MonitorsPublished on May 02, 2014
The tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has completed 25 years of energy cooperation with India. The idea was/is for Bhutan to facilitate Indian funding for setting up hydro-power projects in the country,
Bhutan: Twenty-five years of energy cooperation with India

The tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has completed 25 years of energy cooperation with India. The idea was/is for Bhutan to facilitate Indian funding for setting up hydro-power projects in the country, on a power-purchase agreement, thus generating additional power and job-creation in the use of the Himalayan nation as well.

Bilateral cooperation between India and Bhutan aims at installing hydro-power plants with a total capacity of 10,000 MW by 2020. To take it forward, an Inter-governmental Agreement on Development of Joint Venture Hydropower Projects has since been signed on 22 April 2014. The agreement has enabled implementation of four hydro-power projects, with a total capacity of 2120 MW in a joint venture model between public sector undertakings of the two countries.

The four new hydropower projects are: 600 MW Kholongchu, 180 MW Bunakha (with 230 MW downstream benefit from Tala, Chukha and Wangchu), 570 MW Wangchu and 770 MW Chamkarchu. Four Indian companies with a combined investment of Rs. 20,000 to 25,000 crores have been roped in by Thimphu for the JV with Bhutan’s state-owned companies.

The four projects as part of the agreement signed are in addition to the already operational three hydro-electric projects totalling 1416 MW and three more projects totalling 2940 MW which are under construction and likely to be commissioned by 2018.

Energy cooperation

Need for energy drove India to start cooperating on energy with Bhutan and the first power plant to be commissioned as a joint venture project was the Chhukha hydroelectric plant in 1988. Since then so far it cooperation between the two countries has been a success.

The Tala hydro-electric plant with a capacity of 1020 MW in 1996 is the biggest power project so far in Bhutan and also India’s largest ever foreign investment.

The estimated potential of Bhutan’s hydro-electricity is 30,000 MW out of which about 23,000 MW is said to be economically viable. Presently, Thimphu exports about 1,000 MW surplus power to India from its three hydel projects. There are 10 more projects in the pipeline.

Initially, bilateral hydropower projects, which were on a 60:40 ratio of grant to loan, have now been changed to 70 percent loan at 10 percent and 30 percent grants. Though the loan component has gone up, Bhutan is set to make volumes from the projects.

A total cost of Rs 75,000 crores is said to be involved for completing the projects with a total installed capacity of 10,000 MW by 2020. On the other side, even the loan component is increasing for Bhutan.

However, both Bhutan and India are in a win-win situation, as Bhutan makes its ascendancy toward a self-sufficient economy powered by hydro-power exports, India investment in Bhutan’s hydropower has already proved economically viable.

Road ahead

The Indo-Bhutan energy cooperation has already become a model that Asian Development Bank is promoting for SAARC countries. With energy demands peaking in SAARC countries, the potential of hydropower surplus countries like Bhutan and Nepal has come into focus.

At a time when both countries are crediting the hydroelectric power cooperation as the defining factor in relations between India and Bhutan, the bilateral projects have their share of challenges. India is estimated to have doubled its demand by 2021 and would have to diversify its energy sources, Bhutan would have to face the increasing impact of climate change.

Energy demand in India is said to grow to a whopping 2,83,470 MW by 2021 more than double of where it stands today. India has a peak power shortage of around 12%. There are also concerns with project delays and hence escalation of construction costs.

The Druk Green Power Corporation of Bhutan has reported that water levels in rivers have been declining in recent years due to changes in monsoon patters, thus leading to less hydropower production. Presently power plants are running on Punatsangchhu, Wangchhu and Dragmechhu river basins, while projects would be commissioned on Amonchhu and Mangdecchhu river basins by 2030.

Bhutan economy is facing a severe credit crunch and a rupee crisis, which is said to be due to the construction costs of hydropower projects. Bhutan also faces climate change concerns.

Also, Bhutan realizes that its overreliance on hydropower exports is not in interest of the country’s healthy economy. The country needs to diversify its sources of revenue. However with no immediate substitute for revenue generation, Bhutan will continue to continue its cooperation with countries in the Indian Sub-continent.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India: Challenges before the new government

Dr. Satish Mishra

Irrespective of the colour and composition of the next government in New Delhi, which will only be known on 16 May, the day when the votes will be counted after the nine-phase polling, there are going to be serious challenges confronting the new dispensation.

