Libya shipwreck toll touches 105

UNHCR says 200 people are still missing, feared dead.

In this August 27, 2015 photo, a girl holds a sign at a demonstration by local residents against illegal immigration after hearing news that a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off the coast, in Zuwara, Libya.

At least 105 people have died after a ship carrying hundreds of migrants and refugees sank off the coast of Libya, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent said on Friday.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said as many as 200 people on two boats were feared dead.

“Until now 105 bodies have been retrieved from the sea and 198 people have been rescued,” said Mohammad al-Misrati of the Libyan Red Crescent.

Libya’s coast guard initially said 30 people had died in the disaster that unfolded on Thursday near the western port of Zuwara.

“There are still people missing but we don’t know how many,” Misrati said, adding that the figures of dead and rescued came from the local Red Crescent branch, medical facilities in Zuwara and the Libyan coast guard.

“The boat was in a bad condition and people died with us,” said Ayman Talaal, a Syrian survivor, standing next to his daughter. “We have been forced into this route. It’s now called the grave of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Source: The Hindu

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#2015, #august, #hindu

Secure haven for a terrorist

In an ideal world where the rule of law mattered and geopolitics did not dominate the conduct of international relations, Pakistan would have cooperated in the capture and extradition of Dawood Ibrahim and the criminal and mass murderer would have faced justice in the country of his origin. Instead, in this real world Pakistan persists with its long-pursued policy of “plausible deniability”, refusing to acknowledge the presence of the underworld “kingpin”, let alone responding to accusations that he has been sheltered by the agencies of the state. While he has been absconding from Indian justice after being identified as a key conspirator in the 1993 Mumbai blasts that killed hundreds of people, it has been widely reported that he lives a secured life of comfort in Karachi, among other places. How Ibrahim can live such a life without protection accorded by Pakistan’s security establishment is not an unfathomable mystery. He was after all playing a leading role in Pakistan’s strategy of trying to “bleed India by a thousand cuts”, that it has seemingly followed fervidly in the 1990s.

Much water has flowed down the Indus since then; today Pakistan suffers festering wounds inflicted by its own strategy of terror. There is some degree of realisation among its civilian establishment that the nexus between the security establishment and the jihadi complex has hurt its fledgling democratic institutions. This led to an assertion of civilian supremacy in the latter half of the decade of the 2000s, and a degree of acceptance by the security establishment of the need to do away with military preponderance. But there has been little reorientation in Pakistan’s overall foreign policy towards India, beyond tokenism and a grudging acceptance of a changed world at large that has little tolerance for terrorists and their sponsors. Despite an Interpol Red Corner notice out for him, and notwithstanding the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 that obligates UN members to help apprehend individuals included in a UN sanctions list against the al-Qaeda where Ibrahim’s name figures, there has hardly been any action taken by Pakistan’s state establishment. Indian governments over the years have patiently built a case for his extradition through dossiers submitted to Pakistan. But these have been of no avail, and unsurprisingly so. After all, the most wanted terrorist of the last decade, Osama Bin Laden, was ensconced in a compound in Abbottabad not far from the Pakistan Military Academy campus. “Plausible deniability” did not work with the U.S., as President Barack Obama ordered an operation to take out Bin Laden, showing little regard for Pakistan’s sovereignty. It is to be hoped that the Pakistan government will revisit the lessons learnt and cooperate on the issue of Ibrahim’s extradition. Among other things, such a step will aid in mending the fraught relations between India and Pakistan.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

India, US set to ink pact on terror database

In return, India wants access to Internet-related data from U.S.-based service providers like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, among others.

India could soon get access to a U.S. database of 11,000 terror suspects if the countries sign a pact to exchange information on terrorists, during the Homeland Security dialogue in December. The information would be shared through the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s legal attache at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.

Though some security agencies expressed concern over giving unhindered access to the U.S. on such “sensitive database”, the government is of the view that it would be beneficial in the long run. India is, however, insisting that “privacy issues” be taken care of, and the agreement not be a tool to serve only the interests of the U.S. In return, it wants access to Internet-related data from U.S.-based service providers like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, among others.

Source: The HIndu

#2015, #august, #hindu

Tamil parties to back UNP-SLFP ministry in Sri Lanka

The Eelam People’s Democratic Party and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress together account for three Members of Parliament.

Eelam People’s Democratic Party chief Douglas Devananda (in picture) was part of the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.

Two Tamil parties have pledged support to the proposed national government to be formed by the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) together account for three Members of Parliament.

Leaders of the parties, Douglas Devananda and Arumugan Thondaman, were Cabinet Ministers in the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.

But the EPDP left the United People’s Freedom Alliance and went alone in the recent polls. Even though the CWC remains part of the Alliance, its leader, Mr. Thondaman, identified himself as a follower of President Maithripala Sirisena during the campaign.

