Vol. V Issue. 24
India: Single engineering entrance exam at the eye of a storm
15 June 2012
The controversy over the proposed single entrance examination for all engineering studies, including those at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), has brought serious issues into the open. While the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has been pushing for a common entrance examination for all engineering colleges in the country and has even brought out a blueprint for the same, the IITs have vehemently objected to it with various arguments.
The HRD Ministry has been advocating the replacement of the present Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) conducted by the IITs, with a common entrance test conducted by an independent agency. The marks obtained in this test areto be combined with the weighted results of Class XII exams under different schemes, to determine a student’s percentile ranking at the national-level. These rankings could then be used for admissions to all engineering colleges, including the IITs.
The HRD Ministry has claimed that the new procedure would give weightage to student’s performance in school which at present plays no role in determining his entry into the IITs. At the same time, the common entrance test would reduce the stress on young students who are now being forced to take multiple examinations -- as many as 25 each year ? while trying for admission to different institutions spread across the country. As may be recalled, most States have different sets of criteria for engineering admissions, including the domicile status of the students, hence leading to separate entrance examinations.
According to the Ministry and HRD Ministry Kapil Sibal, the present system thus contradicts with the near-universal desire to reduce the stress and burden on the students. Would it not be ideal if there was one entrance examination and then each institutions picks up the best according to its own criteria?
The fact remains that many aspiring students tend to neglect their studies in Class XII and start preparing for the IIT-JEE. The preparations often start when the students are in the eighth or ninth class, and there are well-recognised tuitions centres, some of them with national-level presence, for tutoring them rigorously. Only about two percent of the students who take JEE finally get admissions to the IITs. The fate of rest 98 percent, many of whom had neglected the studies in their school, becomes bleak. They either land up in private engineering colleges, paying high capitation fees, or are forced to branch out to streams not to their liking.
Not only the stress of multiple examinations for those students, but they are also forced to take the help of coaching classes which charge huge fee for the tuition centres.A majority of these coaching shops are run in urban centres, where students from rural areas have to come and stay by paying through their nose. These coaching institutes are commercial in nature, so they have to necessarily make big profits.Moreover, these institutes prepare students in physics, chemistry and mathematics through repetitive and rigorous methodology which turns thinking young minds into robots. These coaching institutes are like concentration camps where minds are not allowed to think freely, and innovative thinking is shunned.
Is it not the responsibility of the society and the Government to reduce pressure on young students and create a just environment in which all could choose vocations of their choice irrespective of their parents’ financial background?
Undoubtedly, the IITs have been the leading engineering institutions in the country which have expanded their domain in other areas of study also. The aspiring engineering students have to take several entrance examinations to find a place in one of the thousands engineering colleges. Notwithstanding the claim of IITs that they pick up the best students from across the country for various engineering streams through the JEE, the fact is that a very small percentage of IIT graduates finally take up engineering vocations. Using the IIT’s brand value, they stream out to non-engineering professions away from laboratories and quantitative work. One of the main reasons for this is lack of aptitude for engineering studies but often enough they take JEE because of peer or parental pressure.
The IITs have been claiming that the HRD Ministry’s approach was an encroachment on their autonomy and the proposed system of entrance examination would damage their brand value. The claim for being islands of excellence does not stand a close scrutiny as per the assessment of the Global Research University Profiles which publishes a ranking of the top 500 World Class universities (Shanghai rankings) by their research output every year. In its 2011 list, only three from India figured. Indian Institute Science ranked among the 300-400 and IIT Delhi and Kharagpur were among 400-500. Not a very pride place in the list.
Contrary to many of the top international universities which have an average of four or five publications per faculty per year, the IITs have an average of 1.5-2 publications per faculty per year. The IITs claim that they are the best does not carry conviction when one realises that the number of doctoral studies has been going down. At present, only one percent of engineering post-graduates take the doctoral path. Compared to science doctorates, the ratio of engineering doctorate was 5:1 in 2005. Are IITs only meant to produce engineering graduates about which the IIT elite are so proud of?