If media reports along with poll surveys and opinion polls are to be believed, then the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to emerge as the single largest party which would make it qualified to be invited to form the government by President Pranab Mukherjee.

At the time of writing, there is strong likelihood of a BJP-led coalition with or without Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as prime minister heading the government or a coalition government formed by some regional parties with the outside support of the Congress.

A BJP-led coalition government headed by Modi or some other leader from the party would have tough tasks at hand both at the national as well as international levels.

One of the strongest challenges that the next government would have to face would be to create an environment of trust and restore the spirit of cooperation among the political parties in Parliament. Mutual confidence among different political parties particularly between the two national parties stands today at the lowest ebb.

In line with the prevailing convention and parliamentary practise, main responsibility for creating an atmosphere of cooperation lies with the ruling party while the main opposition party should not deny cooperation on vital national and international issues. In absence of such an approach, all crucial legislative business would remain blocked as was the case in the 15th Lok Sabha.

The federal principle in the Constitution is under tremendous stress as different parties are ruling different States and Union Territories, which often enough have different priorities that clash with the national perspective and priorities. Hiding behind the principle of federalism and state autonomy, some state governments have successfully thwarted rather defeated central government’s policies and decisions. Creating a harmonious framework so that interests of states are protected without sacrificing the overall national interest is going to be a major hurdle for the government that takes oath later this month.

Economic revival

Revival of economic growth is yet another daunting task which would require immediate attention of the next government. Present interest rate regime, as being followed by the Reserve Bank of India, which essentially aims at controlling inflationary pressures, would need to be changes as country’s powerful sector has been clamouring for lower interest rates for improving the economic climate of the country. The government would have to perform a tight balancing act as price rise has been a major issue in the ongoing electoral battle between the UPA and the opposition parties.

Hopefully, it would be possible to usher in one of the most ambitious economic reforms by clearing the remaining hurdles on the way of implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). The GST, which proposes to subsume all indirect taxes like excise and service tax, has been opposed by several states including BJP ruled state Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. A constitutional amendment bill to introduce GST nation-wide has been pending before Parliament since 2010.

Similarly, a direct tax code (DTC) which seeks to replace income tax may be on priorities. While the BJP has remained silent on DTC in its manifesto but the next government may like to usher in this important reform in some other form.

Urbanisation is major challenge as percentage of urban population is expected to grow from 31.16 percent in 2011 to 52.70 percent in 2050. And at the same time, decaying infrastructure in cities and towns would also require renewal and improvement to present day standards. Massive resources would be required to create new cities and township where migrating population from villages would eventually settle down.

Education and health sectors are crying for reforms and the BJP, while in the Opposition, opposed much-required steps as it could not decide on the type and content of such reforms. Now that it is expected to be in the seat of power, it would have to resolve the prevailing contradictions in its prevailing views.

Other areas which would require attention are oil and agriculture sector, issue of subsidy.

Governance issues

Corruption in public life is an issue that would require several steps beginning from setting in motion the institution of Lokpal. Merely to start off the Lokpal is not going to be enough as several other steps including giving autonomy to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are needed to root out the cancer of corruption.

Improving governance is yet another challenge which every political party has been talking about but has done little to break the nexus between the bureaucracy and politics.

National security continues to remain an area of concern. While internal security issues present problems of coordination between state governments and the Centre, threats from global terrorism including cyber terrorism are going to pose challenges on the foreign policy front.

Vital national interests

The new government would be required to fashion its foreign policy in a way that could take care of vital national interests without offending any of the major powers. While relations with Pakistan would require careful handling, ties with Bangladesh would also need special focus particularly in the light of the electoral rhetoric which has created some misgivings in both Dhaka as well as Islamabad.

Sri Lanka and Nepal are equally important. While New Delhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka remains a hostage to Tamil Nadu politics, Nepal requires very delicate handling as competing political parties in Kathmandu love to play China card.

In the fast-changing global scenario, the new government would be required to take a tight-rope walk as relations between the US and Russia are currently experiencing tension and turmoil.

