The Air Suvidha self-declaration forms that had to be filled in by international passengers arriving in India will no longer be necessary, the Indian government has said. The decision comes into effect on Tuesday, according to reports.A notice from the Ministry of Civil Aviation read, "In the light of sustained declining Covid-19 trajectory and significant advances being made in Covid-19 vaccination coverage both globally as well as in India, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has issued revised 'Guidelines for International Arrivals."Under the revised guidelines of the health ministry, the submission of self-declaration form on the online Air Suvidha portal stands discontinued, the aviation ministry said. It, however, added that the rule will be reviewed depending on the Covid situation.
The US and India are natural allies that can show the rest of the world that democracies can deliver for their citizens, despite volatility and war, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Friday. Yellen, in a speech highlighting the Biden administration’s desire to deepen economic ties with India, said that both the global economy and the democratic idea were at inflection points. Her remarks at a Microsoft research facility on the outskirts of New Delhi came as control of the US Congress was still undecided after mid-term elections on Tuesday. “The US and India are ‘natural allies,’ in the words of a former Indian prime minister,” Yellen said, adding that “both countries waged similar fights for independence to attain freedom and dignity.” “People around the world are looking to us and asking: can democracies meet the economic needs of their citizens? Can they stand up to bullies and co-operate on the most intractable global problems?” she said. As the two largest democracies, India and the US could answer the sceptics by taking actions over the next year and beyond that could “demonstrate the capacity of our democracies to deliver for our people. I am confident that we will succeed.” Among these actions are goals for India’s leadership of the Group of 20 major economies next year, which should focus on the countries’ shared priorities for boosting investments to fight climate change, breaking a logjam in restructuring debts for poorer countries and improving access to the digital economy. “India’s G20 year is a chance to accelerate global co-ordination on debt restructuring,” Yellen said. She also said that ending the war in Ukraine was a “moral imperative” but that economic challenges from the conflict and from supply chain strains were drawing India and the US closer together. India’s membership in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) will make supply chains resilient between the country and the US and help the entire region, Yellen added. She said strong trade and investment, and people-to- people ties make the bilateral economic and financial relationship a critical element to the partnership between the two countries. “India’s membership in Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, in efforts to make our supply chains more resilient, through what I call friend-shoring, are tightening those ties,” Yellen stressed. While India is part of the Biden administration’s signature Asian engagement project IPEF, it has opted against joining the IPEF trade pillar negotiations. At a joint news conference with Yellen, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said her meeting with Yellen will help facilitate a co-ordinated policy stance on global economic challenges facing the world.
India will continue buying Russian oil because it benefits the country, India’s foreign minister said yesterday after meeting his Russian counterpart for the fifth time this year, adding that the two countries were expanding their trade ties. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is visiting Moscow for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. His trip comes as US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visits New Delhi this week to hold talks with Indian officials, including possibly on capping Russian oil prices. India has become Russia’s largest oil customer after China, as its refiners snap up discounted cargoes shunned by Western buyers. Russia’s share of India’s oil imports surged to an all-time high of 23% in September, from just about 2% before the invasion. Jaishankar was accompanied by senior officials in charge of agriculture, petroleum and natural gas, ports and shipping, finance, chemicals and fertiliser, and trade — which he said showed the importance of ties with Russia. Both sides are keen to expand their rupee-rouble trade given Russia’s problems with the dollar. “Russia has been a steady and time-tested partner. Any objective evaluation of our relationship over many decades would confirm that it has actually served both our countries very, very well,” Jaishankar said in a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Asked about a Group of Seven plan to cap the price of Russian oil, Jaishankar said that as the world’s third-largest consumer of oil and gas where the levels of income were not high, India had to look after its own interests. “And in that respect, quite honestly, we have seen that the India-Russia relationship has worked to our advantage,” he said. “So, if it works to my advantage, I would like to keep that going.” Reuters reported on Monday that India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation had applied to the new Russian operator of the Sakhalin-1, following the exit of ExxonMobil, to retain its stake in the oil and gas project in the Far East. India has not condemned Moscow’s invasion, but has called for peace and dialogue and Jaishankar reiterated India would “be supportive of any initiative that de-risks the global economy and stabilises global order”. Russia has been India’s biggest supplier of military equipment for decades and it is the fourth-biggest market for Indian pharmaceutical products. Jaishankar said India needed to boost its exports to Russia to balance bilateral trade that is now tilted towards Russia.
