For three days, Sushama Rana waited at a makeshift dirt helipad in the Indian Himalayas to return to her village and look for her missing brother-in-law. Yashpal Rana was herding goats when a flash flood swept down a remote valley on Sunday, smashing everything in its path including two hydroelectric power stations. More than 200 people are feared killed, although most of those are still missing. The wall of water also swept several bridges into the valley, home to more than a thousand people spread over 13 villages. An eight-seater Airbus helicopter more often used to carry tourists has begun ferrying supplies to the villages, some of which are suffering from intermittent power and water. But it is also carrying people back to their home villages to mourn. Yashpal married his wife a year ago, and is the father of a four-month-old son. His family has given up hope of finding him alive. "We just want to find his body and perform his last rites," Sushama said. The valley is home to a key paramilitary post by the Chinese border, and many of the troops, known as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), are helping in the relief work from a command post at a primary school in Lata, one of the affected villages. Some can now only be accessed via a 5km trek on foot, Deputy Commandant Raj, the officer in charge of the operation said. Dozens of solar powered lamps are being sent up towards the border to those without power. The Indian military's Mi-17 and Chinook helicopters are useless when trying to access the villages, perched on steep hills with little flat ground. Instead, the relief operation is relying on a commercial craft - normally used for pleasure rides at a nearby ski resort - to land on a narrow strip of concrete perched by the Dauliganga river. Jagged, snow-capped peaks loom over the valley, which is covered in forests of pine and fir. In contrast to the mud and tangled metal remnants downstream, the crystalline Dauliganga - a tributary of the Ganges river worshipped as a god by many Indians - sparkles in the sun. Reuters travelled on one of the relief missions into the valley, with returning locals in the passenger seats and sacks of rice and lentils in the helicopter's small hold. But in Raini Chak Lata, the first village in the valley to be cut off, the most pressing issue is not food, but processing the events of Sunday's disaster, the causes of which are still be to be conclusively determined. "Nobody wants to eat when family members are not able to come," Yashpal's brother Rajpal said. Yashpal had two postgraduate business degrees, according to Rajpal, but was not able to find a job. He had returned to Raini Chak Lata, and was down at the river bank with the family's goats when the torrent of water, mud and dust came roaring down the valley. "He is probably somewhere there," he said. When Sushama saw the first helicopter of the day on Friday, she wept and ran towards it, before being held back by workers as the blades swept up a cloud of dust. Authorities have transported more than 300 people since the disaster, but the list of people wanting to ride is long. Finally, she was able to board the final flight of the day, which swept over destroyed dams. She clutched her shawl as she disembarked. "Somehow, after waiting for three days, I have finally arrived," she said, walking the mile to the village on foot. (Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mike Collett-White)
At least 12 people were killed in a fire at a firecracker factory in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Friday, police said. Raja Narayanan, a regional police official, said an investigation was under way into what caused the blaze at a factory in the village of Achankulam in the Virudhunagar district. "Twelve people have died and 26 have been hospitalized following the accident at the factory this afternoon," he said. The Virudhunagar district is India's firecrackers capital, and hundreds of thousands of people in the region are dependent on the pyrotechnics industry for a living. Accidents are common. At least 11 people were killed in two separate incidents in the region just before nationwide COVID-19 lockdowns were enforced in March. Fires in firecracker factories in 2009 and 2012 killed nearly 40 people each.
