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Malaysia keen to operate direct flights to Kashmir Valley

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Srinagar, Nov 19 : Malaysian High Commissioner to India Dato Hidayat Abdul Hamid on Monday said that Malaysia is keen to start direct tourist flights to Kashmir.

The high commissioner told officials that Malaysian Airlines is eager to increase flights to India and also have direct flights to Kashmir to boost tourist flow from Malaysia to this place.

He visited the famous ski resort, Gulmarg, on Monday.

An official spokesman said the high commissioner was “highly impressed” with the beauty of Kashmir Valley.

“Malaysians who visit India are very keen to come to Kashmir and an improved connectivity would help a lot,” the spokesman quoted the high commissioner as saying.

The spokesman said in addition to Gulmarg, the high commissioner also visited the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar city.

Hamid said Malaysians are visiting Kashmir Valley in good numbers as they love the place.

The high commissioner on Monday concluded his three-day visit to the valley.

IANS

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US bill over reciprocity of access to Tibet awaits Trump’s signature

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Chicago, Dec 13 : The unanimous passage of a bill that insists on reciprocity between the US and China over travel access to Tibet is seen as a clear message that the US Congress is sending to Beijing about the situation in Tibet.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which deals with “the level of access Chinese authorities granted US diplomats, journalists, and tourists to Tibetan areas in China”, seeks to deny admission to Chinese officials who prevent Americans from visiting Tibet.

It says, “The State Department shall report to Congress annually, identifying individuals who were blocked from US entry during the preceding year and a list of Chinese officials who were substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies to restrict the access of US diplomats, journalists, and citizens to Tibetan areas.”

The bill now awaits signature by President Donald Trump to become law. Its passage was a result of a nearly four years of efforts by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other Tibetan groups under the leadership of ICT chair and Hollywood star Richard Gere, a passionate activist and a committed Buddhist, as well as its president Matteo Mecacci.

Asked how optimistic he is about Trump signing the bill into law, especially at a time when his administration is engaged in a tense trade war with Beijing, Mecacci told IANS in an interview via email, “The overwhelming support shown by the US Congress for this bill, which passed unanimously both in the House and the Senate, is sending a very clear message to the Chinese government that the American people care deeply about the situation inside Tibet, and are concerned about the isolation that China has imposed.”

He said this bill is about the “principle of reciprocity that complements the Trump Administration’s policy”. “The State Department has also conveyed, during a hearing in the Senate, that it shares the goals of the bill and will implement it. We are confident that President Trump will take all these elements into account, when it comes to signing the bill into law,” Mecacci said.

On how, once it becomes law, it might impact US-China relations in the specific context of Tibet, he said, “The State Department, which on December 4 expressed official support for the goals of the legislation and plans to implement it, will have to assess the level of access to Tibet for American citizens and identify the Chinese officials who are responsible for blocking access, and eventually denying them visas to the United States.

“This is about reciprocity and fairness, and it is very important that the United States challenges China’s policy not only on trade or economic issues, but also on civil and human rights, such us freedom of movement, freedom of information and the rule of law,” he said.

President Trump has not been known to pay particular attention to Tibet. It is questionable whether he is aware of the historic complexities of the problem. Given that, it has not been clear how he might approach the bill waiting for his signature.

However, Mecacci is optimistic. “As I mentioned, the US Administration has been following this bill very closely and supports its goals. In general, the Trump Administration has already issued a report on the status of Tibet negotiations in May 2018 in which it has outlined its position on the Tibetan issue.”

On whether the bill may become a sort of political football in the trade dispute, he said, “This legislation was introduced in Congress well before the beginning of the Trump Administration and of the trade dispute with China. For decades, the US Congress and US Administrations have supported the aspiration of the Tibetan people to a better life. This will continue beyond a trade dispute. Since it is about American interest, we do not see how this can be impacted by the trade dispute.”

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Taj Mahal entry fee hiked by Rs 200

Visitors who buy the Rs. 50 ticket would not be allowed to enter the main mausoleum, but would be able to move around the Taj and see the rear side, the Yamuna river front at the back.