While it is possible that the proposed common entrance test may not be an ideal one at present the claim of exclusivity for the IITs also does not stand the test of logic particularly when the nation needs thousands of engineering colleges to exploit fully the demographic dividend. There is thus an urgent need for making IITs into top research institutions and it is not a time for settling scores. It appears to be an ego clash between the Government and the IIT elites.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Maldives: Competing ’probe reports’ take the focus away
N Sathiya Moorthy
Two interim reports from the two sides, so to say, and the focus is slowly slipping away from the work on hand for the National Commission of Inquiry (CNI) probing then Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed’s resignation of February 7. It is back more ore less in the realm of politics and public-spat. Of the two reports, if they could be called so, one has the relative legitimacy of being produced by the outgoing CNI before it was expanded, and the other from President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), at whose instance the NCI is being expanded in the first place. Who jumped the gun and why are questions for which neither side may have convincing answers.
It does not stop there. The police have since arrested a senior Intelligence Officer from the Nasheed era, for providing information for the MDP report. Chief Superintendent of Police Mohammed Hameed and Staff Sergeant Ahmed Naseer were arrested, based on court warrants, for talking to the MDP probe/ The Government side has also questioned the propriety of President Nasheed’s one-time Defence Minister and later National Security Advisor, AmeenFaizal, co-authoring the MDP report, which sought to establish the party’s earlier claims of a ’military/police coup’ forcing President Nasheed’s resignation. At the same time, Assistant Police Commissioner Hassan Habeeb has reportedly complained a’Quaran’ teacher has stopped taking tuition classes for his daughter, citing his name figuring in the MDP report.
President Waheed Hassan has since sort of clarified that the expanded CNI with an MDP nominee and a retired Judge from Singapore as external member on the panel would review the work done by the probe team thus far, before proceeding with the task on hand. Yet, it is anybody’s guess if and why the Government did not discourage the CNI from publishing the ’time-line’, when it was due for review. The CNI’s claim that the publication was to encourage the public to come up with their views within a given deadline would not wash. The people at large were not privy to the controversies attending on President Nasheed’s resignation, and they could not have been called to act as jury in the case, which could only be described as tendency towards ’mobocracy’ of sorts.
The MDP can be expected to raise the issue of the outgoing CNI publicising its incomplete work as prejudicing the views of the expanded CNI and also that of the public. There is some validity in the party’s position as none of the three members of the incumbent CNI are expected to opt out. Thus, they could still have defended their work even if the two new members were to contest the same. Incidentally, they would still hold numerical majority in the expanded CNI. The party, citing the CNI, has also demanded President Waheed’s resignation, but has been selective about its side of the story flowing from the CNI time-line. Having launched mob violence repeatedly on the streets of Male, the national capital, and other urban centres across the country, the party may have also lost the moral right to question the methods of others ? not that such a tendency by anyone should be encouraged, now or later.
The publication of the CNI time-line should not absolve the MDP of the charge that they too might have shot themselves in the foot all over again. Having demanded steadfastly for expanding the CNI and having its nominee on board, along with one representing the international community so to say, the party should have waited for the probe report to be out before coming out with its clarifications, if any. Two wrongs do not a right make, and possible MDP’s claims that the existing CNI was the one that started off the game should not wash, either. The party could be charged with seeking to influence the expanded CNI and the people at large, just as it has charged the existing CNI already.
The MDP has also not denied the charge flowing from the arrest of the two police officers, who were believed to have talked to the party’s probe team. Instead, party’s international spokesperson Hameed Abdul Ghafoor has charged the Government with purging ’police whistle-blowers’, as if to defend their right to speak to private probes, particularly when an official one was halfway through its work. Even granting that the police officers concerned had talked to the MDP team in good faith that the Government probe were an eye-wash, it is anybody’s guess why the party decided to proceed with the publication of the report of its two-member team after its demands on the CNI front had been met, through international intervention. Thus, it is not the party whose credibility alone is under a cloud now.
Pressuring the probe at birth
Prima facie, avoidable controversies of the kind would pressure the expanded CNI at birth, and also take precious time off their work-schedule, viewing and reviewing the work already done, more closely than may have been otherwise. This could mean that the expanded, five-member CNI may not be able to meet the July-end deadline for submitting its report. The three-member, original CNI could not meet the May-end deadline earlier, after a decision was taken to expand the same, to include representatives proposed by the MDP and the Commonwealth. This could push back future political negotiations, particularly on the MDP demand for early poll for the presidency that much more. One can safely conclude at this stage that the MDP’s year-end deadline for the purpose may be dismissed as impractical. Thus far, the Government parties have been arguing that the demand was improper and not provided for in the Constitution as it exists now.
