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Objections from Sri Lanka
It is not just in India that the project has been a cause for concern but in Sri Lanka as well. The island nation has raised its concerns about the project and its likely trans-frontier impact on the island’s environment as well as the livelihood of its fishermen.
A modelling exercise carried out by Sri Lanka’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) indicated that the project would increase the water flow from the Bay of Bengal to the Gulf of Mannar, disturbing the inland water balance as well as the eco-systems in the Gulf.
Ram Sethu: A matter of faith
Hindus, the world over, believe that the stretch of limestone shoals between Dhanushkody near Rameswaram and Mannar in north-west Sri Lanka are the remains of an ancient bridge built by Lord Rama, as described in the holy epic, Ramayana.
Many international Hindu organisations have come together and formed the Ram Sethu Bachao Andolan (RSBA) to raise awareness about the project as well as stop the government from executing it. They say the destruction of the Ram Sethuwill hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus across the world.
It is not for us to pass judgment on the existence or authenticity of the existence of the Ram Sethu. The battle between faith and science is centuries-old and the current issue is only an episode in such a battle.
In this context, let me quote P. V. Indresan, former Director of IIT, Madras: “Everyone is agreed that the battle is between scientific attitude and faith. As Francis Bacon argued nearly 500 years ago, the scientific spirit requires that we accept nothing as true unless it can be verified by experiment. Karl Popper goes on to say that the purpose of scientific enquiry is to disprove a hypothesis, not buttress it. As Thomas Kuhn has explained, science re-writes its textbooks all the time.
In stark contrast, religious texts are sacred; they are unalterable. Science holds a hypothesis untrue if it does not satisfy even one out of a hundred conditions. For the faithful, belief is sanctified even if it comes true only once in a thousand times.”
In post-Independence India, several large projects, launched with lofty aims, have been shelved, postponed, or simply stalled due to their controversial nature. It is a fact that the social and economic costs of mega projects (like big dams) have been found to be far higher than the benefits they provide. The Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project should not go the same way. Let me conclude with a reiteration: that in matters of faith, discretion is the better part of appeasement.
Landmark child protection bill passed
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which was passed by the Lok Sabha puts in place several children friendly measures to be followed during investigation and trial of cases pertaining to child sex abuse.
In cases of heinous sexual offences against children, the new legislation shifts the burden of proof on the accused, the Women and Child Development Ministry, which got the legislation passed, said.
“For the more heinous offences of Penetrative Sexual Assault, Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault, Sexual Assault and Aggravated Sexual Assault, the burden of proof is shifted on the accused. This provision has been made keeping in view the greater vulnerability and innocence of children,” the ministry said.
As per the other child friendly procedures under the new law, the recording of statement of the victim has to be done at the residence of the child or at the place of his choice, preferably by a woman police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. As per the legislation no child will be detained at the police station in the night for any reason. It also says that the police officer concerned should not be in a uniform while recording the statement of the child, the ministry said.
According to the new legislation, the statement of the child should be recorded as spoken by the child with the assistance of an interpreter or translator or an expert as per the need of the child. Medical examination of the child should be conducted in the presence of the parent of the child or any other person in whom the child has trust or confidence. In case the victim is a girl child, the medical examination shall be conducted by a woman doctor, the ministry said.
The law also stipulates frequent breaks for the child during the trial. The child cannot be called repeatedly to testify and aggressive questioning or character assassination of the child is not allowed. As per the new Act, trial in cases of a sexual offence against children would be held in-camera and attempt to commit an offence under the Act and abetment of such acts are also punishable.
To prevent misuse of the law false complaints have also been made punishable. While such punishment has been kept to a relatively light six months to encourage reporting, if false complaint is made against a child, punishment is one year imprisonment, the ministry said. Sexual offences are currently covered under different sections of IPC and the IPC does not provide for all types of sexual offences against children and also does not distinguish between adult and child victims, the WCD ministry said.
