India’s western state of Maharashtra has registered 25 deaths from heat stroke since late March, the highest toll in the past five years, with more fatalities likely elsewhere in a country sweltering in temperatures over 40C. Scientists have linked the early onset of an intense summer to climate change, and say more than a billion people in India and neighbouring Pakistan were in some way vulnerable to the extreme heat. With cooling monsoon rains only expected next month and increasingly frequent power outages in some parts of India, even households that can afford air conditioners will have little respite over the next several weeks. Many of the deaths in Maharashtra occurred in the more rural areas of India’s richest state. “These are suspected heat stroke deaths,” Pradeep Awate, a Maharashtra health official, said. India is the world’s second-biggest wheat producer, but the heat is set to shrivel this year’s crop, after five consecutive years of record harvests. As power demand surges, generating companies are staring at massive shortages of coal and the government is pleading with them to step up imports. The government cancelled more than 650 passenger trains through the end of May to clear tracks for more cargo trains as the country scrambles to replenish coal stocks at power plants, a senior official from the country’s railways ministry disclosed. India recorded its warmest March in over a century, with the maximum temperature across the country rising to 33.1C, nearly 1.86C above normal, according to the India Meteorological Department. Many parts of India’s north, west and the east saw temperatures surging past 40C last month. In the eastern state of Odisha, authorities said a 64-year-old man died of heat stroke on April 25 and hundreds of others have been given medical treatment. In Subarnapur, Odisha’s hottest district, a high of 43.2C was recorded yesterday. “It is so hot,” Subarnapur resident Mohana Mahakur said. “Fan, air cooler — nothing is working.” A Punjab agriculture department official said an average increase of up to 7C (12.6 F) in April had reduced wheat yields. “Because of the heatwave we’ve had a loss of more than 500kg per hectare of our April yield,” the official disclosed.
India has asked state and private sector utilities to ensure delivery of 19mn tonnes of coal from overseas by end-June, according to a power ministry letter, reflecting an urgency to secure supplies in a pricey market amid increasing blackouts. The move, which marks the first time the world’s second largest coal importer is issuing timelines for imports, can put pressure on the global prices of coal as the utilities rush to avoid a repeat of the electricity crisis in April. If the timelines are adhered to, the imports by the states and private utilities over the next five months for blending with domestic coal will surpass annual imports by the entities in at least six years. An unrelenting heatwave pushed electricity demand to a record high in April, leading to the worst power crisis in over six years and forcing India to go back on a policy to cut down coal imports. The federal government has asked state government-owned utilities to import over 22mn tonnes of coal and private power plants to import 15.94mn tonnes, the power ministry said in a letter reviewed by Reuters. The power ministry asked all utilities to ensure delivery of 50% of the allocated quantity by June 30, another 40% by end-August and the remaining 10% by the end of October, according to the letter to top officials at state energy departments and heads of private power plants. State government-run utilities have not imported for blending more than 7.1mn tonnes and private companies not more than 13.1mn tonnes since at least the year ending March 2017. Data predating year ended March 2017 is not available. The federal power ministry did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
Yellow and green autorickshaws are ubiquitous on New Delhi’s roads but Mahendra Kumar’s vehicle stands out — it has a garden on its roof aimed at keeping passengers cool during the searing summer season. Kumar says the thick patch of green keeps the vehicle cool even when temperatures are touching 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in the Indian capital, enough to melt the tar on roads. Kumar, 48, has grown over 20 varieties of shrubs, crops and flowers, attracting commuters and passers-by who stop to click selfies and photos of the unique “moving garden”. “Around two years ago I had this idea during the peak of the summer season. I thought if I can grow some plants on the roof, it will keep my auto cool and give relief from the heat to my passengers,” Kumar said. Kumar also installed two mini coolers and fans inside. “It is now like a natural AC (air conditioner). My passengers are so happy after the ride that they don’t mind paying me an extra Rs10-Rs20 ($0.13-.26),” said the father-of-three. Delhi’s 20mn residents have been sweltering in an early summer heatwave that has hit India, from Himachal Pradesh in the north to Odisha in the east. Temperatures last week crossed 45 degrees Celsius in parts of the Delhi region — several degrees higher than normal. Forecasters say the heatwave conditions would abate in the next three or four days but warned it would rise again thereafter. Heatwaves have killed over 6,500 people in India since 2010, and scientists say climate change is making them harsher and more frequent across South Asia. Kumar said he was doing his “own small bit” for the environment by planting lettuce, tomatoes and millets on his autorickshaw. Preparing the roof for sowing was simple: Kumar first put a mat followed by a thick sack on which he sprinkled some soil. He got grass from the roadside and seeds from friends and acquaintances and within days, the seeds sprouted into green shoots. “It does not require much effort at all. I just water the plants using a bottle twice a day,” he said. Kumar’s initiative is an inspiration for his fellow drivers who have been asking him for tricks and tips. Passer-by Naima Jamal was also mighty impressed with Kumar’s clean and green auto that runs on compressed natural gas, which is less polluting than petrol or diesel. “It’s a great idea,” Jamal, a housewife, said.”Delhi has become a concrete jungle, there is hardly any greenery. “We need more such autorickshaws on the roads — they are pleasing to the eyes and the soul.