Smog in New Delhi hit "hazardous" levels on Thursday as smoke from thousands of crop fires in northern India combined with other pollutants to create a noxious grey cocktail enveloping the megacity. Levels of the most dangerous particles -- PM2.5, so tiny they can enter the bloodstream -- were 588 per cubic metre early on Thursday morning, according to monitoring firm IQAir. That is almost 40 times the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization. IQAir rated overall pollution levels as "hazardous". "This is really the worst time to be out in Delhi. One never wakes up fresh with this pollution," policeman Hem Raj, 42, told AFP. "The body feels tired and lethargic in the mornings... The eyes are always watery and throat scratchy after spending hours on the Delhi roads," he said. Every winter, cooler air, smoke from farmers burning stubble, and emissions from vehicles and other sources combine to create a deadly smog reducing visibility in the city of 20 million people. In 2020 a Lancet study attributed 1.67 million deaths to air pollution in India in 2019, including almost 17,500 in the capital. Delhi authorities regularly announce different plans to reduce the pollution, for example by halting construction work, but to little effect. The burning of rice paddies after harvests across Punjab and other states persists every year despite efforts to persuade farmers to use different methods. The situation is also a political flashpoint -- with the capital and Punjab governed by the Aam Aadmi Party, a rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). "As of today, Punjab, a state run by the AAP, has seen an over 19% rise in farm fires over 2021," environment minister Bhupender Yadav, who is from the BJP, tweeted on Wednesday. "There is no doubt over who has turned Delhi into a gas chamber," he added. "I have been here for a long time now and the situation has only become worse. We spend 8 to 10 hours on the Delhi roads every day and it's tough because pollution hits everyone," said Brij Lal, 54, another policeman. "But there isn't much we can do about the situation since police have to be out on the roads, among the people all the time."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said lessons must be learned as he visited the site of a bridge collapse that killed 135 people and met some of the injured in hospital yesterday. Army, navy and national disaster response force teams continued their search while locals gathered on the banks of the Machchhu river in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The colonial-era suspension foot bridge in Morbi was packed with sightseers — many in town to celebrate the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals — when it gave way on Sunday evening, sending people plunging about 10 metres into the water. A senior police official told Reuters that about 200 people were on the bridge when it collapsed. Local municipality officials said tickets for about 400 people had been sold, although not necessarily to be on the bridge at the same time. “The prime minister said the need of the hour is to conduct a detailed and extensive inquiry which will identify all aspects relating to this mishap,” Modi’s office said in a statement as he saw the scene of the disaster. “He also added that the key learnings from the inquiry must be implemented at the earliest.” Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, from the Congress party, said earlier he refused to politicise the incident, but in the capital New Delhi dozens of protesters demanded the resignation of the Gujarat state chief and called for more compensation. “The country is angry today that around 150 people have died in Morbi but this government did nothing apart from shedding crocodile tears,” an unidentified protester shouted. Police detained the crowd within minutes. The protesters called for compensation of Rs2mn ($24,000) for all victims — the injured and the families of those killed. So far the state and central governments have offered Rs600,000 ($7,000) for the kin of those who lost their lives. Local residents at the scene yesterday told Reuters they feared the death toll could rise further. GT Pandya, a senior administrative official in Morbi, said a person who was injured had died from their injuries yesterday, taking the toll to 135. One person was still missing according to the authorities’ estimate, he said. Some 56 people have been discharged from the hospital, while 10 are still admitted with injuries, senior police official Ashok Kumar Yadav told Reuters.