While the new government would have to pay attention to Europe, Latin America and Africa, relations with country’s biggest neighbour China would remain a big challenge as Beijing would continue to surprise by its growing strength and rising stature.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Twin blasts at Chennai railway station

A 24-year-old woman software engineer was killed and 14 people injured when two low-intensity bombs went off in quick succession in two coaches (S4, S5) of the Bangalore-Guwahati superfast express train at the Chennai Central railway station on 1 May.

The first blast occurred at about 7.15 am, 10 minutes after it had pulled into the platform. It was followed by a second blast few minutes later, triggering panic among the passengers. Tamil Nadu intelligence chief said that the blast was caused by low intensity IEDs planted in pipes and triggered by a timer. He also said there were no alerts about a possible terror strike and that Chennai may not have been the target as the train arrived half an hour late.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The Tamil Nadu special investigative wing probing the blasts suspects that the explosives could have been planted at Bangalore. Sources in the investigation agency, which rushed a team to Bangalore to pursue the new leads it stumbled on, have information that the perpetrators of the explosion could have got support from sleeper modules working in Karnataka. The CB-CID police have been interacting with neighbouring State police and viewing CCTV footages of Chennai Central Railway station.

The Tamil Nadu government has refused to take any help from the Centre in the probe.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu 2 May 2014, Times of India 1 May 2014, Indian Express 2 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">World’s third largest economy

India is now the world’s third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, ahead of Japan and behind the US and China which hold the top two spots as revealed by the 2011 round of the World Bank’s International Comparison Program (ICP).

It highlighted the fact that the largest economies were not the richest, as shown in the ranking of GDP per capita. The middle-income economies with large economies also had large populations, setting the stage for continued growth, it added. India went from 10th largest economy in 2005 to third largest in 2011.

PPP is used to compare economies and incomes of people by adjusting for differences in prices in different countries to make a meaningful comparison.

India’s share in World GDP in terms of PPP was 6.4% in 2011 compared with China’s 14.9 percent and the US’ 17.1 percent, the latest ICP showed.

Despite high inflation in India in recent years, prices in the country are still well below those in advanced economies, explaining the higher raking for India on the PPP measure. But according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s economy is 12th largest and only about a third of Japan’s in terms of absolute unadjusted dollars.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Indian Express 30 April 2014, Economic Times 30 April 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">New energy ventures with Kazakhstan

After handing over stake in the Kashagan oil fields to China, Kazakhstan now wants to partner up with India on upcoming projects and joint ventures as well as the trans-national oil pipeline.

Kazakhstan has invited Indian firms to participate in partnership with KazMunaiGas, the national oil company, for participating in oil and gas blocks. This is a marked departure from the stance last year, when after agreeing to offer OVL a stake in Kashangan oilfield for about $5 billion, it pre-empted the process by selling the same to China.

The reason for this U-turn is because Kazakhstan does not want to become overly dependent on China as its energy market. China already takes up 40% of Kazakhstan’s oil and gas business and is playing a major role in oil exploration, production and laying of pipelines to China.

Kazakhstan is estimated to have 3 per cent of the world’s recoverable oil reserves and offers a good opportunity for India to expand its sourcing basket. An Indian delegation including senior officials from the Ministry for Petroleum & Natural Gas will be going to Kazakhstan to deliberate on the issues.

Kazakhstan is also keeping an eye on developments on the TAPI pipeline, which if successful, can be precedent to a parallel pipeline from Kazakhstan to India.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu 24 April 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">GMR: Nasheed warns of ’debt crisis’

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has warned of a sovereign debt crisis if the Maldives is forced to pay $1.4 billion in compensation to GMR over the abrupt termination of a concession agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). He also reiterated calls for the government to reverse the decision to cancel the contract in December 2012.

"The Maldives is now known around the world as a country that doesn’t keep its promises or honour the contracts. The airport fiasco will hit each and every Maldivian because banks won’t lend money and companies won’t invest in our country without demanding much higher rates of interest," Nasheed said in a Press statement.

"By now, Maldivians should have been looking forward to a world-class, new airport, to rival Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Instead we have nothing but an abandoned building site. The actions of President Yameen and (predecessor) Waheed have caused this crisis and Maldivians will be paying for their recklessness for decades to come" he added.