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for dialogue to end the war in Ukraine at the start of a European tour yesterday but steered clear of condemning Russia over the invasion. India, which imports much of its military hardware from Russia, has long walked a diplomatic tightrope between the West and Moscow, and has called only for an immediate end to hostilities. “We have insisted on a ceasefire and called for talks as the only way to resolve dispute since the start of the Ukraine crisis,” Modi told reporters after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. “We believe that there won’t be any winners in this war and everyone will lose, which is why we are in favour of peace,” he said. Besides the humanitarian impact on Ukrainians, pressure on oil prices and global food supplies is also “putting a burden on every family in the world,” he said. Germany’s Scholz stressed that the war in Ukraine threatened the “rule-based global order”. “Russia has jeopardised the fundamental principles of international law with its attack on Ukraine,” he said. “The war and the brutal assault on civilians in Ukraine show the unchecked manner in which Russia is violating the principles of the UN Charter,” Scholz added, repeating his call for President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops. Scholz said he and Modi agreed that the “inviolability of borders” and “sovereignty of nations” must not be called into question. “We thoroughly discussed that we want to achieve a better future — not by fighting wars against each other but by making economic development possible together,” he said. The two governments later signed a joint declaration expressing “strong support” for upcoming talks between the European Union and India on a free trade agreement. Scholz also confirmed he had invited Modi as a special guest to a Group of Seven (G7) leaders’ summit next month, seen as part of an effort to forge a broader alliance against Russia. Bloomberg News had reported on Sunday citing unnamed sources that Scholz was concerned over Modi’s refusal to condemn Russia and India’s increased fossil fuel imports from there, and was undecided on the invite until weeks ago. India has significantly increased imports of Russian oil from March onwards, but has bristled at criticism of the move, saying Europe’s consumption of Russian energy commodities remains far higher. Modi was later scheduled to leave for Copenhagen to join the prime ministers of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Norway at a two-day India-Nordic Summit from today. He will then make a brief stopover in France to see President Emmanuel Macron to “share assessments on various regional and global issues and will take stock of ongoing bilateral cooperation”, an Indian government statement said.
Living in a slum by one of New Delhi’s trash landfills, Pramod is used to the stench, flies, government apathy and occasional fires. But this week’s inferno as India wilts in a heatwave came too close for comfort. “The fire was a few hundred yards from my home. It was so intense that I felt it was literally touching our skin,” Pramod, 35, told AFP, at a lane not far from Bhalaswa landfill in north Delhi. The blaze on the 60m (200ft) high rubbish hill began on Tuesday and lit the night sky up in an apocalyptic orange, belching out noxious black fumes. It was still smouldering Friday, sending grey smog curling skywards as firefighters hosed it with water for a fourth day. “I have seen many things in life, but when I saw the landfill on fire, I was terrified,” Pramod said. “I’ve only seen fires like that on the news or on TV.” Right by the landfill, Deepti Foundation - which educates local children - had its building’s windows melted off from the fire, said project coordinator Lalu Mathew. “There are a lot of pollutants entering the classrooms,” he told AFP. “It is not at all safe for the children to sit and learn something.” Bhalaswa dump is just one of several in Delhi, testament to the city’s failure to manage the 12,000 tonnes of solid trash its 20mn people produce every day. The local neighbourhoods around it are home to thousands of the poorest of the poor, people who have migrated from grinding rural poverty to the big city in search of work. They scratch out a living sifting through the rubbish for things to sell, wearing little or no protective clothing. Some are children. Health problems and accidents are common, and the pay a pittance. “My children have breathing issues, my in-laws and my husband have asthma,” Zarina Khatun, a cook who lives nearby, told AFP. City planners say the situation in Bhalaswa is a microcosm of challenges across India where new infrastructure has not kept pace with rapid urbanisation. Untreated domestic waste burns in the landfills during the hot summer months, producing excess methane which further pollutes India’s already smog-choked urban centres. This year, summer arrived early with temperatures crossing 45C in some areas. Experts blame climate change. Previously, India would have seen April’s soaring temperatures once every 50 years, said Mariam Zachariah from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. “But now it is a much more common event - we can expect such high temperatures about once in every four years,” she said. “Until net emissions are halted, it will continue to become even more common.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ambitious plans in renewable energy but India still uses coal for some 70% of its power needs. In February he launched a pilot waste-to-gas plant in Indore - central India’s most populous city - and announced plans for 75 other such facilities in the next two years. The Indore one converts urban waste and cow dung to produce flammable methane gas, which would power the city’s public transit system and provides fertilisers for farmers. But promises mean little for many Indians all too used to government plans coming to nothing, especially those who have long complained about the dire living conditions around the Bhalaswa dump. “The governments don’t care and the people who could have already moved from here,” said Sonu Kumar, 30, who sells eggs near the landfill amidst stray cows, dogs, and drains full of excrement. “Those who are here don’t have anywhere else to go,” Kumar told AFP.
