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Why Northeast matters for India-Japan collaboration in Indo-Pacific

This will include the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge project, which will be the longest river bridge in India when completed, as the third phase of the Northeast Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project.

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New Delhi, Oct 31 : With India’s northeastern region being a pivot area of New Delhi’s Act East Policy, its importance again came into focus during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s annual bilateral summit with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on October on 28-29.

With Modi describing Japan as the cornerstone of India’s Act East Policy and the two countries agreeing to work together in more concrete terms for the development of the Indo-Pacific region, the Northeast has emerged as a key link in this chain.

The Indo-Pacific region stretches from the east coast of Japan to the east coast of Africa and both India and Japan agree that the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) regional bloc has to play a central role for the peace and prosperity of the region.

According to an India-Japan Vision Statement issued following the Tokyo summit, both Modi and Abe “reiterated their unwavering commitment to working together towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“The two leaders also affirmed that Asean unity and centrality are at the heart of the Indo-Pacific concept, which is inclusive and open to all,” it stated.

Under the Act East Policy, the Northeast, which shares historical and traditional bonds with the Asean region, is seen as the springboard for India’s increasing engagements with Southeast Asia and for this New Delhi has roped in Tokyo in a big way.

Japan’s role in development work in the Northeast is also expected to boost connectivity between the member-states of the Bimstec sub-regional grouping.

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec), which came into existence in 1997, comprises seven countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Membership in the bloc allows India to engage more with the extended neighbourhood in Southeast Asia under New Delhi’s Neighbourhood First Policy via northeastern India.

This will also help keep in check China’s growing influence in the region through Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project.

India has not joined the BRI on the grounds that it has put participating nations in debt traps and also does not respect the territorial integrity of other countries.

Last year, India and Japan established the Act East Forum to serve as a driving force for cooperation between the two countries in the Northeast and the second meeting of the Forum was held on October 8 in which key infrastructure projects, including road development, in the region were identified.

“The two Prime Ministers welcomed the progress made for the development of India’s northeastern region through the India-Japan Act East Forum by identifying and implementing projects for enhancing connectivity, sustainable forest and ecological management, disaster risk reduction and people-to-people exchanges,” the Vision Statement said.

At an interaction organised by the New Delhi-based think tank Brookings India ahead of Modi’s visit to Japan, Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu referred to a statement by Modi that Japan is the only country with which India will partner on the connectivity agenda.

Hiramatsu said that India and Japan can not only contribute to some infrastructure project in the Pacific, his country is also keen to support development work in the northeastern part of India.

He said that the Act East Forum was set up to discuss how Japan and India can collaborate together in many areas, including infrastructure, people-to-people exchange and disaster management in the Northeast.

He also mentioned some of the key infrastructure projects in the region identified during the second meeting of the Act East Forum.

These include National Highway 40 between and Shillong and Dawki, National Highway 51 between Tura and Dalu — both in Meghalaya — and National Highway 54 between Aizawl and Tuipang in Mizoram.

The possibility of a corridor linking Gelephu, the border area between Assam and Bhutan, and Dalu, the border town between Bangladesh and Meghalaya, in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is also being explored.

This will include the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge project, which will be the longest river bridge in India when completed, as the third phase of the Northeast Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project.

Development of main district roads (MDRs) and other district roads (ODRs), which will have positive socio-economic effect, is also being considered.

“We are very happy to have connectivity projects together in the Northeast to eventually connect with neighbouring countries like Myanmar or Bangladesh,” Hiramatsu said at the interaction.

Disaster management is another area of cooperation India and Japan are discussing and Hiramatsu said that his country has a lot of experience to share with the Northeast, a region that is prone to floods and earthquakes.

The October 8 Act East Forum meeting decided to expedite Japan’s contribution to resilient infrastructures in the Northeast and through capacity development project on highways in the mountainous regions.

Both sides are also discussing knowledge sharing on the issue through a Japan-India workshop on disaster risk reduction.

Following the October 29 summit in Tokyo, India and Japan also exchanged notes on seven yen loan agreements for key infrastructure projects in India, including two in the Northeast — renovation and modernisation of the Umiam-Umtru Stage-III hydroelectric power station in Meghalaya, and sustainable catchment forest management in Tripura.

Biodiversity conservation and forest management projects in Nagaland and Sikkim are also under consideration.

People-to-people ties also form a key aspect in Japan’s engagement with northeastern India and for this it has been decided to promote Japanese language education in the Northeast.

Gauhati University and Cotton University in Assam, English and Foreign Languages University in Meghalaya, and the National Institute of Technology in Nagaland have expressed interest in this.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Madhya Pradesh farmers hopeful of being ‘debt-free’ as loan waiver scheme kicks-off

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Bhopal, Jan 22 : A week after the launch of the loan waiver scheme in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress government claims 19.54 lakh farmers have filed their applications in the six days till Sunday.

While the opposition BJP has been calling the “Jai Kisan Rin Mukti Yojana” a trick to cheat the farmers, the question is how the farmers of the state perceive the entire exercise.

Kailash Chaudhary, a farmer from Mandsaur district’s Babulda village, said: “About two years ago, six farmers sacrificed their lives for their rights in Pipliya Mandi. This is the beginning of the victory of their fight.”

“Forms are being filled for waiver of loans up to Rs 2 lakh. We feel that the government is taking our demands seriously,” Chaudhary told IANS.

Mandsaur was the centre of farmers’ agitation in 2017 when six farmers were killed in police firing in June, 2017. After the incident, the farmers’ movement had taken over the whole state, which then spread to the whole nation.