Indian rescuers began drilling from above a debris-filled tunnel Thursday in a desperate bid to reach dozens of people missing since a flash flood likely caused by a breaking glacier four days earlier. Workers have toiled night and day clearing rocks and mud from the tunnel at a damaged hydroelectric plant at Tapovan in Uttarakhand in northern India since Sunday's disaster. More than 170 people are missing elsewhere in the Himalayan state, slightly smaller than Switzerland, after the disaster. Because of the amount of debris, only 34 bodies have been recovered so far. As hopes fade for the missing, the tunnel operation has made slow progress -- clearly frustrating desperate relatives. ‘This entire rescue operation is a joke,’ said Sanjay Pant, whose 24-year-old electrical engineer brother Abhishek was believed to be in the tunnel. ‘We are not living in the 18th century where just one bulldozer can be used to clear tonnes of slush,’ he told AFP. ‘Where is our technology, where are our machines?’ On Thursday rescuers turned to a new method, attempting to drill down into one of several side tunnels to reach the missing men, authorities said. ‘This is connected to the main tunnel at a point beyond the slush and debris,’ rescuer Vivek Pandy told the Times of India daily. ‘We hope that the trapped workers are in an auxiliary tunnel which can be accessed.’ There have been no signs of life from the missing men -- thought to number between 25 and 35 -- but rescuers and relatives hope they somehow they managed to stay alive. - Global warming -The disaster saw a barrage of water and debris hurtle down a valley at terrifying speed and with frightening power, sweeping away bridges and roads, and hitting two hydroelectric plants. The cause of the disaster is thought to have been a chunk of glacier breaking off. Glaciers have been melting rapidly in the Himalayan region because of global warming. The construction of dams, dredging of riverbeds for sand, and the clearing of forests for new roads -- some to beef up defences on the Chinese border, others for Hindu pilgrims -- are also contributing factors. It may take days for more bodies to be recovered from under the tonnes of debris and a thick soup of grey mud. The body of one policeman washed 110 kilometres (70 miles) downstream to a ghat -- a riverside cremation ground -- near his ancestral village, the Indian Express reported. ‘This is the very ghat where all our ancestors were cremated,’ his elder brother Anil Chaudhary told the paper. ‘It's a coincidence, but it's God's grace that his body found its way to the ghat of our ancestors.’ Manoj Chaudhary, 42, a head constable, was cremated on Tuesday with full state honours.
Twitter Inc said on Tuesday it would not fully comply with orders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to take down some accounts as it does not believe the orders are consistent with Indian law. It has permanently suspended some accounts but for others, it has only restricted access within India and the tweets can still be read outside the country. The US social media giant has found itself in a heated no-win row with Modi's administration, which wants it to take down more than 1,100 accounts and posts that the government argues are spreading misinformation about months-long farmers' protests against new agricultural laws. Some accounts, the government said, are backed by arch-rivals or are operated by supporters of a separatist Sikh movement. The government has played hardball, sending Twitter a notice of non-compliance last week that threatens its executives with jail terms of up to seven years and the company with fines if it does not block the content. Twitter said it had suspended more than 500 accounts that were engaging in clear examples of platform manipulation and spam, and had also taken actions on hundreds of others that breached its rules relating to the inciting of violence and abuse. Others were geo-blocked, although Twitter did not go into detail on how it made decisions on which accounts to restrict. ‘These accounts continue to be available outside of India,’ Twitter said. ‘Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law.’ India had also asked Twitter to restrict access to news accounts, arguing that the ‘freedom of press does not include freedom to spread misinformation’, according to a copy of a government order reviewed by Reuters. Twitter said it had not taken action on accounts run by journalists, news media, activists and politicians, in line with its policy of defending freedom of speech. ‘To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law,’ Twitter said, adding that it had informed the technology ministry of its actions. Twitter has been seeking talks with India's technology minister. A ministry source said that request has been declined and the company has been advised to seek a meeting with the top ministry official instead. India's technology ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter has also said it is exploring its options under Indian law. Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for months demanding the withdrawal of new agriculture laws they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers. The government says the reforms open up new opportunities for farmers.
Time was running out to save dozens of people trapped inside a tunnel three days after a devastating flash flood likely caused by a glacier burst in India's Himalayan north, officials said Wednesday. More than 170 people were still missing after a barrage of water and debris hurtled with terrifying speed and power down a valley on Sunday morning, sweeping away bridges and roads and hitting two hydroelectric plants. Thirty-two bodies have been found so far, officials said on Wednesday. It may take days for more bodies to be recovered under the tonnes of rocks and other debris and the thick blanket of grey mud. Twenty-five of the bodies were yet to be identified. Many of the victims are poor workers from hundreds of miles away in other parts of India whose whereabouts at the time of the disaster may not be known. The main focus of the massive rescue operation, under way day and night since Sunday, is a tunnel near a severely damaged hydroelectric plant that was under construction at Tapovan in Uttarakhand state. Workers there have been battling their way through hundreds of tonnes of sludge, boulders and other obstacles to try and reach 34 people who rescuers hope are alive in air pockets. ‘As time passes, the chances of finding them are reducing. But miracles do happen,’ Piyoosh Rautela, a senior state disaster relief official told AFP. ‘There's only so much that one can do. We can't push in multiple bulldozers together. We are working round the clock -- man, machinery we are all working round the clock. But the amount of debris is so much that it's going to take a while to remove all that,’ he said. Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the border police told the Times of India that if the 34 are alive, the biggest concern is hypothermia, ‘which can be fatal in such conditions’. Outside the tunnel there were medical teams on standby with oxygen cylinders and stretchers, as well as anxious relatives. Shuhil Dhiman, 47, said that his brother-in-law Praveen Diwan, a private contractor and father of three, had driven into the tunnel on Sunday morning with three others when the flood hit. ‘We don't know what happened to him. We went near the tunnel but there are tonnes of slush coming out. The tunnel has a sharp slope from the opening and I think water and slush has gone deep inside,’ Shuhil Dhiman told AFP. ‘I am hoping against hope,’ he said. ‘The authorities are doing their best but the situation is beyond anyone's ability.’ The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming. Building activity for dams, the dredging of riverbeds for sand and the clearing of trees for new roads -- some to beef up defence on the Chinese border -- are other factors.
