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India’s Modi greets Dalai Lama on birthday in rare phone call

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has let the world know that he had rung Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to wish him a happy 86th birthday, disregarding any potential disapproval from China.

Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India for more than six decades, as a dangerous “splittist”, or separatist, and frowns on any engagement with him.

Indian leaders have generally been circumspect about public contact to avoid upsetting Beijing, but with India’s own relations with China at a low ebb, Modi said in a tweet he had passed on his best wishes personally.

“Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life,” Modi said.

Several Indian state leaders subsequently greeted the Dalai Lama saying his values, teachings and way of life is an inspiration to humanity.

The Dalai Lama thanked his supporters and expressed his appreciation for India, where he has lived since he fled his homeland in 1959.

“I want to express my deep appreciation of all my friends who have really shown me love, respect and trust,” the Dalai Lama said in a video message.

He reiterated his mission to serving humanity and urged supporters to be compassionate.

“Since I became a refugee and now settled in India, I have taken full advantage of India’s freedom and religious harmony,” he said.

He added that he had great respect for India’s secular values such as “honesty, karuna (compassion), and ahimsa (non-violence)”.

Chinese troops seized Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation”, and the Dalai Lama fled into exile and made the hillside town of Dharamshala his headquarters after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

On Tuesday, a small celebration attended by mostly government officials was held at the Central Tibetan Administration. On a projected screen, the Dalai Lama’s video message was played and followed by a cultural performance by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.

Usually, the spiritual leader’s birthday is a fairly elaborate affair in the town, open to members of the public who would flock to the Tsuglagkhang Temple where performances are held. Sometimes, the leader would also make an appearance.

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were muted and behind closed doors. But a banner marking his birthday hung in the town square and Tibetan monks distributed sweets and juice to passers-by outside the closed temple.

“Many people really show they love me. And many people actually love my smile,” the Dalai Lama said with a smile at the start of the video. “In spite of my old age, my face is quite handsome,” he said with a laugh.

The Dalai Lama, left, and Muslim scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan at a 2013 conference in New Delhi [File: Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

New Delhi recognises Tibet as an autonomous region of China but has several territorial disputes with Beijing elsewhere on their 3,500-km (2,173-mile) Himalayan border.

Relations deteriorated in June last year following the most serious clash in decades, when Chinese troops attacked an Indian border patrol with rocks and clubs, killing 20. China later said it lost four soldiers during that clash.

Tens of thousands of troops remain in close proximity at several points in the western Himalayas, on the border running through India’s Ladakh, a region sometimes called Little Tibet because of its Tibetan culture and predominantly Buddhist religion.

Back in 2019, when Modi was still pursuing a detente with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his government had asked Tibetans in India not to hold a rally to mark the 60th anniversary of the uprising.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen also wished the Dalai Lama a happy birthday, tweeting: “Thank you for teaching us the importance of coming together to help one another through this pandemic.”

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India’s refiners prepare for lifting of US sanctions on Iran’s oil

Major Indian state-held refiners plan to cut back on spot crude purchases later this year, expecting that the US sanctions on Iran’s oil could be lifted by the end of 2021.

India’s refiners halted imports from Iran several months after the previous US Administration slapped sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s oil industry and withdrew from the so-called nuclear deal in 2018.

The Biden Administration has been indirectly talking to Iran for a few weeks in Vienna in rounds of talks with the remaining partners of the nuclear agreement, to see if the US and Iran could reach an agreement on returning to the deal.
Also on rt.com Iran is planning an oil export boost once US lifts sanctions
There has been some progress in the talks, but not a major breakthrough, despite an earlier BBC suggestion that important agreement news was expected on Wednesday.

“I didn’t say there was a breakthrough at the Vienna talks on #JCPOA. I said that significant progress have been achieved, in my view. That is true. But unresolved issues still remain and the negotiators need more time and efforts to finalise an agreement on restoration of JCPOA,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Representative of Russia to International Organizations in Vienna, who leads the Russian delegation at the talks, clarified after the initial news tanked oil prices.   