The constitution of the CNI also suffers from another lacuna, among many, which the inexperience of the nation’s polity particularly that of the more vociferous MDP, has not addressed. Having been constituted by President Waheed, the CNI would have to submit its report to him. Through the past months since the exit of President Nasheed, the MDP in particular has charged President Waheed with being party to the ’conspiracy’. It has always demanded the resignation of President Waheed. Under such circumstances, the propriety of the CNI submitting its report to President Waheed could be under question. One can expect the MDP in particular to raise such issues, post facto, but it may be in the fitness of things to address such minor irritants early on as they could be blown out of proportion on a later day.
Whither Roadmap talks?
Even without what could be described as inevitable delays in the working of the CNI, the Roadmap Talks for political reconciliation remains dead-locked. The agenda for the talks is noteworthy for including in it concerns for consensus over the nation’s economy, going beyond the realm of immediate politics. There are also references to the need for constitutional amendments for protecting national institutions. These are serious issues, which need to be taken up in a spirit of national understanding and cohesion, going beyond the immediate demands of partisan politics of one kind or the other. Many of the issues on board relate to the dynamic nature of democratic politics and Constitution-making for a nation that had remained politically insulated from modern influences and practices. The Indian contribution to the Roadmap talks too should be viewed from the South Asian neighbour’s experience with the dynamic processes of democratic well-being.
It does not flow that the Roadmap Talks should be finding solutions to each of the identified problems facing the nation, here and now. As the processes that it had set in motion for its functioning the all-party grouping had started with prioritising the agenda for discussion, decision-making and implementation. They now need to focus on these greater aspects of democratic being and Constitution-making, which are both dynamic processes. Having set the nation’s priority, the stake-holders can then prioritise between those needing their immediate attention and solution, and those that need to mature further before the nation could apply its collective wisdom to problem-solving.
Ensuring the independence of constitutional institutions and establishing their credibility have to be dovetailed if Maldivian democracy has to mean something more than what governance was all about in the pre-democracy era. It is not only about the MDP picking up individuals with a past but also insisting only on publicising their past, and politicking almost exclusively on the same. Such an approach meant that there was paucity of ideas for the Nasheed Government other than those prescribed on the economic front by an external organisation as the IMF. This created a chasm within the polity and even otherwise, which the Government of the day sought to brush under the democracy carpet.
’Conflict as comfort zone’
Instead, it is all about addressing the larger issues and concerns that related to the past, and the accompanying circumstances. There are few MDP leaders, for instance, who do not have their past linked to what the party often describes as the ’dreaded regime’ of former President Maumoon Gayoom. The second-line leaders in a cadre-based party like the MDP and in a country like MDP with no democratic past to boast of at any point in time, do not have the kind of exposure and experience required to govern a nation as complex as Maldives, however ’tiny’ it might look for the outside world.
Independent of the numbers that have been added to the MDP membership list after the party came to power, the core cadre of the party still seem to live in the past. The have been fed on an ideology and dogma that have no relation to ground realities of politics and public life in any democracy. They have also been slow in on-job learning, in relation to the attitudinal changes required to be the party in power. This trend seems to dominate the decision-making processes in the party, post-resignation, as well, and the MDP seems shy of reviewing its own contributions to the expanding political mess and the repeated constitutional deadlocks.
This does not mean that the MDP alone has the responsibility in the matter. Most, if not all political parties in the Government at present, were partners with the MDP in ushering in democracy ahead of the presidential polls in 2008. All of them, including then President Gayoom, had facilitated the democratic transition. While most others also facilitated the election of MDP’s Nasheed as President in the second, run-off round, as the incumbent, President Gayoom willingly handed over power without protest or plots, which some MDP leaders had otherwise anticipated during the run-up to the presidential polls. They too thus share the responsibility for having democracy take deep-roots, particularly since no one in the nation’s polity seems to be visualising any reversal of democracy. Yet, the responsibility of the MDP in ushering in democracy, and the party’s attendant duty for understanding the processes even better, is a role that the leadership has to take more seriously than at present.