#2015, #28, #august, #hindu

Hollow promise of ‘special status’

Given that economic benefits under the ‘Special Category’ status are minimal and have been diluted over the years, States would be better off seeking a special package

A number of States have staked their claim for the ‘Special Category’ status in recent years. The issue has again taken centre stage following the Union Planning Minister Rao Inderjit Singh’s reply to a pointer in the Lok Sabha on July 31, 2015 that the question of granting such status to any State does not arise. The reason given by the Minister was that the Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) had increased the tax devolution to States from 32 per cent to 42 per cent of the divisible pool of central taxes obviating the need for specific categorising. Given the emotive discourse around the demand, understanding the issues involved in it will facilitate a dispassionate stand on the subject both by the Union government and the States.

Under the ‘D.R. Gadgil formula’ for the distribution of central plan assistance, which became operational during the fourth Five Year Plan, the requirements of Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland were to be met first and the balance of central assistance distributed to the remaining States based on certain criteria.

At the time of the formulation of the fifth Five Year Plan, it was decided to include Himachal Pradesh, other Northeastern States and Sikkim in the above category. For the first time, these 10 States were categorised as ‘Special Category States’ to distinguish them from others. Later on, Uttarakhand was accorded the ‘Special Category’.

Traits for categorisation

‘Special Category’ status had been granted in the past by the Union government to States having certain characteristics based on the recommendations of the National Development Council. These included i) hilly terrain; ii) low population density and/or sizeable share of tribal population; iii) strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries; iv) economic and infrastructure backwardness; and v) non-viable nature of State finances.

Under the revised Gadgil-Mukherjee formula, which was in operation till 2014-15, 30 per cent of the normal central assistance was earmarked for ‘Special Category States’ and the remaining 70 per cent to General Category States. ‘Special Category States’ were entitled to get such assistance in the grant-loan ratio of 90:10 as compared with 30:70 ratio for other States.

In addition to their earmarked share in normal central assistance, special plan assistance for projects (90 per cent grant) and untied special central assistance (100 per cent grant) were being given only to ‘Special Category States’. Other benefits to ‘Special Category States’ include assistance for externally-aided projects in the grant-loan ratio of 90:10, whereas such assistance to other States is on back-to-back basis.

Under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), ‘Special Category States’ get 90 per cent of the project cost as grant as compared with 25 per cent grant for others. The matching contribution in respect of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) is usually lower for ‘Special Category States’, more particularly, for those in the Northeastern region.

Though all the ‘Special Category States’ are provided with central incentives for the promotion of industries, there is no explicit linkage between the incentives and the special status. The package of incentives is different for the States of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand and the States located in the Northeastern region. These packages have more to do with their backwardness than the status.

Progressive dilution

Several changes over the years, more particularly those introduced in the Union Budget 2015-16, have resulted in considerable dilution of benefits to the ‘Special Category States’. The loan component of normal plan assistance was dispensed with in 2005-06 and since then such assistance is being given only in the form of grants to all States, including those in the general category. Following this, the share of ‘Special Category States’ in total normal central assistance has been around 56 per cent from 2005-06 onwards. But the share of normal central assistance in total plan assistance, which was the predominant channel of central plan assistance to States, had come down to about 15 per cent with the proliferation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), with resultant dilution of the benefit of untied grants to States. Following the increase in tax devolution to States from 32 to 42 per cent of divisible pool of central taxes, the Centre has dispensed with normal plan assistance, special central assistance and special plan assistance from 2015-16 onwards.

There are very few externally aided projects in the ‘Special Category States’. The Union Budget 2015-16 has drastically reduced the allocations under AIBP from Rs.8,992 crore in 2014-15 to just Rs.1,000 crore. AIBP is now included in the list of schemes to be run with higher matching contribution by States.

The ‘Special Category’ status is not so special anymore following the above changes. The only attraction that remains is the benefit of assistance for externally aided projects (90 per cent grant). But even this will be of limited benefit if any new state is accorded special category for a limited period of five years or so as disbursal of external assistance cannot be substantial in such a limited period. The benefit of lower matching contribution for ‘Special Category States’ for CSS is unlikely to be substantial with the reduction of assistance to State plans by over 40 per cent to Rs.1,96,743 crore in 2015-16.

New criteria

Following the demand for Special Status by Bihar, a committee was appointed under Dr. Raghuram Rajan in 2013. This committee suggested that States classified as ‘Special Category States’ and those seeking inclusion in that category, would find that their need for funds and special attention more than adequately met by a basic allocation to each State and the categorisation of some as ‘least developed’.

