Steps taken to ease visa issues faced by Indians, assures US Consul General

The Indian Express | 2 days ago | 22-09-2022 | 02:50 pm

Steps taken to ease visa issues faced by Indians, assures US Consul General

Acknowledging the long waiting time for United State visas, especially for tourists, Consul General Mike Hankey at the US Consulate General Mumbai, said Wednesday that measures are being taken to ease the issue. Hankey, who was on his first visit to Gujarat as the CG, spoke on the scope of US-India partnerships in diplomatic arrangements such as I2U2 and said that the US wants to see economic growth that comes from “stable, transparent, rules-based systems”. Hankey was speaking at a media interaction as the final stop of his two-and-half-day visit to Gujarat. Addressing issues of visa queues, Hankey said that “we are constantly adding appointments as our staffing level allows” and that now staffing levels have reached pre-pandemic levels.“We applied our resources this year to make sure that all the students can go. We have got them there for the start of the school year. Now we are pivoting to support business connections. I know business is important here in Gujarat. So what we are looking to do is work as hard as we can to make sure that those people who are trying to create economic opportunities can have the connections made. We also put a lot of focus on those who are going for medical treatments and other categories that are time-bound..,” said Hankey, adding that more than 82,000 students received US visas this year, the highest ever for India, making it the leading country to send students to the US. Noting that “there a lot of people”, including agents and others, “who give wrong or contradictory information” when it comes to visas, Hankey said that the CG is looking at “what can be done to give good information to Gujarati applicants about the visa process, about how to make sure it works smoothly and correctly”.Responding to a question by The Indian Express on what kind of scope and opportunities the US is looking at in India and Gujarat when it comes to diplomatic arrangements such as I2U2 and Quad, Hankey said, “The basic premise here is that the US seeks partnerships with countries including with India on what our shared goals are for a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. We want to see economic growth that comes from stable, transparent, rules-based systems…I think there are a lot of opportunities..seeing the many world-class businesses that operate in Gujarat. I think there are many opportunities therefore to consider where Gujarati businesses can share knowledge and insights. I think the specifics of how to implement any of these international arrangements are going to be driven by our capital-level discussion, which is going very well but is still ongoing.”Hankey said that a US delegation will be attending the Defence Expo next month. “What we would like to see is relationships between institutions directly and what our role at the Consulate would be is to make sure that US firms and universities understand the great potential and opportunity that is here in Western India.”Listing the many scopes of areas that US-India looks to work at and specifically in Gujarat, Hankey pointed out that these include climate change and economic growth. “The meetings that I’ve had with senior government officials, including with the chief minister, (is to) really focus on what we can do together through our shared commitments to build economic ties and opportunities and to achieve our climate goals. This would probably be one of the most important areas for us to work on jointly and the approach that we seek to take from our side and my team from Mumbai will try to push for, is where we can see where we can build economic opportunities for both partners…We can see both sides growing — Joint partnerships in research, joint ventures in business — especially in emerging technology areas such as climate and technology.”Education too is a focus area, he said, adding, that an in-person trade delegation flew from the US to India this year, where collaborative partnerships by US universities have been done with Indian universities, in a bid to expand the sector, such as perhaps through partnerships that bring a shared curriculum — for example, with two years of study in India and next two years in the US. Hankey added that such deliberations have taken place between “22 universities in the US and dozens of Indian universities.”Commenting on the US’s interest in startups in India, Hankey said, “There’s a new US govt agency that started three years ago called the Development Finance Corporation,..and we are focused on enabling new sector-changing initiatives. We’re trying to put money in businesses and technologies that can change the way the entire sector works.”In his Gujarat tour, Hankey met with government officials and political leaders across the political spectrum, including Gujarat CM Bhupendra Patel, Gujarat BJP president CR Patil, Aam Aadmi Party Gujarat office bearers Gopal Italia and Manoj Sorathia, and Gujarat Congress leaders including spokesperson Manish Doshi, that he termed to be an exercise towards getting a “better understanding of what the political landscape here is”.Hankey met with business leaders, including Zydus’ chairman Pankaj Patel and managing director Sharvil Patel, and also visited GIFT for a tour along with meeting its MD Tapan Ray along with visits to the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A), in his first visit to Gujarat since taking charge as Consul General in Mumbai last month.