At any rate, major state-run refiners in the world’s third-largest oil importer, India, will be making room for a potential legitimate return of Iranian oil to the international market, officials at the refiners told Reuters this week.
Also on rt.com US sells over a million barrels of seized Iranian fuel headed for Venezuela
The biggest refiner Indian Oil Corporation, as well as Bharat Petroleum Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals, plan to reduce spot crude buying and buy Iranian oil, if the sanctions are lifted and the price is right, officials at those companies told Reuters.

Before the US sanctions cut off India as a major market of Iranian oil, India was the second-largest crude market for Iran after China. While India has complied with the US sanctions and stopped purchases of crude from the Islamic Republic, China has not.

Meanwhile, Iran is preparing to boost production and exports of crude oil as talks on the nuclear deal with the United States continue to progress, government officials said earlier this month, as quoted by Bloomberg.

This article was originally published on Oilprice.com

Author: RT
This post originally appeared on RT Business News

Scores of Dead Bodies Found Floating in India’s Ganges River

NEW DELHI (AP) — Scores of dead bodies have been found floating down the Ganges River in eastern India as the country battles a ferocious surge in coronavirus infections. Authorities said Tuesday they haven’t yet determined the cause of death.

Health officials working through the night Monday retrieved 71 bodies, officials in Bihar state said.

Images on social media of the bodies floating in the river prompted outrage and speculation that they died from COVID-19. Authorities performed post mortems on Tuesday but said they could not confirm the cause of death due to the decomposition of the bodies.

More corpses were found floating in the river on Tuesday, washing up in Ghazipur district in neighboring Uttar Pradesh state. Police and villagers were at the site, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Monday’s incident.

“We are trying to find out where did these dead bodies come from? How did they get here?” said Mangla Prasad Singh, a local official.

Surinder, a resident of Ghazipur who uses one name, said villagers didn’t have enough wood to cremate their dead on land.

“Due to the shortage of wood, the dead are being buried in the water,” he said. “Bodies from around 12-13 villages have been buried in the water.”

Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are experiencing rising COVID-19 cases as infections in India grow faster than anywhere else in the world.

On Tuesday, the country confirmed nearly 390,000 new cases, including 3,876 more deaths. Overall, India has had the second highest number of confirmed cases after the U.S. with nearly 23 million and over 240,000 deaths. All of the figures are almost certainly a vast undercount, experts say.

Author: AP News
This post originally appeared on Snopes.com

‘Horrible’ Weeks Ahead As India’s Virus Catastrophe Worsens

Virus Catastrophe Worsens

NEW DELHI (AP) — COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting with alarming speed in India with no end in sight to the crisis and a top expert warning that the coming weeks in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people will be “horrible.”

India’s official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health care system.

The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.

Infections have surged in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies before state elections.

India’s top health official, Rajesh Bhushan, refused to speculate last month as to why authorities weren’t better prepared. But the cost is clear: People are dying because of shortages of bottled oxygen and hospital beds or because they couldn’t get a COVID-19 test.

India’s official average of newly confirmed cases per day has soared from over 65,000 on April 1 to about 370,000, and deaths per day have officially gone from over 300 to more than 3,000.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours and 3,449 deaths from COVID-19.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in the U.S., said he is concerned that Indian policymakers he has been in contact with believe things will improve in the next few days.

“I’ve been … trying to say to them, `If everything goes very well, things will be horrible for the next several weeks. And it may be much longer,‘” he said.

Jha said the focus needs to be on “classic” public health measures: targeted shutdowns, more testing, universal mask-wearing and avoiding large gatherings.

“That is what’s going to break the back of this surge,” he said.

The death and infection figures are considered unreliable because testing is patchy and reporting incomplete. For example, government guidelines ask Indian states to include suspected COVID-19 cases when recording deaths from the outbreak, but many do not do so.

The U.S., with one-fourth the population of India, has recorded more than 2 1/2 times as many deaths, at around 580,000.

Municipal records for this past Sunday show 1,680 dead in the Indian capital were treated according to the procedures for handing the bodies of those infected with COVID-19. But in the same 24-hour period, only 407 deaths were added to the official toll from New Delhi.

The New Delhi High Court announced it will start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals are not delivered. “Enough is enough,” it said.

