s religious profile predictions assessed data released on Thursday, the Hindu population is projected to rise by 34 percent worldwide, from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion by 2050.

AFP image.AFP image.

AFP image.

By 2050, Hindus will be third, making up 14.9 percent of the world’s total population, followed by people who do not affiliate with any religion, accounting for 13.2 percent, the report said.

The people with no religious affiliation currently have the third largest share of the world’s total population.

Muslims are projected to grow faster than the world’s overall population and that Hindus and Christians are projected to roughly keep pace with worldwide population growth, the report said.

“India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia,” it said.

“Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion,” according to the report.

The report predicted that by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.

There were 1.6 billion Muslims in 2010, compared to 2.17 billion Christians.

“The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world,” it added.

If the trend continues, Islam will be the most popular faith in the world after 2070, it said.

By 2050, Muslims will make up about 10 per cent of the Europe’s population, up from 5.9 percent in 2010.

Over the same period, the number of Hindus in Europe is expected to roughly double, from a little under 1.4 million (0.2 percent of Europe’s population) to nearly 2.7 million (0.4 percent), mainly as a result of immigration, it said.

In North America, the Hindu share of the population is expected to nearly double in the decades ahead, from 0.7 percent in 2010 to 1.3 percent in 2050, when migration is included in the projection models. Without migration, the Hindu share of the region’s population would remain the same.

Buddhism is the only faith that is not expected to increase its followers, due to an ageing population and stable fertility rates in Buddhist countries, such as China, Japan and Thailand.

The projections considered fertility rates, trends in youth population growth and religious conversion statistics.

PTI

Before initiating ‘Act East Policy’, Modi govt should review AFSPA, say experts

Kolkata: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiating the ‘Act East Policy’, the government should review the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast as it could be a barrier in connecting the region to the South-East neighbours, experts feel.

“If by our own definition the Northeast is a ‘disturbed area’ under AFSPA, then how can you ask everyone to look at east under the ‘Act East’ policy? How will you improve connectivity?” questions Sanjoy Hazarika, Director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi.

Representational image.Representational image.

Representational image.

Earlier in the year, the central government had extended AFSPA for another year in the entire state of Assam and along a 20-km-long belt in Assam’s border with Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, he said in Kolkata recently at a conference on improving connectivity in Asia.

Northeast expert Hazarika, who was also a member of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee to Review AFSPA, said the conflicts in the region had decreased drastically over the last few years.

“The Indian government should see this as its success and restrict AFSPA. If you restrict the Disturbed Areas Act, you end up restricting AFSPA,” he said.

In Manipur, civil rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for the last 14 years demanding repeal of AFSPA in the region.

Douglas Hill, south Asia researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said the focus of India’s ‘Act East’ policy should be more on fulfilling the needs of the people living in the northeast region rather than targeting the domination of powers like China.

“In the spheres of connectivity, security, counter-terrorism, trade and environmental affairs, there are a number of issues affecting east Asian countries,” he said.

According higher importance to east Asian neighbours, the new Modi government has renamed India’s erstwhile “Look East” policy into a more pro-active “Act East” policy.

To build more connectivity among east Asian nations, a 3200-km-long India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is planned, which will run from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Mandalay in Myanmar.

Kelly D Alley from Auburn University stressed on political willpower to solve problems in the region.

PTI

Narendra Modi government not in favour of freeing terrorists convicted on serious charges

As the Punjab government sought release of the state’s prisoners, the Union Home Ministry on Thursday indicated that legal opinion could be taken in select cases like old people and those having completed 20 years in prison but not those convicted in serious charges.Releasing terrorists convicted in charges like the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh is ruled out, Home Ministry officials said here today after Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal met Home Minister Rajnath Singh with the demand.”There is no question of softening of stand in terror cases. No commitment has been given to Badal on releasing any prisoner. There is no question of releasing people like those who were convicted for killing Beant Singh,” an official said.”However, selected cases may be legally examined.. Ways may be explored to examine legally the possibility of releasing those who have completed at least 20 years in prison,” the official said. The official said the government cannot release someone convicted for a crime like assassination of Beant Singh at a time when Thailand arrested a fugitive Sikh terrorist following India’s persistent request.Gurmeet Singh alias Jagtar “Tara” Singh, former member of the Babbar Khalsa International, was arrested in the eastern province of Chon Buri in Thailand on January 5. He had been convicted for life for his involvement in the assassination of Beant Singh along with 17 others in 1995 but he had escaped from a prison in Chandigarh.Sukhbir, who was accompanied by SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar and SAD’s leader in Parliament Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, presented representations to the Home Minister for the release on “humanitarian grounds” the prisoners who have completed their jail term.In his letter to the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat, Parkash Singh Badal had sought pre-mature release of 13 terrorists, including Lakhwinder Singh, Shamsher Singh and Gurmeet Singh, who are serving life sentence in connection with the assassination of Beant Singh.

Analysis on suspected Pakistan boat will be released soon: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar

With questions raised over the credibility of the mid-sea operation that suggested a 26/11 like terror strike was averted, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday said all details relating to the sinking of the suspected Pakistani vessel would be released soon. He said “circumstantial evidence” indicated that the occupants of the vessel were “suspected or possible terrorists” and that they were in touch with Pakistani maritime officials and army.”They are doing analysis. We will release it once they complete the analysis in 2-3 days. May be it will take four days. Let them do the analysis and after that we will release it” he told reporters here.Parrikar said the people in the boat were in touch with various authorities in Pakistan, the army and its maritime authority.”The boat was in constant touch, before the actual action took place, with various authorities which were located in Pakistan and linked with maritime security agencies, army and in Thailand,” Parrikar said.He added that all this was prior to the interception and Coast Guard was pressed into action only after receiving the intelligence.”I don’t know what was in the boat. I do not want to speculate. But their (those on board) intentions were not right. For several hours they were in the area,” Parrikar said.Parrikar dismissed the contention that the four people on board the boat, which “exploded” and sank in the Arabian Sea in the intervening night of December 31 and January one during an Indian Coast Guard operation, were smugglers.The Minister underlined that the suicidal act of setting the boat on fire by the men on board the boat showed that they were “committed” and indicated suspected terror link. He said he would classify the occupants of the boat as “suspected or possible terrorists” since they had committed suicide after being intercepted.