Mongolia gets $1-bn credit gift
- India announced on May 17 a $1-billion credit line to Mongolia for infrastructure development as they upgraded their ties to “strategic partnership” and agreed to deepen defence cooperation besides exploring potential for tie-ups in areas such as the civil nuclear sector.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on a two-day visit to Mongolia, the first by an Indian Premier, held wide-ranging discussions with his Mongolian counterpart, Chimed Saikhanbileg, and the two leaders pledged to take bilateral economic partnership to a new level.
- “I am pleased to announce that India will provide a Line of Credit of $1 billion to support expansion of Mongolia’s economic capacity and infrastructure,” Mr. Modi told a joint press interaction with Mr. Saikhanbileg at the State Palace here.
- “Today, Mongolia is also an integral part of India’s Act East Policy,” he said.
- “The destinies of India and Mongolia are closely linked with the future of Asia Pacific region. We can work together to help advance peace, stability and prosperity in this region,” Mr. Modi said, pitching for close bilateral ties amid China’s push for increasing its regional influence.
- After their talks, the two signed a joint statement committing to consolidate ties and upgrade the comprehensive partnership to “strategic partnership” and agreed to renew their Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation.
- The two sides inked 13 other pacts that include one on enhancing cooperation in border defence, policing and surveillance, air services, cyber security and new and renewable energy.
Kejriwal ups ante against Lieutenant-Governor Jung
- Taking Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung head-on over the controversial appointment of Acting Chief Secretary Shakuntala D. Gamlin, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal vowed on May 17 to keep tabs on every move of the official.
- Without naming Ms. Gamlin, wife of former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister and Congress regional satrap Jarbom Gamlin, Mr. Kejriwal said the official was working as “a secretary of power companies” and had attempted to mislead him and his Power Minister repeatedly.
- “She tried to get the [AAP] government’s assent in a way which would have affected our finances to the tune of Rs. 11,000 crore through what she claimed was a letter of comfort,” Mr. Kejriwal said addressing an “Auto Samvad” of autorickshaw drivers at Burari in North Delhi.
- “The officer in question might be in office for the coming few days, but rest assured the government will keep an eye on her every move and not allow her to misuse the power of her office,” he said.
- Ms. Gamlin was appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor’s office despite the objections of the AAP government.
Stalemate on FTA should end soon, says Cravinho
- European Union Ambassador in New Delhi Joao Cravinho says though there have been no negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement with India, decision-makers in New Delhi and Brussels are keen on ending the stalemate.
- “We haven’t had progress for two years, no negotiations, but there is a recognition that this stalemate has gone on far too long,” he said . The decision-makers have concluded that it is time to sit down and create a political momentum to finalise the deal.
- “Personally, I am convinced we are less far apart than we were two years ago. The world has changed; even if we have not been negotiating and what it takes in terms of political capital is perfectly affordable. We need to have major decision-makers at the ministerial level sit down for talks, and I expect that to happen within a few weeks,” he said.
- India’s participation at the OECD could offer the opportunity for discussions between New Delhi and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. Both Union Minister for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman and Ms. Malmström are expected to be present in Paris in June and officials are hopeful that a dialogue could be scheduled.
- Work is also under way for fleshing out the details of the India-EU Summit scheduled for later this year. “We are working on a rich agenda, which will justify the summit.”
- Mr. Cravinho said the India-EU Summit to be held later this year would have as its broad themes how Europe could support India’s transformational and development agenda, how India could support the challenges that Europe faced, and how India and Europe could work together on issues of global governance.
- “India and the EU are major players in global governance, and coming together, finding a platform on which both can work, will mean not only contribution to each other but also towards global peace. The recognition of that will be part of the summit outcomes,” he said.
- He said the Modi government had set an “ambitious transformational agenda,” and the EU countries, keen on partnering India in the implementation of schemes such as Smart City, Swachh Bharat and “Make in India”, were looking for appropriate responses.
- Citing the example of the Ganga cleaning programme, he said EU members were strategising on how to share their best practices on river cleaning. “We have a number of interesting experiences in Europe, with cleaning the Danube, [the] Rhine, and [the] Thames. Those were massive cleaning operations, not only about water but also involved a massive transformation in the interaction between the population and the rivers,” he said.
- Mr. Cravinho said that with a new government in place, there was a noticeable change in the pace of projects such as the one to develop Smart Cities. “We have been working with Mumbai for the last three years, well before the Smart Cities project was announced. It is interesting work that has gained speed in the last six months because of the change in government at the Centre and in the State. There is an understanding that business as usual is not an option, there is a lot of desire for change and a lot of energy,” he said.