The deaths reflect the fragility of India’s health system. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has countered criticism by pointing out that the underfunding of health care has been chronic.

But this was all the more reason for authorities to use the several months when cases in India declined to shore up the system, said Dr. Vineeta Bal of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

“Only a patchwork improvement would’ve been possible,” she said. But the country “didn’t even do that.”

Now authorities are scrambling to make up for lost time. Beds are being added in hospitals, more tests are being done, oxygen is being sent from one corner of the country to another, and manufacturing of the few drugs effective against COVID-19 is being scaled up.

The challenges are steep in states where elections were held and unmasked crowds probably worsened the spread of the virus. The average number of daily infections in West Bengal state has increased by a multiple of 32 to over 17,000 since the balloting began.

“It’s a terrifying crisis,” said Dr. Punyabrata Goon, convener of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum.

Goon added that the state also needs to hasten immunizations. But the world’s largest maker of vaccines is short of shots — the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages.

Experts are also worried the prices being charged for shots will make it harder for the poor to get vaccinated. On Monday, opposition parties urged the government make vaccinations free to all Indians.

India is vaccinating about 2.1 million people daily, or around 0.15% of its population.

“This is not going to end very soon,” said Dr. Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at the University of Cambridge in England. “And really … the soul of the country is at risk in a way.”

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Author: AP News
This post originally appeared on Snopes.com

India’s economy may shrink amid soaring Covid-19 cases, analysts warn

Author: RT
This post originally appeared on RT Business News

The latest surge of coronavirus cases in India is likely to drag down Asia’s third largest economy, which has yet to recover from the pandemic-driven slowdown last year, economists say, revising earlier forecasts.

India reported another 323,144 infections over the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s cumulative Covid cases to more than 17.6 million. Some states have introduced partial lockdowns or harsh restrictions, such as curfews.

The first quarter of the fiscal year that begins in April is “clearly going to see a sequential growth hit,” according to Sonal Varma, chief economist (India) at Nomura, as quoted by CNBC. The analyst projects the country’s GDP to shrink by about 1.5% from April through June.

Also on rt.com India’s double-digit growth in doubt amid massive surge in Covid cases

“There is a downside risk to this number, given the extended lockdowns we are seeing across states, but we do still think it’s going to be a double-digit growth for India,” the analyst told the media.

However, the economy may grow only 25% against the fiscal first quarter of last year, as India’s GDP contracted nearly 24% in the same period in 2020.

“We might still be able to eke out a double-digit growth,” Radhika Rao, an economist at DBS, said, echoing Varma’s sentiment.

DBS expects the Indian economy to grow by 10.5% for the full fiscal year that ends in March 2022.

“I might have to bring [my prediction] down by half a percent or a percent in the coming weeks, depending on how restrictive the restrictions are going to be,” Rao said.

Also on rt.com Covid-19 to delay India’s rise to world’s third-biggest economy – Bank of America

She added that “some kind of recovery” is expected to emerge in the July-to-September period: “Last year’s example also showed that, once the numbers start to peak off and recede, economic activity certainly tends to come back because of pent-up savings, because of pent-up demand.”

Rao also pointed out that the current restrictions are more localized, and concentrated on the services side, in comparison with those imposed during the first wave of infections.

“We have enough anecdotal evidence of factories in the state of Maharashtra which are able to operate at 100% capacity despite the lockdowns,” she said.

Maharashtra, where the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, is located, has become the epicenter of India’s second Covid wave.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

India’s double-digit growth in doubt amid massive surge in Covid cases

Author: RT
This post originally appeared on RT Business News

A record jump in Covid infections is threatening to derail India’s projected double-digit economic recovery from the pandemic-driven slowdown last year. Economists are reassessing their bullish forecasts.

The South Asian nation reported a record number of infections for a fifth straight day on Monday, with 352,991 new reported cases over a 24-hour period and at least 2,812 people have died. Total infection numbers since the beginning of the pandemic have exceeded 17 million.

“This second wave of virus cases may delay the recovery, but it is unlikely in Fitch’s view to derail it,” said the ratings company. Fitch stuck to its 12.8% GDP growth forecast for the 12 months through March 2022. 

