MonitorsPublished on Jul 03, 2014
In a not-so-unexpected development, the Maldivian Supreme Court stripped Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice-President Ahmed Fayaz Hassan of their membership, for the contempt of the court.
Maldives: SC sacks polls chief, deputy ahead of Majlis' vote
< class="heading1">Analysis

In a not-so-unexpected development, the Maldivian Supreme Court stripped Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice-President Ahmed Fayaz Hassan of their membership, for the contempt of the court. By a 3-2 verdict, a five-Judge Bench of the seven-Judge court directed the President and Parliament to "make all necessary arrangements" within six days to conduct the scheduled election to the 83-member Parliament on 22 March.

The bench also handed down a six-month prison term, suspended for three years, to Thowfeek under Article 88 of the Penal Code, for an offence to ’disobey a lawful order’. While Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla took a dissenting view, Justices Abdulla Saeed, Ali Hameed Mohamed and Ahmed Abdulla Didi gave the majority verdict.

According to web-journal, Minivan News, Justice Saeed, delivering the majority verdict, observed that EC members had "openly and systematically" brought the Supreme Court into disrepute, "deliberately challenged Supreme Court rulings" and "serially held (the court) in contempt" at news conferences. The EC’s announcement for dissolving political parties without a minimum membership of 3,000 was in violation of the Supreme Court judgment that struck down relevant articles of the Political Parties Act, the verdict stated.

Moreover, Fuwad Thowfeek’s public statements against the Supreme Court’s "procedures and jurisdiction" contravened the Judicature Act and constituted an act in violation of Article 141 of the Constitution, which reads thus: "No official performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts." In citing the law, the court determined that the President and Vice-President of the Election Commission must bear responsibility for "disobeying and challenging" Supreme Court judgments and orders, which were issued in its capacity as "the guardian of the Constitution".

The majority verdict further held that Fuwad and Fayaz’s actions also contravened Article 145(c) of the Constitution: "The Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, the law, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law." The court, according to Minivan News, ruled that the pair had "lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission" and declared the seats vacant.

Another web-journal, SunOnline, said that during the final hearing of the case earlier, Fuwad Thowfeek had admitted to having told a parliamentary committee that the commission could proceed with parliamentary election without the candidates’ endorsement of the voters’ lists. This contravened the 16-point Supreme Court guidelines, laid down last year for the presidential polls, and upheld later for the local council elections. He also agreed to having told the committee that the Supreme Court’s current proceedings into matters of the Elections Commission were ’unconstitutional’.

At the hearing of the case, for instance, Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi clarified that obtaining candidates’ endorsement on the voters’ list was not optional but mandatory for the Election Commission to proceed with the rest of the poll process. Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain observed that it was against the law to speak of an ongoing judicial case outside the courtroom. He also reminded members of the Elections Commission, called to bar for contempt, that the Supreme Court had once issued a ruling that Parliament did not have the prerogative to discuss ongoing judicial cases.

Poll process under stress?

Coming as it does less than a fortnight of the parliamentary polls, the suo moto Supreme Court proceedings and the fast-tracked verdict now has the potential to derail the parliamentary poll process, which may have come under stress. According to Article 175 of the Constitution, at least three members are required to "constitute a quorum at a meeting of the Elections Commission, and any decision of the Elections Commission shall be taken by a majority of votes of the members present and voting".

After the resignation of a fifth member during the feverish run-up to the presidential polls last year, and the court-ordered disqualification of two, including the chief, now the Commission is left only with two members, Ali Mohamed Manik and Mohamed Farooq. Hence, elections can be held only with the appointment of additional members, which involves the President forwarding the names to Parliament, which has in turn has to vote on it.

By declaring vacancies in the Election Commission, which otherwise might have been within the powers of the nation’s topmost court, the majority verdict may have handed down a fait accompli of sorts to the other two arms of any constitutional government, namely, the Executive and the Legislature. The question just now is not only about legalities but also about procedural possibilities that have the potential to delay, if not derail, the parliamentary poll processes that have been going on smoothly thus far.

President willing, what about Majlis?

As Thowfeek pointed out after the court verdict, President Abdulla Yameen would have to invite applications from interested candidates for the three vacant EC posts and forward the names to Parliament. The Parliamentary Committee on Governance and Oversight would then have to evaluate the nominees ahead of a vote on the Majlis’ floor. All this takes time, and may not be completed within the six-day deadline set by the court.

Even without a short-deadline, it is doubtful if the process could be completed in time for the conduct of the polls, as scheduled. In between the question arises if the Election Commission without its President and Vice-President can follow up on the routine paperwork, which is what would have been left to do in the last two weeks of the polls. However, should any action or decision of the residual EU, starting with the endorsement process, lead to a deadlock, the EU would require full membership and quorum to sort out the deadlock, one way or the other.

Possibly to end all speculation, doubts and rumours, the President’s Office lost no time in declaring that the Government would "expeditiously" do whatever was necessary to hold parliamentary polls as scheduled. President’s Office Spokesperson Muaz Ali said that since the Supreme Court had disqualified the President and Vice-President of Elections Commission as members, the Government will nominate two persons to replace them and send those names to Parliament, as soon as possible.

Be it as it may, it is in Parliament that the selection process may get delayed, stuck or rejected, depending on the political decision of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the ’Majority’ group in the House. It is one thing for the lame-duck Parliament being called upon, that too under a judicial order, to perform a duty that otherwise should have been left to the newly-elected House. It is another that parties could well take political positions on the EC appointments, making the deadline hard to meet.

There is nothing to suggest just now, if the Supreme Court would choose to intervene if the current verdict lead to a deadlock either over EC appointments, or over continuing with the pre-poll preparations, or both. After all, Constitutions are not written with deadlocks in mind, though in most cases they do provide for possibilities, though not of the most imaginative and unpredictable types.

Almost throughout the ongoing campaign for the parliamentary polls, MDP leader and former President, Mohammed Nasheed had repeatedly declared that the party would boycott the elections if the Supreme Court intervened with the functioning of the Elections Commission. MDP Chairperson ’Reeko’ Moosa Manik has said that the party’s national council will decide on the next course, following the Supreme Court verdict.

However, it is a difficult choice for the MDP to make, now that the court verdict is on hand. The party would likely evaluate the subtle voter-reaction, if any, to the court verdict, and may decide on the relative political and/or electoral advantages for the party flowing from the same, before deciding on a boycott. Considering the long-term consequences on the parliamentary passage on the Election Commission, the MDP may also want to evaluate the nominations, independently. Or so, it would seem.