US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed in a telephone call to strengthen Indo-Pacific security through the Quad grouping of countries that is seen as a way to push back against China’s growing assertiveness in the region. India, US, Japan and Australia are members of the Quad, an informal group that Washington has been promoting to work as a potential bulwark against China’s increasing political, commercial and military activity in the Indo-Pacific, diplomats say. Biden spoke to Modi on Monday night in his first call since taking office last month and noted that India-US ties were held together by a shared commitment to democratic values. “The leaders agreed to continuing close co-operation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and a stronger regional architecture through the Quad,” the White House said in a statement. China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development and urged the US to drop its “Cold War mentality”. Last year, the four countries held joint naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal after New Delhi dropped its hesitation for fear of antagonising Beijing. Modi told Biden he would work to elevate the strategic partnership between the two countries, the Indian foreign ministry said in its readout of the call. India is locked in a military standoff with China over their disputed mountainous border since April and public opinion has hardened against Beijing after soldiers were killed in a clash there. Japan’s Sankei newspaper reported over the weekend that the leaders of the US, Japan, India, and Australia plan to hold a summit, in a further tightening of ties between the four powerful democracies. Biden and Modi also agreed to work closely to fight Covid-19, renew their partnership on climate change and defend democratic institution and norms around the world, including in Myanmar, where the military seized power last week.
Twenty-six people were confirmed dead yesterday and more than 170 others were missing after a devastating flash flood in India thought to have been caused by a chunk of glacier breaking off. The resulting wall of water and debris barrelled down a tight valley in India’s Himalayan north on Sunday morning, destroying bridges, roads and hitting two hydroelectric power plants. Uttarakhand director general of police Ashok Kumar said late yesterday that 26 bodies had been recovered, and 171 people were still unaccounted for. Most of those missing were workers at the two power plants, with some trapped in a U-shaped tunnel filled with mud and rocks when the flooding hit. “If this incident happened in the evening, after work hours, the situation wouldn’t have been this bad as labourers and workers in and around the sites would have been at home,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat told reporters. Twelve people were rescued from one side of the tunnel on Sunday but another 34 were still trapped at the other end, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police’s Banudutt Nair, who is in charge of the rescue operation, said. With the main road washed away, paramilitary rescuers were forced to scale down a hillside on ropes to reach the entrance. Emergency workers were using heavy machinery to remove tonnes of rocks. “Approximately 260 feet inside the tunnel is cleared and accessible,” said Vivek Kumar Pandey, another disaster official. Around 1,000 rescuers – including from the military, police and national disaster personnel – resumed their search operation at first light yesterday.
