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Analysis

Missing several deadlines, Railways’ freight corridor project sets new target

According to a CAG report in 2014, “the delay in completing the project was mainly due to lack of proper planning and implementation” which has resulted in cost escalation from Rs 281.81 billion in 2008 to Rs 814.59 billion.

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New Delhi, May 4 : Failing several times to meet its deadlines, Indian Railways has yet again set a new target of April 2020 for commissioning of the 3,342-km Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) along its trunk routes.

Moving at a snail’s pace, the ambitious Rs 814 billion project had got the Union Cabinet’s green signal way back in 2006 and since then it has not been able to meet completion schedules so far due to various reasons, including procedural wrangles, land acquisition, environment clearances and other related issues.

The project, comprising the Eastern and Western corridors, aims to speed up the movement of freight while easing the congested routes for passenger traffic.

The targeted completion of the project was 2016-17, shifted to the year-end of 2017-18 and now has finally been set at April 2020.

Admitting to delays because of many issues, a senior Railway Ministry official involved with the project said: “Both the corridors are to be commissioned by April 2020 as most of the problems are now being resolved.”

According to a CAG report in 2014, “the delay in completing the project was mainly due to lack of proper planning and implementation” which has resulted in cost escalation from Rs 281.81 billion in 2008 to Rs 814.59 billion.

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According to CAG estimates, there was a Rs 44.52 billion increase in the land cost by 2014 itself.

However, the official said: “Now the land acquisition is almost complete and significant contracts related to civil and electrical works and signalling have been awarded, resulting in the works being speeded up.”

The project is crucial for Indian Railways as it faces a stiff competition from the road sector for goods movement. The shifting of goods from roads to rail will also save precious fossil fuel which will be a boon for the environment.

Since the progress of the project is now being closely monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) has finalised a series of target dates for partial commissioning of the corridors in limited sections.

For the Western DFC, the target of commissioning the Rewari-Marwar section (432 km) is February 2019, the Marwar-Palanpur section (207 km) is September 2019 and the Palanpur-Makarpur section (308 km), the Makarpura-Vaitran section (313 km) and the Rewari-Dadri section (127 km) is March 2020.

For the Eastern DFC, the new targets are Khujra-Bhaupur section (343 km) by November 2018, the Bhaupur-Mughalsarai section (402 km) by August 2019, the Sonnagar-Mughalsarai section (126 km) by October 2019, the Khurja-Dadri section (46 km) by December 2019 and the Pilkhani-Sahnewal section (179 km) March 2020.

The 1,840km Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor from Ludhiana to Dankuni near Kolkata traverses Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

The 1,502 km Western Dedicated Freight Corridor from Dadri (Uttar Pradesh) to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (Navi Mumbai) passes through Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The corridors are expected to greatly contribute towards the economic development of the states they traverse as well as help ease the traffic load on the existing Indian Railways network.

“Steps are being taken to make operational part of the Western corridor and a part of the Eastern corridor by November this year,” the official said.

By Arun Kumar Das

(Arun Kumar Das is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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