Farmer’s leader Kedar Sirohi said: “Farmers in different parts of the state are excited about the loan waiver. They are filing applications in large numbers.”

“To ensure they don’t face any difficulty in filing applications, leaders and workers of farmer organisations are helping them. Government officials is also alert to help out the farmers. Colour coding of application forms has made it easier for farmers to fill out the applications,” he said.

According to official figures, out of the 19.54 lakh forms filed till Sunday, around 60 per cent were green forms, 35 per cent were white forms and 5 percent were pink forms. The farmers are hopeful of becoming debt-free through this exercise.

As per the scheme, the farmers of the Aadhaar seeded list will have to submit green applications and the farmers of non-Aadhar seeded list will have to submit white coloured applications. Farmers have to submit a pink application to file an objection or claim against information provided in the green or white list.

However, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been accusing the Congress of misleading the farmers and terming the scheme a trick to cheat them.

Former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan said the Congress promise of a loan waiver won’t be fulfilled by a mere announcement.

“The Chief Minister (Kamal Nath) and Congress leaders are saying they have fulfilled their promise of loan waiver to the farmers. But the promise has not yet been fulfilled. An announcement does not mean fulfillment of the promise,” he said, adding the Congress was misleading the farmers.

Congress spokesperson Syed Jaffer responded that 55 lakh farmers will get their loans waived of under the scheme, for which the due process needs to be followed.

“No matter what charges the BJP makes, the truth is that farmers are happy and they trust that the Congress is fulfilling the promise that they made to them,” he said.

“Those farmers who are in debt, neither are they now receiving notices from the banks nor is their property being seized. Under BJP rule, farmers had to go to jail and lose their property just for not paying their power bills,” Jaffer told IANS.

Calling the scheme pro-farmer, farmer leader Shiv Kumar Sharma told IANS that political parties were creating doubts about the scheme.

“Farmers were reeling under debt which had increased manifold over the last one-and-a-half decade. Now they are getting waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh. The government is new and one should wait before making adverse comments,” he said.

Kamal Nath had signed the farm loan waiver file soon after taking oath as the Chief Minister. The filing of forms for the waiver started from January 15 and will continue till February 5.

According to the government, farmers will start getting the money in their loan accounts from February 22.

The Chief Minister had said that the scheme would benefit around 55 lakh farmers by waiving their loans worth Rs 50,000 crore.

(Sundeep Pouranik can be contacted at [email protected])

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Entertainment industry is run by a glamorous mafia: Pahlaj Nihalani

Dropping another bomb, Nihalani says he suspects the hands of some big guns in sabotaging “Rangeela Raja”.

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Mumbai, Jan 22 :Govinda, “Rangeela Raja”, Pahlaj Nihalani-backed comeback vehicle for Govinda, did not open well. Nihalani says it is because his film did not get the theatres required as the entertainment industry is run by a “glamorous mafia”.

“I am being targeted for my blunt views on the workings of censor board, and because of me, my leading man Govinda is being targeted. If you ask me, Govinda and I have the maximum number of enemies in the film industry,” Nihalani said.

Lamenting the lack of theatres for “Rangeela Raja”, Nihalani says he was refused a release in places like Bihar and Jharkhand.

“These are traditional strongholds of Govinda. And not a single theatre in Patna or Ranchi agreed to play ‘Rangeela Raja’. Why? Because my film is bad? Are only quality films released in theatres? And who decides that my film is substandard? A handful of critics for whom I did not have a press show, so they are upset with me and they are taking it out on my film,” he said.

Dropping another bomb, Nihalani says he suspects the hands of some big guns in sabotaging “Rangeela Raja”.

“I know who they are. I know the people who want to finish off Govinda and me. The entertainment industry is run by a glamorous mafia. They all sit, eat, sleep and make movies together. Solo producers like me with no corporate backing are being pushed out of the film industry in the name of corporotization,” he said.

But Nihalani says he isn’t going away anywhere.

“I belong to this industry as much as those who are currently monopolising the A-list stars. I will make another film with Govinda and prove he too is an A-list star.”

Nihalani says he has always believed in introducing new talent and will continue to do so.

“I introduced Govinda and Chunky Pandey. In ‘Rangeela Raja’ I’ve introduced Mishika Chourasia. I am confident she has a very bright future. Unless the industry will punish her for being Pahlaj Nihalani’s protege.”

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BenQ launches 4K home cinema projectors in India

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New Delhi, Jan 22 : Taiwanese electronics company BenQ on Tuesday launched two new 4K home cinema projectors — “W2700” and “W5700” — with CinematicColor technology, projector-optimised HDR-PRO support and individual factory colour calibration in India.

The new projectors, “W2700” and “W5700”, priced at Rs 2.49 lakh and Rs 2.99 lakh respectively, are the world’s first 4K home cinema projectors, the company said.

“With this new range of 4K projectors, we are extremely optimistic that these will turn any room into a world-class home theatre with video enhancing technologies,” said Rajeev Singh, Managing Director, BenQ India.

Fuelled by DCI-P3 colour space, “W2700” delivers the highest level of image accuracy while the “W5700” projector provides a 1.6X big zoom along with 2D H/V lens shift that is ideal for audio visual (AV) rooms.

The HDR-PRO supported projectors also incorporate auto colour and tone mapping techniques to offer improved brightness and contrast range along with ideal image optimization for vivid video quality.

Designed with a compact profile, the light weight projectors facilitate tailored AV personalization with versatile short throw, big zoom and lens shift for a wide range of home cinema possibilities, the company said.

The projectors would begin shipping in the first quarter of 2019.

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