This month, the Reserve Bank of India also retained its growth estimate of 10.5% for the current fiscal year. However, Governor Shaktikanta Das said the surge in infections brings more uncertainty and could delay economic activity from returning to normalcy. 

Also on rt.com Innovative India must capture all segments of financial markets to fuel growth – IMF

There are already signs of deepening contraction in retail activity in the week through April 18 relative to its pre-pandemic January 2020 level, according to Bloomberg Economics’ Abhishek Gupta. He said that’s a key risk for an economy where consumption makes up some 60% of gross domestic product. 

“The surge in infections has led to the re-imposition of partial lockdowns in the more affected cities and states, and could trigger full lockdowns if the situation worsens,” senior investment director for Asian equities at Aberdeen Standard Kristy Fong was quoted as saying by the Economic Times. “This will have a knock-on impact on the re-opening of the economy and recovery prospects.” 

Indian policymakers have signaled that they are ready to take steps to support growth, but some economists see the pandemic weighing on consumer confidence, which is the backbone of the economy. 

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund raised its fiscal year 2022 growth forecast for India to 12.5%, from the 11.5% estimated earlier in January. It said, “Even with high uncertainty about the path of the pandemic, a way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible.”

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

India’s soaring demand for gold could boost price of precious metal

The world’s second-biggest consumer of gold, India, ramped up imports of the metal by 471% from a year earlier to a record 160 tons in March, Reuters reported, citing a government source.

According to the source, the country purchased a record 321 tons of gold in the first quarter, up from 124 tons a year ago. In value terms, imports surged to $ 8.4 billion from $ 1.23 billion, the source said. 

Analysts predict that higher imports by one of the world’s top bullion consumers could support benchmark gold prices, which have corrected nearly 17% from an all-time high of $ 2,072 in August 2020. 

Imports grew after a reduction in taxes, and the correction in prices from record highs drew retail buyers and jewelers alike. In February, India slashed import duties on gold to 10.75% from 12.5% to boost retail demand and curtail smuggling. 
Also on rt.com India considers over $ 1 billion in cash incentives for every chip maker setting up in country – media
Jewelers started building inventories after seeing robust retail demand, said an unnamed Mumbai-based bullion dealer with a gold importing bank. “Throughout the month, gold was trading at a premium because of jewelry demand,” he was quoted by the agency as saying, adding that, in April, imports could fall below 100 tons, as jewelers were raising concerns that the government could impose a lockdown to stop the rise in Covid-19 infections.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

RT

Journalist Cleared of Defamation Charge Revives India’s #MeToo

The harassment incident occurred when she was 23, during an interview for a job with The Asian Age — a then-new publication founded by Mr. Akbar, who was then famous for his reporting on the 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque[1].

For the job interview, Mr. Akbar asked Ms. Ramani to come to his room at the Oberoi, an upscale hotel on Mumbai’s seafront, according to her account in Vogue India. He offered her alcohol, serenaded her with old Hindi songs and invited her to sit next to him on a bed that had been turned down for the night, she said.

Despite the uncomfortable interview, Ms. Ramani accepted a job with The Asian Age. She didn’t tell her parents about the incident, knowing they would tell her to forget her journalism career.

“It was like we were that generation that was going out to work, so maybe we figure this is part of the thing we have to deal with in the workplace, and we will have to deal with it, rather than anyone else helping us through this,” she said.

The 1990s, when Ms. Ramani started that first job, brought a wave of women entering India’s professional world. The Supreme Court’s Vishaka guidelines in 1997 defined and explicitly prohibited sexual harassment at work. But these same guidelines, intended to support women, were often met with a deeply entrenched cultural code of silence around sexual harassment and assault. In other words, they were ignored. Among men, they also bred resentment of women in the workplace.

Little changed for women at work until 2013, when India passed the Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, or POSH, Act, which requires employers to set up in-house committees with the powers of a civil court to investigate complaints and suggest remedies. The law was designed to make it easier for women to raise concerns and to save women the difficulty and cost of seeking help through India’s already clogged judicial system, where cases can linger for years or even decades.