India goes into overdrive, extends U.S.$500 mn credit line to Myanmar
Embarking on a “new journey” of bilateral cooperation, India extended a U.S.$500 million line of credit as part of 12 agreements on sectors like trade and energy signed with Myanmar, which vowed that its territory will not be allowed to be used by terrorists to target India.
Marking a historic visit to Myanmar, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 25 years, Dr Manmohan Singh held extensive talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein, drawing up a roadmap for future course of bilateral ties.
After their talks, the two countries signed a raft of agreements to boost energy supplies from resource-rich Myanmar to energy-hungry India, enhance trade and cross-border rail, shipping and road links that go beyond bilateralism to coverThailand.
Dr Singh held restricted talks with President Sein and then the two leaders led their sides to a larger format of discussions that saw them undertaking a comprehensive review of the bilateral ties and outlining a roadmap for the future.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Export-Import Bank of India and Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank, India will extend to Myanmar a concessional credit line of U.S.$500 million which will be utilised in infrastructure development projects, including in agriculture, irrigation, rail transport and power in Myanmar.
During the meeting, Dr Singh also announced an annual assistance of U.S.$25 million over the next five years for all-round economic development of border areas in Naga Self Administered Zone and Chin province of Myanmar bordering north-eastern Indian states of Nagaland and Mizoram.
India believes the developmental needs of Myanmar’s border areas will go a long way in addressing Indian security concerns as several north-eastern Indian insurgent groups, including ULFA, NSCN (K), operate out of the territory of Myanmar.
Parliament celebrates 60th anniversary
Concern over repeated disruptions that have raised questions over the efficacy of Parliament’s functioning marked the 60th anniversary of its first sitting in free India with leaders pressing for sincere introspection to restore the dignity of the institution. A function was held in the central hall of Parliament where four members of the first Parliament were honoured.
Cutting across party lines, leaders asserted that supremacy of Parliament must be preserved, holding that laws are made by it and not mobs, apparently a reference to civil society campaign against Parliamentarians while pressing for setting up of Lokpal.
The leaders took pride in the fact that India has managed to hold on to democracy and was a shining example in the world despite many pressing problems like acute poverty, sustained terrorism, and hiccups for democracy in the neighbourhood.
There were some cynical voices which referred to similar resolutions passed on the occasion of 50th anniversary of India’s independence when a vow was taken not to resort to disruptions.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who set the tone for introspection as he flagged concerns in the Rajya Sabha over repeated disruptions and unwillingness for discussions, pressed for substantive and sincere introspection. Winding up a day-long discussion in the Lok Sabha marking the 60th year of the first sitting of Parliament, he said public disenchantment is bound to rise if parties fail to collectively resolve to restore prestige of the institution.
“The daily routine of disruptions, adjournments and shouting in the House are leading many outside to question the efficacy of this institution and its place in public affairs,” the Prime Minister said. Appealing to members to write a new chapter and restore to it the sense of dignity and decorum of Parliament, he said every MP should lead by example to restore the prestige of this institution. “We need to resolve that the Rules of Procedure and conduct that we have collectively evolved would be honoured in letter and spirit,” he said.
While asking the country to reject those who mock the institutions of democracy, he admitted that many people often feel frustrated by the disruption of Parliament and “in our own way, each one of us shares the blame for this state of affairs”. He said, “We are not a perfect democracy but we are a functioning democracy with mechanisms and safeguards that allow for the reconciliation of diverse interests and differences. It is the vitality and vibrancy of our democracy that keeps the nation united and moving on the path of progress,” he said.
The CPI(M) utilised the occasion to press for a combination of proportional representation system along with the ‘first past the post’ adopted by India in elections, contending that no government at the Centre had commanded more than 50 per cent of the polled votes in the last 60 years.
MPs resolve to uphold, maintain dignity
Members of Parliament resolved to uphold and maintain its dignity, sanctity and supremacy to make it an effective instrument of change and strengthen the democratic values and principles.
Members of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha also resolved to enhance the accountability of Government towards people through Parliament’s oversight and rededicate themselves in the sacred task of nation building and noted that a lot more needs to be accomplished.