India is facing its worst electricity shortage in more than six years just as scorching temperatures force early closures of schools and send people indoors. Extreme heat parched large swathes of South Asia this week after India’s hottest March on record, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn of rising fire risks as the country heats up too much too soon. Local authorities in the worst-hit states are struggling to juggle power cuts and growing pressure on health services. In the capital New Delhi, temperatures have soared past 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for several days and are forecast to linger around 44C until Sunday, with peak summer heat still to come before cooling monsoon rains arrive in June. Maximum temperatures recorded in six districts in West Bengal were at least five degree Celsius above normal, weather officials said, with the lack of rains in state capital Kolkata adding to its worries. People in Odisha state in the east set up stalls at prominent public places to offer water to those passing by. Its neighbour West Bengal has announced summer school breaks from next week, days ahead of schedule. Health officials in the western state of Gujarat made arrangements to tackle a potential spike in patients. “We have issued an advisory to hospitals to set up special wards for heat stroke and other heat-related diseases due to the rise in temperatures,” Gujarat’s health secretary Manoj Aggarwal said. In the northwest, Rajasthan has scheduled four hours of power cuts for factories, making it at least the third state to disrupt industrial activity to manage surging power demand. “In view of the present power crisis,..it has been decided to impose scheduled cuts,” a state utility said. Industrial disruption and widespread power cuts are bad news for corporate India, as economic activity has just started to pick up after months of stagnation amid coronavirus lockdowns. Power cuts are expected to worsen in the coming days as the heatwaves and a pickup in economic activity are seen increasing electricity demand at the fastest pace in nearly four decades. The unprecedented heat puts millions of blue-collar workers, including construction and farm labourers and those working on factory shop floors, at great risk. Sunstrokes have claimed thousands of Indian lives over the years. In addition to power cuts for factories, Rajasthan imposed four-hour power cuts for rural regions, exposing thousands of families in the desert state to extreme temperatures. The leap in power demand has left India scrambling for coal, the dominant fuel used in electricity generation in the country. Coal inventories are at the lowest pre-summer levels in at least nine years. Peak-power demand in India surged to a record high on Tuesday, and is seen rising by as much as 10% next month, the power ministry said this week. India’s weather office has warned of hotter weather in the coming days. A shortage of trains to transport coal is exacerbating a fuel supply crisis.
India’s prime minister promised peace and development for Jammu and Kashmir yesterday, during his first public event in the region since it imposed a sweeping security clampdown nearly three years ago. Narenda Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has sought to quell a long-running insurgency in Kashmir. India nullified the area’s limited autonomy in August 2019, when authorities arrested thousands and imposed the world’s longest Internet shutdown, seeking to forestall local opposition to the move. Tight security was in place for Modi’s appearance at Palli village in Jammu, the Hindu-majority southern part of the territory, which celebrated New Delhi’s introduction of direct rule as a defence against Kashmir’s separatist movement. As Modi laid the foundation stones for the 850MW Ratle hydroelectric project and a 540MW Kwar hydroelectric project to be constructed on the Chenab river in Kishtwar district, he told the gathered crowd of thousands that his government had put the restive region on the path to prosperity. “I want to tell the youth of the valley that they will not have to face the difficulties and travails that their parents and grandparents had to deal with,” Modi said. In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said, “Since the introduction of constitutional reforms with regards to Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, the government has been focused on bringing about wide-ranging reforms to substantially improve governance and enhance ease of living for the people of the region at an unprecedented pace… The projects inaugurated and whose foundation stone were laid in this visit will go a long way in facilitating provision of basic amenities, ensuring ease of mobility and development of infrastructure in the region.” Yesterday’s event marked Panchayati Raj, a day that commemorates grassroots democracy — although Kashmir has been without an elected regional government since 2018. Its last chief minister was detained during the clampdown and only released more than a year later. Modi’s government has long said its decision to end Kashmir’s limited autonomy was aimed at fostering a lasting peace and bringing investment into the troubled region, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the years. Police say violence has declined since Kashmir’s status was changed, but almost 1,000 people have been killed since 2019 — among them soldiers, militants and civilians.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in India yesterday touting job-creating investment but facing long odds to get his reluctant counterpart Narendra Modi to back Western action against Russia. Johnson arrived in Gujarat — Modi’s home state and the ancestral home to half of the UK’s British Indians — where he met business leaders and took a cultural tour of the historic Ahmedabad city. He will leave for New Delhi to meet his Indian counterpart today. The visit provides Johnson some respite from the “partygate” controversy over his criminal violation of pandemic lockdown rules in the UK. Johnson missed a parliamentary vote yesterday into whether he deliberately misled the House of Commons in previously denying any Downing Street rule-breaking — normally a resigning matter. The India trip has been twice postponed because of Covid-19 flare-ups in each country, and was briefly in doubt again this week when the vote was announced, with opposition leaders insisting Johnson stand down. But UK sources said it was seen as too important to put off again. Downing Street said it would seal two-way investment deals worth more than £1bn ($1.3bn), creating almost 11,000 jobs in Britain. “What we’re focusing is the incredible opportunities to deepen this partnership,” Johnson told reporters while visiting a factory in Gujarat. Johnson’s visit began with a trip to Sabarmati ashram, once the home of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, where he was invited to sit cross-legged and work a wooden spinning wheel. The tool was once vital to the local textile industry and championed by Gandhi as a symbol of resistance to Britain’s colonial rule of India. Downing Street said the visit would yield new partnerships on defence, artificial intelligence and green energy, along with investment deals in areas including robotics, electric vehicles and satellite launches. But London acknowledges that it is some way off clinching a post-Brexit trade deal with Modi’s government, which wants more visas for Indians to work or study in the UK. India meanwhile has refused openly to condemn the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine, reliant as it is on Russian imports of energy, agricultural goods and military hardware. “India and Russia have historically a very different relationship, perhaps than Russia and the UK have had over the last couple of decades,” Johnson said. “We have to reflect that reality, but clearly I’ll be talking about it to Narendra Modi.” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss came away from New Delhi empty-handed last month when she pressed the Indians to do more against Russia, and Modi has also given short shrift to appeals from US President Joe Biden. Johnson will tout the benefits of India moving more quickly towards renewables — a pertinent strategic issue as countries attempt to pivot away from Russian energy.