For now, Maldives and Maldivians can take heart that they have only ’telescoped’ the dynamism of democracies into a much shorter span than in nations of the world, including South Asian neighbours like India and Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Yet, Maldives cannot afford to continue with conflict as comfort zone of internal contradictions, to the exclusion of the work on hand and issues of every day governance that can be put off only at peril to the nation and the people, and polity and political leaderships. They need to act, and no time is better than the hour that has already been lost.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
No breakthrough in Siachen talks
On June 11, Pakistan and India began the 13th round of secretary level talks concerning the demilitarisation of Siachen. After two days of negotiating in Rawalpindi no progress was made.
The Pakistani side explained that it wants withdrawal of forces by both sides in Siachen. The Indian side responded that it would consider withdrawal after Pakistan authenticates current troop positions, delineates the boundary on the map and demarcates it on the ground. The two countries agreed to continue trying to resolve the issue and to hold the next round of talks in New Delhi on mutually convenient dates.
Source: The Express Tribune, June 11, 2012; Daily Times, June 13, 2012
Setback to reopening NATO routes
The US has withdrawn its negotiators from Pakistan after an agreement couldn’t be reached on the issue of reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. Discussions continue through the Office of Defence Representative (ODR) in Islamabad. Pentagon Spokesman Capt John Kirby stated that the US teams have taken the negotiations as far as they can and now it is up to Pakistan to make decisions.
Pakistan shut its border to NATO supply convoys after a botched US airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers who were guarding the Salala check-post, located in the tribal agency of Mohmand in November last year. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said that before considering reopening the routes, "Pakistan still wants an unconditional apology and reassurance that the Salala type of incident never happens again". With the roads shut, the US has to rely on cargo flights and expensive northern supply routes that run through Central Asia.
Source: Dawn, June 12, 14, 2012; The News International, June 13, 2012.
Corruption in anti-graft body
An audit report for the year 2011-2012 found financial irregularities and misappropriation of advances collectively amounting to Rs77.87 million in the National Accountability Bureau, the country’s main anti-corruption authority.
The document shows Rs30.1 million being paid to employees during 2008-09 and 2010-11 without due approvals. Another Rs31.2 million was paid as legal fees on lump sum contracts during the same period. According to the report, NAB has also paid 15.2 million in advance for the renovation of an office building, but only Rs1.45 million worth of renovation work could be accounted for. Additionally during 2006 to 2011, NAB’s director in general paid Rs1.3 million to contingent staff appointed without asking for the approval of the finance division.
Source: The Express Tribune, June 11, 2012
W12 m child labour
Marking the World day against Child Labour, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) held a press conference highlighting the issue of growing incidence of child labour in Pakistan. As many as 12 million children ? half of them under the age of ten ? are involved in various forms of labour across the country.
The Employment of Children Act (ECA), which currently overlooks the employment of children in the country, only bans child labour in four occupations and 34 processes which it considers hazardous. However The Prohibition of the Employment of Children Act (PECA), which is expected to completely replace ECA in the future, would prohibit children under the age of 14 from working at all. Neither ECA nor PECA bans domestic labour, which according to child rights activists is one of the worst forms of child labour in the informal sector.
Source: TheExpress Tribune, May 28 and June 13, 20120
Govt slow on HR front, says Amnesty
Sri Lanka has made an "extremely slow" progress on the implementation of its national human rights action plan, Amnesty International (AI) has noted in its submissions to the 20th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which commences on June 18.
The AI written statement would be presented under Item 4 in the UNHRC dealing with country-specific situations. "During its first Universal Periodic Review in 2008, Sri Lanka committed to strengthening its national human rights mechanisms and procedures by initiating a national human rights action plan with targets to be achieved between 2009 and 2014. Progress on this commitment had been extremely slow. ..Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan must not become yet another vehicle to evade international scrutiny and delay necessary reform," the AI said.
Amnesty has told the Council that Sri Lanka should facilitate without delay the visit requested by the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The AI is also urging the UNHRC to call on Sri Lanka to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ensure that security measures adopted in the context of armed violence comply with international human rights law.