Deadlock possible

Should the MDP decides to boycott the polls, or its decision and consequent functioning inside the House contributes to a stalemate of sorts until the life of the current Parliament passed, there might be a constitutional deadlock of sorts, as was the case with the presidential polls last year. The Constitution does not confer on the Executive or the Judiciary, the inherent powers of the Majlis to clear President’s nominees for appointment to the ’Independent Commissions’, including the Election Commission.

Any decision of the MDP-controlled Parliament to vote out President Yameen’s nominees, or of the party-controlled House panels to go in for a broad-based hearing on the nominations would have an unsettling effect, not only over the conduct of the 22 March polls, but at times even over the nation’s democratic trail. In the recent past, however, the Government won a surprise victory in Parliament, when some MDP members voted along with the ’Minority, ruling’ group, to clear all 13 Cabinet nominees of President Yameen at one-go, defying a party whip to the contrary.

Whether the Government could hope for such a turn, if it were so, at the height of the run-up to the parliamentary polls would remain to be seen. Most sitting MDP members of the Majlis have been re-elected in the party primaries to contest the parliamentary polls. Prima facie, for them to make a U-turn now in a parliamentary vote could be disastrous for their political career. Alternatively, a pro-nomination vote by a sitting MP of the MDP who is also seeking re-election could complicate matters for his opponent from the ’ruling’ Progressive Coalition of President Yameen already in the field.

This is as far as cross-voting, if any, goes. Otherwise, too, the processes could get entangled, at times, in unavoidable time-delays, with a consequent impact on the timely conduct of the parliamentary polls on 22 March. Should the Supreme Court then evaluate such delays as wanton and deliberate on the part of the Executive and/or the Legislature, for argument’s sake, the prevailing majority mood of the Bench could lead to a constitutional deadlock, not foreseen by the ’Founding Fathers’, most of whom are still around and are also active politicians at that. All this, in turn, can have consequences for the health of the nascent democracy, which Maldives still remains to be.

Not unprecedented

For all this however, the court verdict coming in the way of the Elections Commission’s decisions and actions is not unprecedented in the country. As recently as the presidential polls late last year, the court gave repeated directions to the Elections Commission, which it would rule later were not adhered too. The reference, for instance, was to the EC going ahead with the second-round poll on the scheduled day after the Supreme Court had annulled the same.

What is both interesting and ironic is the fact that some security forces personnel surrounded the EC building after the poll panel had taken the decision, not allowing its members and staff from moving out to carry out their intentions. Independent of the law and reasoning behind the court verdict to begin with, the EC’s subsequent moves rendered a post facto justification for the court’s unilateral direction to the Government and the security forces in this regard. In a way, these are also among the causes for the suo moto contempt case, where, however, the Judiciary and not the Legislature and Executive together, framed the law in the first place.

In insisting on conducting the poll as scheduled, the EC had said it intended to comply with the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off lest a vacuum should appear in the presidency at the end of the five-year term of then President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik. The court had possibly expected the EC to approach it for directions in the matter, which when handed down otherwise, were complied with, nonetheless.

Yet, by protesting too loud when the court had passed an order, and adhering to the same after a while, the EC caused problems, and resolved it, all the same. Maybe, by approaching the Executive and/or the Legislature, instead, through its report on the conduct of the presidential polls and the problems, if any faced, the EC could have obtained administrat6ive reliefs for smooth and efficient conduct of the subsequent round of polls - first to the local bodies in January and to Parliament, now. In a way, these are among the causes for the suo moto contempt case, where, however, the Judiciary and not the Legislature and Executive together, framed the law in the first place.

’Under-mining the judicial system’ ?

For reasons and justifications that might have to be considered independently, as Minivan News has pointed out, the Maldives judiciary has been the subject of criticism from a number of UN and other international bodies in recent months in particular. The UN Human Rights Committee on civil and political rights has said it is "deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives", while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last year charged the Supreme Court of "subverting the democratic process".

UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul ,expressed concern over the judiciary in a 2013 report, while the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had in 2011 stated that the Maldivian courts were failing to serve the public impartially. During the course of the current contempt case, the US State Department described the Maldives’ judiciary as "not independent and impartial", and "subject to influence and corruption".

Around the time, the European Union Heads of Mission, based in Sri Lanka, noted "with concern the current action of the Supreme Court" and said that the "current proceedings risk undermining the vital independence of the Elections Commission, respect for the separation of powers and free expression in Maldives". In this context, the EU called upon the Government of Maldives to "ensure the independence of the Elections Commission in the run-up to and during the Majlis elections so that they can proceed as scheduled on 22 March".

That way, the Supreme Court order on the suo moto contempt petition came on a day when a European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) landed in the Maldivian capital of Male, for overseeing the parliamentary polls, at the invitation of the Elections Commission. Asked ahead of the Supreme Court verdict if it would affect the Majlis’ polls, EOM Chairperson and former Slovakian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Kukan said, "We have to be very cautious." He added that it "would be inappropriate to give an assessment or any statement".

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at Geneva only days earlier Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon called upon the international community to refrain from undermining the Maldives’ judicial system. "We request our international partners to support us. We request you to contribute constructively in overcoming our challenges. We urge you not to undermine our judicial system?We call upon all to respect our institutions, young though they may be. And we urge you to base your partnership with us on dialogue and cooperation, not on judgment and retribution," she added.

Difficult times for democracy?

Whatever that be, questions remain: The Supreme Court having waited thus far in initiating and hearing the contempt case against the Elections Commission, for weeks and months after the alleged acts of contempt had been committed, could and should it have waited until after the conclusion of the parliamentary polls, at least to pronounce the verdict? The EC having carried out the Supreme Court order on the 3000-membership law and also the 4-3 Full Bench direction of last year on candidates’ attestation of the voters’ list, would it have made any difference to the conduct and results of the current parliamentary polls if the penalty, even if handed down now, were to have had prospective, and not immediate effect? After all, the court has handed down a ’suspended’ prison term to Thowfeek, now.