Indians have the freedom to practice their faith and there is no growing intolerance between religious communities, the country’s minority affairs minister said in an interview published yesterday amid spurts of religious riots in various parts of the country. Religious clashes broke out during a procession in New Delhi on Saturday, injuring several people, including six policemen, police officials said, days after similar violence in three other Indian states. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, told The Economic Times newspaper that “fringe elements, who are unable to digest the peace and prosperity in the country, try to defame India’s inclusive culture and commitment.” In recent weeks, small-scale religious riots have broken out between the majority Hindu and the minority Muslim community during religious processions in some parts of the country. Some university students in the capital New Delhi fought on campus over non-vegetarian food being served in the hostel. “It is not the job of the government to tell the people what to eat or not. Every citizen has freedom in the country to eat food of their choice,” Naqvi said. In recent years, the rule of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has emboldened hardline religious groups. India’s opposition parties publicly voiced concern on Saturday that multi-faith India, dominated by Hindus but with sizeable minorities, is becoming less tolerant under Modi’s regime. Meanwhile Indian police arrested 14 people in connection with the violent clashes in New Delhi, police said in a tweet yesterday.
India is willing to commit up to another $2bn in financial assistance to Sri Lanka while also supporting the island nation with food and fuel, five sources said, as New Delhi tries to regain ground lost to China in recent years. Sri Lanka, hit by its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 and on the brink of its first debt default, has been asking friendly nations including India and China for credit lines, food and energy. The Asian giants have already committed billions of dollars in financial support. “We are definitely looking to help them out and are willing to offer more swap lines and loans,” said an Indian source aware of various discussions with Sri Lanka. A senior government source in New Delhi said Sri Lanka’s warning on Tuesday of defaulting on debt payments was a worry, but that “we can still give them up to $2bn in swaps and support”. Another source familiar with Sri Lanka’s thinking said it was seeking India’s help to roll over some $2bn in dues, such as those owed to the South Asia-focussed Asian Clearing Union. The source said the response had been positive from India. All the sources had direct knowledge of the matter or had been briefed on it, but they declined to be named as the discussions were private. India’s government and its central bank, as well as Sri Lanka’s foreign and finance ministries, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. India has so far committed $1.9bn to Sri Lanka in loans, credit lines and currency swaps. Sri Lanka has also sought another $500mn credit line for fuel. China has extended a $1.3bn syndicated loan and a $1.5billion-yuan denominated swap, while negotiations are ongoing for more loans and credit lines. One of the sources said New Delhi was keen for its southern neighbour to cut its reliance on China. Sri Lanka has an outstanding debt of about $3.5bn with China — or 10.8% of the island’s total — and Beijing has also built ports and roads in the country. “We want them to reduce their debt levels from China and we want to become stronger partners,” said the source. India has also sent ships with sugar, rice and wheat — items of which it has a surplus, unlike China — to Sri Lanka. Four of the sources said though New Delhi had not formally made cutting Sri Lanka’s reliance on Beijing a condition for offering help, it had been able to make the Sri Lankans realise that it was in a better position to support them than China. Sri Lanka is due to formally start loan negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on Monday, and one of the Indian sources said that would be critical in New Delhi agreeing to more aid for the country. Sri Lanka’s central bank said on Tuesday it had become “challenging and impossible” to repay external debt, as it tries to use its dwindling foreign exchange reserves to import essentials like fuel. Street protests have gone on for more than a month against shortages of fuel, food, power and medicine. Lankan diaspora urged to send cash Sri Lanka yesterday urged its citizens overseas to send home money to help pay for desperately needed food and fuel after announcing a default on its $51bn foreign debt. The nation is in the grip of its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, with severe shortages of essential goods and regular blackouts causing widespread hardship. Central bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said he needed Sri Lankans abroad to “support the country at this crucial juncture by donating much needed foreign exchange”. Weerasinghe said he had set up bank accounts for donations in the US, Britain and Germany and promised Sri Lankan expatriates the money would be spent where it was most needed. The bank “assures that such foreign currency transfers will be utilised only for importation of essentials, including food, fuel and medicines”, Weerasinghe said in a statement. Weerasinghe’s appeal has so far been greeted with scepticism from Sri Lankans abroad. “We don’t mind helping, but we can’t trust the government with our cash,” a Sri Lankan doctor in Australia said, asking for anonymity. A Sri Lankan software engineer in Canada said he had no confidence that the money would be spent on the needy.