The death toll from a suspension bridge collapse in India rose to 134 on Monday and officials fear the number could grow as authorities opened a criminal case into one of the deadliest accidents in the country in the past 10 years. The colonial-era footbridge over the Machhu River in the centre of Morbi town was packed with sightseers enjoying holiday festivities when it collapsed on Sunday evening, plunging people about 10 metres (33 feet) into the river below. Some 400 people had bought tickets to get onto the bridge to celebrate the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals, less than a week after the span was reopened following renovations. Video footage from the site in the western state of Gujarat on Monday showed rescue workers in inflatable boats searching the river for bodies. "The death toll in the bridge collapse incident has gone up to 134. The search and rescue operations are continuing," said a senior official, NK Muchhar, adding that the toll could rise. Police registered a criminal case against unnamed persons responsible for the renovation, maintenance, and management of the bridge. Gujarat-based electrical appliances maker Oreva group was in charge of maintaining the bridge, but a spokesperson for the company did not respond to calls seeking comment. The government has formed a five-member team to investigate the disaster. A witness who identified himself as Raju told Reuters partner ANI that he saw people hanging from the bridge but they slipped and fell into the river. "I brought a lot of children to the hospital," he said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat, expressed his condolences to the victims' families. "In this hour of grief, the government is with the bereaved families in every manner. The Gujarat government is carrying out relief and rescue operations since yesterday. The central government too is extending all help to the state government," he said. The 230-metre (755 ft) bridge was built during British colonial rule in 1877. Armed forces personnel along with national disaster management and emergency teams from nearby districts were deployed to trace missing people and help with rescue operations, Muchhar said. Recovery divers were searching the murky river for bodies, VVN Prasanna Kumar, a senior officer of the national disaster management team, told ANI. "The only challenge is that this is muddy water that causes visibility issues," he said. "We suspect that there might be people trapped under the floor of the bridge."
At least 68 people were killed when a pedestrian bridge over a river in the western Indian state of Gujarat collapsed, plunging hundreds of people into the water, officials said. Authorities said nearly 500 people including women and children were gathered on and around the bridge when the cables supporting it snapped, bringing down the entire structure into the river. The bridge is located in Morbi around 200km west of Gujarat’s main city, Ahmedabad. Local media quoted officials as saying that those on the bridge were performing rituals for a major religious festival when it gave way into the Machchhu river. TV footage showed dozens of people clinging onto the cables and twisted remains of the collapsed bridge as emergency teams struggled to rescue them. Some clambered up the broken structure to try to make their way to the river banks, while others swam to safety. “Sixty deaths have been confirmed so far,” member of parliament Mohan Kundariya said. At least 30 people had also been injured, other officials said. State Home Minister Harsh Sanghavi said more than 150 people were on the narrow cable-stayed bridge, a tourist attraction that drew many sight-seers during the festive season, when Diwali and Chhath Puja are celebrated. The 230-metre historic bridge was built during British rule in the 19th century. It had been closed for renovation for six months and was reopened for the public last week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in his home state Gujarat for a three-day visit, said he had directed the state chief minister to mobilise teams urgently for the rescue operation. He also announced compensation for those killed and injured in the accident. Modi “has sought urgent mobilisation of teams for rescue (operations)”, his office tweeted. “He has asked that the situation be closely and continuously monitored, and (for authorities to) extend all possible help to those affected.” The state government has formed a five-member special investigation team to conduct an investigation into the disaster. Morbi is one of the largest ceramic manufacturing clusters in the world and accounts for more than 80% of India’s ceramic output. The incident comes ahead of elections in Gujarat, which are expected to be held by the year-end with the current term of the Modi’s ruling party’s term ending in February, 2023. In 2016 the collapse of a flyover onto a busy street in the eastern city of Kolkata killed at least 26 people. Rescue workers pulled out nearly 100 people injured from under huge concrete slabs and metal.