These are difficult times for Maldivian democracy, though some of it would have cropped up, now or later. Earlier, too, may have been better, without the nation having to wait for the unknown for an unlimited length of time. What is unique to the current Maldivian situation is that along with the traditional arms of democratic governance, namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, a fourth arm in the form of the Elections Commission, too has cropped up as a constant contestant to the constitutional authority and independence that democracy confers on its tools and institutions.

Elsewhere, democracy has found its own tools to fill an empowerment vacuum when one or the other of the main three pillars are seen as weakening or halting at any given point in time. It is thus that the Election Commission, the anti-corruption body, and the Government’s very own accountant, have jointly or otherwise, cornered the Executive on issues of constant public irritants within the realm and spheres of their respective constitutional responsibilities, to ensure that the constitutional scheme was neither violated, nor side-stepped.

However, in the Maldivian context, not only have such constitutional bodies sought to check the perceived powers and authority specifically conferred on the Executive or the Legislature, but have also often tended to take on the Judiciary, too. Elsewhere, they have acted in consort with, and at times as an active arm of the Judiciary, which in turn used to be seen as ’taking over’ the functions of either the Executive, or the Legislature, or both, when the latter two were seen as failing themselves and failing the nation in turn. It is this distinction that has made it all the more difficult for Maldivian democracy to reconcile itself to democratic realities, which the nation seems to be over-stretching a bit more than is normal - and permissible, too, in the absence of precedents elsewhere for Maldivians to learn from, too.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Myanmar : Junta risks emergency aid

Mihir Bhonsale

The ruling Junta’s disciplining ways in Myanmar have found a new victim, international aid agencies. The government announced the suspension of Medicine Sans Frontier’s, an international health agency, on 27 February for the organisation’s preferential treatment towards Rohingya Muslim victims of communal clashes in recent years.

From this action, the Junta-led government has once again indicated its apathy towards the Rohingyas, the country’s persecuted minority. However, increasing intolerance shown by the government towards international aid agencies risks vast sections of the population in the strife-torn country dependent on humanitarian aid.

The continued persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar has drawn flak from governmental, non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations. The criticism by the civil society has often been warded off by the military-backed rulers, who consider the matter to be strictly internal affair of the nation.

Nobel Prize winner

The government’s suspension of the permission for operation to MSF, a Noble Peace Prize winner-organisation with proven credentials for providing medical relief in emergency situations world-wide, came in the wake of the NGO reporting 22 Rohingya deaths in the aftermath of conflict in Maungdaw village in Rakhine on 13 January. The government denied Rohingya casualties and instituted an enquiry into the incident looking into reports of a policeman missing from the spot. The enquiry ignored a human rights watchdog’s report that 40 Rohingyas had been killed in the conflict.

The MSF, which was founded in France, has served in Myanmar for over two decades and has been focusing on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment for AIDS and was among the very first responders to cyclones Nargis and Giri, providing medical assistance and survival items and cleaning water sources for tens of thousands of people. In the Rakhine state MSF has focused on providing basic and reproductive healthcare as well as HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis treatment. The MSF conducts approximately 500,000 medical consultations annually. Since 2005, itclaims to have treated more than 1.2 million people from all ethnic groups in Rakhine State for malaria.

Incidentally in 2012, MSF was one amongst three NGOs asked to stop providing aid to the Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazaar district in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government thought that such services would further encourage the influx of Rohingyas fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Aid aversion?

The Myanmar government’s aversion to accepting international aid is well-known. Ending over a decade of isolation, it hesitantly accepted aid from countries, for the first time in aftermath of the cyclone Nargis in 2008. French and American ships carrying aid were even turned down by the then SPDC government. It was left to Myanmar’s ASEAN partners, together with neighbours China and India, to do most of the relief work before international aid was conditionally accepted.

With the initiation of political reforms in the country, aid agencies of all hues have thronged to the country. The country is now a favoured destination for non-governmental development and humanitarian assistance. However, danger looms large on the aid due to the allegations of continued human rights abuses and assault on NGO staff members in the country.

An US aid agency working in the areas of healthcare, agriculture and technology sounded its displeasure over the Rohingya issue. It has indicated that the government cannot go back on the promise of reforms. Following the suspension of MSF, many international agencies giving aid in Myanmar have expressed their concern over the situation and that millions’ survival would be put at stake if international aid agencies were banned from the country.

’Responsibility to Protect’

The government of President Thein Sein has to own the ’Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) a UN norm which says that sovereignty of nation-States is not a right and that States must protect their populations from mass atrocity and crimes.

However, since the UN Security Council included the norm in 2005, its enforcement is a matter of concern. Myanmar acknowledged the norm in 2009. However, within days, 39 villages were burnt in Shan State, allegedly by the government.

The simmering violence in Rakhine state since September 2012 has seen thousands of Rohingyas dead and millions, displaced. In such a situation, where denial of natural justice to the Rohingyas seems to have become the norm, the responsibility of inter-governmental organisations as both watch-dogs and emergency aid-givers becomes important. The UN has already appealed to Myanmar to grant citizenship to the Rohingyas. However, the Thein Sein government has rebuffed the appeal. Now, member-nations of the UN Security Council may be called upon to take a call on this and pressure Myanmar to bring into force a scheme for the protection of the Rohingyas.

The importance of international aid agencies and civil society initiatives in this respect are critical to the relief of such sections of the population. Undermining the role of the international actors in the country could seriously strain Myanmar’s polity.

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

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Myanmar

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NE ultras aiding one another

Militant outfits from India’s north-eastern States having bases in Myanmar have started using one another’s facilities for logistic support and even training following the dwindling of their strength and flow of funds.

Despite having signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India, the NSCN(K) is still allowing the active militant groups to use its bases in the neighbouring country.

Highly-placed security sources said that discussions were still on among the militant groups to give a final shape to the proposed platform of all the outfits of the region and the commander-in-chief of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), Paresh Baruah, is playing a key role in this regard.

However, sharing of logistics between the militant groups has started as it is beneficial for all the groups. Most of the bases of the North Eastern militants in Myanmar are still located in the Taga area.

Sources said that the NSCN(K) is allowing tother militant groups to use its logistics in return for money. Recently, there have been reports of the Naga outfit putting pressure on Paresh Baruah over the failure of the ULFA(I) to make the payments for months. During a recent visit to the Taga area, Baruah even faced pressure from the NSCN(K) members on the payment issue, sources added.

Security sources have said that the militant groups are procuring rice and other material from the north-east Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland because of shortage of food items in the area where they are based in Myanmar. The high price of rice in that area of Myanmar has also forced the fund-starved outfits to take food items all the way from India.