Source: : Daily Mirror Online, June 10 2012
LTTE, ’effectively defeated a month earlier’
Those who knew nothing about warfare were talking nonsense. The war against the LTTE was effectively over on April 19, 2009 with the security forces taking control of Iraddaivaaykkaal in the Mullaithivu District. Thereafter, it was a case of mopping up operations which went on till May 19, under the supervision of Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels, then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka said.
He told a news conference in Colombo on Thursday, that his critics who continued to find fault with him for undertaking an official visit to China in the last week of the war, did not know that the LTTE’s military capability had been destroyed beyond redemption and its cadres were on the run pursued by the security forces, before he had left the country.The Chinese visit had been postponed five times due to his preoccupation with conducting the war, Fonseka said, "I eventually went because all the arrangements had been finalized. While in China, from May 11 to 17, 2009, I communicated with my officers in Colombo thrice a day to ascertain the progress being made," Fonseka said.
Source: The Island, June 15, 2012
Indian imports cut, SAFTA to be amended ?
The Government has stressed the need to further restrict imports from India by amending the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), in order to boost the development of local industries, informed sources said.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the Cabinet meeting, instructed the Industry and Commerce Ministry to amend SAFTA and do away with the sensitive list. The Government has sought to remove 208 varieties of goods being imported into the country from the countries in the SAARC region. Most of these are imported from India.
It was pointed out at the meeting that even such items as joss sticks were imported under this agreement and, therefore, it was high time Sri Lanka developed its local industries. Among the items sought to be removed from the sensitive list, are infants’ milk food, safety razor blades, spoons, forks, ladles, knives, skimmers, sugar tongs, aluminums bars and harvesting and threshing machinery.
The Trade and Commerce Ministry submitted a Cabinet paper in this regard, and sought the approval of the Government to go ahead. Informed sources said that the decision was taken after due consultations with the business community and local manufacturers. "Most countries in the region have reduced their sensitive lists under SAFTA. However, we are late. We have to do it," a source said.
According to sources, the President had asked the Ministry to go ahead with the decision after further consideration of the pros and cons involved. However, Media Minister and Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwela said that the Government had not thought of banning imports from India, but was reviewing SAFTA, as was being done periodically by member-nations..
Source: Daily Mirror Online, June 2013
Electoral share mooted for women, non-party candidaes
A draft electoral law has been introduced in Afghanistan recently. The proposed new legislation, finalized by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) has been sent to the Law Ministry for vetting.
As per the provisions of the draft law, political parties would compete for one-third of the seats in Provinces, with independent candidates who are supposed to compete for the remaining two-thirds of the seats .This system is a marked departure from the system of the past decade where no ceilings were placed on the political parties’ nominees and independent runners.
The draft also marks a shift of era as regards the political representation of women by reserving 25 per cent of seats in each district and local council. The draft law also postulates that fresh elections are to be held by the IEC and the Election Supervisory Commission (ESC) in case the procedures and rules in a particular constituency are not respected.
The draft additionally envisages a complaint mechanism and even entitles voters, observers, candidates as well as civil society can register complaints with the IEC. This progressive proposal can prove to be a new leaf in the history of Afghanistan if brought into effect in its present form.
Source:Outlook Afghanistan, June 14, 2012
Ban on political party stokes worry
The recent ban on a small political party for the first time since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001 has caused experts to sit up and take notice. The ban comes in the wake of the recent solidification of the date of withdrawal of the NATO troops in 2014.
The Solidarity Party invited a ban on itself by staging demonstrations in late April this year, against former leaders who had allegedly committed war crimes over the last three decades of the on-going conflict. The ban has got diplomats and international experts worried over the future of political culture in Afghanistan as they fear that it might become a heinous political trend.
Source: Khaama Press,June 13, 2012
Flop show by Food Corporation
The Government’s efforts of organising a centralised mechanism for import of food had been received with a sense of disappointment be the traders since a large quantity food items like chillies, tomato and brinjalare either damaged are rotten, and hence cannot be sold in the market. This has resulted in traders suffering loss because of the shortcoming on the part of the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB).
The Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) was made the nodal agency by the Government to import food items from India. The rationale for this was that FBC as the single buyer would be able to get favourable prices for the imports given the large quantity that is involved and hence to that extend limit the outflow of the Indian rupee.
However, the trading community has voiced its displeasure of this move by the Government since it has now not only affect quality but also the profitability for traders. Till recently, food items were imported directly by the traders from India without any governmental intervention.