- On other areas of India-EU cooperation, including combating terrorism, Mr. Cravinho said there was a need to create fluidity in information-sharing. “There is a lot of information-sharing that can and should take place between India and Europe, helping each other understand different facets of terrorism. We have a counter-terrorism dialogue happening in Brussels soon, in which we will raise the issue of information-sharing and de-radicalisation; for instance, how to prevent marginalised groups from becoming radicalised for one reason or the other. We can share good practices.”
India-EU Free Trade Agreement
In 2007, the European Commission and India initiated discussions on an India-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) called the EU-India Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA). As of March 2015, negotiations remained stalled after failing to resolve differences related to matters such as the level of FDI & market access, domestic-sourcing obligations in multi-brand retail, manufacture of generic medecines, European Union import restrictions, greenhouse gas emissions, civil nuclear energy generation legislation, EU farming subsidies, replacement of traditional cash-crops with sterile genetically-engineered and patented variants, regulation & safeguards for the financial and insurance sectors, cooperation on tax evasion & money laundering, overseas financing and monitoring of NGOs in India, work visa restrictions, technology transfer restrictions, cooperation on embargoes (Russia & Iran), etc.
Learning skills from Seoul
- In his first year of office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen his foreign destinations with careful thought. After wrapping up his visits to China and Mongolia, Mr. Modi will be in Korea on May 18 and 19 in recognition of the country’s potential importance in pushing the agenda of ‘Make in India’, skill development, employment generation and indigenisation of defence manufacturing.
- The stage for the visit has already been set by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who had, in December 2014, visited Seoul for the 8th Joint Commission meeting. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar also went to Seoul in April to identify projects for closer defence collaboration.
- South Korea and India have both economic and cultural ties, apart from similar historical trajectories. Their ancient bonds are based on the twin strands of Buddhism and the Princess of Ayodhya. Koreans widely believe that a princess from Ayodhya travelled by sea to Korea in 48CE and married King Kim Suro. A prominent branch of the Kim clan called the Gimhae Kims proudly claim this Indian lineage. The two countries also share bitter colonial experiences; they had to undergo post-independence horrors of partition. Both continue to face hostile nuclear siblings: Pakistan and North Korea, respectively.
- Despite this, India and South Korea did not take much notice of each other till the end of the 1970s. A nonaligned India pursued a policy of equal treatment of the two Koreas, which it finally abandoned in the 1980s.The emergence of South Korea as an Asian Tiger compelled India to look at it as a source of investment and technology. The dawn of real democracy in South Korea in the late 1980s brought it ideologically closer to India. The end of the Cold War and former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s ‘Look East Policy’ opened the doors for a rapid economic engagement with South Korea.
- Korean Chaebols such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motors invested heavily in India in the late 1990s.Their success in capturing the Indian market is visible all around us. Korean investment in India is now more than $3 billion. Indian companies such as Tata Motors, the Mahindra Group and Birla Group have also invested more than a billion dollars in South Korea.
- The first decade of the new millennium saw a rapid expansion of both economic and political relations. In 2010, India and South Korea became ‘Strategic Partners’ and implemented the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Bilateral trade surged to $20 billion in 2011, surpassing India’s trade with Japan. However, economic activities have been somewhat stagnant since then and require renewed energy and new ideas. For instance, the much-heralded $12 billion investment by the Korean steelmaker POSCO in Odisha has been stuck since 2005 in the quagmire of procedures for mining licences, land acquisition and environmental clearances. Both countries focus on the economic prosperity of their citizens. On strategic regional issues, they strive for a stable and peaceful external environment. However, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Mr. Modi differ widely on the other two regional giants: China and Japan. No consensus on this is expected at this summit.
- In this background, Prime Minister Modi has clear objectives, but difficult issues to address. South Korean corporates have rich experiences of working in rather difficult Indian conditions but before investing more, they may wait for conditions to improve.
- Prime Minister Modi will benefit from studying the Korean experience of rapid skill development in the 1960s and 1970s. The impressive industrial miracle of South Korea is based on its trained and dedicated manpower. The system of vocational training, technical education as well as Research and Development is driven by the requirements of industry. In these areas, India’s efforts are largely government-driven and practically divorced from industry requirements. Mr. Modi would also be surprised to learn that 3.4 per cent of Korean GDP is spent on research and innovation and 70 per cent of this amount comes from industry!
Lessons from shipbuilding
- In the shipbuilding sector, South Korea has world class technology, but India has obsolescent equipment and management. Creative policy changes would be required in India to motivate Korean private shipbuilders to invest in India. Koreans by nature do not like joint ventures, guard their technology carefully and demand full managerial control. Just as the Rao government had allowed 100 per cent FDI to Korean companies in 1996 as a pioneering policy change, the Modi government should offer to lease a shipyard to the Koreans for the long-term on negotiated terms. Such a move would attract the Koreans to not only invest in shipbuilding in India but also bring in modern technology and equipment. Also, it is hoped that Prime Minister Modi’s visit will reopen the stalled negotiations for the acquisition of eight minesweepers from KangNam Company, which would be partly built at the Goa shipyard.