On the activities of the ULFA(I), sources said that the outfit is keeping a low profile for some time and some demand notes were sent through linkmen, particularly in upper Assam districts. According to reports available, the ULFA(I) is facing a major financial crisis in the camps in the neighbouring country, and there have been instances when the outfit even faced problems in the day-to-day running of the camps due to shortage of money.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Assam Tribune, 4 March, 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Call to take up border issue at BIMSTEC

Ahead of the recent BIMSTEC Summit in Myanmar, a forum of 10 opposition political parties in the north-east Indian state of Manipur demanded that New Delhi should take up the Indo-Myanmar border issue with the country’s leadership. The suggestion was for India to take up the issue at the 14th ministerial meeting of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectorial Technical and Economic Cooperation), which commenced on 3 March in Myanmar’s capital.

The convener of the forum, M Tombi, who is also the president of the the State unit of Janata Dal (United), demanded that the Indo-Myanmar border issue should be tabled for discussion during the 14th ministerial meeting of the BIMSTEC.

The unsettled border dispute at the Manipur sector resurfaced after various civil society organisations demanded immediate stoppage of fencing work, alleging that a large portion of Manipur territory has gone to Myanmar side.

The matter became more complex after Myanmar’s authorities asked to stop the construction of an Integrated Check Post at Moreh of Manipur, alleging that the place where the check post is being constructed belonged to the country (Myanmar).

Fencing in the Manipur sector was done with twin objectives of the government of India, comprising a check on drug-smuggling and cross- border movement of insurgents. The first phase of border fencing work was being taken up between border pillar number 79 and 81 covering a distance of 10 km near Moreh town under the Department of Border Management, Ministry of Home Affairs.

The border fencing erected leaving areas belonging to Manipur has created apprehension of loss of State’s land even as the people were yet to get over the loss of Kabo Valley, Tombi asserted. "Both the central and state government must take a firm decision to re-demarcate the fencing and save the loss of state’s land".

The decision taken against the sentiments of the people might cause turmoil in the state, he said, adding Congress leaders must keep in mind the sentiments of the people.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Nagaland Post, 3 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">MSF ban ’temporary’, say officials

The closure of Médecins Sans Frontières operations in Rakhine State is only "temporary", a Union Government health official has insisted, but a senior state official says it will likely be at least seven months before the aid group is allowed to resume activities in the trouble-hit region.

Ministry of Health deputy director general Dr Soe Lwin Nyein told The Myanmar Times in Sittwe that MSF’s expulsion from Rakhine State would not be permanent. However, he said he could not estimate the duration of the ban.

Rakhine State Department of Health director Dr Aye Nyein said it would not likely be rescinded until October or November. He said fears that this month’s census would prompt more communal violence had contributed to the decision to evict the organisation’s staff.

The group has declined to comment publicly on the situation while negotiations continue but reports suggest MSF has been instructed to withdraw its staff from Rakhine as soon as possible.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Myanmar Times, 6 March 2014

Nepal

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Poll-time security discussed with Bihar

Bihar and Nepal police will work in tandem to check criminal and terrorist activities from either side of the border during the parliamentary elections in India. Bihar DGP Abhayanand and Nepal police IG Upendra Kumar Arial discussed the issue in the presence of other officials from both sides here on Thursday.

Though police officials did not divulge the meeting’s outcome, informed sources said both Nepal and Bihar police exchanged the list of criminals to keep watch on them so that follow-up actions could be initiated from both sides. The superintendents of police posted in borderi districts also participated in the meeting.

Sources said both sides agreed to intensify patrolling in vulnerable areas along the border. They also said the Nepal team had come to the state capital following a request made by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to its counterpart in the neighbouring country. Bihar-Nepal border has become very important for Indian intelligence following the arrest of Indian Mujahideen (IM) founder Yasin Bhatkal. Various IM modules like Darbhanga, Madhubani and Sitamarhi were allegedly active in the border areas.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 7 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’BIMSTEC committed to LDCs’

Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala arrived back home on Thursday after participating in the Third Summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), held in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital city of Myanmar.

Talking to media persons on arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport, Prime Minister Koirala said Nepal´s strong political commitment to regional cooperation was demonstrated through its high-level participation in the BIMSTEC Summit.

The Prime Minister said that the Nay Pyi Taw Declaration issued by the Summit was important for the member countries as it expresses commitment to providing cooperation in the development process of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

He said that the Summit also committed itself to providing assistance to the LDCs in minimising the effects of climate-change and its negative impact in future on poverty alleviation, energy and tourism, among other topics.

Prime Minister Koirala said he held meetings with his counterparts from India, Bangladesh and Bhutan and the Presidents of Sri Lanka and Myanmar on the sidelines of the Summit, to discuss issues of mutual interest. He said that he held discussions with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on resuming the Foreign Ministerial Joint Commission meetings stalled since 1991, and on issues such as bilateral trade, transit and investment promotion.

< class="text11verdana">Source: myrepublica.com, 6 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Chinese study cause for concern: SSB

The SSB, a paramilitary force that guards India’s frontier with Nepal, has expressed concern over the emergence of Chinese study centres in the neighbouring country, allegedly indulging in anti-India propaganda.

Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) Director-General Arun Chaudhary today shared these concerns with his counterpart in Nepal, Police Inspector-General (IG) Upendra Kant Aryal who visited the forces’ headquarters here as the leader of a delegation for bi-lateral border talks.

Chaudhary conveyed to Aryal that the Chinese study centres were sprouting in Nepal fast and these centres were allegedly indulging in anti-India propaganda. The two also decided to create a joint task force to address trans-border crimes and the menace of fake Indian currency notes being prevalent in border areas.

An official statement of the SSB highlighted the plight of FICN, giving example how poor labourers were being cheated of reimbursement of their hard work as there were reports that payments were being giving to them in fake notes. Both sides, during the day-long meeting, decided to strengthen their mechanism to curb smuggling of narcotics and human trafficking.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Economic Times, 3 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Alert to stop Tibetan protest

Police in the Nepalese capital are on alert to stop protests by Tibetan refugees, including any attempts to self-immolate, next week to mark the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, officials said on Monday. Police official Ganesh KC said police officers in Katmandu were on alert and that monitoring had been stepped up.