Source:kuenselonline.com, June 15, 2012
Trade with Bangladesh
In a bid to boost trade and commerce with Bangladesh, a Bhutan-Bangladesh bilateral meeting on trade and transit was held in Thimphu on June 14. Bhutan was represented by Ministry of Economic Affairs Secretary, Dasho Sonam Tshering while, Mohammed Ghulam Hussain, Secretary Commerce represented Bangladesh.
Bilateral trade of the current financial year, stands at $22 million fiscal year Bangladesh exported goods worth $3.12 million while it imported goods worth $19 million from Bhutan. Bangladesh exports readymade garments, pharmaceuticals, melamine, toilet soap, dry food, fruit juice and mineral water to Bhutan while it imports fresh fruits, paper and paper boards, crushed stones, coffee and spices.
The two sides also discussed water ways to improve transportation between the two countries. The first proposal included the Chittagong-Chandpur-Mawa-Aricha-Sirajgonj-Chilmari-Doikhagua route while the second one was the Mongla-Kawkhali-Barisal-Chandpur-Mawa-Aricha-Sirajgonj-Chilmari-Doikhagua. The Indian port of Dhubri, is located opposite to Doikhagua through which Bhutan will receive the transit cargo. The first route except Chittagong-Chandpur part and the entire second route are already included in the Bangladesh-India Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT).
While the proposed river routes, Chittagong-Chandpur and Mongla-Chandpur parts, are the best waterways where navigability of 14 feet draft is available throughout the year.
On the other hand, during the dry season the Chandpur- Doikhagua part of the two routes have navigability of at least 6 feet draft. Ships not over 200 feet long can ply through the Sirajgonj- Doikhagua route.
Source: thefinancialexpress-bd.com, June 13, 2012, bbs.bt, June 14, 2012
Pranab Congress candidate for President
Setting at rest perceived indecision and consequent confusion, the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) named Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as their candidate for the nation’s presidency. Speculative reportage thus came to a sudden end, but not before the Trinamool Congress (TMC) partner in the UPA and the Samajwadi Party (SP) under-writer of the Manmohan Singh Government at the Centre went to town with a list of three names outside of the two possible nominees short-listed by the Congress.
The Congress-UPA short-list had included Vice-President Hamid Ansari before Mukherjee’s name was formally chosen. The Trinamool-Samajwadi list, announced after party leaders, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and former Uttar Pradesh counterpart Mulayam Singh Yadav had met, comprised former President Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Mukherjee.
After some hesitation, the Congress declared that Prime Minister Singh could not be spared and that he would continue in office until the Lok Sabha polls became due in 2014. With Mukherjee’s candidacy announced, Mulayam Yadav also extended his support, and called for an unanimous elections.
On the Opposition BJP-NDA, the Alliance seemed divided with the United Janata Dal in particular seemingly preferring Pranab Mukherjee for presidency while many in the BJP felt uncomfortable with supporting a Congress nominee, after fighting a pitched battle against the ruling party, both inside and outside Parliament.
Source: The Hindu Online, Indian Express, The Times of India, June 14 & 15, 2012
New phase in bilateral ties: US
Focusing on five key areas including security cooperation and trade, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said India and the United States were moving to forge new and more mature phase of ties, as the third Indo-US Strategic Dialogue kicked off in Washington.
Clinton and External Affairs Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna took pains after the strategic dialogue to dispel impressions of drift after a rapid growth in ties from 2005.
"Today we are seeing something new: The strategic fundamentals of our relationship are pushing our two countries’ interests into closer convergence," she said.The convergence involved "not just our shared democratic values but, also economic imperatives and our diplomatic and security priorities," added Clinton.
Nearer home in New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) don’t appear to be on the same page on the country’s role even as the US is working on "re-balancing" its defence strategy to focus on the Asia-Pacific region. On Friday, the MoD indicated that India should not join the Asia-Pacific bandwagon of the US. MEA sources on the other hand said, "We see the engagement with the US in the evolution of an open, balanced, inclusive architecture in this region (Asia-Pacific) as important and essential."
