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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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shinzo abe modi

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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Enhancing employability for young Indians: Lessons for policymakers, academics

What can we do to improve the quality of millions of graduates coming out of India’s education system? How can India convert millions of “degree flaunting” millennials into employable young men and women?

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Enhancing employability

Like many proud Indians, I get upset when faced with alarming reports that point to the poor employment rate of India’s college and university graduates.

The IT industry body Nasscom’s reports point to the inadequate technical skills and low employability rate of India’s engineering graduates. The effort money that the $167 billion Indian IT industry has to invest in imparting months of intensive training before fresh engineering graduates can become productive on basic software jobs brings out the deficiency of our higher education system in creating job ready engineers.

Management education portal MBAuniverse.com‘s report on the industry-readiness of MBA graduates from over 2,000 Indian management schools of some significance, barring the top 200 business schools, points to dismal employment prospects for over 300,000 young men and women who annually join the employment market.

Conversations of academics at the assessment and job placement platform HireMee with recruiting managers too point to the woefully inadequate training of Indian graduates spread across different streams — ranging from engineering and commerce, to management and the social sciences — to even communicate clearly their core technical skills, leave alone career aspirations, or interest areas.

It’s a pity that India’s demographic dividend is being put through an education system that is divorced from its very objective of firing up creativity, building problem-solving skills, preparing them to work in a highly inter-connected, interdependent global work environment.

That we do have a few Islands of excellence — some of the best engineering, management schools in the world — whose alumni have earned a name for themselves, their institutions and India, is equally well known. The success of IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and IISc, can be attributed to the exceptional intake quality as a result of stringent selection criteria and liberal government funding.

What can India do to remedy the situation for a vast majority of institutions that are forced to follow the “garbage-in garbage-out” model? These institutions depend on pedagogy that has completely outlived its utility. Divorced from the world of work these, institutions have “very limited” to practically “no industry interface”.

India’s over-regulated higher education system perpetuates outdated curriculum, stifles innovation. Even serious education institutions are faced with regulations in some states that cap tuition fee that a student pays for professional programmes.

There is limited industry focus and virtually no research and new knowledge creation. This seriously limits the opportunities for lakhs of students to enroll and study in a school or subject of their choice, forcing those with finances to look for opportunities to study abroad.

What can we do to improve the quality of millions of graduates coming out of India’s education system? How can India convert millions of “degree flaunting” millennials into employable young men and women?

To begin with, education policymakers and academics must articulate what employability is and what it is not. Employability means not just the ability to get a job, but equipping young men and women with the skills, the knowledge and tools to succeed in their careers.

The employability at India’s institutions of higher education can improve dramatically once they modernise their outdated curriculum, teachers shift from unloading their knowledge in classroom to a discussion and problem-solving approach. Faculty asking pointed questions and students coming up with solutions.

I had an opportunity to debate this issue with careers and employment manager at the Sydney based University of New South Wales. My conversation with Blair Slater, a former Hollywood movie star in Canada, brought out lessons from QS rank 45 UNSW’s experience of preparing nearly 21,000 international students each year for global job opportunities.

Blair, an occasional speaker at Indian schools, says it must begins with how the faculty coach their students to think, and come up with ideas on how to enable students to take charge of their own future.

It is possible and expected of students not to know what they want to do. A ‘Professional Development Module’ for students is needed to let them experience workplace culture, the recruitment process and preparing them for a global career – through formal interactive sessions, says Blair.

When I entered the job market in 1970s as a fresher, getting a job depended on how networked and influential my parents and uncles were. Luckily for those graduating out of college today, there are networking tools like Linkedin that can help them connect with alumni and employers to get jobs. This, of course, comes with caveats: Provided they have sharpened their communication skills and learnt to write effective resumes that help them stand out. Most importantly, they better know that the communication protocol to connect with employers is entirely different from the one they follow on Facebook with their friends.

To put it simply, India needs to shift the very objective of its education system from ‘granting degrees’ to focusing on dramatically “enhancing employability”.

To me this appears to be the key shift in gears from providing employment to equipping them to the most current skills, teaching them how to market them and then to apply them on the job — especially one that she was not trained for, one that did not exist when she graduated and the one that had continuously evolved with no sign of having stabilised.

By Sanjiv Kataria

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(Sanjiv Kataria, who served NIIT as a brand custodian for two decades, is a communications counsel. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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Lakhs of towels, bedhseets missing from AC coaches – passengers are suspects

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

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Indian Railway Bed Rolls

New Delhi, Nov 15 : Affluent AC passengers are the prime suspects as over 21 lakh towels, bedsheets, blankets and other items went missing from air-conditioned coaches during 2017-18 an official said.

The passengers are suspected to have made off with precisely 21,72,246 “bedroll items” — including 12,83,415 hand towels, 4,71,077 bedsheets and 3,14,952 pillow covers — from trains across the country in the last fiscal.