- During the visit, Mr. Modi is likely to face some pressure from President Park for urgent revision of the CEPA. However, he must be cautious as the present CEPA has not generated any extra exports from India, and the bilateral trade gap is widening against India. Despite assurances, the Korean regulators continue to drag their feet in according approvals for import of Indian generic drugs and agricultural products. Indian IT companies have also been struggling for business in South Korea as Koreans hesitate in sharing data with outsiders.
- Koreans may also press for the allocation of a site for Korean companies to build a nuclear power plant. They may offer state of the art technology and their overall costs for erecting a project would be about 20 per cent less than their competitors. In turn, India could offer to launch Korean satellites on its launch vehicles.
- There is vast potential for the growth of tourism on both sides and India’s decision to grant ‘Visa on Arrival’ and e-visas to Koreans will facilitate tourism. Indian films, cuisine and yoga are widely popular in Korea. Korean pop music and TV serials are well known in India among the youth, particularly in the Northeast. Since the countries share a bond concerning the Princess of Ayodhya, they could even offer incentives to film producers for a joint production of a film based on the legend.
- The key component of India-South Korea strategic partnership continues to be a robust economic engagement. This fits squarely with the present priorities of the Prime Minister to boost the manufacturing sector in India. But the Modi government would need to display more imagination and take bold steps to fully tap the potential of a deeper partnership with South Korea.
Taking a comprehensive view of quakes
- The Nepal earthquake of April 25 is the largest in the Himalayan region since the 1934 quake which measured 8.2 on the Richter scale and destroyed not only parts of central Nepal but also the plains of northern Bihar in India. Mahatma Gandhi, shaken by the Bihar tragedy, wrote in the Harijan that the earthquake was “providential retribution to India’s failure to eradicate untouchability”. Although this statement dismayed the rationalist in Jawaharlal Nehru, it was Rabindranath Tagore who dared Gandhi by sending a letter to the Harijan saying, “Physical catastrophes must have origin in physical facts”. When Tagore, always far ahead of his times, made this insightful statement, the science of earthquakes had not developed. It was only in the 1960s that plate tectonics explained the origin of earthquakes.
- Like other Himalayan quakes, the Nepal temblor is a dramatic manifestation of the ongoing tectonic convergence between the Indo-Australian and Asian tectonic plates that have built the Himalayas over the last 50 million years. A product of millions of years of crustal shortening, the Himalayas are under immense tectonic stress and occasional temblors. The last 200 years in the region have seen four great earthquakes. But central Himalaya has been an exception, researchers warn, and is considered to be susceptible to great temblors.
- The Nepal quake is a painful reminder of what is in store for the communities that live in the region and in the adjoining Indo-Gangetic plains. Sadly, lessons after such tragic events are often short-lived in public memory. This quake, too, opens an opportunity to learn and understand the threats of great earthquakes which may occur in the vulnerable region of North India and we must retain these lessons.
- The Nepal earthquake was devastating due to many factors. The source of the quake was shallow and the fault plane extended right up to densely populated Kathmandu. Added to this, Kathmandu is on a primitive lake basin that amplifies seismic wave energy. The slip of 1 to 3 metres recorded along the 160-km-long rupture showed strain built up over a century. Research implies that this segment has seen no great earthquakes in the last 700 years. Thus, the unspent accumulated slip needed to be released through this quake and will further be released through future quakes. This means that the segment, which includes parts of Uttarakhand, is capable of witnessing more damage. The Nepal earthquake rupture probably did not move towards the Indian plains in the manner that it did in the 1934 quake. But India may not be so lucky next time.
- As India’s northern territory is interfaced with a 2,400-km-long seismically potential Himalayan arc, it needs to develop a workable strategy to lessen the impact of earthquakes in populated areas. The ability to minimise damage and prepare for the aftermath of an earthquake has to come from a deeper insight on earthquake processes, and analyses of large amount of data that will enable us to study the source and effects of a quake. The latest advances in seismic sensor technology, data acquisition systems, digital communication and computer hardware and software facilitate developing real-time earthquake information systems. In rapid data dissemination, India needs to learn from the U.S. Geological Survey. India’s close proximity to an active plate boundary makes rapid dissemination of seismic data necessary. India should give priority to not only install but also sustain dense networks of observatories for both weak and strong motion data — like Japan, Taiwan and the U.S. do. Using such data to understand source characteristics is one way of helping the seismological community understand and constrain the manner in which faulting occurred and its probable extent. This data can also be exploited to develop an earthquake alert system, which essentially uses the travel time difference between the body waves and surface waves. For example, a resident in Delhi can be given a few minutes of alert on a major Himalayan earthquake, originating about 250- km away, using the difference in travel time lag between the body waves and the damaging surface waves.