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Float tenders for bullet train systems without delay: India to Japan
The Indian Express | 37 minutes ago | 25-09-2022 | 05:50 am
The Indian Express
37 minutes ago | 25-09-2022 | 05:50 am

India has told Japan that tenders for electrical and signalling systems, as well as the rolling stock, for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor should be floated without delay as land issues faced by the project appear to have been resolved.Sources said that Japan and India have agreed to put a cap on the cost of the systems and rolling stock, and that if the prices for these quoted by Japanese companies go beyond that cap, the balance will be footed by the Japanese side, outside the scope of the loan agreement for the project.This puts to rest a longstanding impasse that the project has faced, with prices for many of the critical items to be supplied by Japanese companies indicated to be up to 90 per cent higher than project consultants’ estimates.The Japanese government’s Japan International Cooperation Agency is covering 80 per cent of the cost of the bullet train project with a soft loan to India that compels the project to source critical components only from Japanese suppliers. The project is expected to cost Rs 1.6 lakh crore.Officials estimate that the Gujarat portion of the corridor will be fully operational by 2027, followed by the Maharashtra portion by 2029.“Since there is a cap agreed by both parties, and since civil works are now being executed at a fast pace, there is no roadblock to floating the systems tenders for the Japanese firms,” a source said.In the sixth meeting of the Joint Working Group for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Project, the Indian side communicated to their Japanese counterparts that the tenders for the systems, especially the electricals and signalling, should be awarded by December-March, it was learnt.The meeting, held earlier this month, was co-chaired by V K Tripathi, the chairman and CEO of the Railway Board, and Satoshi Suzuki, the Japanese ambassador.In a major sign that the project may finally be able to put its land-related troubles in Maharashtra behind it, the National High Speed Rail Corporation, the implementing agency of the project, on Friday floated the tender for the 21-km tunnel in the state. Seven kilometres of the tunnel will be under the sea.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxThe Indian Express had last month reported that the project was getting its land-acquisition issues sorted out under the new government in Maharashtra.The tunnel is the most complex piece of civil engineering work in the 502-km corridor. The tender for the tunnel is open to global competition, with both Japanese and Indian companies allowed to tie up with other international players to make bids.Another area of concern for the project was the procurement of the rolling stock — the actual train sets. As per Japan, only Kawasaki and Hitachi are eligible to supply the rolling stock. Sources said the Indian side had wanted to avoid a situation where both the companies jointly submit a bid, which could raise the price.However, with a price cap being agreed by both sides, this concern has been alleviated.