The resolution, climaxing the day-long debate marking the 60th anniversary of the first sitting of Parliament, moved by Speaker Meira Kumar and Chairman Hamid Ansari, was adopted unanimously by members by voice vote.
“We, the members...do hereby solemnly reaffirm our total and abiding commitment to the ideals cherished by our founding fathers, and resolve:
(a) to uphold and maintain the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of Parliament; (b) to make Parliament an effective instrument of change and to strengthen democratic values and principles;(c) to enhance the accountability of the Government towards the people through the oversight of Parliament, and; (d) to rededicate ourselves completely to the sacred task of Nation Building,” the resolution read.
Members also acknowledged with satisfaction and pride the maturity of the people of India who have cherished the democratic values and worked ceaselessly for the unity and integrity of the nation.
They also noted that in the last 60 years, Parliament had through epoch-making laws, taken decisive steps towards ensuring equity and justice in all matters for establishing an inclusive society in pursuance of the deep faith and commitment to ideals enshrined in the Constitution.
U.S.-China détente strengthens despite human rights hiccups
Notwithstanding the row over a blind Chinese dissident, China and the U.S. have struck 67 agreements during their crucial economic dialogue covering a wide range of issues relating to trade and investment. The two sides gained “significant” results out of the dialogue attended by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While China has vowed to open up its financial market more to foreign investors, the U.S. will quicken its examination and approval for Chinese financial institutions that apply to invest in America.
During the course of the dialogue, both sides sorted out the row over blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who had sought refuge in America, with Beijing agreeing to let him leave the country and Washington assuring him all assistance to get asylum. The U.S. has also agreed to provide him a fellowship to study in American University.
Both delegations said they were deeply encouraged by the results of their dialogue, while President Hu Jintao said there have been “significant agreements” in this round of talks. The two countries reached 67 agreements in the economic dialogue, covering a wide range of issues in the macro economy, bilateral trade and investment as well as financial cooperation.
The U.S. is now quickening its examination and approval process on the Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China’s applications for opening more branches in the U.S. and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s initiative to take over Bank of East Asia (U.S.). In 2010, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest lender by market value, completed the acquisition of a 70% stake of Bank of East Asia Canada to expand its business in North America.
China will revise regulations to allow foreign investors to raise their stakes in joint venture securities companies and joint venture futures companies to as much as 49 per cent. Foreign investors’ ownership in securities firms is capped at 33 per cent.
India fires Agni V, joins elite club
India took a giant leap in fortifying its strategic capability by successfully test-firing its nuclear capable Agni-V Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a strike range of 5,000 km, bringing China and the neighbouring region under its cover. With this, India joined the elite missile club of the U.S., Russia, France, and China.
The surface-to-surface Agni-V is capable of striking a target more than 5,000 km away. It is about 17-metres-long and two-metres-wide with launch weight of around 50 tonnes. The sophisticated missile can carry a nuclear warhead of more than one tonne.
India has at present in its armoury of Agni series, Agni 1 with 700 km range, Agni 2 with 2,000 km range, Agni 3 and Agni 4 with 2,500 km to more than 3,500 km range.
Unlike other missiles of indigenously built Agni series, the latest one - Agni V - is the most advanced version having several new technologies incorporated in it in terms of navigation and guidance, warhead and engine.
DRDO plans to conduct more such tests of the missile over the next one year after studying and analysing the parameters achieved in each subsequent trial.
Barring some electronic components, the Agni V was a completely indigenous product, the DRDO chief V. K. Saraswat said.
The DRDO chief said that his organisation was working on a very tight time schedule when it came to production and deployment of the missile.
The DRDO chief also said that India had made a lot of progress in missile technology following which it was no longer susceptible to blackmail by others.”When I said 80%, the propelling system, the rocket motors, the composite rocket motors, the propellants, the control system elements, onboard computers, mission computers, all these software, complete mission software are part of indigenous development exercise. That gives us the required strength that nobody can now blackmail us as far as this technology is concerned,” he said.