Furthermore, it is not politically feasible to consider special status to any new State as any such decision will result in demands from other States and dilute the benefits further. It is also not economically beneficial for States to seek special status as the benefits under the current dispensation are minimal. States facing special problems will be better off seeking a special package.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #27, #august

‘Historic’ is still some way away

larity of thought and brevity of expression are needed to work out a solution to the Naga issue. The government must refrain from claiming success until a final settlement is worked out and implemented for a problem that has lasted six decades

Members of the Naga Students Union of Delhi holds a demonstration at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, demanding that the Union Government speed up the ongoing political negotiations towards a positive solution of the Naga issue. File photo: S. Subramanium

After much initial confusion, it is now clear that the Muivah-Ravi agreement or the Peace Accord of August 3, on the Naga issue, is not a “historic accord” as was originally claimed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues. The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, and the Nagaland Chief Minister, T.R. Zeliang, have now both clarified that it was only a “framework agreement”, which means that it is an agreement to pave the way for a final settlement by laying out the framework on which it will be worked out.

So why the drumbeating that is becoming a signature tune of the government? Why the rush to the media to proclaim something that has not happened? Why call an agreement “historic” when the final agreement is yet to be signed? Why make the claim of there being “significant casualties” in a raid ‘deep inside Myanmar’ when Indian para-commandos only hit two rebel bases, one of them abandoned, and then killed only a few rebels? Jumping the gun is becoming a dangerous habit, something better avoided, especially on sensitive issues like the Naga problem.

The Naga journalist, Bano Haralu, has quipped that if 18 years has only led to a “framework agreement”, it left one wondering how much longer the Nagas and India would have to wait for a final settlement. Her poser: Is it “historic” because this accord has taken the longest to work out? Surely we will need to wait a while because contentious issues still dog the agreement to settle India’s longest running ethnic insurrection. The haze has not yet lifted over many of the contentious issues involved.

Sovereignty and federalism

While Mr. Rijiju told The Hindu recently that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN(I-M) has given up on “Naga sovereignty”, the NSCN’s Thuingaleng Muivah said the opposite on August 14, at the 69th Naga Independence Day in his Hebron headquarters near Dimapur town in Nagaland. The Naga rebel chieftain clarified that the NSCN had never given up on Naga sovereignty. But he clarified that the Indo-Naga final settlement will be based on the concept of “shared sovereignty” because if India recognises the “unique history of the Nagas”, the Nagas should recognise India’s problems and limitations. That spirit of give-and-take is most welcome but should not be misconstrued as a compulsion instead of a choice.

“Shared sovereignty” is not a bad idea because it can take Indian federalism forward to new heights. The Naga settlement can provide a new benchmark to fulfil autonomist aspirations elsewhere in the Republic and actually strengthen the bonds that hold this huge country together, because “shared sovereignty” within the Indian constitutional framework is an acceptance of the multiplicity of the Indian identity as a historical fact. In this subcontinent that straddles the crossroads of Asia, there are many with unique social identitites and who have a unique history and a distinct way of life despite an acceptance of trans-regional religions and an over-arching post-colonial state that many feel is rooted in an ancient civilisation. Yet, there are others who feel that it grew out of the British colonial experience that produced a unique nationalism that was federal in aspiration but unitary in terms of the state structure. A unique federalist solution would mean greater autonomy and more powers to the Naga state (and to other Indian States as well in future), whatever its final territorial shape is. But, Mr. Muivah’s insistence that they have not given up on Nagalim does complicate the scenario.

Regional reactions

The Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, and the Manipur Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, have already issued warnings that they will oppose any final agreement on the Naga issue that has adverse impacts on the interests of their respective States. While there has been a war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress over the Congress Chief Ministers being provoked, the truth is neither Mr. Gogoi nor Mr. Ibobi Singh can accept an accord that will make Nagalim a reality through a territorial reorganisation. So, the Indian government’s interlocutor R.N. Ravi and Mr. Muivah will have to work hard to find a “non-territorial solution” to meet Naga aspirations of unity and one that does not upset neighbouring Assam and Manipur. The “supra-state model” that Mr. Ravi’s predecessor, R.S. Pandey, worked on to provide cultural integration for the Nagas may find its way into a final settlement because a territorial solution will be difficult to sell to stakeholders.

The secrecy surrounding the August 3 accord is understandable because the claims about it do not clearly match what was achieved. So, unlike all the previous accords the Indian government signed — like in Punjab, Assam, Mizoram and, finally, Tripura, between 1985 and 1988 — the August 3 accord was kept under wraps. The signing of the previous accords, many of which I have personally covered as a field journalist, were immediately followed by the text being released to the media and into the public domain. Secrecy only triggers speculation and makes no sense in a democracy like India, where even a “framework agreement” should be subjected to some public debate.