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Agra, Dec 10: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Monday enforced a new ticketing system for the Taj Mahal, aimed at reducing increasing human impact on the fragile 17th-century white marble marvel.

Vasant Kumar Swarnkaar, the ASI chief in Agra, said the new ticketing system came into effect from Monday morning.

According to the ASI, visitors will now have to shell out an extra Rs 200 to enter the main mausoleum with the graves of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Earlier, the domestic tourists were initially paying only Rs 50 only.

Now, the visitors who buy the Rs. 50 ticket would not be allowed to enter the main mausoleum, but would be able to move around the Taj and see the rear side, the Yamuna river front at the back.

Foreign visitors will also need to buy the Rs 200 ticket in addition to the Rs 1,100 entrance fee.

The visitors from SAARC countries will have to pay Rs. 740 instead of Rs. 540.

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute had originally suggested two tickets, to help reduce the number of visitors to the main structure.

The tourism industry has not appreciated the increase, fearing this step could hit arrivals.

The Taj Mahal is considered one of the finest specimen of the Mughal architecture.

In 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

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Beside comfort and high speed, India’s Train 18 also to be fire-proof

“As compared to steel coaches these coaches are more durable and due to light weight these trains easily accelerate and decelerate.”

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Train 18

Train 18, developed indigenously by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF), offers not only a fast and comfortable mode of transport. The engineless train also provides safety to passengers as its coaches are fitted with fire-resistance fibre composites.

“The interiors of the coach have been made up of composite materials, which are fire resistant,” ICF General Manager Sudhanshu Mani told IANS over phone from Chennai.

He said the interiors were manufactured in the country and the ICF gave sourced the fibre-reinforced plastics (FRP) from manufacturers in Chennai. “After the manufacturers delivered the FRP materials, it was fitted into the Train 18 at the ICF plant in Chennai,” he said.

The ICF General Manager said that all the panels inside the Train 18 coaches are built with composite material.

A senior railway ministry official said that the FRP has been used in the Train 18 sets to make it more power efficient and light weight which enable the train to move faster as compared to other train sets currently in service in India.

The official pointed out that the FRP materials are very light as compared to those made of steel and aluminium.

Train 18 is currently undergoing trials under the supervision of Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Lucknow. It has successfully completed the trial upto a speed of 180 kmph.

The official said that Train 18, which is self-propelled on electric traction like metro trains, will start replacing the existing train fleet of the Shatabdi Express next year.

As per the railway ministry plans, the ICF will make six such train sets, out of which two will have sleeper coaches.

The new train has a number of features to enhance passenger comfort which include inter-connected fully-sealed gangways, automatic doors with retractable footsteps, onboard Wi-Fi and infotainment, GPS-based passenger information system, modular toilets with bio-vacuum systems, rotational seats which can be aligned in the direction of travel (available only in the executive class), roller blinds and diffused LED lighting, and disabled-friendly toilets.

Pavwan Droliaa, Managing Director of Asterix Reinforced Limited which manufactures composite materials, said that the material used inside Train 18 coaches not only makes it light but also improves its power efficiency.

“As a lightweight, high-strength, environment-friendly product, it helps in reducing the overall weight of the train coach by about 50 per cent as compared to any other train coaches,” he said.

Explaining the advantages of the composite material in the Train 18 coaches, he said that it also gives freedom of design, to make all kinds of interior and exterior parts and it also allows use of aerodynamic exterior parts, to reduce the energy consumption of the train.

He said that in case of fire these composite components do not generate poisonous gases, collapse, or spread molten material or droplets, thus keeping escape ways open for passengers to get out.

A Selvam, Executive Secretary at FRP Institute in Chennai, said over phone said that the composite material helps in reducing the maintenance costs of the railways.

He pointed out that the Indian Railways has started using modular toilets in the train made up of composites. Selvam also said that the composite material can be used for making high strength seats for train coaches.

Selvam pointed out that the composite material also aid in the dampening of vibration to reduce noise levels and improve passenger comfort.

He said, “As compared to steel coaches these coaches are more durable and due to light weight these trains easily accelerate and decelerate.”

“The composite material can also help in reducing a number of small parts as these are combined and moulded into a single piece,” Selvam added.

(Anand Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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