Eighteen people were confirmed dead on Monday and at least 200 others were missing after a devastating flash flood in India thought to have been caused by a chunk of glacier breaking off. The resulting wall of water and debris barrelled down a tight valley in India's Himalayan north on Sunday morning, destroying bridges, roads and hitting two hydroelectric power plants. "There was a cloud of dust as the water went by. The ground shook like an earthquake," local inhabitant Om Agarwal told Indian TV. The Uttarakhand state government said on Monday 18 bodies have been recovered, and chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said at least 200 people were still unaccounted for. Most of those missing were working at the two power plants. Some were trapped in two tunnels cut off by the floods and by mud and rocks. "If this incident happened in the evening, after work hours, the situation wouldn't have been this bad as labourers and workers in and around the work sites would have been at home," Rawat told reporters. Twelve people were rescued from one of the tunnels on Sunday but 25-35 more were still trapped in the second one, state disaster relief official Piyoosh Rautela told AFP. With the main road washed away, paramilitary rescuers had to scale down a hillside on ropes to reach the entrance. Emergency workers were using heavy machinery to remove tonnes of rocks. "Approximately 80 metres inside the tunnel is cleared and accessible. It appears that approximately 100 metres of debris inside the tunnel is yet to be cleared," said Vivek Kumar Pandey, another disaster official. Several hundred rescue workers resumed their search operation at first light on Monday including national and state disaster response teams, the army and navy diving teams. - Disaster movie -Scores of social media users captured the disaster, with footage showing water tearing through the narrow valley with terrifying force. "We were 300 meters inside the tunnel working. Suddenly there was whistling and shouting telling us to get out," said survivor Rajesh Kumar, 28. "We started running out but the water gushed in. It was like scenes from a Hollywood movie. We thought we wouldn't make it," he told AFP. Authorities said initially that the cause was a chunk of glacier breaking off into a river, but the trigger may instead have been a phenomenon called a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). This is when the boundaries of a glacial lake -- formed when a glacier retreats -- are breached, releasing large amounts of water downstream. It is possible that this in turn was caused by an avalanche. The incident may also have been triggered by water pockets inside a glacier bursting. Glaciers in the region have been shrinking rapidly in recent years because of global warming, but experts say that the construction of hydroelectric plants could also be a factor. Floods in 2013 killed 6,000 people and led to calls for a review of projects in Uttarakhand, a state of 10 million people bordering Tibet and Nepal. Vimlendhu Jha, founder of Swechha, an environmental NGO, said the disaster was a "grim reminder" of the effects of climate change and the "haphazard development of roads, railways and power plants in ecologically sensitive areas". A major study in 2019 said that two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers, the world's "Third Pole", could melt by 2100 if global emissions are not sharply reduced. Glaciers in the region are a critical source of water for hundreds of millions of people, feeding many of the world's most important river systems.
A strong earthquake with 6.3 magnitude struck the southern province of Davao del Sur in the Philippines on Sunday. The earthquake was initially recorded at magnitude 6 at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), the Philippines Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) said. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology warned that aftershocks and damage are expected. Last December, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck several regions in the Philippines, including the capital Manila. The Philippines is located in the so-called Ring of Fire in the Pacific, where tectonic plates intersect.
India put many of its northern districts on high alert on Sunday after the “breaking of a part” of a Himalayan glacier, officials said, with people being evacuated due to rising water levels in a river that the glacier feeds. “The Rishiganga power project has been damaged ... causing the river’s water level to rise continuously,” the local police department in the state of Uttarakhand said on Twitter. “People living along the Alaknanda River are appealed to leave the area the earliest.”
Tens of thousands of police were deployed across India yesterday in a bid to smother new protests by farmers fighting government agriculture reforms. Ten metro stations were closed in central New Delhi —where a tractor rally last month turned into a violent rampage — and thousands of police manned barricades and roadblocks at key intersections. Farmers unions called for protest roadblocks across the country in the latest day of action. They and their supporters occupied dozens of roads and toll booths for three hours in several states but no trouble was reported. A major police deployment was ordered in the key farm state of Uttar Pradesh, which is a traditional pro-government bastion. Farmers groups suspended their action in the state to avoid a confrontation. Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping on the outskirts of Delhi since November calling for a repeal of the reforms that free up farm produce markets. The farmers say the changes mean the crucial agriculture industry will be taken over by major conglomerates. While the authorities have increased pressure on the Delhi protest camps — cutting Internet and water supplies — the farmers have vowed to keep their campaign going for months more. Rakesh Tikait, one of the senior farmers’ leaders, said yesterday that the protests would go on until the October 2 one-year anniversary of the launch of their campaign unless the government repealed the new laws. He told the Indian Express newspaper that thousands more farmers wanted to come to Delhi to join the protests and would not be deterred by barbed wire fences put around the camps. “They can put nails on the ground; we will put soil over it and grow flowers. We aren’t scared of the barricading or high security. “We don’t think police will seal the area. If they do, there are protesters here who can break through all the barricades,” he said.