Source:The Hindu, www.reuters.com, June 14, 2012, www.deccanchronicle.com, June 9
Exempted from US’ ’Iran sanctions’
The US has exempted India and six other countries from tough new financial sanctions on Iran’s oil trade citing significant reduction in imports of Iranian oil by them, a move downplayed by New Delhi.
"I have made the determination that seven economies ? India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan - have all significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement yesterday.
Source:www.deccanherald.com, June 12, 2012
Negotiations, not confrontation: Antony
Defence Minister A. K. Antony on Friday stressed that India strongly "believes in unhindered freedom" of navigation in international waters as per universally agreed laws, principles and norms.
Referring to his June 2 address at the 11 Asian Security Summit in Singapore, Antony said that he had made India’s position amply clear there while speaking on "Protecting Maritime Freedoms."
In an obvious reference to disputes in the South-China Sea where China’s presence and influence was growing, Mr. Antony said that maritime disputes between nations should be settled through negotiations and discussions among themselves without any third-party intervention.
Source: The Hindu, June 8, 2012
Eight warships from South Korea
In tune with a growing ’strategic partnership’ with South Korea, India is now getting all set to ink a major defence contract with the north-east Asian country for acquisition of eight advanced minesweeping and hunting warships.
Under the programme, which will be worth well over Rs 6,000 crore, India will get two of the mine counter-measures vessels (MCMVs) directly from South Korean firm Kangnam Corporation, while the other six will be manufactured by Goa Shipyard after transfer of technology. "The contract is now being finalized after the conclusion of the commercial negotiations," said a source.
Source: The Times of India, June 10, 2012
Forex reserves fall to $ 286.86 b
India’s foreign exchange reserves fell to $285.86 billion as of June 1, from $288.26 billion in the previous week, the central bank said in its weekly statistical supplement on Friday.
Changes in foreign currency assets, expressed in dollar terms, include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of other currencies held in its reserves, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said
Source: www.reuters.com, June 8, 2012
Support from international community: President
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has said that Maldives has the support and cooperation of the international community. Talking to newspersons on return from the UK, where he attended Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee celebrations, the President said, "We have the support of the international community. They have full confidence that we will move forward with our nation peacefully."
He also said that he got the chance to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, and that he responded to Cameron’s inquiries by assuring him that the Government will cooperate with all concerned groups.He also said that the issue of 7 February was not discussed officially with anyone, however, some discussions were held in relation to peace and order in Maldives."No such talks took place officially. However everyone wished for things to proceed peacefully in Maldives. We said that the biggest task at hand is to cooperate with all groups in order to proceed peacefully," President Waheed said.
Source: SunOnline, June 10, 2012
PPM not for early polls, still
Council member of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Nilandhoo MP AbdulMuhsin has said that even if the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concludes talks, early elections will not be held before 2013 as the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) wants.
Muhsin said that MDP wants to hold an early presidential election before 2013. He added that the President Dr. Mohamed Waheed himself cannot hold early elections by opposing the
Source:: Miadhu, June 10, 2012
Suu Kyi calls for European investments
Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Aung San SuuKyi, on the side lines of her European tour has called for international investment to create jobs for the youth of Myanmar. In her speech at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), SuuKyi also touched upon the plight of migrant Myanmarese workers in Thailand and called for coordinated social, political and economic policies.
SuuKyi she was "profoundly moved" by the "totally unexpected, very warm welcome" she had received as she began a five-country tour which will include a speech in Oslo to accept the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize she was unable to receive at the time. Her two-week tour of European started with Switzerland, and is followed by Norway, Britain, France and Ireland.
Source: channelnewsasia.com, June 14, 2012
Donors pledge massive funds
At a meeting with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, the Peace Donor Support Group (PDSG)?representing the governments of Norway, the UK and Australia, as well as the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank?offered a total of nearly US $500 million to support peace-building and other projects.
According to the president’s office website, the bulk of the funding will come from the UK and the EU, which will give $300 million and 150 million euros ($187 million), respectively.
In addition to this, Australia has already given $5 million to support health-care programs, the website said. This is just part of an $80 million aid package announced by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr last week. The UN will also donate $5 million for peace funding.