Tibetan refugees in Nepal regularly demonstrate against Chinese rule over their homeland, and two set themselves on fire and died last year in Nepal. Nepal does not allow protests near the Chinese embassy and key areas, saying it cannot allow activities against friendly nations.

In the past Tibetans in Nepal have attempted to storm the Chinese embassy, while the Chinese government has repeatedly pressured Nepal to stop the protests. Protesters are generally removed from the areas and detained for few hours. Thousands of Tibetans refugees live in Nepal and they travels through Nepal on the way to Dharmasala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives and the self-declared exile government is based.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Times of India, 3 March 2014

Pakistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TTP declares ceasefire

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has announced a one-month ceasefire to allow the resumption of peace talks that had collapsed after the recent slaying of 23 paramilitary soldiers by the group’s Mohmand chapter.

The group’s spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid has said that the senior leadership of the TTP advises all subgroups to respect the call for a ceasefire and abide by it and completely refrain from all jihadi activities for this period.

Pakistani warplanes bombed the hideout of a militant leader a day after the TTP declared the ceasefire. Five insurgents were killed in these attacks.

The Pakistan Army’s Corps Commanders met to discuss internal security of the country with particular reference to halting the surgical strikes against Taliban hideouts in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan. This meeting was chaired by the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif and the commanders were briefed on goals achieved by surgical strikes.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has announced that the government will set up a state committee to hold direct talks with the Taliban in an attempt to accelerate the peace dialogue.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 2 March 2014; Reuters, 2 March 2014; Dawn.com, 7 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">11 killed in Islamabad court blasts

At least 11 persons were killed and 29 others wounded during a gun and bomb attack in a court in the Islamabad’s F-8 area. The numbers killed included an additional sessions judge, Rafaqat Awan.

Asad Mansoor, a spokesperson for the Ahrarul Hind, a lesser-known splinter group of the TTP, claimed that his group was responsible for the attack. The group recently parted ways with the TTP over the talks with the government.

Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan stated that the sessions judge was inadvertently killed by his own guard and not by the terrorists.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn.com, 4 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India trying destabilisation: JI

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) amir Syed Munawar Hassan has stated that India is trying to destabilise Pakistan and is discussing this with Afghanistan as well. He alleged that India is involved in conspiracies to weaken Pakistan.

Hassan went on to say that government should expose the people who are carrying out attacks under the name of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 7 March 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UNHRC draft violates Constitution: Govt

Sri Lanka says that the Anglo-American draft resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC Human Rights Council with co-sponsorship by Indian Ocean neighbour, Mauritius violates provisions of the nation’s Constitution.

"The draft resolution on Sri Lanka? violates the constitutional provisions of Sri Lanka, is highly intrusive in nature and is in breach of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan people and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka," Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Amb Ravinatha Aryasinha, has said.

Speaking at the at the first informal meeting called by the sponsors in Geneva, Aryasinha said, the draft "in being politicised and in clear contravention of accepted principles of conduct in the Council?the resolution sets a bad precedent, and can in the medium-to-long term have an adverse impact on all developing countries".

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily Mirror Online 7 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">TNA split over draft?

A rift has emerged in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) with one of the most prominent Northern Provincial Council members, Ananthi Sashitharan publicly accusing TNA National List MP, M.A. Sumanthiran of having deprived her of an opportunity to address UNHRC members at a recent crucial meeting in Geneva due to her alleged past involvement in the LTTE.

Ananthi was married to Velayutham Sasitharan alias Elilan, a hard-core terrorist who masqueraded as the LTTE’s Trincomlaee district political leader during the Ceasefire Agreement arranged by the Norwegian government in February 2002. She represents the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), the dominant partner of the five-party alliance comprising the TELO, PLOTE, EPRLF, TULF and ITAK.

Addressing the media at the Jaffna Press Club, an irate Ananthi charged that Sumanthiran had scuttled her plans in Geneva, where she was to press representatives of 18 member-states of the UNHRC to demand that the US-led resolution recommend an international investigation into war crime allegations. Sumanthiran, she alleged, was basically seeking the support of member-states for the US resolution.

Sasitharan claimed that those who had believed that the ongoing Geneva session would lead to a war crimes probe were frustrated and those who led the Tamil-speaking people to believe that a tough resolution would be presented to the UNHRC had deceived them.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 7 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India yet to decide on UNHRC resolution

Indian External Affairs Ministry on Friday said India was yet to take a final call on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on Sri Lanka.

Asked whether the issue was discussed with Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was in New Delhi for the Indian Ocean-centered maritime security trilateral, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said: "There was no substantive discussion in that meeting on this matter."

Akbaruddin said: "However, we agreed that we will be in regular touch because we have missions in Geneva and they will be in regular touch on this." Stating that officials were examining the draft resolution and that all aspects of the matter would be factored in before taking a view, he added: "There are discussions going on in Geneva and we will take it from there."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 7 March 2014

Afghanistan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Five killed in Helmand blast

Five civilians were killed and nine others wounded on Friday, 7th March 2014, when a bomb-rigged motorcycle ripped through a weekly bazaar in southern Helmand province.

The injured included half a dozen children aged between 12 and 14 years. Some of the injured are said to be in critical condition.An official said the blast was of high intensity but he had no further details.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 7 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">ANA soldiers killed in NATO airstrike

A NATO air force shelled an Afghan National Army (ANA) check-post in central Logar province early Thursday morning, killing at least five troops and injuring another 17, officials said.

The International Security Assistance Force ISAF in a statement said: "We can confirm that at least five Afghan National Army personnel were accidentally killed this morning during an operation in eastern Afghanistan." The airstrike is likely to draw another verbal attack from President Hamid Karzai against US and NATO soldiers in his country.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 6 March 2014, Tolo News 6 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Taliban commander killed

Accused of killing an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier, the Afghan security forces killed a notorious militant commander Hazrat Kul in Khinjan district of central Baghlan province, an official said Wednesday.

Sultan Mohammad, a resident of the district, said the slain commander was forcing youth to take up arms and fight against government and levied heavy fine on those who did not obey his orders

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">NATO supplies via Torkham resume

After a three-month stalemate, Pakistan has reopened the Peshawar-Torkham highway to NATO supplies into Afghanistan, after the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, the ruling party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, decided to unblock the key supply route.