Float tenders for bullet train systems without delay: India to Japan
Safety regulator seeks third party audit for Ahmedabad Metro operations
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate Phase-1 of the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro rail on September 30, the Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety (CMRS) has asked for a third party audit — apart from 90 other conditions to be met — to attest the structural strength and quality of tunnel segments and viaduct and piers of elevated section in the routes to be inaugurated. The CMRS also sought a technical audit of the Tunnel Ventilation System in the underground section of the Metro. It pointed out “deficiencies” such as lack of safeguard to piers against possible train derailment in a section that flies over a railway line, and expressed concern over the time taken in the underground section for evacuation of passengers, during mock drills.During inspections in August and September 2022, CMRS had spotted a number of “deficiencies” that have a direct bearing on the safety of operations and had asked the Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC) to take “rectification measures”.The GMRC responded in September 14-15 saying the issues were sorted and that the project was safe for operations. However, the authorisation letter provided to GMRC earlier this week for the opening of Ahmedabad Metro gave a conditional authorisation, including restricting speed to as low as 45 kilometre per hour (kmph) in certain sections. The maximum speed of a metro rail is 80 kmph.Authorisation to operate the Metro to ferry people has been given separately for fully elevated North-South corridor and the East-West corridor that has both elevated and underground sections. A 6.5-kilometre route of the Ahmedabad Metro has been operational on East-West Corridor from March 2019. The PM will inaugurate the remaining 13.3-km stretch of Phase-1 connecting Thaltej and Vastral on the East-West corridor and the 18.83-km stretch on the APMC-Motera route that is part of the North-South corridor. The Gujarat government announced Saturday that both routes would be thrown open to public two days after the inauguration, which would coincide with Gandhi Jayanti. The CMRS authorisation letter, which was seen by The Indian Express, states that the North-South Corridor passes through a “vulnerable zone” adjacent to an Indian Railway line (that connects Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar), and “no special protection” has been provided to safe-guard metro piers from the impact of a possible derailment that might occur on railway lines below. Imposing a speed restriction of 60 kmph between Paldi and Old High Court stations, CMRS stated that “Metro should take needful safety measures such as suitably designed protection wall for piers and guard rail on railway track after carrying out risk analysis through NIT/IIT to ensure safety of metro trains on priority”.The CMRS pointed out that during inspection of the North-South corridor on September 2-3, it had noticed “deficiencies”, including “cracks” in piers and viaducts. “For long term stability and safety, it is advised to confirm adequacy of structural strength and quality of viaduct and piers by getting a third party audit done from IIT in three months time,” the authorisation letter stated.In the East-West Corridor, the CMRS pointed out that apart from Vodafone, there was no mobile network coverage inside the tunnel and the underground stations. “There should be continuous communication in the train inside the tunnel,” it has said.It also sought a third party audit for steel girders, for validating the design and quality of work. CMRS observed that “steel girders of non-standard span” were used at a number of locations on the metro route and “some bolts were seen missing or loose in splice and bracings”.The safety body also observed quality issues on the Sabarmati OWG (Open Web Girder) bridge and said Metro should get the deficiencies rectified and get it certified from RITES within a month. Till then, a speed limit of 60 kmph has been imposed on this bridge that passes over seven railway tracks of Indian Railways.The body also pointed out that Sabarmati Metro station was not offered for inspection and the sanction for this needed to be taken separately before opening it to public use. CMRS directed the station to be permanently closed and asked the trains to skip the station. This is an important station as it will connect metro passengers to the under construction multi-modal hub at Sabarmati which will serve passengers of bullet train, Indian Railways and BRTS.It also pointed out malfunctioning Platform Screen Doors or PSD doors at metro stations and asked director systems to certify the quality of the items. It also pointed out that some of the signalling equipment were old as it was of 2018 built-date. “This is not acceptable in new metro works and should be replaced,” the letter stated.In the East-West corridor, the CMRS noted “hair-breath cracks in tunnel segments and seepage marks” in the underground section, besides cracks, exposed reinforcements, casting errors, etc., in piers, viaducts and Sabarmati bridge.A speed limit of 60 kmph has been imposed on Sabarmati bridge, which CMRS stated has casting errors in six spans and other issues. “These shall be rectified in one month and a third party audit done through RITES to confirm structural safety,” stated the stiplulations.For the East-West Corridor, CMRS stated the Tunnel Ventilation System for the underground section needed improvement/upgradation. It sought a technical audit of the tunnel ventilation system and a fire safety clearance from the fire department. CMRS also advised a third party quality audit to confirm structural strength and quality of viaduct, piers and tunnel segments in three months’ time.CMRS inspected this corridor between Apparel Park and Thaltej stations on August 20-22 and September 4. The 6.5-kilometre stretch between Vastral Gam to Apparel Park is already operational. During the inspection, it noticed a “leaning” of one of the piers at Commerce Six roads-Gujarat University section. Imposing a 45-kmph speed restriction on this segment, the GMRC has advised remedial measures and a third party audit for examining the safety and certification of the pier.Like the Sabarmati station, the underground Kankaria East station was not offered for inspection and CMRS has asked trains to skip this station as well.CMRS also asked the GMRC to rectify malfunctioning lifts and PSD doors and install branded water coolers. The groundwork for Ahmedabad Metro — for which DPRs were drawn and redrawn since 2005 — began in March 2015. After seven years of construction, the Phase-1 of the project consisting of a little over 40 kilometres will be fully launched for commercial operations later this month.SS Rathore, Managing Director of GMRC, which is a joint venture of the Gujarat government and Government of India, said, “Every authorisation letter from CMRS is with clauses. Every Metro project gets it with conditions. They are directions and standard conditions that are put. These are standard procedures.”Not willing to discuss the conditions laid out by CMRS, Rathore said,“Some of these conditions are security related and I won’t be able to discuss it with you.” When asked about the third-party audits for reassessing the safety and structural quality of the elevated and underground corridors, Rathore said, “They had sought it even for the first 6.5 kilometres and we had done an audit through IIT three months after the operations began.” The second phase of the Metro project will connect the state capital Gandhinagar with Ahmedabad, which will essentially be the expansion of the first phase. This phase will have two corridors, including 22.8 km from Motera Stadium to Mahatma Mandir, having 20 stations and a 5.4-km route from the Gujarat National Law University to GIFT City having two stations. The entire Phase-II will be on an elevated route.

Safety regulator seeks third party audit for Ahmedabad Metro operations
Bilkis case convict challenges plea against remission: ‘petitioners have no ties to case’
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am