Rishi Sunak yesterday became Britain’s third prime minister this year and the first person of colour to lead the former imperial power, vowing to overcome economic crisis provoked by the “mistakes” of Liz Truss’s calamitous 49-day tenure. In his first order of business, Sunak retained Jeremy Hunt as chancellor of the exchequer, bidding to keep financial markets on side after Truss’s budget plans shocked investors, and also retained her foreign and defence ministers. Sunak, who at 42 is Britain’s youngest leader since 1812, became the ruling Conservatives’ new leader on Monday after a prior stint as chancellor himself. Addressing the nation in Downing Street yesterday shortly after his appointment by King Charles III, Sunak said the country faced “profound economic crisis”. “I will unite our country — not with words, but with action,” Sunak said, capping the latest extraordinary twist in UK politics following Boris Johnson’s demise in July. Departing shortly before, Truss wished him “every success” — and said she remained “more convinced than ever” that Britain needed to be “bold” in confronting the challenges it faced. Sunak countered that though she was motivated by a well-intentioned desire to kick-start growth, her tax-cutting measures were “mistakes nonetheless”. “And I have been elected as leader of my party and your prime minister in part to fix them,” he said. “And that work begins immediately. I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda,” he added, helping to drive the pound more than 1% higher against the dollar. Sunak’s appointment followed rival contender Penny Mordaunt failing to secure enough nominations from Tory MPs, and Johnson dramatically aborting a comeback attempt late on Sunday. Breaking his silence, Johnson offered his “full and wholehearted support” to Sunak – having privately blamed his ex-minister for toppling him in July. Sunak in turn praised Johnson, and vowed to build on the election-winning promises that earned the Conservatives a big victory in 2019, despite their dismal standing in polling today against the opposition Labour party. But Sunak also issued a coded reminder of the many scandals that brought Johnson down, vowing his own premiership would offer “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”.
The Indian capital woke up to toxic smog yesterday after Diwali revellers defied a firecracker ban and risked jail to celebrate the annual Hindu festival. According to international monitoring company IQAir, harmful PM 2.5 particles surged to 350 on the air quality index — more than three times the reading a day earlier. The reading for the particulates — so tiny they can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is more than 23 times the recommended daily maximum set by the World Health Organisation. The PM 2.5 reading had eased to around 145 by mid-morning, still nearly 10 times the WHO limit. A report by IQAir in 2020 found that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India. New Delhi imposed a ban on the sale and use of firecrackers last month and announced that those flouting the ban could face up to six months in jail. Many of the Indian capital’s roughly 20mn residents were still able to get hold of firecrackers, setting them alight into the early hours. However, broadcaster NDTV reported that Delhi’s pollution levels after Monday’s Diwali celebrations year were the lowest in four years. The festival fell relatively early this year in mild weather. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said residents were “working hard” and that there had been encouraging results. “But there is still a long way to go,” he tweeted early yesterday. Diwali is celebrated at roughly the same time when farmers in neighbouring states burn stubble after their harvest. Firecracker smoke combines in winter with farm fires and industrial and vehicular emissions to form a toxic cocktail that is blamed for huge numbers of premature deaths.