The decision to reopen the road comes in the light of the Peshawar High Court orders, which had termed the blockade as illegal.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 2 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US looking for alternate to BSA

US Ambassador to Afghanistan, James B Cunningham, has said that trust-deficit caused by the delays in concluding the bilateral security agreement had left Washington struggling with political and technical problems.

He said relations between the US and Afghan governments had sometimes been at a low, but the BSA was the product of joint efforts. He added that even the Loya Jirga was a party to the agreement.

The US envoy said Washington desired long-term partnership with Kabul and in case the BSA was not concluded, the US would look for an alternate plan.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 4 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Qayum Karzai quits presidential race

Presidential runner Abdul Qayum Karzai on Thursday formally announced his withdrawal from the race to support Zalmai Rassoul. Speaking at a Press conference in Kabul, the President Karzai’s older brother said he and Rassoul, a former foreign minister, would jointly work as part of their electoral alliance to win the landmark presidential elections slated for 5 April.

He said the decision to join forces was to protect national interests and achieve economic development for the country. Qayum said his team joined Rassoul’s camp after a series of talks that involved tribal elders and representatives from 28 provinces.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, 6 March 2014, Tolo News 6 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to stop Pak from dam construction

The Afghan government has said that it would take necessary steps to stop the Pakistan from constructing ’Dassoo Dam’ on the Indus River in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province that would disrupt the flow of the Kabul River and violate international laws on water resources.

Experts have warned that if the Afghan government does not take necessary measures to this end, then it would set a negative precedent that could make it easier for Islamabad to out-maneuver Kabul in the future. Pakistan, in this regard has already sought aid from the World Bank, which in turn has asked for Afghanistan’s input on the project.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, 4 March 2014

Bangladesh

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sub-capability for regional stability: China

China this week said that it helped Bangladesh to strengthen its defence capability in keeping with the national defence strategy under Sino-Bangladesh bilateral cooperation. China also said that Bangladesh attaining submarine capability would contribute to security and stability in South Asia instead of creating tension, as some sections of the Indian media recently feared.

"There is no need to be worried about it," Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jun, observed. Li opined that said that Bangladesh is a country with land and sea territories and it has its own defence strategy. The submarine capability of Bangladesh will contribute to regional stability and strengthen Bangladesh’s own defence building.

Bangladesh is likely to buy two 035G Ming-class type submarines from China. The deal was valued at $206 million and China has promised to deliver the submarines to the Bangladesh Navy by 2019.

About the popular speculation about the deepening of Bangladesh-China relationship would create a negative impact on China-India ties, Li dismissed the idea saying that the Beijing-New Delhi relation was developing fast as the volume of bilateral trade increased.

He admitted that there were border disputes between China and India but both the sides tried to contain the situation. He said that the China-Bangladesh relation would develop but not at the cost of Bangladesh-India relation.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 7 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Transit for Pak-made fake Indian rupee

Law-enforcement agencies have said that Bangladesh is used as a transit route for counterfeit Indian rupees by illegal traders along the border areas. Law enforcement agency also informed that a gang of traders print the fake bills in Pakistan and India and then pass them to their Bangladeshi agents, who take care of the subsequent transactions.

The fact came to light after Bangladesh security agencies arrested a trader with forged bills worth 1.50 lakh Indian rupees. Law enforcement agencies also informed that fake Indian currency is high in demand among illegal cow traders, smugglers and narcotics dealers along the India-Bangladesh border. They also informed that since the fake notes are used among illicit trades, it is never reported, making it difficult for police to bust the gangs.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 4 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Dhaka to sort out transit issues with Delhi

In a major development government has decided to sort out obstacles hindering connectivity issues with India. A decision in this regards was taken at an inter-ministerial meeting hosted by finance ministry. During the meeting Industry Minister Amir Hossain Amu and Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan opined that India has to be more liberal on trade related issues with Bangladesh.

The meeting was convened to consider three proposals related to trade and connectivity with India mooted by Tariq Karim, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India.

For long, India has been urging Bangladesh too provide transit through its territory to its north-eastern states. The meeting was attended by Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, Communications Minister Obaidul Quader and Railway Minister Mujibul Haque and PM’s international affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi.

Expressing views about the government’s decision Tofail Ahmed informed that bilateral cooperation and regional connectivity were essential for enhancing the country’s trade. To him corridor or transit was not important, most important issue is connectivity. Tofail Ahmed further that there is a mindset among people of Bangladesh regarding India’s demand for transit and stressed on changing the mindset, especially, in the era of globalisation and connectivity.’

However, he was categorical about that the country’s interest will have to be protected first. Tofail opined that connectivity would make imports from India cheaper.

< class="text11verdana">Source: New Age, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India promises additional power

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met her Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of BIMSTEC Ssummit this week in Nay Pyi Taw of Myanmar. The meeting is significant as this is the first meeting of Shiekh Hasina with Dr Singh after Awami League won the 5 January parliamentary election. This is also the last meeting of Dr Singh as Prime Minister of India with Shiekh Hasina before the parliamentary election in India. Parliamentary election in India will be held from 7 April to 12 May.

In the 25-minute long meeting the two Prime Ministers discussed issues of bilateral interest, including cooperation in the areas of power sector, trade, investment and implementation of the agreed decisions. Some of the important highlights of the meeting are:-

India has promised to provide Bangladesh additional 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Bangladesh from Tripura’s Paltana power plant to meet the country’s growing demand. At present, India exports 500 MW of electricity to the Bangladesh’s national grid. India’s assurance to provide additional electricity was a move to express it gratitude as Bangladesh allowed it to transport Over Dimensional Cargo (ODC) and equipment for the 700 MW Paltana power plant through its roads and waterways for free of cost.

During the meeting, Sheikh Hasina also raised the issue of the long delay in signing the agreement on Teesta river water-sharing with Singh. In response Dr Singh acknowledged that it was a "difficult" issue and said efforts to forge consensus on it were still underway in India.

The agreement on Teesta river treaty was put on hold in September, 2011, after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had expressed reservations over the quantum of water to be given to Bangladesh and she had opted out of Singh’s entourage to Dhaka.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Bangla protests against water-drawals by India

The government of Bangladesh lodged protests over the drawal of water by India from the Lejur, a common river that flows from India’s north-eastern State of Tripura to Bangladesh.

The Lejur, referred as Kalahari river in Bangladesh, enters Bangladesh at Bijoynagar upazila in Brahmanbaria district in the eastern central region of the country and joins the Titas.