It was a good idea to send a group of Naga elders and lawmakers to Myanmar to speak to the Myanmar Naga rebel leader S.S. Khaplang and get him to accept the agreement. This was a smart move by the Modi administration — instead of outlawing the Khaplang group of NSCN as was initially proposed. But Mr. Khaplang refused to meet them and instead deputed his military wing chief, Niki Sumi, to speak to the visiting delegation. That upset the Modi administration. Now, India has asked Myanmar to hand over Mr. Khaplang and three of his commanders, including Mr. Sumi, to India for their involvement in the ambushes that killed more than two dozen Indian soldiers. In March this year, the Khaplang faction broke the ceasefire with India and is suspected to be behind a series of violent attacks in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh where personnel of the 6 Dogra Regiment were killed in an attack on an Army convoy.

The Myanmar angle

Myanmar, clearly upset with the mindless chest-thumping after the Indian para-commando raids, was trying to help India in facilitating a dialogue with Mr. Khaplang. Myanmar has some stake in India’s quest in finding its own Naga solution because it expects the impact of that to rub off on the Naga areas in Myanmar which the Thein Sein government in Myanmar is trying to control after years of failure. That is something New Delhi was trying to leverage. But now, New Delhi’s move to have Mr. Khaplang and his commanders handed over to stand trial in India makes it difficult for Myanmar. The Thein Sein government signed a ceasefire with Mr. Khaplang’s group in 2012 and it will find it difficult to renege on that unilaterally. Myanmar is facing enough trouble with the Kachins and the Kokangs and would not like to open up a fresh theatre of operations ahead of the Parliament elections in November. These are the country’s first general elections since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, ending nearly 50 years of military rule. Sources in the Myanmar government say it would be best if India can bring Mr. Khaplang back into the dialogue process but that will not be easy partly because he is upset with India signing the deal with Mr. Muivah which gives his bête noire a position of primacy in the Naga movement. Defiant India-baiters like the chief of the military wing of the United Liberation Front of Assam, Paresh Barua, have also been pushing Mr. Khaplang to keep on the road to confrontation.

The trans-national and trans-border nature of the Naga problem has not only helped fuel Naga insurgency for six decades but also complicated the issue, making it difficult for a final settlement to be achieved. The Modi administration must refrain from temptations to claim success for a problem that has defied solution for six decades — surely not until a final settlement is worked out and implemented. Clarity of thought and brevity of expression are needed to work out a solution to India’s longest running ethnic insurrection. Rhetoric is best avoided even if that promises some immediate political mileage. The human rights activist and lawyer Nandita Haksar, who has intimate knowledge of the India-Naga negotiations, is right in saying that the real challenge to a Naga settlement lies in its implementation — not the least because the Nagas are a divided people, on account of the tribal nature of the society, and also because the Indian state has played divide-and-rule to contain the once powerful insurgency. So, the big push that the Modi administration has given to solve this problem is welcome because it gives a sense of urgency to a dialogue that has gone on for too long. But his team must learn to hold fire and not cross bridges before coming to them.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #27, #august

Special category status: PM puts ball in Niti Aayog’s court

Following a one-and-a-half hour meeting between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Tuesday, the Niti Aayog has been entrusted the task of taking a final view on the issue of granting Special Category status to Andhra Pradesh.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters after the meeting that Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya would hold discussions on the matter with State Government officials to reconcile it with the Finance Commission’s recommendations ruling out special category status for any state.

Niti Aayog will take a “final view on this,” he said.

Mr. Jaitley was present along with officials of his ministry and Niti Aayog vice-chairman at the PM’s meeting with Mr Naidu.

Mr. Jaitley said further implementation of all the commitments made in the AP Reorganisation Act was the agenda of the meeting. These commitments are specific to Andhra Pradesh under sections 46, 90 and 94 of the Act.

He said that each of these sections was discussed in detail and the Prime Minister was of the clear view that whatever was in the Act would be given to the State. The vice-chairman of Niti Aayog has been asked to be in touch with the State Government and prepare a road map for each of the provisions, he added.

Before his meeting with Mr. Modi, the Chief Minister had confabulations with Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the former’s residence.

Later talking to newsmen, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu urged political parties not to politicise the issue of special category status for Andhra Pradesh for it would not benefit the people nor the State.

He said that as there are similar demands from other States, the Centre was making all attempts to find a solution. No doubt, injustice has been done to Andhra Pradesh during bifurcation, he added.

Mr. Singh said the Centre was keen to quickly sort out the issues arising out of the AP Reorganisation Act so that AP and Telangana could fully concentrate on development.

Pointing out that the Home Ministry was the nodal ministry for implementing the AP Reorganisation Act, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu said he had requested Mr. Singh to ensure that to ensure that all its provisions were enforced.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august