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

“Together, the missing items are estimated to cost over Rs 14 crore,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS.

While the theft of toilet mugs, taps, flush pipes and mirrors are also reported on a regular basis, the missing bedroll items in substantial numbers has posed a challenge for the Railways, which is trying to provide better amenities to upper class passengers.

Currently, about 3.9 lakh sets of linen are provided daily — this comprises two bedsheets, a towel, a pillow and a blanket for each passenger in the AC classes.

“The maximum number of items stolen are towels, followed by bedsheets, as reported by coach attendants at the end of each journey,” the official said.

In the light of the thefts, especially of towels, the Railways has decided that the face towels given to passengers travelling in air-conditioned coaches will be replaced with cheaper, smaller, disposable, takeaway napkins, said the official.

The Railways has already started changing the cover of blankets in some sections while the frequency of washing is being increased from monthly to fortnightly and weekly.

There is also a move to increase the frequency of washing of blankets to begin with and replacing the existing ones with the newly designed lightweight blankets made of soft fabric in a phased manner.

The plan envisages improvement of linen management with the aim of providing clean, hygienic and good quality linen to passengers travelling in AC classes, the official said.

Among the 16 zones of Indian Railways, the Southern zone alone accounted for the theft of 2,04,113 hand towels, 29,573 bedsheets, 44,868 pillow covers, 3,713 pillows and 2,745 blankets.

In the missing list, South Central zone has registered 95,700 towels, 29,747 pillow covers, 22,323 bedsheets, 3,352 blankets and 2,463 pillows.

In the Northern zone, 85,327 towels, 38,916 bedsheets, 25,313 pillow covers, 3,224 pillows and 2,483 blankets were found missing.

In the East Central zone, 33,234 bedsheets, 22,769 pillow covers, 1,657 pillows, 76,852 towels, and 3,132 blankets were stolen last year.

In the Eastern zone, 1,31,313 towels, 20,258 bedsheets, 9,006 pillow covers, 1,517 pillows and 1,913 blankets were reported missing by attendants after the end of the train journey.

The East Coast railways has registered 43,318 towels, 23,197 bedsheets, 8,060 pillow covers, and 2,260 blankets as missing.

(Arun Kumar Das can be contacted at [email protected])

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Lakhs of towels, bedhseets missing from AC coaches – passengers are suspects

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New Delhi, Nov 15: Affluent AC passengers are the prime suspects as over 21 lakh towels, bedsheets, blankets and other items went missing from air-conditioned coaches during 2017-18 an official said.

The passengers are suspected to have made off with precisely 21,72,246 “bedroll items” — including 12,83,415 hand towels, 4,71,077 bedsheets and 3,14,952 pillow covers — from trains across the country in the last fiscal.

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

“Together, the missing items are estimated to cost over Rs 14 crore,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS.

While the theft of toilet mugs, taps, flush pipes and mirrors are also reported on a regular basis, the missing bedroll items in substantial numbers has posed a challenge for the Railways, which is trying to provide better amenities to upper class passengers.

Currently, about 3.9 lakh sets of linen are provided daily — this comprises two bedsheets, a towel, a pillow and a blanket for each passenger in the AC classes.

“The maximum number of items stolen are towels, followed by bedsheets, as reported by coach attendants at the end of each journey,” the official said.

In the light of the thefts, especially of towels, the Railways has decided that the face towels given to passengers travelling in air-conditioned coaches will be replaced with cheaper, smaller, disposable, takeaway napkins, said the official.

The Railways has already started changing the cover of blankets in some sections while the frequency of washing is being increased from monthly to fortnightly and weekly.

There is also a move to increase the frequency of washing of blankets to begin with and replacing the existing ones with the newly designed lightweight blankets made of soft fabric in a phased manner.

The plan envisages improvement of linen management with the aim of providing clean, hygienic and good quality linen to passengers travelling in AC classes, the official said.

Among the 16 zones of Indian Railways, the Southern zone alone accounted for the theft of 2,04,113 hand towels, 29,573 bedsheets, 44,868 pillow covers, 3,713 pillows and 2,745 blankets.

In the missing list, South Central zone has registered 95,700 towels, 29,747 pillow covers, 22,323 bedsheets, 3,352 blankets and 2,463 pillows.

In the Northern zone, 85,327 towels, 38,916 bedsheets, 25,313 pillow covers, 3,224 pillows and 2,483 blankets were found missing.

In the East Central zone, 33,234 bedsheets, 22,769 pillow covers, 1,657 pillows, 76,852 towels, and 3,132 blankets were stolen last year.

In the Eastern zone, 1,31,313 towels, 20,258 bedsheets, 9,006 pillow covers, 1,517 pillows and 1,913 blankets were reported missing by attendants after the end of the train journey.

The East Coast railways has registered 43,318 towels, 23,197 bedsheets, 8,060 pillow covers, and 2,260 blankets as missing.

IANS

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