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Indian farmers get $9bn loan relief ahead of elections

Three newly elected Indian state governments have waived up to $8.6 billion in farm loans in a bid by Rahul Gandhi´s main opposition Congress party to boost support ahead of 2019 elections. The sorry plight of farmers in India, where thousands commit suicide every year, is set to be a major issue in the polls when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will run for a second term.

Last week Congress wrested power from Modi´s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three state elections, partly by promising the help voters working in agriculture.

Late Wednesday the new government of one of these states, Rajasthan, announced a write-off on loans of small farmers up to 200,000 rupees ($2,850), at an estimated cost of $2.5 billion.

The two other states, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where Congress ended 15 years of BJP rule, announced similar plans this week to forgo loans worth nearly 440 billion rupees.

The move signals Congress´s intent to latch on the growing disquiet in rural areas, where 68 percent of India´s 1.25 billion people live, against Modi, 68.

“It´s done!,” Gandhi, 48, whose standing was boosted by the state election successes, said on Twitter. “We asked for 10 days. We did it in 2.”

Modi swept to power in 2014 largely on promises of improving lives of poor, ending corruption, boosting the economy and more jobs.

But tens of thousands of farmers have rallied in recent months — including 80,000 in New Delhi this month — over his government´s failure to mitigate their problems.

Modi had pledged to double farm income by 2022 but most say nothing has changed. His opponents accuse him of being pro-rich and ignoring the plight of millions of poor farmers.

Political parties often promise farm loan waivers or other agricultural sops to win support in rural India.

Roughly 55 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, making the community the largest voting bloc.

The agriculture sector accounts for around 15 percent of India´s economic output.

But nearly 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in the last two decades, as drought — or flooding — poor yields and low prices push them into a cycle of debt and despair.

Two BJP state governments in 2017 announced similar packages for farmers worth 770 billion rupees but Modi´s government ruled out a similar nationwide amnesty plan in July.

But recent media reports suggest that Modi´s government may reconsider and announce a multi-trillion dollar relief package in the run up to the elections, which are due by May.

The previous Congress-led alliance in 2008 promised a nationwide farm loan waiver of more than 700 billion rupees, helping it win a second term in office in 2009.

Three Indian-origin students make it to time magazine’s 25 most influential teens of 2018

Three Indian-origin students have been named among the 25 most influential teens of 2018 by Time magazine for making a mark across numerous fields.

Indian-American Kavya Kopparapu, Rishab Jain, and British-Indian Amika George are among the group who have become inspirations for youngsters across the world due to their spectacular achievements through their work and passion.

Rishabh, an eighth grader, who has developed an algorithm that can possibly be a cure to pancreatic cance ..

Amika George’s goal is to convince policymakers to end “period poverty,” as she calls it, by funding the distribution of menstrual products to girls and women who cannot afford them.

“It really upsets me,” she tells the magazine of learning that many girls in the UK were routinely missing school during their periods because they could not afford to buy menstrual products.

Indian journalist jailed after Modi facebook post

An Indian journalist has been jailed for a year after he criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook, in the latest example of what critics claim is a clampdown on free speech.

Kishorechandra Wangkhem was arrested last month in the remote northeastern state of Manipur under a draconian law that allows authorities to detain anyone for up to a year without trial.

The 39-year-old television journalist is accused of posting an “inflammatory” social media video in November, in which he accused Modi and state chief minister Biren Singh’s government of promoting rightwing Hindu ideology in the region.

Local media said he called Singh a “puppet” of Modi and of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hard-line Hindu group and ideological mentor of Modi’s ruling party. Authorities said the arrest was made to “prevent him from acting in any matter prejudicial to the security of the state”.

Police had initially detained him on charges of sedition but he secured bail from a local court, which castigated him for using indecent language. He was re-arrested days later under the stringent National Security Act before a government panel approved his year-long detention on Thursday.

Wangkhem’s family is expected to challenge the detention. Several Indian journalist unions have condemned his arrest and demanded his release. At least a dozen people have been arrested across the country this year over similar social media posts against Modi.

Last month a teacher was arrested in the neighboring state of Assam after he compared Modi to a “dog.” Divya Spandana, social media chief for the main Congress opposition party, was charged with sedition in September.

She had tweeted a meme that showed an altered image of Modi’s wax statue with a placard emblazoned with “thief”. In July, Reporters Without Borders warned of deteriorating press freedom in the world’s largest democracy and the targeting of critics of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

India ranked 138th in the World Press Freedom Index run by RSF, trailing countries like Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Many journalists have faced increased harassment or even violence since Modi came to power in 2014.

Indian youth who ‘mistakenly’ entered Pakistan sent back home

Pakistan on Wednesday handed over an Indian youth, who had inadvertently crossed the border, to the authorities on the other side of the border.

Punjab Rangers Punjab returned Santoshi Deochand, 21, to the Border Security Force (BSF), along-with sweets, clothes and shoes as a goodwill gesture.

Deochand, who hails from Madhopur area of Indian Bihar state, had mistakenly crossed Pak-India border near Kheem Karan few months ago.

Pakistan Rangers had shared details of the youth with the Indian authorities to ascertain his identity. Deochand was returned as soon as his details were confirmed.

On Tuesday, Hamid Nehal Ansari, an Indian who illegally crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan in 2012 and was convicted for spying and forging documents in 2015, walked into India, days after conclusion of his punishment as his mother thanked Pakistan government for the ‘goodwill gesture’.

According to a list issued in July this year, as many as 357 inmates belonging to Pakistan are languishing in Indian jails. These comprise of 249 civilians and 108 fishermen.

Similarly, there are some 471 Indians imprisoned in Pakistan, 53 of whom are civilians, while 418 are fishermen.