Indian police have shot dead a tiger dubbed the "Man-eater of Champaran" that killed at least nine people, in a major operation involving 200 people including trackers on elephants, officials said Sunday. The big cat had terrorised locals on the fringes of the Valmiki Tiger Reserve in Champaran in eastern India, killing at least six people in the past month including a woman and her eight-year-old son on Saturday. Even before the two latest kills, authorities had designated the tiger, reportedly a male three or four years old, as a "man-eater", meaning that it could be shot. Earlier attempts to tranquillize the animal had failed. "Two teams went into the forest on two elephants on Saturday afternoon and the third one waited where we thought the tiger would exit -- and we fired five rounds to kill it there," local police chief Kiran Kumar told AFP. With local villagers beating tin containers, it took about six hours for the team -- with eight shooters and about 200 forest department officials -- to complete the operation, Kumar said. Officials said that large sugarcane fields made it easier for the tiger to stay hidden and attack local villagers and their livestock. The victims included a 12-year-old girl dragged from her bed on Wednesday night, reports said. Locals in the impoverished villages around the reserve in Bihar state stopped moving out in the evening after the tiger's first attack maimed a teenager in May. But "despite the lurking fear of tiger, it was not possible for us to confine ourselves in our homes as we needed to feed our cattle," Ram Kisun Yadav, a local villager told the Hindustan Times newspaper. Conservationists blame the rapid expansion of human settlements around forests and key wildlife corridors for animals like elephants and tigers for an increase in man-animal conflict in parts of India. Nearly 225 people were killed in tiger attacks between 2014 and 2019 in India, according to government figures. More than 200 tigers were killed by poachers or electrocution between 2012 and 2018, the data showed. India is home to around 70 percent of the world's tigers and the tiger population was estimated at 2,967 in 2018.
Ten people are confirmed dead after an avalanche struck climbers in the Indian Himalayas, police said Wednesday, with 18 other members of the expedition still missing. Several dozen climbing trainees were caught in Tuesday morning's snowslide near the summit of Mount Draupadi ka Danda-II in the northern state of Uttarakhand. The Indian air force and local disaster agency were assisting with rescue efforts before heavy snow and rainfall forced them to abandon the search overnight. "Rescue teams have recovered 10 bodies," the Uttarakhand state police force said on Twitter after operations resumed in the morning. Fourteen people have so far been rescued from the site of the avalanche, around 4,900 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level, and police said five were being treated at a district hospital in Uttarkashi. Police footage showed several rescued climbers arriving in the town and walking unassisted while escorted by officers. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami confirmed on Twitter that accomplished climber Savita Kanswal, who had summitted Everest earlier this year, was among the dead. Kanswal was an instructor with the expedition and had been feted by the climbing community for summiting the world's highest peak and nearby Makulu in just 16 days -- a women's record. State disaster agency spokesperson Ridhim Aggarwal told AFP that the climbers had been stuck in a crevasse after the avalanche hit. The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering said the expedition included 34 of its trainees, seven instructors and a nursing assistant. Two air force helicopters had been sent to the region to assist with the search, senior disaster management official Devendra Singh Patwal told AFP. - Fatal accidents - Fatal climbing accidents are common on the treacherous terrain of the Himalayas, home to Everest and several of the world's highest peaks. In August, the body of a mountaineer was recovered two months after he fell into a crevasse while crossing a glacier in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh. And last week, renowned US ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson's body was found on the slopes of Nepal's Manaslu peak after she went missing skiing down the world's eighth-highest mountain. On the day of Nelson's accident, an avalanche hit on the 8,163-metre (26,781-foot) mountain, killing Nepali climber Anup Rai and injuring a dozen others who were later rescued. Although no substantial research has been done on the impacts of climate change on mountaineering risks in the Himalayas, climbers have reported crevasses widening, running water on previously snowy slopes, and the increasing formation of glacial lakes.
Twenty-six people died and more than 20 others were injured after a tractor trolley overturned in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. Indian media reported Sunday that the accident occurred in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur district when a tractor trolley carrying around 50 people overturned and fell into a pond, killing 26 people, most of them women and children, and seriously injuring more than 20. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced financial compensation for the victims' families. This is not the first tragic accident in Uttar Pradesh. Last Wednesday, eight people died and more than 25 others were injured after a bus collided with a truck.
