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Current Events 1 April 2016



1 APRIL 2016



21 killed as Kolkata flyover collapses

At least 21 people were killed and 88 injured as two parts of an under-construction 2.2-km-long Vivekananda Flyover collapsed in a congested market area in BurraBazar, north Kolkata. The Army was called in to help with the rescue.A 100-metre (330-ft) section of the flyover came crashing down suddenly on a crowded street around lunchtime, crushing pedestrians, cars and other vehicles under huge concrete slabs and metal. The death toll is likely to increase as scores of people inside vehicles were trapped under the collapsed bridge.An FIR has been lodged against the local officials of the Hyderabad-based IVRCL, contracted to build the giant flyover.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said “stringent action” will be taken against the owners of the company. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Ms. Banerjee and offered all Central government assistance to herThe National Disaster Response Force deployed five of its teams. Specialist rescue teams armed with concrete and metal cutters, drilling machines, sensors and sniffer dogs arrived . But many of those engaged in the rescue appeared to be ordinary people, trying to pull away concrete slabs with their bare hands. “We have deployed five columns along with a team of engineers. A medical team from the Command Hospital is also at the spot,” Ministry of Defence spokesperson Wing Commander S. S. Birdi said.


India opts not to join global terror database

The government has decided not to join a U.S. maintained global terror database in the face of objections from the intelligence agencies.Unhindered access to the Americans to the database of terror suspects in India, which includes their biometric details, was opposed by both the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), a senior official in the security establishment said. The proposal has been stuck since it was initially proposed by the U.S. in 2012.

A model text of the proposal — the Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-6) — was to be discussed at a bilateral homeland security meet to be held in June this year. The HSPD-6 is an agreement for exchange of terrorist screening information between the Terrorist Screening Centre (TCS) of the U.S. and a selected Indian security agency. The TCS has the database of 11,000 terror suspects.The U.S. authorities while pitching for the agreement, told Indian authorities that “in the past one year two dozen people with terrorist links were arrested in Canada and Australia with the help of HSPD-6 as both countries are signatories to it.”

There have been several rounds of discussions between India and the U.S. in the past one year on the issue. Both sides narrowed down their differences on several key aspects.The aim was to sign the pact in the next Homeland Security Dialogue to be attended by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and his U.S. counterpart Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security.However, the proposed agreement has now been dropped from the agenda reportedly due to the objections from Indian intelligence agencies. “It has been taken off from the agenda,” said a senior officer privy to the development.The issue of the terror database was not discussed at all during a preparatory meeting for the Homeland Security Dialogue attended by Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin and Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs M. Gopal Reddy. The U.S. has already finalised such agreements with 30 countries.The database includes name of the terror suspect, nationality, date of birth, photos, finger prints (if any), and passport number.


N-security meet to focus on safeguards framework

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the U.S capital to attend the two-day Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), an initiative of President Barack Obama to coordinate international efforts to prevent terror organisations from acquiring nuclear weapons or material.

The summit will have leaders from more than 50 countries and four international organisations — the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Interpol, and the UN. India will circulate its national progress report on nuclear security measures at the summit and Prime Minister Modi will make an intervention during the plenary . The summit begins with a banquet hosted by Mr Obama .

Since the first NSS in 2010, international measures have reduced the risk of nuclear theft and made the illicit transportation of nuclear material difficult. Around 3800 kgs of vulnerable fissile material has been secured and 329 sea and airports around the world now scan cargo for radioactivity. But the spectre of terrorism has only grown bigger in the meantime as IS has more resolve and resources to seek a nuclear weapon than Al Queda ever had.

Emerging n-security 

While it will be open for the next U.S president to convene more summits in the coming years, this year’s summit will conclude with the formation of five action plans on existing international platforms that will continue with the nuclear security efforts. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the INTERPOL, the UN, the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism will coordinate the global cooperation on nuclear security. After this year’s summit, the network of sherpas, or the expert officials from different countries, who have been helping their leaders prepare for these summits, will continue to coordinate with each other as a Nuclear Security Contact Group. 

Some experts have pointed out that the fragmentation of efforts going forward may undo the gains made by these summits. But the hope is that the annual ministerial meetings of the IAEA that started last year, will make nuclear security part of its top agenda.The second IAEA ministerial meeting is in December 2016.

India vulnerable 

India is a source of nuclear material and a potential target of nuclear terrorism. While India takes pride in the security of its nuclear installations, ‘orphan sources’ i.e devices with radioactive materials outside regulatory and security measures could pose serious risks. According to a recent report by the Washington DC-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, India also has groups that want to acquire nuclear material. The report that ranked India low in nuclear security measures, cited corruption as a key reason that could compromise its nuclear facilities. The government of India does not take this report seriously, but U.S officials repeatedly cite it to make various points. “India’s nuclear materials security conditions could be improved by strengthening laws and regulations for on-site physical protection, control and accounting, and mitigating the insider threat, and ensuring protection of materials during transport is in line with IAEA guidance,” the report said.