* Twitter faces backlash from Indian govt, lawmakers * US firm declines to remove content despite India govt order * Indian lawmaker says Twitter acting like lawmakers * Twitter has said it complies with "properly scoped" requests Twitter Inc's refusal to comply with an Indian government directive to block more than 250 accounts and posts has put the social media giant at the centre of a political firestorm in one of its key markets. Government officials, business people and ordinary netizens are split over free speech and the US company's compliance practices, in a controversy that comes soon after Twitter's top lobbyist in India resigned. The showdown, after the firm this week "declined to abide (by) and obey" the order to remove posts and accounts that the government said risked inciting violence, is the latest instance of worsening relationships between Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration and US social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. For Twitter, the stakes are high in a country of 1.3 billion where it has millions of users and is ardently used by Modi, his cabinet ministers and other leaders to communicate with the public. Farmers are conducting a growing protest against new agriculture laws, with tens of thousands camping out on the outskirts of New Delhi and launching a nationwide road blockade on Saturday. As the prolonged crisis escalated, the government this week sought an "emergency blocking" of the "provocative" Twitter hashtag "#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide" and dozens of accounts. Twitter initially complied but later restored most of the accounts, citing "insufficient justification" to continue the suspensions. The technology ministry warned the company, in a letter seen by Reuters, of legal "consequences" that could include fines or jail, saying the government was not required to justify its demand to ban accounts. Twitter's public policy director Mahima Kaul recently resigned from her role, two sources said. A LinkedIn ad showed the company is seeking candidates for the key government relations position. Kaul did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter confirmed Kaul's resignation, saying she would stay on through March and was helping with the transition, but otherwise declined to comment. It said this week that it withholds access to content on receiving a "properly scoped request from an authorized entity". Free speech activists say the government should not attempt to use legal provisions to muzzle freedom of expression, while others argue Twitter should comply or go to court. "Twitter is playing with fire," said an Indian social media executive who was surprised by the company's non-compliance. "If there is a legal request, you are required to take down content. You are free to challenge it" in court. In 2019, a parliamentary panel headed by a lawmaker from Modi's Hindu nationalist party warned Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey failed to appear before the committee. The previous year Dorsey sparked a social media storm after a picture of him holding a poster saying "smash Brahminical patriarchy", referring to the highest Hindu caste, went viral. This week, Dorsey became a talking point on Indian TV news after he liked a tweet suggesting the company should consider introducing a farmer protest emoji. Meenakashi Lekhi, a lawmaker from Modi's party who heads a parliamentary panel on data privacy, criticised Twitter for disobeying government orders, adding she has yet to decide whether to summon company executives. "Twitter needs to understand they are not lawmakers," Lekhi told Reuters. "It is not their policy which will work, it is the policy of the state, country which will work." Calling the showdown "inevitable", the Hindu newspaper said in a Friday editorial: "Provocative posts have no place on any platform, (but) free speech should not be hit." Prasanth Sugathan of Software Freedom Law Center India, said, "The selective government approach to ask social media companies to ban content when it doesn't suit the official narrative is problematic. "It stifles free speech and press freedom."
Thousands of farmers in a politically important Indian state on Friday rallied in opposition to new agricultural laws, signalling growing support for a months-long campaign to have the government reforms scrapped. Angry at what they see as legislation that benefits private buyers at the expense of growers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, for more than two months, calling for the withdrawal of laws introduced in September. Much of the initial support for the protests has come from rice and wheat growers from northern India, particularly opposition-ruled Punjab state. But in a sign of a growing challenge to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, thousands of farmers rallied on Friday in Uttar Pradesh state to show their support for the protests. "Everybody here is going to join the movement," said Jitendra Singh, 55, a sugarcane farmer at the rally in Bhainswal village. Hundreds of police, many armed and wearing riot gear, stood by but there was no trouble. Uttar Pradesh is India's largest state and a critical battleground state in elections. While Modi's party commands a comfortable majority in parliament, the support for the protests from Uttar Pradesh's politically influential sugarcane farmers will be a worry. The farmers say the laws mean the end of long-standing support prices for their crops and will leave them vulnerable to the whims of big buyers. They are demanding that the laws be annulled. The government says reform of the inefficient agriculture sector will open up new opportunities for farmers and while it has offered some concessions, it has ruled out withdrawing the laws. The protests have been largely peaceful but flared into turmoil on Jan. 26 as some farmers clashed with police in New Delhi and one person was killed and hundreds were injured. To the government's annoyance the protests have drawn increasing international scrutiny, with celebrities including pop star Rihanna and environment campaigner Greta Thunberg announcing their support for the farmers.