President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a “candid exchange of views” on the Ukraine crisis at a virtual summit yesterday, a senior administration official said, amid US frustration over New Delhi’s neutral stance on Russia’s invasion. The hour-long talks were “warm and productive,” the official said, although Biden made no major demands of India and there was no indication of significant progress toward a unified posture on the conflict. The South Asian nation has tried to walk a tightrope between maintaining relations with the West and avoiding alienating Russia, but has raised concerns in Washington by continuing to buy Russian oil. Biden has been pressuring world leaders to take a hard line against Moscow, although the administration official said there was no “concrete ask and concrete answer” on energy imports during the meeting. “We’ve been very clear that we’ve been able to ban oil and (gas) and coal imports from Russia, but other countries have to make their own choices,” she said. “That said, we don’t think India should accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and the US is ready to support India, remain in a conversation with India, about its diversification of imports.” Biden began the meeting by saluting the “deep connection” between the two countries and said he wanted to continue their “close consultation” over the war, as Modi appeared alongside him on a large screen. The Indian prime minister described the Ukraine crisis as “very worrying” and recalled that India had supported talks between Ukraine and Russia while delivering medical assistance to Kyiv. Biden and Modi failed to reach a joint condemnation of the Russian invasion when they last spoke in early March at a meeting of the so-called “Quad” alliance of the US, India, Australia and Japan. And New Delhi abstained when the UN General Assembly voted last week to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in war crimes. The US has already warned that any country that actively helps Russia to circumvent international sanctions will suffer “consequences.” Yet this has not deterred India from working with Russia on a rupee-rouble payment mechanism to circumvent banking sanctions, while taking advantage of discounted oil prices offered by Russian producers. Meanwhile India has bought at least 3mn barrels of crude from Russia since the start of the invasion on February 24, despite an embargo by Western nations. Biden said on March 21 that India was an exception among Washington’s allies with its “somewhat shaky” response to the Russian offensive. In the Cold War, officially non-aligned India leaned towards the Soviet Union — in part due to US support for Pakistan — buying its first Russian MiG-21 fighter jets in 1962. According to experts, Russia remains India’s biggest supplier of major arms and India is also Russia’s largest customer. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met with Modi in New Delhi in early April, lauded India for its approach to the conflict, and in particular for judging “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.” Biden and Modi also talked about ending the Covid-19 pandemic, countering climate change and bolstering security and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region, where India is seen as a critical counterweight to growing Chinese power. The last confrontation between the Chinese and Indian militaries on the Line of Control, on the border of Tibet and the Indian region of Ladakh, flared up as recently as June 2020. Biden was flanked by his defence and foreign ministers and their Indian counterparts, who were due to discuss Ukraine and China in person during the annual “2+2 Dialogue,” launched in 2018 to deepen co-operation between the two countries. But another point of contention is likely to be India’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system, which contravenes a US prohibition on countries from signing defence deals with Russia, Iran or North Korea. The US sanctioned China in 2018 for buying the system but has not committed to doing the same for India.
• Pepsi, Coca-Cola stare at disruptions as July ban nears • Small beverage packs with straws hugely popular in India • Industry fears alternatives will raise costs, hit business India has rejected demands from large global and domestic beverage firms to exempt some plastic straws from a ban that takes effect on July 1, fanning fears of disruption in a multi-billion-dollar industry. The ban on items such as straws packaged with small packs of juices and dairy products that earn $790mn in annual sales is part of India’s drive to stamp out polluting, single-use plastic trash that chokes rivers and drains. “We are worried as this comes during peak demand season,” said Praveen Aggarwal, chief executive of an industry group, Action Alliance for Recycling Beverage Cartons (AARC), referring to India’s sweltering summer temperatures. “Consumers and brand owners will face major disruptions.” For months, his alliance, which groups PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Co, India’s Parle Agro, Dabur and milk firms, has lobbied for the straws to be exempted, saying there were no alternatives. Aggarwal’s comments came after the environment ministry rejected the group’s demands, telling it in an April 6 memo that the industry “should move towards uptake of alternatives”, after being given more than a year’s notice of the change. The environment ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Pepsi declined comment, while Coca-Cola and other companies did not respond to queries. Hugely popular for affordable rates that range from 5 rupees to 30 rupees, or the equivalent of 7 US cents to 40 US cents, the small packs are part of India’s much bigger market for juice and milk products, AARC says. Pepsi’s Tropicana and Dabur’s Real fruit juices, along with Coca-Cola’s Maaza and Parle Agro’s Frooti mango drinks are among the beverages sold in the small-pack format, and the packaged straws let buyers quench their thirst while on the go. AARC repeatedly pushed the government to exempt such straws from its ban, saying nations such as Australia, China and Malaysia allowed their use, in letters sent to the environment ministry in October, and seen by Reuters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government believes such tiny straws are a “low-utility product” that leads to littering and should be scrapped for paper straws or spout pouches instead, said a source familiar with the government’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity. All types of plastic straws must be banned, said Chitra Mukherjee, a waste management expert in the capital, New Delhi, as they ranked among the top 10 types of marine debris. But three senior industry officials said their companies feared disruption in supply of juices and drinks, while turning to options could boost product costs and hit business. Aggarwal said the industry would require at least 15-18 months to build a supply-chain solution with other types of straws. “We will try and convince the government again,” he added.