The numbers of complaints rose by 45 percent from 2014 to 2017, according to the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

References

  1. ^ 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque (www.nytimes.com)

Emily Schmall

Covid-19 to delay India’s rise to world’s third-biggest economy – Bank of America

The investment banking division of Bank of America (BofA) has downgraded its previous outlook on the pace at which India is set to overtake Japan as the world’s third-biggest economy.

According to the latest report from BofA Securities, it will take India another 10 years to oust Japan from the third spot. The institution had previously expected this to happen three years earlier – in 2028.

The downgrade reportedly comes as a result of the shockwave that the Covid-19 pandemic sent through the global economy, heavily impacting nations across the world and dragging down regional economies.
Also on rt.com Indian economy to grow by 12% in 2021 as private consumption & non-residential investments pick up – Moody’s
“We now expect India to emerge as the third largest economy in the world in 2031/FY32, from 2028 earlier, due to the Covid 19 shock,” Indranil Sen Gupta and Aastha Gudwani, economists for BofA Securities, said in the report.

The analysts added that the South Asian nation is expected to reach Japan’s nominal GDP in dollar terms in 2031, provided it has an annual growth of 9% – assuming real GDP growth of around 6%, an average inflation rate of 5% and 2% depreciation. If India’s economy manages to grow by 10 percent, it can reportedly top Japan by 2030.

Prolonged lockdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak led to a serious economic crisis in India, leaving millions of people unemployed, many of them permanently. The country’s economy has been in recovery so far, however, the nation is expected to undergo a permanent loss of about 10% of its output against its pre-pandemic path.
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According to BofA Securities, structural drivers of economic growth, like deepening financial maturity, the emergence of mass markets due to rising incomes and a forthcoming demographic dividend, are still strengthening.

The report also says that India’s skilled workforce is set to grow and income losses will likely reverse once economic stability is reached. This will be partially driven by rising employment in the services sector. The country’s credit-to-GDP ratio, seen as a proxy for financial maturity, is projected to rise in the next decade with emerging mass markets pushing down the prices of goods.

The Reserve Bank of India has boosted the nation’s forex reserves, which is expected to help stabilize the Indian rupee, preventing large depreciation of the currency amid potential global shocks. Moreover, the regulator would see greater portfolio inflows and is set to lower borrowing costs for Indian companies.
Also on rt.com India now holds world’s fourth-LARGEST forex reserves
“Further, sustained RBI easing is finally bringing down real lending rates that have been a drag on growth since 2016. We continue to see financials as the primary beneficiary of the India growth story,” the report said.

India has launched an ambitious vaccination campaign to inoculate some 300 million people. However, the latest rise in coronavirus cases in the country has increased concerns over a second wave of infection.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

RT

India’s unemployment rate drops to pre-Covid levels

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said on Thursday that the nation’s unemployment rate stood at 6.9 percent last month, which is much lower than the 7.8 percent clocked in February 2020.

“The unemployment rate has recovered to its pre-lockdown levels. However, recovery in the labor force participation rate and the employment rate remain significantly lower than their levels before the lockdown,” the CMIE said in its weekly analysis. 

According to the data, the labor participation rate was 40.5 percent in February 2021. That’s slightly lower than the 40.6 percent recorded in January 2021 and 42.6 percent in February 2020. “This means that the proportion of working age people who are employed or are unemployed and are actively seeking employment has declined,” the CMIE said. 

Meanwhile, the employment rate dropped to 37.7 percent in February compared to 39.4 percent in 2019-20. “The slide in the employment rate over the last three years continues. The rate has recovered from the steep fall earlier in fiscal 2020-21. But it has merely reverted to its trend of a steady fall that was established before the lockdown.” 
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The CMIE further said that the count of the employed has declined quite sharply in the period. According to its research, some 405.3 million persons were employed on average during July-February of the previous fiscal year. To compare, around 395.2 million persons were employed during the corresponding period of the current year.

“So, the post-lockdown period is characterized by a 2.5 percent fall in employment and 6.2 percent fall in the count of the unemployed. This translates into a 2.8 percent contraction of the labor force,” the CMIE added.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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