India boosted healthcare spending by 135% and lifted caps on foreign investment in its vast insurance market yesterday to help revive an economy that suffered its deepest recorded slump as a result of the pandemic. Delivering a budget statement to parliament, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman projected a fiscal deficit of 6.8% of gross domestic product for 2021/22, higher than the 5.5% forecast by a recent Reuters poll of economists. The current year was expected to end with a deficit of 9.5%, she said, well up from the 7% expected earlier. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the budget was aimed at creating “wealth and wellness” in a country that is battling the world’s second highest coronavirus caseload after the United States. India currently spends about 1% of GDP on health, among the lowest for any major economy. Sitharaman proposed increasing healthcare spending to Rs2.2tn ($30.2bn) to help improve public health systems and fund a huge vaccination drive to immunise 1.3bn people. Overall, the government set capital expenditure for 2021/2022 at Rs5.54tn, 35% more than the previous year’s budget estimate. “All of us decided to give impetus to the economy and that impetus, we thought, would be qualitatively spent and give necessary demand push if we choose to spend big on infrastructure,” Sitharaman told reporters after the presentation of the budget in parliament. Millions of people lost their jobs when the government ordered a lockdown last year to combat the coronavirus. Thousands of small businesses remain shut. Unlike other countries, India refrained from announcing a big stimulus, offering greater liquidity to firms instead, and held off using its fiscal firepower until curbs to contain the virus were lifted. The government estimates the economy will contract 7.7% in the current fiscal year ending in March, in what would be the biggest fall ever recorded. However, it foresees a strong recovery in 2021/2022 with growth of 11%. That would make it the world’s fastest growing major economy ahead of China’s projected 8.1% growth, but the government said it would take the economy two years to reach pre-pandemic levels. “In a time of unprecedented economic stress, the government’s responsibility was to spend enough to revive the economy or else face enormous human suffering,” said Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra group, an autos to technology conglomerate. “So I had one expectation from this budget: that we should be very liberal in terms of the targeted fiscal deficit. Box ticked.” India’s main stock indexes surged. The blue-chip NSE Nifty 50 index was 4.7% higher in its best performance on budget day in at least two decades. The S&P BSE Sensex climbed 5%. But, bond yields jumped after the government announced plans to raise additional funds from the market over the next two months. Sitharaman said the foreign direct investment (FDI) cap for the insurance sector would be increased to 74% from the current 49%. She also allocated Rs200bn to recapitalise state-run banks that are saddled with bad loans and have been a drag on growth. To bridge some of the deficit, the government plans to raise Rs1.75tn from selling its stake in the state run companies and banks including IDBI bank, an insurance company and oil companies. It also wants to sell state firms’ surplus land. The pandemic ruined the divestment plans for the current fiscal year with only Rs180bn rupees raised so far from the sales. Stake sales and privatisation have seldom met targets in India, due partly to resistance from unions and political opposition. Gene Fang, associate managing director, sovereign risk group, Moody’s Investors Service, said the budget announcements did not change the credit rating agency’s stance on India. Moody’s rates Indian sovereign debt at “Baa3” – the bottom rung of investment grade ratings – with a “negative” outlook.