Russia will increase its use of non-Western currencies for trade with countries such as India, its foreign minister said yesterday, as he hailed New Delhi as a friend that was not taking a “one-sided view” on the Ukraine war. Sergei Lavrov visited India to shore up support from a country Russia has long regarded as an ally a day after US and British officials pressed India to avoid undermining the dollar-based financial system and sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. India and China are the only major countries that have not condemned what Russia calls its “special military operation”. After Lavrov visited China this week, Beijing said it was “more determined” to develop ties with Russia. “We are friends,” Lavrov told a news conference after meeting his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, adding India saw the Ukraine crisis in the “entirety of facts and not just in a one-sided way”. Lavrov said Russia’s central bank had several years ago established a system for the communication of financial information and India had a similar system. “It is absolutely clear that more and more transactions would be done through this system using national currencies, bypassing dollar, euro and other currencies,” he said. Russia is the biggest supplier of defence equipment to India and Lavrov said the two countries would use a rupee-rouble mechanism to trade oil, military hardware and other goods. “We will be ready to supply any goods which India wants to buy,” he said. “I have no doubt that a way would be (found) to bypass the artificial impediments which illegal unilateral sanctions by the West create. This relates also to the area of military-technical co-operation.” Lavrov said there was some movement forward in negotiations with Ukraine. “Non-nuclear, non-bloc, neutral status — it is now being recognised as absolutely necessary,” he said. Lavrov also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and briefed him on the war. “The prime minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of violence, and conveyed India’s readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Lavrov said Russia would be open to India mediating between Ukraine and Russia but he had not heard of any such proposal. India has bought millions of barrels of crude oil from Russia at a discount since the war erupted, justifying the purchases as beneficial for its citizens and something that even European countries are doing. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told CNBC-TV18 that India would continue to buy discounted oil from Russia. “I would put my country’s national interests first and I would put my energy security first,” she said. “Why should I not buy it? I need it for my people.” US cautions India The US has warned India against warming up to Russia. Daleep Singh, Washington’s chief sanctions strategist, was quoted by local media in a visit to Delhi as saying that India could not rely on Russia if there was another clash with China like the border dispute in 2020. “Russia is going to be the junior partner in this relationship with China. And the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India,” Singh was quoted as saying. “I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breached the Line of (Actual) Control, that Russia would come running to India’s defence,” he said, referring to the India-China border.
Russia’s foreign minister arrives on a two-day India visit today, officials said, adding he is likely to press New Delhi to resist Western pressure to condemn the Ukraine invasion. India has abstained from UN resolutions censuring Russia and continues to buy Russian oil and other goods. US President Joe Biden last week described India as “somewhat shaky” on Russia. Sergei Lavrov’s trip coincides with visits by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Daleep Singh, Washington’s chief sanctions strategist. Truss and Singh, the US deputy national security adviser for international economics, were expected to urge India to assist in Western efforts to isolate Russia economically. Singh “will consult closely with (Indian) counterparts on the consequences of Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine and mitigating its impact on the global economy,” the White House said. Lavrov was due to arrive in India from China, which has also refused to condemn the invasion and has provided a level of diplomatic cover for an increasingly isolated Russia. In a video released ahead of a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Lavrov said the world was “living through a very serious stage in the history of international relations”. At the end of this reshaping of global relations “we, together with you, and with our sympathisers will move towards a multipolar, just, democratic world order”, Lavrov said. Lavrov was due to attend meetings hosted by China on Afghanistan involving diplomats from the US and the Taliban-led country’s neighbours — but not India, which was not invited. India’s relations with China deteriorated sharply after 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers died in a brawl on their disputed Himalayan border in 2020, although Wang visited India last week. India and Russia have had a close relationship for decades. New Delhi, which describes Moscow as its “longstanding and time-tested friend”, sources most of its key military hardware from Russia. India’s Russian-origin arsenal includes about 3,500 battle tanks, most of its combat Sukhoi and MiG aircraft, its only aircraft carrier in service, eight non-nuclear submarines and four destroyers. India also has large Russian orders pending including a $5bn deal for S-400 air defence systems — of which the first deliveries began last year — as well as four frigates and one nuclear-powered submarine. India has however been diversifying with big imports from France, the US and Israel.