India is pushing tech giants to make smartphones compatible with its home-grown navigation system within months, worrying the likes of Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple who fear elevated costs and disruptions as the move requires hardware changes, according to two industry sources and government documents. In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive for self-reliance, India has over the years expanded the use of its regional navigation satellite system called NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation). The Indian government wants to reduce dependence on foreign systems, including the widely used US Global Positioning System (GPS), and says NavIC provides more accurate domestic navigation and that its use would benefit the economy. China, the European Union, Japan and Russia have their own global or regional navigation systems to rival GPS. Operational since 2018, NavIC’s uptake is minimal; it is mandated in public vehicle location trackers, for example. But government and industry documents show Modi’s administration and space officials want to broaden its use, and have this year pushed smartphone giants to make hardware changes to support NavIC, in addition to GPS, in new phones they will sell from January 2023. In private meetings in August and September, representatives of Apple, Xiaomi, Samsung Electronics Co and others pushed back, citing worries that making phones NavIC-compliant would mean higher research and production costs. The changes would also require more testing clearances, which with a January 1 deadline would disrupt businesses and planned launches, according to two smartphone industry sources and documents. Samsung declined comment on the meetings, while Apple and Xiaomi did not respond to requests for comment. India’s IT ministry and the space agency ISRO that are both involved in the project also did not respond. Samsung in particular voiced concerns during a September 2 closed-door meeting between top smartphone players and chipmakers with Indian IT ministry and space agency officials, according to the meeting’s minutes. Samsung’s India executive Binu George warned of cost worries, telling officials that NavIC support requires not just new smartphone chipsets but also many other components. “This would add to cost as it requires hardware design changes and additional investments to support devices specific to India. Further, the companies have already prepared for models to be launched in 2024,” the minutes quoted him as saying. George did not respond to a request for comment. The smartphone players have sought time until 2025 to implement the changes, and a final decision is expected in coming days, a senior government official said. The minutes said the Indian space agency will provide technical support for implementing NavIC in new smartphones, adding another meeting may be called. India’s space agency has said systems like GPS and Russia’s GLONASS are operated by their countries’ defence agencies, making it possible for civilian service to be interrupted. NavIC, it says, is fully under the control of the Indian government, which one day wants to take it global like GPS. India would not be the first country to push smartphone makers to add support for a native navigation system. Russia has sought to mandate inclusion of its own GLONASS system in smartphones sold locally to reduce reliance on GPS, which Washington can switch off for civilian subscribers as it did during military operations in Iraq. China’s Beidou was completed in June 2020, and, though not mandated, the official Xinhua news agency has reported that in 2021, 94.5% of China-made smartphones had Beidou support. Xiaomi and Samsung together account for 38% of the smartphone market in India, the world’s second biggest after China. Apple’s more expensive smartphones have a roughly 3% share in India, data from Hong Kong-based research firm Counterpoint shows. Other Chinese manufactures making up a further 28% of the market were also present at the September 2 meeting, government minutes show. China’s Realme, which has a 16% market share, did not attend, and neither did smaller manufacturers. Apple’s website says it already supports the five global and regional navigation networks including GPS, GLONASS and BeiDou in current iPhones. The Indian directive could force it to add a new one. A key concern for players like Samsung and Xiaomi remains the higher cost of so-called dual band chipsets they would need to support both GPS and NavIC, as these companies are leaders in the sub-$200 category in India’s price-sensitive market, the smartphone industry sources said.
Indian police are searching for a teacher accused of beating a low-caste student to death over a spelling mistake, officers said Tuesday, after suppressing violent protests triggered by the incident. Nikhil Dohre was struck with a rod and kicked until he fell unconscious by his high school teacher earlier this month after misspelling the word "social" in an exam, according to a police complaint by his father. The 15-year-old died from his injuries on Monday at a hospital in northern Uttar Pradesh state, and the accused has fled the area. "He is on the run, but we will arrest him soon," police officer Mahendra Pratap Singh told AFP. Dohre was a member of the Dalit community, which sits at the lowest rung of India's caste system and has been subject to prejudice and discrimination for centuries. Hundreds of people took to the streets on Monday after news of Dohre's death spread in Auraiya district, the location of the attack. The crowd demanded the teacher's arrest before the cremation of the boy's body and torched a police vehicle. Around a dozen protesters had been arrested, Singh said. "We used force to quell the mob and the situation soon came under control," Superintendent of Police Charu Nigam told reporters.