The Government claimed that India is impeding the water flow of the river through construction of two sluice gates on the upstream and claims it is a clear violation of the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, signed between the two countries in 1996.

The Joint River Commission (JRC) has already sent a formal protest note to the Indian authorities on the issue. Sources at the water resources ministry claimed that Bangladesh is not getting any water from the river during the dry season, affecting irrigation.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Independent, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Route of hope

Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar are likely to sign an agreement to build a transnational highway that will eventually turn Bangladesh into a hub of connectivity between South and Southeast Asia.

The framework agreement may be inked in December in New Delhi at the third inter-governmental meeting on the proposed Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC), sources in the foreign ministry informed. The deal is aimed at boosting trade and investments and tapping regional economic potentials.

Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Gowher Rizvi said, "Bangladesh wants to be the hub for connectivity between South and SouthEast Asia, and the corridor fits exactly into that...Bangladesh also stands to gain because it will allow the country to expand economic ties with India, China and Myanmar."

The adviser, however, said it would require big investments to establish the corridor. Construction of roads might be "technically feasible", but it will take time to get funding.

The K2K (Kunming-Ruili-Bhamo-Lashio-Mandalay-Tamu-Imphal-Sylhet-Dhaka-Kolkata) route, which is 2,800 km long and part of the historic Silk Route, offers the best condition to be used as the corridor, according to a concept paper on the BCIM-EC. The paper was presented at an inter-ministerial meeting in Dhaka on February 6.

The first inter-governmental meeting on the BCIM-EC took place in Kunming of China in December last year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 6 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Myanmar told to resolve Rohingya issue

Bangladesh has urged Myanmar for an "amicable solution" to take back the Myanmar refugees from Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who visited Myanmar capital to attend the third BIMSTEC Summit, made the call during her meeting with the country’s President Thein Sein.

According to official estimates, around 30,000 registered Rohingya refugees and some 300,000-500,000 undocumented Myanmar nationals are living in Bangladesh. Of them, a significant number intruded into the country following persecution during the previous military rule in Myanmar.

The previous Hasina administration had decided to do a headcount to ascertain the number of illegal migrants, saying their long-term stay resulted in socioeconomic, political, environmental and security crises in Bangladesh.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 4 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Aiding militancy won’t be spared: PM

Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, warned of harsh punishment against anyone joining hands with militants and criminals. "Harsh punishment would be given to people joining hands with militants and criminals? No matter what their status is, offenders would not be spared," Shiekh Hasina, also the home minister, said at the inauguration of the Police Week-2014, in Dhaka.

She said that ’unholy’ local and international quarters were active in hindering the country’s development. Hasina urged all to cooperate with police in uprooting terrorism, subversive activities and militancy.

Hasina said that militant and terrorist outfits were engaged in acts of sabotage and destructive activities in the name of general strikes and blockades and they had started hatching conspiracies to banish the spirit of the war of independence.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: New Age, 7 March 2014

Bhutan

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">More funds from India for power project

India will provide an added Nu 17 billion for the 1,200-MW Punatshangchhu I hydropower project.

This decision was shared with the government on the side lines of the third BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal initiative for multi-sectoral technical and economic cooperation) summit being held in Myanmar. Nu 17.65 billion will be released by the Indian government in April.

The Indian government also approved the "intergovernmental agreement" that involves the development of four joint venture hydropower projects: Kholongchhu (600 MW), Wangchhu (570 MW), Chamkharchhu (770 MW) and Bunakha (180 MW).

Work on the Kholongchhu will start once the agreement is signed shortly.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh informed lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay of the two developments during a bilateral meeting at the summit, yesterday.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Kuenselonline, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Nepal PM urges Bhutan to solve refugee issue

Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has requested his Bhutanese counterpart, Tshering Tobgay, to resolve the Bhutanese refugee issue by allowing exiled Bhutanese from UN-managed camps in Nepal to return home at the earliest possible.

Koirala raised the issue on 3 March during his meeting with PM Tobgay in Myanmar, where both the leaders have reached in course of participating the Third Summit of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

PM Koirala reiterated Nepal’s views on early resolution of the Bhutanese refugee imbroglio, reports Nepalese state-owned Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS).

"I have requested him (Bhutanese Prime Minister) to create environment conducive for respectful return of refugees to their homes at a time when most of their offspring had set out to abroad under third country rehabilitation bid and the elderly are still languishing in refugee camp", Prime Minister Koirala told RSS.

Though the Bhutanese side gave positive response regarding return of refugees to their homes, he made a plea to be serious to give early solution to the problem, PM Koirala added.

Taking Nepal´s request in a positive note, the Bhutanese Prime Minister´s response was "We will see", premier Koirala went on saying.

Meanwhile, PM Tobgay has twitted just a brief message about his meeting with Koirala.

"Discussed a range of issues with Nepal and Thai delegations during bilateral talks on the sidelines of BIMSTEC. Off to a good start," he tweetted.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Bhutan News Service, 3 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">PM confirms closure of EduCity

The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said that the Cabinet had decided to close the Education City project and has instructed the Bhutan Education City board to complete the remaining procedures to wrap up the project.

The Lyonchhen, talking at the monthly meet-the-press, said that the Cabinet had discussed the issue of the Education City project, and specifically the legality of the land leased to the Education city, in several Cabinet sittings.

He said the National Land Commission (NLC) made it very clear that they have not allocated land to Education City, and cannot do so, as the lease is for 90 years. The Prime Minster said the Cabinet requested the BEC board to study the matter properly and they requested the NLC to reconsider their stand. The PM explained that the NLC made it clear that they stand by its earlier decision and they cannot lease land to the Education City project.

Lyonchhen said, "During the 26th Cabinet meeting, the Cabinet considered the matter and decided the decision of the NLC would be binding as it was correct and legal, and as such, the Cabinet instructed the BEC board to complete the remaining procedures to wrap up the project since land is not available."

"As far as the government was concerned, the Education City project did not get the land and proper procedures had not been followed as it proposed a 90-year lease with automatic three extensions of 30 years in the concession agreement that was not legal. Given these facts, the Cabinet decided to close the Education City project," said the PM.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bhutanese, 1 March 2014

India

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parliamentary polls in April-May

The Election Commission of India has announced the schedule for the 16th Lok Sabha elections, setting in motion the process for the largest democratic exercise in the world. The national elections along with Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim, will be held on nine different dates, compared with the five-phase exercise in the last elections.