- This would also allow us to quantify reasonably the expected ground motion in any region, which can be the basis for designing earthquake-resistant buildings. Our experience in the Himalayan towns, of moderate earthquakes (the 1996 Chamoli and the 1991 Uttarkashi earthquakes, for example), indicates that better building practices are major factors in lessening the impact of destructive events. Another learning experience is the historical example of the 1803 Uttarkashi earthquake which generated distant liquefaction in Delhi and Mathura and triggered landslides that smothered Himalayan villages. The top part of Qutb Minar toppled, too.
- Yet, we haven’t made headway in risk assessment, the core database for disaster management. Risk assessment requires intense field studies, developing models that use data on the frequency and severity of a particular type of natural hazard that strikes an area, and combining this information with the nature and class of vulnerable structures. It would be prudent to calculate the earthquake risk in the region if such an earthquake were to happen in Uttarakhand. According to a study in 2000, if a 1905 Kangra earthquake were to occur today in the Himalayas, direct losses would amount to Rs.51 billion, cost around 65,000 lives and 4,00,000 houses. If all the houses were made earthquake-resistant, this would reduce to Rs.19 billion. The extra cost of retrofitting would be about Rs.19 billion, the loss of life would be reduced to one-fifth and the number of ruined houses would be reduced to one-fourth. It is also true that many new buildings in earthquake-prone areas do not comply with seismic codes because certificates of safety are easy to procure. People living in the hills should be encouraged to follow traditional building practices rather than concrete monstrosities. Laurie Baker, the legendary architect, had some meaningful suggestions to strengthen traditional houses in the Himalayas. Some of his pencil sketches, preserved in archives, will be useful in this regard. But it is also true that traditional stone houses using rounded boulders in the Himalayas are known for very poor performances during the earthquakes. The Indian Standard IS: 13828 (1993) suggests several methods to improve their design and construction to make them earthquake-resistant.
- We need to focus not only on earthquake engineering but also on seismological research. For this to happen, along with an ambitious vision for a seismic network, we need trained manpower to conduct high-level seismological research. One way to reinvigorate both institutional and university-based research is to develop a strong framework where both can interact. Research without teaching and teaching without research are failed models, but we continue to follow this path. Seismology is a global science and interacting with the global research community should be encouraged. Our researchers must conduct research on equal footing with the international community. The Himalayas are a fantastic natural laboratory where earth processes can be captured live for new insights. Tackling future natural disasters will require a healthy mix of technology, scientific studies, trained and committed manpower, professionalism and the development of engineering skill and public awareness.
Caution and optimism
- In the last two decades, the diplomatic emphasis in India-China relations has been on working on a strong economic relationship that would whittle down the strategic differences and feeling of adversarial relations that have piled up over time. The three-day visit to China by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stayed true to that script, but clearly built on the bonhomie generated during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit in September 2014. If the emphasis during that visit was on building a “closer developmental partnership”, the reciprocal visit by Mr. Modi has been all about enhancing that relationship, mostly relating to trade and economics. This is evident in the joint statement issued after bilateral talks between Mr. Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The statement also seeks to address some of the concerns over the nature of the economic relationship. The magnitude of two-way trade has risen to $71 billion, but there has been a corresponding rise in the trade deficit. The statement suggests that both countries are cognisant of this deficit and are taking steps to address this, over and above those decided during Mr. Xi’s visit. The signing of 26 agreements detailing commercial investments worth $22 billion between companies also signifies the growing economic ties. The joint statement on climate change that reiterated the principles of “equity and common but differentiated responsibilities” to address issues of climate change and reiterated support for the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, was also timely. This would clear some doubts about China’s position following its joint communiqué with the U.S. on cuts in emission levels.
- That said, the strategic distance remains: the joint statement and also Mr. Modi’s remarks during the visit recognise this fact. The boundary dispute finds mention in the joint statement; while progress in talks has been glacial ever since they began, there is the assurance that both sides will seek to maintain peace at the border as they work towards a solution. Mr. Modi’s delegation gave no indication that India is keen to participate in China’s ambitious “one belt, one road” initiative; the joint statement limited the reference to cooperation on the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor. This suggests a degree of caution on India’s part over China’s role in India’s near and extended neighbourhood. Yet, Mr. Modi struck all the right notes in his speech engagement at Tsinghua University, suggesting the need to overcome strategic differences even while acknowledging the complexities as India seeks to build concomitant ties with other world powers. It is to be hoped that this emphasis, and ongoing engagement between the two leaderships at the highest levels would build further momentum to truly realise a strong India-China partnership for the 21st century.