At least 11 people died due to thunderstorms and lightning strikes that struck the state of Bihar in eastern India on Tuesday. The Indian media outlets quoted an official source in the government, saying that eight people were killed in Purnia and Arare districts, while three others were killed in Sobol, due to thunderstorms and lightning strikes that hit Bihar. The official announced financial compensation for the families of the victims. The official also asked the state's residents to stay indoors in light of the difficult weather conditions. In August, 40 people were killed due to heavy rains in several regions in northern India.
Eight Namibian cheetahs arrived in India yesterday, decades after their local extinction, in an ambitious project to reintroduce the spotted big cats that has divided experts on its prospects. Officials say the project is the world’s first intercontinental relocation of cheetahs, the planet’s fastest land animal. The five females and three males were moved from a game park in Namibia aboard a chartered Boeing 747 dubbed “Cat plane” for an 11-hour flight. Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over the release at Kuno National Park, a wildlife sanctuary 320km south of New Delhi selected for its abundant prey and grasslands. “Today the cheetah has returned to the soil of India,” Modi said in a video address after their arrival, which coincided with the leader’s 72nd birthday. “The nature loving consciousness of India has also awakened with full force,” he added. “We must not allow our efforts to fail.” Each of the animals, aged between two and five and a half, have been fitted with a satellite collar to monitor their movements. They will initially be kept in a quarantine enclosure for about a month before being released in the open forest areas of the park. Critics have warned the creatures may struggle to adapt to the Indian habitat. A significant number of leopards are present in the park, and conservation scientist Ravi Chellam said that cubs could fall prey to feral dogs and other carnivores. Under the government’s current action plan, “the prospects for a viable, wild and free-ranging population of cheetahs getting established in India is bleak,” he told AFP. “The habitats should have been prepared first before bringing the cats from Namibia,” he added. “It is like us moving to a new city with only a sub-optimal place to stay – Not a nice situation at all.” But organisers are unfazed. “Cheetahs are very adaptable and (I’m) assuming that they will adapt well into this environment,” said Dr Laurie Marker, founder of the Namibia-based charity Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), which has been central to the project logistics. “I don’t have a lot of worries,” she told AFP. India was once home to the Asiatic cheetah but it was declared extinct there by 1952. The critically endangered subspecies, which once roamed across the Middle East, Central Asia and India, are now only found, in very small numbers, in Iran. Efforts to reintroduce the animals to India gathered pace in 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled that African cheetahs, a different subspecies, could be settled in India at a “carefully chosen location” on an experimental basis. They are a donation from the government of Namibia, one of a tiny handful of countries in Africa where the magnificent creature survives in the wild. Negotiations are ongoing for similar translocation from South Africa, with vets suggesting 12 cats could be moved. Cheetahs became extinct in India primarily because of habitat loss and hunting for their distinctive spotted coats. An Indian prince, the Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo, is widely believed to have killed the last three recorded cheetahs in India in the late 1940s. One of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors dating back about 8.5mn years, cheetahs once roamed widely throughout Asia and Africa in great numbers, said CCF. But today only around 7,000 remain, primarily in the African savannas. The cheetah is listed globally as “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In North Africa and Asia it is “critically endangered”. Their survival is threatened primarily by dwindling natural habitat and loss of prey due to human hunting, the development of land for other purposes and climate change.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday told Russian President Vladimir Putin that now is not a time for war, with food, fertiliser and fuel security among the major concerns of the world at present. “I know that today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” Modi told Putin on the sidelines of a regional security bloc summit in Uzbekistan, adding that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue keep the world together. Putin told Modi he wanted to end the conflict in Ukraine as soon as possible and understood that India had concerns about the fighting. “I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, your concerns...We will do our best to end this as soon as possible,” Putin told Modi. “Unfortunately, just the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced its rejection of the negotiating process, and stated that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, on the