Polling will begin on April 7 and will continue through April 9, 10, 12, 17, 24, 30, and May 7 with the last phase on May 12. The entire process is spread over 73 days and counting of votes will be held on May 16.

A record 814-million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise through 913,000 polling stations. For the first time in a general election, Electronic Voting Machines will provide an option for voters to press the ’none of the above’ (NOTA) button if they do not wish to vote for any candidate.

The EC will also introduce voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) systems to be used in as many constituencies as possible. Under this system, when a voter presses a button on the electronic voting machine to select the candidate he wants to vote for, a slip of paper bearing the name and symbol of the party will briefly appear for about 10 seconds, after which it will fall into a secure box, thus maintaining a paper trail of all the votes cast.

Following the announcement, the ’model code of conduct’, a list of legally binding dos and don’ts for the candidates, came into effect immediately. The Election Commission has also sought "active cooperation" of media houses and journalists to deal with the menace of paid news during elections.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu 5 March 2014, The Hindu 6 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Cabinet rejects ordinance route

The Union Cabinet has rejected the ordinance route for anti-graft bills that were being promoted by ruling Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi after President Pranab Mukherjee expressed his reservations on the subject.

The Cabinet at the same time, decided to include the Jat community in nine states in the central list of OBCs for reservation in Central Government jobs and educational institutions.

The decision on Jat reservation comes two months after the cabinet asked the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) to fast-track its opinion on the matter without waiting for the results of the survey being undertaken by the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) for this purpose since last year. The NCBC sent back a divided recommendation which could lead to the decision being challenged.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu 3 March 2014, Indian Express 2 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Kashmiri students charged with sedition

A group of 67 Kashmiri students studying at Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh were booked for sedition for cheering Pakistan to win the Asia Cup match against India. The students were suspended and sent back home. The Uttar Pradesh government later dropped the sedition charges, but the students have not been allowed back into the university.

Charges were filed against the students under Section 124a, 153a and 427 of the Indian Penal Code. According to Section 124a, whoever excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Indian government shall be punished with imprisonment or with a fine. This sparked outrage on Twitter with Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, describing the charges as "unacceptably harsh punishment that will ruin their futures & will further alienate them." However, he also described the students as "misguided" and said they should "introspect" because some of them are attending college on the strength of scholarships from the Prime Minister.

The college has alleged that the students celebrated loudly in the dorm and toted pro-Pakistan slogans, which led to a fight with other students and escalated into vandalism and stone-throwing.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Hindustan Times, 4 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Rolls Royce under CBI scanner

The Defence Ministry has ordered an investigation into state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL) orders from Britain’s Rolls-Royce Holdings worth at least 10,000 crore rupees.

The Central Bureau of Investigation will look into alleged kickbacks in the deal, which was signed in 2011. Defence Minister AK Antony referred the case to investigators after being informed by HAL that Rolls-Royce had disclosed its use of outside consultants receiving a percentage commission.

The probe into the HAL deal follows the arrest in Britain last month of Indian-born businessman Sudhir Choudhrie and his son in a bribery investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into Rolls-Royce’s dealings in China and Indonesia.

At present, Rolls-Royce is a key player in the ongoing induction of the Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJTs), manufactured by BAE Systems, by the IAF and Navy to train their rookie pilots in the intricacies of combat flying. The fresh controversy has the potential to once again derail the modernization of the armed forces, like it has happened in the past. All deals with Rolls Royce have been put on hold till the CBI investigation is over.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters 3 March 2014, Time of India 4 March 2014

Maldives

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Travel ban on EC members

The Supreme Court has issued an order against all four members of the Elections Commission, prohibiting them from leaving Male’or travelling overseas.

The travel ban comes in the wake of the court-initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against the EC members.

This order was issued in the presence of the four members who were summoned to Supreme Court.

Director-General of Elections Commission Mohamed Shakeel said that the members will comply with the Supreme Court order.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EC must seek voters’ list endorsements

Supreme Court Judge Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi has ordered it mandatory for the Elections Commission to have the candidates endorse their voters’ lists for the 22 March parliamentary election.

Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi made the order in court today, during the suo motu proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court regarding the conduct of the Elections Commission.

Speaking at the hearing, President of the Elections Commission Fuad Thaufeeq conceded to having told a parliamentary committee that the commission can proceed without the candidates’ endorsements. Fuad also agreed to having told the committee that the Supreme Court’s current proceedings into matters of the Elections Commission are unconstitutional.

Endorsing the voters’ list is not optional, Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi said, and the Elections Commission must fulfil all conditions provided for by the Supreme Court in its guideline issued for the presidential elections last year.

Addressing members of the Elections Commission, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain said that it is against the law to speak of a on ongoing judicial case outside the courtroom and reminded that the Supreme Court has once issued a ruling that Parliament does not have the prerogative to discuss ongoing judicial cases.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">HIV transfusion victim gives birth

The pregnant woman who was recently given an HIV positive blood transfusion in Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) has given birth by caesarean section to a female.

An official of IGMH said that the woman gave birth earlier this week, and that the baby was in good health. He said that the baby needs to be tested for HIV, and according to the WHO guideline on the matter, this can only be done 14 days after the birth of the baby.

The IGMH and Ministry of Health has apologised to the public following the transfusion of HIV positive blood to the pregnant woman. Minister of Health Dr Maryam Shakeela has assured that measures will be taken to ensure that such incidents are not repeated.

The police have arrested an Indian national for negligence following the blood transfusion incident.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 5 March 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Tourist arrivals up by 18 pc

Tourist arrivals in the Maldives has increased by 18.5 percent for the month of January 2014 with a total of 105,296 tourists arrivals, compared to 88,869 tourists in January 2013, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

A total of 30,612 holiday-makers arrived from China, making it the source of the most number of tourists in January. The number is an increase of 59 percent compared to January 2013.

The second most tourist arrivals for January 2014 were from Russia, a total of 9,289. The UK stood in the third place with 6.710 during the month.

With 52,295 arrivals, Europe stood as the continent from which Maldives received the most number of tourists. Maldives received 45,725 tourists from Asia and 3,903 tourists from the US for January 2014.

Maldives for the first time reached the one-million yearly tourist arrivals benchmark late last year.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline 6 March 2014

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Afghanistan: Aakash Tolani;
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee;
India:Niharika Betkerur

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.