Nasheed said his Government had followed international best practices in the bidding process for the airport contract - which was overseen by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) - while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has since ruled out corruption in the airport deal. His remarks comes on the heels of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) - of which he was recently appointed acting president -threatening to terminate any new agreements concerning the airport should the party regain power.

Following President Abdulla Yameen publicly conceding that the Indian infrastructure company was owed compensation, GMR said it intends to stick to the $1.4 billion compensation claim. "The forceful takeover of the airport by Maldives government amounts to repudiation of a valid contract and therefore damages, including loss of future profit has to paid," the company said in a statement on Friday (April 26).

Asked by reporters a day earlier if he was confident the outcome of the arbitration would be favourable for the Maldives, President Yameen said: "The reality we have to accept is that a government with full sovereign powers made an agreement with a foreign party and leased (the airport). This is a government, and what preceded this was a government as well. So believe we have to pay them some kind of financial compensation."

If the judges on the arbitration panel accept the government’s arguments for nationalisation or expropriation, Yameen said the compensation owed to GMR could be smaller. "We’re going to have to provide compensation in any case," he conceded. Yameen however contended later that GMR was owed $300 million as compensation for its investment as well as upgrades to the airport.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 1 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Transparency highlights migrants’ plight

Advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has assisted 560 migrant workers with cases of non-payment of wages, poor working and housing conditions, withholding of identification documents and forced labour. "People need to be more outraged. Migrant workers are not of our nationality, but they are human beings. Maldivians need to consider their plight, especially on May Day," TM’s Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said.

The NGO estimates there are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers in the country - or, two-thirds of the Maldives population."But migrant workers have few rights and do not have access to justice. They often face threats or violence even for speaking out about injustices," Aiman said. "The 560 cases we were able to assist are really the tip of the ice-berg. We need to do more. Civil society needs to do more, the government needs to do more," he added.

In 2013, the US State Department ranked Maldives on Tier Two of its watch list for human-trafficking for the fourth consecutive year. The State Department noted fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, with-holding or non-payment of wages or debt bondages as some of the forced labour situations faced by migrant workers in Maldives. A downgrade to Tier Three could leave the country open to non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions by the US.

A government report in 2011 revealed human-trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism - worth an estimated $ 123 million a year. In the light of this, the nation ratified an Anti-Trafficking Act in December 2013, but TM noted implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.

In addition to the Anti- Trafficking Act, Maldives has two regulations on migrant workers - the Regulations on Expatriates Working in the Maldives and the Regulation on Bringing Expatriates for the Purpose of Employment.

"Human trafficking often happens due to systematic governance failures, often caused by corruption. Corruption and human trafficking need to be addressed as a matter or urgency to prevent abuses," TM’s Aiman said further.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Minivan News, 1 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India for ending UN resolution on HR issues

In the backdrop of several "significant" political and economic reforms initiated in Myanmar over the last few years, India has called for the discontinuation of a UN General Assembly resolution on the human rights situation in the Southeast Asian country.

Indian Ambassador to the UN, Asoke Mukerji, participating in a meeting of the ’Partnership Group for Peace, Development and Democracy in Myanmar’ on 25 April, welcomed the significant political and economic reforms instituted by Myanmar towards greater democratisation.

He said India would continue to support the steps taken by the Myanmar government towards reform and reconciliation, with reference to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, release of political prisoners, holding of peace talks with the ethnic groups, including the Kachins and proposal for signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord soon.

In this regard, he said, "We believe that time has come for member states to now agree to the discontinuation of the resolution on human rights situation in Myanmar. This would convey the international community’s strong support and encouragement for the reform measures that are already underway in Myanmar". India’s proposal was supported by Vietnam.

Mukerji added that the change in the name of group from ’Group of Friends of Myanmar’ to the ’Partnership Group for Peace Development and Democracy in Myanmar’ is a significant step taken by the international community in recognition of the movement by Myanmar in its path of peace, development and democracy.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI 26 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Joint naval exercises with India

Two battleships and a coast guard frigate from the Indian navy arrived at Yangon’s Thilawa port on 27 April to conduct joint exercises with the Myanmar navy.

India navy attaché Manish Bandari said that the Indian navy often conducts drills with its Myanmar counterparts and the frequent trainings can help improve skills.