India yesterday said ties with China could not be normal until their troops pulled back from each other on the disputed border, but Beijing struck a conciliatory note during a meeting of their foreign ministers in New Delhi. Both nations have deployed thousands of troops on the high-altitude border since hand-to-hand fights killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers northern Himalayan region of Ladakh in June 2020. Talks between senior military officers have made little progress. “I was very honest in my discussions with the Chinese foreign minister, especially in conveying our national sentiments,” India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told a news briefing after his three-hour meeting with Wang Yi. “The frictions and tensions that arise from China’s deployments since April 2020 cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between the two neighbours.” In a statement, Wang said China and India should work together to promote peace and stability around the world. “The two sides should...put the differences on the boundary issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations, and adhere to the correct development direction of bilateral relations,” he said. “China does not pursue the so-called “unipolar Asia” and respects India’s traditional role in the region. The whole world will pay attention when China and India work hand in hand.” Jaishankar, a former ambassador to Beijing, said it was at China’s request that India did not announce Wang’s trip before his arrival in the capital late on Thursday. Wang met India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, who also pressed him for a de-escalation at the border. It was not immediately clear if India offered to pull back its troops if China did. Wang and Jaishankar also discussed their nations’ approaches to tackling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Both of us agreed on the importance of an immediate ceasefire, as well as a return to diplomacy,” Jaishankar said. India and China each consider Russia a friend and have rejected Western calls for condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”. Wang, who visited Pakistan and Afghanistan earlier this week, left for Nepal later yesterday during a whirlwind tour of South Asia, where China is trying to strengthen its influence. Before his arrival, Wang drew a rebuke from India for remarks in Pakistan on Kashmir, an issue on which China has generally backed its close ally, Pakistan. China is due to host an upcoming summit of the Brics grouping — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — but Jaishankar did not say whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi would attend.
India is considering making all adults eligible for booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine, two sources with knowledge of the matter said yesterday, as infections grow in some countries and some Indians find it hard to travel abroad without a third dose. Only frontline workers and those older than 60 are currently allowed to take booster doses in India, whether free in government centres or paid for in private hospitals. The government is debating whether to provide boosters to other groups for free, said one of the sources, who both sought anonymity as the government has yet to make a decision. A health ministry spokesperson wrote in a WhatsApp group for reporters: “no decision yet”. The Serum Institute of India (SII), whose Covishield vaccine dominates India’s immunisation programme, said yesterday it stopped the shot’s production in December but still had a stock of 200mn doses. It has produced 1.9bn doses in total. Its chief executive Adar Poonawalla told CNBC-TV18 that they would restart production of the vaccine, a version of the AstraZeneca shot, if demand returned through boosters or any other way. India’s health ministry, meanwhile, has urged states to boost Covid-19 surveillance measures, citing a resurgence in some parts of Asia and Europe. China and Italy have seen a recent rise in cases. Infections in India, however, have fallen to their lowest in more than a year, with 1,549 new cases reported in the past 24 hours and 31 deaths. India’s total infections now stand at more than 43mn, with 516,510 deaths. The country of about 1.4bn people has administered 1.81bn vaccine doses, more than 20mn as boosters. On Twitter some Indians have said organisers of some events overseas have limited attendance to those who have taken booster doses.
The West must not try to “normalise relations” with Russian President Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday, calling the crisis a “turning point for the world”. “There are some around the world... who say that we’re better off making accommodations with tyranny... I believe they are profoundly wrong,” the British leader told his Conservative Party’s Spring conference in Blackpool, northwest England. “To try to renormalise relations with Putin after this, as we did in 2014, would be to make exactly the same mistake again, and that is why Putin must fail. “This is a turning point for the world and it’s a moment of choice. It’s a choice between freedom and oppression,” he added. His Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that peace talks to end the conflict could be a “smokescreen” for more extreme Russian military manoeuvres. “I’m very sceptical,” Truss told The Times newspaper in an interview. “What we’ve seen is an attempt to create space for the Russians to regroup. Their invasion isn’t going according to plan. “I fear the negotiation is yet another attempt to create a diversion and create a smokescreen. I don’t think we’re yet at a point for negotiation,” she added. Truss echoed comments by British intelligence that Putin could turn to “more and more extreme actions”, noting “appalling atrocities already”. Chief of Defence Intelligence Jim Hockenhull said on Friday that “the Kremlin has so far failed to achieve its original objectives. It has been surprised by the scale and ferocity of Ukrainian resistance and has been bedevilled with problems of its own making. “Russia is now pursuing a strategy of attrition. This will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower. This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis,” he added. Truss said that Britain could potentially act as a guarantor if any settlement is reached, and claimed Putin “didn’t believe” the international community would impose the scale of sanctions that it has. Britain has recently targeted high-profile oligarchs, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Truss suggested it was “extremely difficult” to envisage those sanctions being lifted, saying the oligarchs “have enabled Vladimir Putin to do what he’s doing”. Russia on Saturday admitted using advanced hypersonic missiles for the first time in the Ukraine conflict as Kyiv’s embattled leader Volodymyr Zelensky called for urgent peace talks. Johnson dismissed Putin’s claims that he launched the offensive in order to prevent Ukraine joining Nato, saying “he knew perfectly well there was no plan to put missiles on Ukrainian soil”. Instead, “he was frightened of Ukraine because in Ukraine they have a free press and in Ukraine they have free elections,” said the prime minister. “And he feared the implicit reproach to himself. Because in Putin’s Russia, you get jailed for 15 years just for calling an invasion an invasion. And if you stand against Putin in an election, you get poisoned, or shot,” he added.