Unveiling an annual budget on Monday aimed at reviving an economy that plunged into deepest recorded slump amid the coronavirus pandemic, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed doubling healthcare spending to 2.2 trillion Indian rupees ($30.20 billion). The government will launch a new federal health scheme with an outlay of around 641 billion Indian rupees ($8.80 billion) over the next six years, she told parliament kicking off her budget speech. India, which has the world's second highest coronavirus caseload after the United States, and currently spends about 1% of gross domestic product on health, among the lowest for any major economy. ‘The investment on health infrastructure in this budget has increased substantially,’ said Sitharaman as lawmakers thumped their desks in appproval. The world's second-most populous country has begun a huge vaccination drive and a steep fall in new coronavirus cases over the past few months is supporting an economic recovery. ‘There are signs that the political, economic and strategic relations in the post COVID era are changing and ... India is well well-poised to be the land of promise and hope.’ The economy is projected to contract 7.7% in the current fiscal year ending in March but then gather steam in 2021/2022 to hit 11%, which would make it the world's fastest growing major economy ahead of China's estimated 8.1% pace. Still, it would take the economy two years to reach pre-pandemic levels, the government said. India's blue-chip NSE Nifty 50 and S&P BSE Sensex indexes extended gains to around 1.4% each as Sitharaman laid out her proposals. The Indian rupee was marginally stronger at 72.86 against the dollar, while the 10-year bond yield slipped to 5.89%.
The government blocked mobile Internet services in several areas around New Delhi yesterday as protesting farmers began a one-day hunger strike after a week of clashes with authorities that left one dead and hundreds injured. Angry at new agricultural laws that they say benefit large private food buyers at the expense of producers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital for more than two months. At the main protest site near the village of Singhu on the northern outskirts of the city, there was a heightened police presence yesterday as hundreds of tractors arrived from Haryana, one of two states at the centre of the protests. “Many farmers’ groups have joined the protest site since last night,” said Mahesh Singh, a 65-year-old farmer from Haryana. “They have come to show their support and more farmers are expected to come in the next two days.” The interior ministry yesterday said Internet services at three locations on the outskirts of New Delhi where protests are occurring had been suspended until 11pm (1730GMT) today to “maintain public safety”. Authorities often block local Internet services when they believe there will be unrest, although the move is unusual in the capital. Farm leaders said the hunger strike by hundreds of protesters, primarily at Singhu and two other protest sites and designed to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, would show Indians that the demonstrations were non-violent. “The farmers’ movement was peaceful and will be peaceful,” said Darshan Pal, a leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha group of farm unions organising the protests. “The events yesterday were organised to spread the values of truth and non-violence.” Agriculture employs about half of India’s population of 1.3bn, and unrest among an estimated 150mn landowning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since coming to power in 2014. Eleven rounds of talks between farm unions and the government have failed to break the deadlock. The government has offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but farmers say they will not end their protests for anything less than full repeal. In the past week, a planned tractor parade on Republic Day anniversary turned violent when some protesters deviated from pre-agreed routes, tore down barricades and clashed with police, who used tear gas to try and restrain them.
Thousands of Indian farmers marched overnight to reinforce protesting colleagues camping out on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, to press the government to withdraw three new farm laws that they say will hurt their livelihoods. In a stand-off between riot police and the farmers, authorities tried to clear a protest site in the city's east but most farmers refused to move and their leaders said any retreat would constitute surrender. ‘Concerned over police high-handedness, thousands of farmers, who were not part of the protest, have now come to bolster our movement,’ Rakesh Tikait, president of one of the largest farmers unions, the Bharti Kisan Union, told Reuters on Friday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government introduced the new agricultural laws in September, triggering a wave of protests and sit-ins on some of the major approaches to New Delhi. Farm leaders say the laws are an attempt to erode a longstanding mechanism that ensures farmers a minimum support price for their rice and wheat. The government says the reforms will open up new opportunities for farmers and it says it will not bow to the protesters' demands. Modi retains a solid majority in parliament although the protests are beginning to undermine some support for the government in the countryside and play on old loyalties. Farmer leaders have accused authorities of acting at the behest of politicians affiliated with Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Union leader Tikait comes from a politically influential farming community in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state in the north. In several villages, members of the dominant Jat community will gather on Friday to support the protest. The protest turned violent on Tuesday, when India celebrated its Republic Day with a military parade, when some protesters broke away from a procession of tractors to break through barricade and clash with police.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, has applied to local authorities to conduct a small domestic trial of Novavax Inc's Covid-19 vaccine, which was found to be 89.3% effective in a UK trial. Serum expected a decision on an Indian trial of Novavax's vaccine soon, Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla told Reuters on Friday, hours after the US company reported the efficacy data. ‘We have already applied to the drug controller's office for the bridging trial, a few days ago,’ Poonawalla said. ‘So they should also give that approval soon now.’ Novavax's UK trial, which enrolled 15,000 people aged 18 to 84, is expected to be used to apply for use in Britain, the European Union and other countries. SII is already bulk producing a vaccine created by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and Poonawalla told Reuters earlier this month that his company would manufacture ‘upwards of 40-50 million doses per month’ of the Novavax vaccine from around April. Indian health officials say they generally ask for so-called bridging trials to determine if a vaccine is safe and generates an immune response in its citizens whose genetic makeup can be different from people in western nations. There are, however, provisions under rules introduced in 2019 to waive such trials in certain conditions. Pfizer Inc requested an exception while seeking an emergency-use authorisation for its vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE, a request the government has turned down. The Pfizer vaccine has not been approved in India, whose immunisation campaign is using a homegrown one developed by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, and the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine.