Up to 400 navy officers on board the Gharial, Sujata and Varuna gave free medical treatment at the Thanlyin General Hospital on 28 April. They also played in a friendly volleyball match at Aung San Stadium and performed at the National Convention Center on the following day.

An Australian navy battleship also paid a friendly visit on 20 January for five days, while three Royal Thai Navy battleships with 700 officers on board visited on 19 February.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Eleven Myanmar, 30 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UML preparing for ideological shift

CPN-UML standing committee on May 2 decided to call the central committee meeting on Monday to discuss the political document prepared by a 37-member panel, headed by party Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal. CPN-UML Secretary Shankar Pokharel said the document, which will give political and ideological guidelines to the party for the next five years, would be tabled in the general convention for endorsement.

The Khanal-led panel had fine-tuned the political document on Tuesday. Pokharel said the political document would mark a shift in the UML’s ideology. The party will not state that Nepali society is "semi-feudal" or "semi-colonial", as it had contended till the eighth general convention. The panel has concluded that Nepali society is in "an early stage of capitalism", a concept which is a major ideological departure from its earlier stance.

Party leaders have said they would drop the old concept, as capitalistic mode of production was dominant. UML’s senior leader KP Oli, who is undergoing treatment in Bangkok and who has decided to vie for the party leadership, believes that Nepali society is still semi-feudal and semi-colonial though production was in an early stage of capitalism. But Khanal, backed by Madhav Kumar Nepal, claims that the Nepali society has undergone a sea change since the abolition of monarchy in 2006.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Himalayan Times 2 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HRW blame on Tibetan refugees

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Nepal government´s denial of mistreatment of Tibetans in Nepal is not supported by facts. In a letter to the Nepal government on Friday, the HRW reiterated that its previous report on "Under China’s Shadow: Mistreatment of Tibetans in Nepal" was based on interviews with a wide range of actors, including former Nepali officials.

Criticising a recent statement of the Nepal government, in the letter addressed to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bamdev Gautam and Foreign Minister Mahendra Pandey, the HRW said that Nepal government is still failing to address concerns of the Tibetan refugees. Nepal´s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had strongly dismissed the HRW report terming it as an unnecessary meddling into the friendly relationship between China and Nepal.

The Human Rights Watch said that this rejection of the report’s research and findings comes after repeated attempts to discuss the report with officials of the Nepali government. The HRW said that the report extensively cited public statements made by Nepali and Chinese government officials, thereby reflecting comprehensively the views and public positions of both governments.

< class="text11verdana">Source: 2 May 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese centres not a threat to India as of now

India is keeping an eye on the growing number of Chinese cultural centres in neighbouring Nepal, but their activity has not reached the threshold where it impinges on the country’s security, outgoing chief of border guarding force SSB said on April 30.

Set up in 2008, the centres, according to reports, teach Chinese language to locals and even disseminate cultural information about China and its various art forms. The SSB is the mandated paramilitary force to guard the 1,751-km long porous Indo-Nepal border which is prone to smuggling of arms, ammunition and illegal crossover of anti-national elements.

A 1977-batch IPS officer from Bihar cadre, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) chief Arun Chaudhary, who has served in key posts at Intelligence Bureau, CISF and Bihar Police, said keeping in view the challenges faced by the force on this border and also the Bhutan border that it secures, the SSB has revamped and re-energised its intelligence gathering setup.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times 30 April 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Law on transitional justice

Nepal’s Parliament has passed a landmark bill for setting up a transitional justice system to look into war-era human rights violations and provide justice to the victims, a media report said on April 26. Parliament passed the bill on the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission on Enforced Disappearance (CED) late Friday, Xinhua reported.

The formation of TRC and CED is a major part of Nepal’s peace process initiated in 2006 when a 10-year violent civil war ended. It came as a major pre-requisite by the opposition Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UPCN)-Maoist before the country’s constitution drafting process starts.

Now after the passage of the Bill, the government will initiate the process of appointing a chairperson for the commissions. The commissions will investigate all the crimes committed during the civil war in which more than 13,000 people lost their lives while thousands are still reported to be missing.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard 26 April 2014.


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’Talks and war cannot go together’

The Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has said that "talks and war cannot go together" and that the group is ready to face any situation.