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged India’s Narendra Modi yesterday to take a tougher line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but a joint statement after talks in Delhi fell short of condemning Moscow’s actions. Unlike fellow members of the Quad alliance — Japan, Australia and the United States — India has abstained in UN votes deploring Russia’s actions, calling only for a halt to the violence while still buying Russian oil. Kishida told a joint news conference that he and Modi held an “in-depth discussion” and that “Russia’s invasion... shakes the very foundations of the international order and must be dealt with firmly.” But Modi made no direct mention of Ukraine and their joint written statement afterwards called only “for an immediate cessation of violence and noted that there was no other choice but the path of dialogue and diplomacy for resolution of the conflict”. Without naming any country, they “emphasised the need for all countries to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law without resorting to threat or use of force or any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo”. Earlier this month in a four-way call, the other Quad leaders — Kishida, US President Joe Biden and Australia’s Scott Morrison — also failed to win the Indian premier over to their position on Ukraine. A joint Quad statement at the time said they “discussed the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications” — without any condemnation of Moscow. A separate Indian readout pointedly underlined that the alliance must remain focused on its “core objective... in the Indo-Pacific region” of promoting peace, stability and prosperity. Modi and Morrison are also due to hold a virtual summit tomorrow focused on trade, when the Australian premier may again press his Indian counterpart to fall more into the Western camp over Ukraine. Russia has been India’s main arms supplier since the Soviet era, but today Delhi also needs more support from the Quad and others in the region and beyond in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in India on Saturday, with officials in Tokyo predicting "candid discussions" about New Delhi's unwillingness to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Unlike fellow members of the Quad alliance -- Japan, Australia and the United States -- India has abstained in three UN votes deploring Moscow's actions, calling only for a halt to the violence. Earlier this month in a four-way call of Quad leaders, Kishida, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to convince India's Narendra Modi to take a tougher line. A joint statement had said they "discussed the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications" -- without any condemnation of Moscow. A separate Indian readout pointedly "underlined that the Quad must remain focused on its core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region." Ahead of Kishida's visit, the first by a Japanese premier since 2017, a foreign ministry official said Tokyo was "aware" of Delhi's "geographical location and historical ties to Russia". "But at the same time we share fundamental values and strategic interests so naturally there will be candid discussions about how we view the Ukraine situation, and also expect to hear a similar explanation from Prime Minister Modi," the official told reporters. He added that Modi, 71, and Kishida, 64, would also discuss "issues closer to our region" such as a "free and open Indo-Pacific" -- a reference to China -- and bilateral issues. "That will be more the opportunity to take stock of the bilateral cooperation as well as reaffirming our shared strategic vision and interests rather than emphasising on what our differences are," the official said. India's foreign ministry said only that the talks aimed to "review and strengthen the bilateral cooperation in diverse areas as well as exchange views on regional and global issues of mutual interest so as to advance their partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond." - 'History books' - Modi and Morrison are also due to hold a virtual summit on March 21 focused on trade, when the Australian premier may also press his Indian counterpart to fall more into the Western camp over Ukraine. Russia has been India's main arms supplier since the Soviet era, but today Delhi also needs more support from the Quad and others in the region and beyond in the face of an increasingly assertive China. Asked about India's stance and its continued purchases of Russian oil, White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week urged all foreign nations to "think about where you want to stand when history books are written". Tensions between New Delhi and Beijing have been high since a 2020 clash on their disputed Himalayan border killed at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers. Both have since sent additional military hardware -- in India's case much of it Russian-made -- and thousands of extra troops. In a possible sign of thawing tensions, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi will reportedly travel to India later this month, the senior-most official to visit since the 2020 clash.
Indian government officials yesterday defended the continued buying of Russian oil, saying European countries were still purchasing hydrocarbons from Moscow and that high crude prices left New Delhi with little choice. Indian oil refiners have in recent days reportedly purchased several million barrels of discounted Russian oil even as the West seeks to isolate Moscow economically over its invasion of Ukraine. But an Indian government official said yesterday that the world’s third-biggest consumer of crude relied on imports for almost 85% of its needs, with Russia supplying a “marginal” less than 1% of this. “Geopolitical developments have posed significant challenges to our energy security. For obvious reasons, we have had to stop sourcing from Iran and Venezuela. Alternative sources have often come at a higher cost,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “The jump in oil prices after the Ukraine conflict has now added to our challenges...India has to keep focusing on competitive energy sources,” they said. “Countries with oil self-sufficiency or those importing themselves from Russia cannot credibly advocate restrictive trading,” the official added, referring to the US and European nations respectively. New Delhi, which historically has had close ties with Moscow, has called for an end to the violence in Ukraine but has stopped short of condemning Russia’s invasion, abstaining in three votes at the United Nations. The White House said this week that it did not appear any Indian oil purchase would violate US sanctions. But press secretary Jen Psaki urged foreign nations to “think about where you want to stand when history books are written” on the conflict. New Delhi has been working on a rupee-rouble trade mechanism to facilitate trade with Russia, bypassing the need to denominate trade in US dollars, according to local media reports. In addition to oil, India also imports large volumes of Russian arms — Moscow is its largest supplier — as well as fertilisers and rough diamonds to be cut and polished and then exported elsewhere. Indian exports to Russia include pharmaceuticals, tea and coffee. Oil prices had already risen sharply before the Ukraine conflict, squeezing consumers in India where the average daily wage among rural workers was just Rs175 ($2.30) in 2018, according to UN figures. “We are a relatively poor country and these oil prices matter a lot: electorally, politically, socially and otherwise,” Lydia Powell of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation said.