Indian farmers yesterday postponed a march to parliament on Feb 1, the day of the government’s budget announcement, following violent clashes with police a day earlier that left one person dead and hundreds injured. Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for two months to protest against reforms of the agriculture sector, which they say benefit big private buyers at the expense of growers. On Tuesday, a protest parade of tractors around the fringes of the capital to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned into chaos when some farmers diverged from agreed routes and broke through barricades. Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organising the protests, condemned the violence which saw protesters — some carrying ceremonial swords — storm into the historic Red Fort complex as police used tear gas and batons to constrain them. It said yesterday the unions would hold rallies and a hunger strike on Saturday but there would be no planned events on Monday, when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is due to present the annual budget. “Our march to Parliament has been postponed,” farm leader Balbir Rajewal told a news conference. “(But) our movement will go on.” At a separate news conference, Delhi’s chief of police S N Srivastava said 394 police officers and constables had been injured in the violence. “The violence occurred because terms and conditions were not followed,” he said. “Farmer leaders were involved in the violence.” More than 25 criminal cases had been filed, with 19 arrests and 50 people detained to date, Srivastava added. It was not clear how many protesters had been injured, but one farmer died after his tractor overturned during the clashes. Farm leaders say they were not involved in the violence. Agriculture employs about half of India’s population of 1.3bn, and unrest among an estimated 150mn landowning farmers is one of the biggest tests Modi has faced since coming to power in 2014. While the protests are beginning to undermine support for Modi in the countryside, he retains a solid majority in parliament and his government has shown no sign of bending to farmers’ demands. The government says agriculture reform will open up new opportunities for farmers. Police had removed protesters from the fort complex by Tuesday evening, but a heavy security presence remained yesterday. Roads across the New Delhi remained closed while extra police, including paramilitary units, were at protest sites on the outskirts.
Hundreds of police guarded the historic Red Fort in the heart of the Indian capital on Wednesday following violent clashes between farmers and authorities in which one person was killed and at least 80 injured. Tens of thousands of farmers, protesting against reforms of the agriculture sector that they say benefit big private buyers at the expense of growers, have been camped on the outskirts of the city for two months. A protest parade of tractors around the city's fringes to coincide with Tuesday's Republic Day celebrations turned into chaos when some farmers diverged from agreed routes, breaking through barricades and clashing with police, who used tear gas and batons to try to restrain them. Some farmers carrying ceremonial swords reached as far as the Red Fort, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi gives an annual speech, where they scaled outer walls and hoisted flags. By Tuesday evening police had removed protesters from the fort complex but a heavy security presence remained on Wednesday. Agriculture employs about half of India's population of 1.3 billion, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers is one of the biggest tests Modi has faced since coming to power in 2014. While the protests are beginning to undermine support for Modi in the countryside, he retains a solid majority in parliament and his government has shown no sign of bending to farmers' demands. The government says agriculture reform will open up new opportunities for farmers. Police said they had registered 22 cases against protesters including ‘rioting, damage to public property and assault on public servants with deadly weapons’ in several locations. Roads across the New Delhi remained closed while extra police, including paramilitary were at protest sites on the outskirts. The government blocked the internet in some parts of the capital, and mobile speeds were low. Tuesday's violence was condemned by Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organising the protests. They are due to meet later on Wednesday to decide on a response to the violence. Farm leaders from the eastern state of Odisha to the western state of Gujarat said on Wednesday they would continue to support protesters in Delhi. ‘We have already made it clear that we want all three agriculture bills to be repealed,’ said Raman Randhawa, a farm leader from Rajasthan state. ‘We will not step back before the laws are scrapped totally by the government.’