battlefield,” Putin said. Putin, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit, acknowledged on Wednesday Beijing’s concerns about the war. Modi and Putin spoke on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) meeting, whose permanent members, besides India, include China, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. “Our trade is growing, thanks to your additional supplies of Russian fertilisers to the Indian markets, which have grown more than eight fold. I am hopeful that this is going to be of huge help of the agricultural sector of India,” Putin said. Modi called on leaders of regional security bloc to address energy and food crises sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. “The pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine have caused many disruptions in global supply chains, leaving the world facing unprecedented energy and food crises. SCO should strive to develop reliable, resilient and diversified supply chains in our region,” Modi said. India and SCO member states are expected to discuss energy security at the summit, which coincides with a sharp rise in Indian imports of Russian oil, coal and fertiliser. Modi also met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the summit yesterday, in their first encounter in over two years since relations soured after Erdogan’s comments on Kashmir. In early 2020 India’s government had summoned the Turkish ambassador to lodge a diplomatic protest after Erdogan, on a visit to Pakistan, said the situation in Kashmir was worsening. His comments came after Modi’s government in 2019 withdrew the region’s autonomy and brought it under federal rule. “The two leaders discussed ways to deepen bilateral co-operation in diverse sectors,” Modi’s office said on Twitter, posting a photo of him shaking hands with Erdogan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) regional security group summit in Uzbekistan. The meeting was not included on Modi’s tentative schedule for the summit shared by India’s foreign ministry with reporters.
At least nine people, including three children, have died after a wall collapsed following heavy rain in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the state's Deputy Chief Minister said on Friday. The dead, casual labourers and their families, were sleeping when the collapse occurred early on Friday in the state capital Lucknow, Brajesh Pathak told local news media. Several parts of the state, which is India's most populous, has had very heavy rainfall since Thursday and schools and colleges were shut because of flooding, local media reported. "Three people have been injured and have been shifted to hospital. We are investigating the reasons behind the wall collapse," Pathak said.
India yesterday debuted its first locally made aircraft carrier, a milestone in government efforts to reduce its dependence on foreign arms and counter China’s growing military assertiveness in the region. The INS Vikrant, one of the world’s biggest naval vessels at a length of 860 feet, will formally enter service after 17 years of construction and tests. “Today, INS Vikrant has filled the country with a new confidence, and has created a new confidence in the country,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the ship’s commissioning ceremony in southern Kerala state. “We’ve joined the league of those select nations who can construct such large aircraft carriers at home,” he added. Around 1,600 sailors will crew the Vikrant, which will initially service fighter jets redesignated from India’s only other aircraft carrier. That vessel was bought second-hand from Russia, which has long been a major arms supplier to New Delhi. Modi’s government has sought to wean the country off its dependency on foreign military purchases and build a domestic defence hardware industry. It has invested heavily in local construction, with more than three dozen other naval ships and submarines currently being built in the country’s shipyards. The outlay comes at a time of increasing concern among military top brass over the strategic challenge posed by China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean. Last month New Delhi joined Washington in raising security concerns when neighbour Sri Lanka allowed a port visit by a Chinese research vessel accused of spying activities. India and the US are both members of the so-called Quad, a security alliance focused on the Indo-Pacific and aimed at providing a more substantive counterweight to China’s rising military and economic power. “The security concerns of the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region were ignored in the past but it is our top priority today,” Modi said. Yesterday’s commissioning ceremony also saw the unveiling of a new naval flag without a British colonial symbol left over from India’s colonial era. The new ensign replaces a prominent Saint George’s Cross, the national flag of England, with the royal seal of the Hindu warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji. “It is a historic date, we’ve made history and discarded a sign of our subjugation,” Modi said during his address. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has also backed a $300mn, 210-metre-tall statue of Shivaji off the coast of Mumbai, to be unveiled later this year.