TTP spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid, said, "The government on one hand says it wants the dialogue but on the other, it has adopted the policy of threats." He also alleged that operations have been intensified against the group across the country.

He went on to say, "The army has imposed unjustified war on the people in Babar and Shaktoi areas of South Waziristan for two days." He said that the TTP will not step back from the serious and useful talks but will also not accept the politics of threats and war.

This TTP statement comes a day after the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif asked the militants to unconditionally accept the Constitution.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq, while addressing a tribal jirga in Peshawar, said that drone attacks have stopped since the peace negotiations with the TTP started. The JUI chief, who is also heading the TTP intermediary committee, stated that US President Barack Obama supports the peace talks but Pakistani politicians and anchors were showing resistance instead of encouraging them. < class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune 1 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nisar warns Modi against threats

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has criticised India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi for his statement during a recent interview where he said that he would bring notorious don Dawood Ibrahim back to India from Pakistan if he comes to power.

Nisar said, "The statement by the BJP leader is irresponsible and shameful. Modi should first determine the whereabouts of Ibrahim and then dream of attacking Pakistan."

Reacting to the statement, the Interior Minister said, "Such a statement by a likely prime minister of India is provocative, condemnable and touches the heights of animosity towards Pakistan." Nisar has said that if elected, Modi would "destabilise" regional peace.

The BJP has reacted to Nisar’s statement by asking Pakistan to "mend its ways". It cautioned that the "manner" in which the neighbouring country was behaving with India "will not work".

BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi said that Mr. Khan’s statement was an over-reaction in a matter that was not his (the minister’s) subject.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 30 April 2014;, 2 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt offices punished for non-payment

To clear outstanding dues of billions of rupees, the capital city’s electricity company disconnected power supply to most major government departments to demonstrate its commitment to cracking down on power thieves and defaulters.

The Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Lesco) cut power to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, President House, Supreme Court and Pakistan Secretariat including to the offices of the Ministry of Water and Power.

Power was restored to the Supreme Court within half an hour of the disconnection.

Lesco disconnected supplies to 66 government offices and departments including Punjab police, SSP office, Punjab Highways Authority, District Council Hall, District Government Health office and Irrigation EXEN, besides the residence of Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Iqbal.

"Some of these offices have not paid their dues for years," said a Lesco official.

< class="text11verdana">Source: 30 April-1 May 2014

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">LTTE network, funding stays: US

While claiming that the LTTE’s financial network of support continued to operate throughout 2013, the US on Wednesday said that the LTTE uses its international contacts and the large Tamil Diaspora in North America, Europe and Asia to procure weapons, communications, funding, and other needed supplies.

In the annual Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, the US State Department stated: "There have been no known attacks in Sri Lanka that could verifiably be attributed to the LTTE since the end of the war, but LTTE’s financial network of support continued to operate throughout 2013." It also said that the LTTE members or supporters were operating in Sri Lanka and India.

In a separate statement, senior USAID official Denise Rollins told the Asia-Pacific Sub-committee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, that despite a strong trend towards ’authoritarian consolidation’ at the national-level, Sri Lanka continued to hold competitive local elections.

"While the bulk of the displaced populations have returned to their communities or nearby regions in the former conflict areas of the North and East, post-conflict issues such as gender-based violence threaten the social fabric of the country," she said.

Rollins said that USAID’s democracy and vulnerable populations programmes in Sri Lanka would continue to focus on reconciliation and the defence of civil liberties to ensure that the US remains engaged in a positive, visible way to expand and protect the space available for civil society and those advocating freedom of speech and human rights.

However, the US’ North American neighbour and ally, Canada, indicated that it would not act on the 16 entities based in the country out of the 424 named by Sri Lanka as linked to LTTE terrorism, still. "Sri Lanka’s action has no legal effect in Canada: it does not constrain the freedom of listed groups and individuals to lawfully express their views in Canada," a statement issued by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and the Lynne Yelich, said adding that the Sri Lankan initiative could hamper ethnic reconciliation in the country.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online 1 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Almost all UN agencies praise us: President

While almost all of the UN agencies praise Sri Lanka’s achievements on all fronts since the war victory, those who brought human rights violation charges against Sri Lanka were conspicuous in their silence on those accomplishments, said President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said.