Of the $300 million that the UK will give over the next three years, $5 million has been earmarked to "support current ongoing democratic reforms" in Burma. The EU’s funding will be disbursed this year and next, and will include 3-4 million Euros ($3.75-5 million) to be spent on landmine education programs in Burma. Apart from the funding pledged by donors, Burma will also be eligible to receive low-interest loans of up to $300 million annually from the World Bank.
The PDSG was established by the Norwegian government to provide financial, technical and "idealistic" support for government-led political reforms and peace building in Myanmar.
Source: irrawaddy.org, June 13, 2012
Coco-Cola to enter Myanmar
Following the Us Government’s decision to suspend investment sanctions on the country for its democratic reforms Coca-Cola Co. plans to start selling its drinks in Myanmar for the first time in 60 years. Myanmar happens to be one of the three countries where Coca-Cola doesn’t do business. The other two are Cuba and North Korea.
Coca-Cola said its products will initially be imported from neighbouring countries as it establishes local operations in Myanmar; the company notes that it is has a history of being the among the first to enter or re-enter markets.
As part of its push in Myanmar, Coca-Cola said it is donating $3 million to support job creation for women in the country. The company will work with PACT, a non-governmental group that supports economic and health initiatives in developing nations.
Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com, June 15, 2012
IDPs’ number put at 32,000
According to official records, sectarian clashes in western Myanmar State of Rakhine have resulted in over 30,000 individuals being internally displaced. Nearly 31,900 persons are being housed in 37 camps across Rakhine, said Colonel Htein Lin, security and border affairs minister for the state, adding that stability has been restored to the regional capital Sittwe. He said 29 people -- 16 Muslims and 13 ethnic Buddhist Rakhines -- had been killed with scores more wounded and nearly 2,600 homes burned across the state.
Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya, Statel-ess and viewed by the UN as among the most persecuted minorities on the planet. According to the United Nations a number of refuges who are fleeing the violence hit zone are being turned back by Bangladeshi authorities from their territory.
Source: channelnewsasia.com, June 14, 2012
Reacting to some remarks made by political leaders and media, the Nepal Army (NA) issued a rare statement on June 14 claiming that the institution will remain under the control and supervision of the Government and abide only by its legitimate directives. The statement came after United CPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal said publicly that the Maoist party had already won the confidence of the NA and the latter would not support President Dr Ram Baran Yadav if the latter decided to sack the caretaker Government from office. In the statement, the NA’s Public Relations Directorate said that since NA is a national army with a non-political character, it will remain under the control of the Government. The NA has also asked all concerned not to believe in rumours.
Source: myrepublica.com, June 15, 2012.
Fewer pupils pass SLC
Only about 47 per cent of the students passed this year’s School Leaving Certificate (SLC/class 10 board) examinations. The results showed that 47.16 per cent of the total 419,049 students who appeared in this year’s SLC test passed. Last year, the pass percentage stood at 55.
The fall in the pass percentage is indicative of the deteriorating education standard in the country. The drop has also been attributed to the absence of pre-test (called send-up) prior to SLC this year, which was mandatory until last year.
Lack of amendment in the Education Act of the country can be considered another major reason in bringing about qualitative improvement in the school-level education. The education policies have remained unchanged despite drastic changes in various other sectors in Nepal since the dawn of multi-party democracy in the early 1990s.
Source: thehimalayantimes.com, nepalnews.com, June 13-14, 2012.
Oil giants pull out
The country’s petroleum exploration plans have suffered a setback with two of the world’s leading oil companies -- Texana Resources Company and Cairn Energy -- announcing that they would stop survey work, citing "force majeure"as the cause. This means that circumstances in Nepal are going beyond the control of these companies who have said that they were abandoning exploration work due to bureaucratic hurdles and lack of cooperation from the government.
Houston-based Texana flashed its plans to back out on June 1 while Cairn, a Scottish oil and gas company, did so on June 8.This is not the first time that Texana and Cairn have invoked force majeure. They have halted work in the past citing volatile political and security situation. Both have already spent millions of dollars in Nepal on preliminary surveys and were now all set for a ’seismic operation,’ which determines whether the surveyed areas contain commercially viable quantities of oil.
Source: ekantipur.com, June 11, 2012
Afghanistan: Pankhuri Mehndiratta;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Sripathi Narayan;
India: Satish Misra;
Nepal: Akanshya Shah;
Pakistan: Jussi Albert Jännes;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;