DESCRIBING A petition challenging the remission of sentence granted by the Gujarat government to him after 15 years in jail as “speculative and politically motivated”, one of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case has questioned the locus standi of the petitioners, saying “none of” them “are related whatsoever to the said case and only happens to be either a political activist or a third party stranger”.In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court through Advocate Rishi Malhotra, convict Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah referred to cases in which the apex court “has consistently held in clear terms that a third party who is a total stranger to the prosecution has no ‘locus standi’ in criminal matters and has no right whatsoever in filing a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution”.He said that to entertain such petitions “would” therefore “not only unsettle the settled position of law but would also open flood gates and would be an open invitation for any member of the public to jump in any criminal matter before any court of law”.Shah was among 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case of gangrape and murder who were released by the Gujarat government on August 15 under its 1992 remission and premature release policy for life-term convicts after he moved the Supreme Court. Deciding his plea, the Supreme Court had ruled that although the trial in the case took place in Maharashtra, the Gujarat government would be the appropriate authority to grant remission based on the 1992 policy.Since their release, the Supreme Court has issued notices on two petitions — one filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and academician Roop Rekha Verma, and another by TMC MP Mahua Moitra — challenging their release. Shah’s petition referred to the plea by Ali and others.Bilkis was gangraped and her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district, during the post-Godhra riots. Bilkis was pregnant at the time. The Gujarat government cited a “unanimous” recommendation of the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) to grant remission to the convicts on grounds of “good behaviour”.In his affidavit, Shah referred to another case and pointed out that similar questions had been raised when the conviction of some accused under the TADA Act was sought to be challenged under Article 32 of the Constitution by Akali Dal (M) president Simranjit Singh Mann.The Supreme Court, however, held that a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution can only be made for enforcing a fundamental right. “The Supreme Court rightly addressed the issue that the writ petitioner therein did not seek to enforce any of his fundamental rights nor did he complain that any of his fundamental rights is violated,” Shah’s petition stated.Similarly, the petition stated, in the 2013 ruling in Subramanian Swamy vs Raju matter, the Supreme Court “further reiterated the settled position of law that the jurisprudence that has evolved over the decades has assigned the primary role and responsibility at both stages to the State though…in certain exceptional situations there is a recognition of limited right in a victim or his family members to take part in the process, particularly, at the stage of the trial”.“…the law, however, frowns upon and prohibits any abdication by the State of its role at each of the stages and, in fact, does not recognise the right of a third party/ stranger to participate or even to come to the aid of the State at any of the stages,” the petition said.In this matter, the Supreme Court had dismissed Swamy’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order rejecting his prayer to be made a party before the Juvenile Justice Board in proceedings against the minor accused in the Nirbhaya gangrape case.Referring to his release under the 1992 policy, Shah’s affidavit pointed out that the Supreme Court had in a 2010 decision stated that the policy that will apply for remission is the one applicable at the time of conviction by the trial court and not a subsequent policy at the time of consideration.It submitted that in 2010, the “Court went a step further and held that in case there were two policies for premature release existing at the time of consideration, a policy which can be construed liberally in favour of a convict be applied in a case of convict”.

Bilkis case convict challenges plea against remission: ‘petitioners have no ties to case’
FM: Re has ‘held back very well’ against dollar compared to peers Sitharaman
The Indian Express | 2 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am
The Indian Express
2 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said that the rupee has “held back very well” against the US dollar when compared to other currencies of the world.The rupee breached the 81-mark against the dollar for the first time on Friday, before settling at 80.98, as the greenback continued to strengthen against all other major currencies following an aggressive rate hike announcement by the US Federal Reserve.When asked about the all-time low that the rupee hit against the greenback on Friday, she said the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry are keeping a very close watch on the situation.On the rising inflation, the Finance Minister said the union government was taking all possible steps to check the price-rise situation and ensure that common citizens do not suffer.Sitharaman’s comments came at the end of her three-day tour of Baramati Lok Sabha constituency.Meanwhile, taking on the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance for criticising the new Maharasthra government over the planned Vedanta-Foxconn semiconductor unit going to Gujarat, she said that those questioning the moving of plant after initially being proposed in Maharashtra should first respond on the four mega projects that were stalled during the previous government’s tenure.“One has to ask the MVA first on the four mega projects that were stalled during their tenure and then we will speak about one project that has gone to some other state from Maharashtra,” she said.Sitharaman said it was the slugfest between the ruling alliance and the opposition alliance as those in the previous government want to cover up their failures.“Those who exploited the cooperative sector did not think of setting up a separate ministry for its improvement as their efforts were to use the sector only for political gains,” she said, adding that the Central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is bringing necessary changes to improve it.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxOn her assessment after Baramati tour, where she arrived to strengthen the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) base, the union minister said, “It was focused on meeting with organisational units in the constituency. It is essential for strengthening the party and its unit. Thus, the feedback was gathered from ground onBJP and its service to people.”She said the BJP cadre in Baramati has been providing good service to the public, mainly during the Covid period, adding that the local cadres informed her that only BJP representatives were on the field for service of people in Covid time.

FM: Re has ‘held back very well’ against dollar compared to peers Sitharaman