Addressing the main UPFA May Day rally at Campbell Park, Borella, President Rajapaksa went on to say that the changes brought about in Sri Lanka since the launching of the ’Mahinda Chintanya’ policy framework some nine years ago, and following the eradication of separatist terrorism from the soil of Sri Lanka, were clearly visible to anybody and could be experienced by anyone.

"The Opposition has betrayed the country to the capitalists as never before. In the North, at Katunayaka, at Ratupaswala and in the South: Do they fight to close down factories for the love of the working class?" President Rajapaksa asked. The Opposition is making an attempt to topple the government and threatens to bring the masses to the streets. The massive gathering in Colombo and at Campbell Park is a good reply to all the boasts of the Opposition, he said.

In this context, President Rajapaksa said that a section of the SLFP-led ruling coalition was also functioning as the Opposition in the absence of an effective Opposition. Seeking to make light of the opposition to the recent law, purportedly permitting the setting up of casinos in the country to attract big-spending tourists, he said the opposition within the administration was playing an important role, President Rajapaksa said, adding that he didn’t expect coalition members to praise everything done by the government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online 1 May 2014, The Island 2 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Can solve problems without foreign advice: Sajith

Former deputy leader of the UNP and its Hambantota district MP Sajith Premadasa has that Sri Lanka did not require foreign advice to its solve problems, though the country had been facing many serious issues since the end of the conflict. He was addressing the 21st death anniversary of his late father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated by the LTTE in 1993.

Sajith Premadasa said that late President Premadasa had neither succumbed to international pressure, nor given in to those who promoted international presence to solve internal problems. "The late President did not try to get political mileage by promoting our issues in the international arena nor did he enter into any agreements with foreign countries," he said.

Elsewhere, at the party’s official May Day commemoration in Ampara, Karu Jayasuriya, UNP’s leadership council chairman, said that a common Opposition Front was in the making to face a presidential or parliamentary polls next year despite denials by President Rajapaksa that he would not seek re-election one year ahead of his scheduled second term was to end.

He said that none of the polls held in recent times had been and free and fair, since the 17th Amendment had been abolished, resulting in the Elections Department, the police and the public service, among other bodies being at the mercy of President Rajapaksa, who with the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, had become the most powerful Head of State in the world.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island 2 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Have not destroyed religious harmony: BBS

Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera has claimed that they had done nothing to destroy religious harmony and whatever they did was in the open and exposed to the media.

"We do not act in secret. Whatever we do is known to the media. We have done nothing to disrupt religious harmony. Whatever we reveal is done with much care. There will be a blood bath in the country if we really reveal all what we know," the Thera said.

He said Pakistan extremist groups were attempting to use Sri Lanka as a transit-point to attack India and pointed out that the security forces needed to tighten the security along the Northern and Eastern coastal belt more than it was done during the time of the war.

Responding to a question, he said it was the BBS which began the protest against establishing casinos in Sri Lanka and assured they would support those who act against the casinos like the JHU.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Mirror Online 2 May 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">State set for second-round polls

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) released preliminary results this week for the presidential elections that had taken place on 5 April.

As per the results, Dr Abdullah Abdullah is the leading candidate having secured 44.9 percent of the votes. He is being trailed by Dr Ashraf Ghani, who secured 31.5 percent of the votes and Mr. Zalmai Rassoul, who secured 11.5 percent of the votes. However, since Dr. Abdullah failed to secure more than 50 percent of the votes, a second run off is likely as per the electoral laws of the country.

The only way to avoid a run-off is for the two leading candidates to reach some sort of a power-sharing agreement. However, this is something that both Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani have refused to do. Dr Abdullah claimed that a second round may not be required if the fraudulent votes were discarded as that would give him the required number of votes necessary to avoid a second run-off.

A number of Afghan senators also expressed concerns about reports that the two leading candidates may form a coalition government. They urged the two leading candidates to respect the results of the first round and honour the constitutional provisions.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News 26, 27, 30 April 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban’s military commission chief resigns

Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, the chief of the Taliban’s military commission, resigned from his post this week citing health reasons.