Indian teenager donates deceased mother’s organs, saves five lives

A 17-year-old boy from Pune decided to donate his mother’s organs after she was declared brain dead. His donation saved five other lives, Hindustan Times reported on Wednesday.

The teenager was counselled by hospital authorities after which he felt compelled to carry out the deed which became a boon for other survivors.

“It was the hospital’s first organ donation. After the donor was declared brain dead, we counselled her 17-year-old son about the benefits of organ donation and saving the lives of others. The youngster in-turn agreed to donate the organs of his mother, ” shared a correspondent from the Columbia hospital.

Columbia hospital reached out to other hospitals after which five patients in need of organ transplants were identified and assisted.

One heart transplant, one liver transplant, two separate kidney transplants and one cornea transplant were performed in five different hospitals.

Dr Viju Rajan, general manager, HV Desai Hospital, said, “As a special tribute, our team lined up to perform the walk of respect and gave the organ donor guard of honour. It was the brave heart son who decided to let his mother live through this act.”

Indian spy repatriated after six-year imprisonment in Pakistan

Hamid Nehal Ansari, an Indian who illegally crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan in 2012 and was convicted for spying and forging documents in 2015 walked into India on Tuesday, days after conclusion of his punishment as his mother thanked Pakistan government for the ‘goodwill gesture’.

Ansari, who was held in Peshawar jail for six years, had filed a petition with the Peshawar High Court in Nov 2017 requesting that he must not be treated as a spy as he was not involved in anti-state activities.

He had told court officials that he came to see a woman in northern Pakistan he befriended on Facebook, his lawyer Qazi Muhammad Anwar said. But police were waiting for him at the woman’s house and arrested him on the spot, he added.

Ansari returned through the Wagah border crossing between Lahore and northern India’s Amritsar city on Tuesday afternoon. An AFP photojournalist at the border crossing said Ansari was received by his waiting family members on the Indian side of the frontier.

Local media showed Ansari hugging his mother and bowing to touch his head to the ground after crossing over to India. Ansari and his family were escorted away by local security officials before they could speak with the waiting journalists.

Speaking to Express News over telephone from India’s Attari area, Ansari’s mother Fauzia thanked the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government for the goodwill gesture. She said the entire family was eagerly awaiting Ansari’s return for the last six years.

Fauzia said the family did not celebrate any occasion during these six years and even wedding of Ansari’s elder brother Khalid was postponed after the latter refused to tie the knot in his brother’s absence.

She thanked the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan for repatriating her son only three days after completing his sentence. Ansari’s mother also urged the Indian government to reciprocate the goodwill gesture and release all those Pakistanis who have completed their prison terms in India.

Leopard kills, decapitates 3-year-old in India

The headless body of a three-year-old boy snatched from his home by a leopard in India was handed over to his parents on Tuesday, wildlife officials said.

Wasim Akram was in the kitchen with his mother when the animal snuck inside, pounced on the child and took him deep into the woods, officials said.

Local officials in the northern state of Indian occupied Kashmir have sought “elimination orders” from the state government.

It was the third such killing blamed on the leopard in the last two months, including an eight-year-old boy mauled to death in the area on December 7.

In the meantime, a team of wildlife officials equipped with tranquiliser guns have been scouring the area to spot the animal.

“The leopard was spotted this morning but we could not trap it,” Jammu regional wildlife warden Tahir Ahmad Shawl told AFP.

Wildlife authorities have also issued advice for people in the area to stay safe from animal attacks.

“This is a forested area and humans have entered into their (animals’) habitat and not the other way round. Therefore these incidents happen,” Shawl said.

Official estimates suggest there are between 12,000 and 14,000 leopards in India.

An estimated 431 leopards were killed in 2017, according to government figures. Most were killed by poachers for their hides and body parts.

Urban expansion has reduced their numbers as forest habitats shrink, bringing them into closer contact — and conflict — with humans.

There are no figures on the number of humans killed by leopards, but experts say there are hundreds of deaths each year.

Last week a Buddhist monk was killed by a leopard while meditating in a forest in the western state of Maharashtra, the fifth such attack in the area this month.

India’s Modi gives $1.4 billion aid to Maldives amid worry over its China debt

India will give financial assistance of $1.4 billion to the Maldives, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday, the biggest aid yet to the Indian Ocean island nation that is grappling with debt from a Chinese building spree.

Modi made the announcement after talks with Maldives’ new president, Mohamed Ibrahim Solih, who defeated the pro-China strongman Abdulla Yameen in a surprise election result in October and is trying to reset ties with India.

During a five-year construction boom in the Maldives, China built a sea bridge connecting the capital, Male, to the main airport and is developing the airport itself, as well as building housing on land reclaimed from the sea.

But the fast-paced building activity has stoked fears that the Maldives has loaded up on debt that could be anything from $1.5 billion to more than $3 billion.

Solih’s administration has said it is trying to find out just how much the country of 400,000 people owes China.

Modi said India stood ready to help the Maldives as a close friend and neighbour.

“For Maldives’ social and economic development we are providing a financial assistance of $1.4 billion in the form of budgetary support, currency swap agreements and concessional lines of credit,” he said during a brief media appearance with Solih.

Both India and China have been trying to build regional influence in the Maldives and other Indian Ocean countries such as Sri Lanka that lie along vital shipping lanes.

Soon after he took over last month, Solih said state coffers had been looted over the past few years and warned that the country was in financial difficulty after racking up debt with Chinese lenders.

Solih said the Maldives and India had signed agreements to cooperate on trade, health and defence. India would help improve Maldives’ security through joint patrols as well as aerial surveillance, officials said.

India’s big worry has been that China’s expansive diplomacy in the region was aimed at securing an outpost on an island in the Maldives.

Modi said he had discussed regional security with Solih and both had agreed not to allow each other’s territory to be used against the other.

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