Security experts have identified at least four types of specific threats that terror outfits pose. These groups could acquire a nuclear weapon from the arsenal of a nuclear state; they could acquire enough fissile material to construct an improvised nuclear device — this knowhow exists outside governments too; they could acquire radioactive material from civilian sources such as hospitals or university laboratories that could be mixed with conventional explosives to make a radioactive dispersal device or ‘dirty bomb.’ Terror groups could also sabotage a nuclear facility leading to large-scale loss of lives and destruction.

Russian absence

The strained relations between the U.S. and Russia has led to the latter skipping the summit. U.S and Russia are two countries that have the largest nuclear stockpiles and the best experience in dealing with them. Their disagreements could limit the prospects of the international cooperation on the issue. The U.S officials who said they were disappointed by the Russian decision, however, pointed out that cooperation between the two countries continues despite the tension. They point to the fact that Russia took the responsibility to remove the highly enriched uranium from Iran recently, is cooperating on the New START Treaty and has removed 1,300 tons of chemical weapons from Syria in recent years.


India-European Union boost strategic partnership as free trade talks flounder

The 13th India-EU Summit concluded in Brussels without a consensus on a bilateral free trade deal known as the BTIA (Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement) even as progress was made in bilateral cooperation in other fields -- from foreign policy to outer space.

The talks were a culmination of efforts to kick-start a relationship that has been flagging for at least four years. The very fact that they occurred made them significant.

While both the parties failed to set a date for the next round of trade talks, Tomasz Kozlowski, EU Ambassador to India, told that the discussions on trade involved an expression of ambitions and degrees of flexibility from both sides. “[The] EU and India will continue discussions on a possible FTA at a high-level,” Mr. Kozlowski said.

India has been pushing for opening European markets for its services sector and the movement of people to deliver those services while the EU has been keen on reducing or abolishing tariffs in several sectors, including in the automobile and wine and spirits sectors. The Brussels meetings evidently did not see the closing of gaps between the two sides.

“Overall, the most important thing is that the Summit put our strategic partnership back on track,” Mr. Kozlowski said in response to a question on the single most important achievement. “We really needed a strong political push and an expression of strong political commitment from both sides to define the main directions of our relations and to decide what fields of cooperation are most interesting for both sides and the most promising.”

The fields of cooperation are many, and defined by the EU-India Agenda for Action-2020, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission endorsed. The sectors of partnership range from foreign policy, counter terrorism and disarmament to transport and space. While at least six agenda documents and declarations were issued by the EU on their website, the extent to which they will be acted upon and not share the current fate of the BTIA, remains to be seen.

There was some promise of action that would be taken in areas such as water, climate and energy, with the adoption of joint declarations on the India-EU Water Partnership and a Clean Energy and Climate Partnership.

Government-to-government and business-to-business level meetings to exchange best practices in these areas, including deadlines for setting the work programmes in some instances, have been agreed. The cost of these programs will be borne by the parties that incur them. India is no longer eligible for development assistance from the EU. However, India will still have access to concessional loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB). India and the EIB signed the first tranche of a Euro 450-million-loan at the Summit towards the construction of a metro rail line planned in Lucknow.

The joint declarations and Agenda for Action suggest that the EU has specifically courted Mr. Modi on several of his pet projects including the ‘Clean India’ initiative and the ‘Ganga Rejuvenation Initiative,’ where the EU will help in developing a solution to clean up the river as well as developing legal and governance frameworks for managing the basin.

The two sides agreed to cooperate in countering violent extremism, disrupt recruitment of terrorists and prevent the free passage of foreign fighters in a joint declaration on counter terrorism, which also called for the early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the UN. They have also agreed to explore the possibility of India and EUROPOL, the EU’s law enforcement agency, to share intelligence.

The Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM), which was also adopted, is designed to control and organize migration – a pressing concern for the EU. Significantly for the EU, the Agenda for Action includes items on facilitating the return of irregular migrants and the possibility of exploring a ‘Readmission Agreement’ — returning visa over-stayers to their home countries.

The Agenda also includes the prevention of human trafficking and promoting international protection as priority areas. Points of special interest to India on the agenda are likely to be easier visa procedures for skilled workers, IT professionals, and business travellers. For now, the CAMM is a political declaration and not a legal agreement.

Regarding ‘sensitive issues’ that were to be discussed at the summit, both parties have officially expressed their confidence in the legal processes of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, where the case of the Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, is currently being heard. The EU also expressed a swift solution, “through due process of law” in the case of MV Seaman Guard Ohio, where 14 Estonians and six Britons were arrested in 2013 and sentenced in India.

India, EU and human rights

One of the ostensible reasons for stalled talks between the European Union (EU) and India had been the EU’s concern over human right violations in India. Several Members of the European Parliament (MEP) have, in the past, expressed concerns in this regard, Geoffrey van Orden, Tory MEP from the East of England told . 

A recent letter from Human Rights Watch, an international NGO, to the EU leadership brings up issues of NGO harassment and the overlooking of rights of marginal groups in development projects in India in the context of the India EU Summit. A joint statement from India and the EU  reiterates the importance that both countries officially accord human rights and the rights of women. In response to a question on where the EU stood on human rights in India and holding talks, Mr. Kozlowski said: “Human rights are very high on the EU agenda and we have such interaction with India as well. We are not going to teach anybody. We are going to discuss issues, consult each other.”


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