Afghan government officials are hopeful that this would have a positive impact on the peace process as Mullah Zakir was one of the main opponents of the reconciliation process. However, the officials also admitted that it was too early to determine the impact of his resignation.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Khaama Press, 27 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Deal with China

The state-owned Power Development Board (PDB) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Chinese company, China Huadian Hong Kong Co Ltd, a subsidiary of China Huadian Corporation, for setting up a coal-fired power plant of 1,320-MW capacity at Maheshkhali Island in the south-eastern coast of the country under a joint venture agreement.

During the signing ceremony energy adviser to the Prime Minister, Dr Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury said that with this deal the government will procure state-of-the-art technology while installing coal-fired power projects to protect the environment and the flora and fauna, as well as ensure sustainable growth of the economy.

Dr Elahi urged the Chinese company to complete installation of at least one unit of the proposed Maheshkhali power plant within the next three years, before the tenure of the current government ends.

The PDB and China Huadian will set up a joint venture company soon for implementing the project on a build-own-operate (BOO) basis by 2019. The PDB will purchase electricity from the project for a term of 25 years. Officials said the cost of the project at Maheshkhali has not been estimated, but it will be a 70:30 debt-to-equity ratio project. The PDB said it will procure coal from Indonesia, South Africa, Australia and Mozambique.

Bangladesh needs 24,000 MW of electricity by 2021 and this figure would be around 40,000 MW by 2030.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 30 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">26-m ’climate refugees’ by 2050

About 2 to 5 million people will migrate due to riverbank erosion, 3 to 6 million due to inland flooding and 5 to 7 million due to coastal storm surges in Bangladesh over the coming decades.

A recent study says that as many as 16 to 26 million people in Bangladesh will be the victim of internal migration between 2011 and 2050 due to adverse impact of the climate change.

The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) of Dhaka University and Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) of Sussex University jointly conducted the study. The findings of the study were disclosed at a workshop on "Climate Change Adaptation in Bangladesh: Migration, the Missing Link" in Dhaka this week.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dhaka Tribune, 30 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Need for counter-attack capability: PM

Terming Bangladesh a peaceful country in South Asia which never wants to attack any country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week said the country must have the capability of carrying out counter-attacks to protect its independence and sovereignty in an adversary.

The Prime Minister made the remarks while delivering her introductory speech at a meeting with officials of the ministry of defence. She said the main responsibility of the defence ministry is to protect the country’s independence and sovereignty, and her government has been working to strengthen and modernise the defence system to this end.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 30 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UN official to discuss climate-change

A top UN climate official will visit Bhutan from tomorrow to discuss the challenges faced by the Himalayan nation due to climate change. UNFCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres will call on Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and discuss the progress in responding to the challenges during her visit.

The Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change states that Bhutan already faces significant challenges for development but climate change threaten the achievements made thus far.

Bhutan, with its population of around 740,000, arouse global interest because of its search for gross national happiness (GNH) and not the servile desire for economic growth at any cost.

In the short run Bhutan will experience rapid melting of glaciers and risk more frequent Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) events that would result in significant loss of lives and property, experts say.

Bhutan would also experience unusual weather patterns thereby affecting agriculture and food production, they add. Bhutan is implementing a project under the National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) to reduce the risk of GLOF from one of 25 dangerous glacial lakes.

Experts say mitigation measures must be taken up simultaneously but they are more difficult to implement since they require political commitment from within and outside to have meaningful reduction of carbon emission.

< class="text11verdana">Source: PTI 30 April 2014.

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EU assistance triples

The European Union (EU) will triple its development assistance to the country by committing Nu 3.5B or Euro 42M between 2014-2020 period. The EU ambassador to Bhutan João Cravinho announced this in Thimphu on 30 April.

Like previous EU assistance, the money would be divided among local government, civil society and the renewable natural resources sectors. Most of the money will be injected into the decentralisation and devolution of power process, reinforcing civil society organisations and public finance management support.

The rest would go into supporting sustainable agriculture and forestry. Cravinho said the support is being provided to two sectors he described as "fundamental" for the country.

"There will be other activities complementary to that as well," he said.He also said the excellent results of EU assistance to the country had allowed for increased assistance.

"We find that Bhutan is an excellent development partner," he said, adding the investments it made in Bhutan produced results in terms of development. "Therefore, it was quite easy to bargain in Brussels that Bhutan should see an increase in development assistance," he said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuensel Online 1 May 2014.

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:

India:Niharika Betkerur, Satish Misra;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
Bhutan and Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.