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Behind Sri Lanka’s Turmoil, An India-China Struggle For Investment, Influence

Colombo, Sri Lanka: 

Gleaming cranes stretch out on the waterfront in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo as Chinese companies construct a $1.5 billion new commercial district, including hotels, marinas and a motor racing track. They have already built a giant container terminal nearby and a huge port in the south.

Now India, the traditional power in the region, is muscling into port and other projects, pushing back hard against China.

The big fear for India is that Sri Lanka, just off its southern coast and on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, could become a Chinese military outpost.

But the battle is creating political turmoil in Sri Lanka. A bust-up between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over how far to accommodate Indian interests is a key reason the nation’s unity government has just fallen apart, government officials and foreign diplomats said.

Wickremesinghe, who was fired on Oct. 26 and replaced by veteran pro-China politician Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Reuters about arguments at a cabinet meeting chaired by the president last month over a proposal to grant development of a Colombo port project to a Japan-India joint venture.

“There are arguments in the cabinet, sometimes heated arguments,” he said.

Wickremesinghe did not name the president but said: “There was a paper put forth to not give it to India, Japan.”

He added that he insisted that the ultimate decision should respect a memorandum of understanding signed between India, Japan and Sri Lanka.

It was the first account of what transpired in the Oct 16 meeting and the government’s pushback against India.

Wickremesinghe declined to respond when asked if he believed the China-India struggle was behind his firing. But Rajitha Senaratne, a former government minister who attended, confirmed the president and the prime minister had argued at the meeting.

Two Sri Lankan officials, as well as a Western diplomat and an Indian government source, who were all briefed on the meeting, corroborated the minister’s account.

The president’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Sirisena told a public meeting on Monday his political rivals were trying to drive a wedge between him and the Indian government by painting him as anti-India.

The foreign ministry said the centre was committed to giving developmental assistance to Sri Lanka.

In a statement last week, the Chinese embassy in Colombo rejected allegations China was involved in a conspiracy to change Sri Lanka’s leadership, saying it does not believe in such interference.

Japan did not respond to a request for comment on the sacking of the government. But Wickremesinghe and an official from the Japan International Cooperation Agency said a $1.4 billion soft loan for a light railway project in Colombo was on hold.

Second terminal

India had been pushing Sri Lanka for the award of an estimated $1 billion contract for a second foreign-operated container terminal in Colombo. It has pointed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Sri Lanka signed in April 2017.

Reuters has reviewed unpublished documents from that MOU and it lays out a blueprint for projects India would be involved in, including an oil refinery, roads, power stations and the container terminal. The agreement also includes room for Indian involvement in the development of industrial zones.

The cabinet meeting was supposed to give clearance for the port project but President Sirisena said the country, already mired in $8 billion of Chinese debt, couldn’t give any more of its assets to foreigners, according to Senaratne.

“There was a misunderstanding between the president and the prime minister,” said Senaratne, who was the health minister in the deposed cabinet. The Colombo terminal should be left to the state-owned Sri Lanka Port Authority, which was already developing the facilities, he quoted the president as saying.

Tension had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe even before the clash over the port project. The president did not approve of some economic reforms, such as opening up the services sector to foreign investment, being introduced by the prime minister.

Sri Lanka is only one of a number of South Asian countries where the China-India rivalry has roiled domestic politics.

China has been constructing ports, power stations and highways in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal, much of it now tied to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with countries cross Asia and beyond.

In September, the leader of the Maldives – who had courted Chinese investments – lost an election in a result seen as a setback to Beijing’s ambitions for the islands.

“Debt diplomacy”

One of the officials briefed on the cabinet meeting said he was told Sirisena quoted U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s warning last month that China was using “debt diplomacy” and the Hambantota port in the south could become a Chinese forward military base.

Sirisena told the cabinet Sri Lanka didn’t want this kind of international attention and vowed he wasn’t going to compound the problem by granting the Colombo deal to an outside party, this official said.

But Wickremesinghe, who has forged close ties with India and Japan to balance ties with China, said at the meeting that the cabinet had already approved the broader pact with India a year ago, he told Reuters.

He said the debt-burdened Sri Lanka Port Authority wasn’t in a position to build the terminal on its own, Wickremesinghe said he told the meeting.

“It wasn’t even an Indian project, Japan was going to be the majority partner with India at 20 percent,” Wickremesinghe said in the interview.

But the president not only rejected the proposal but shocked those present by turning on New Delhi, saying he was the target of an assassination plot and suggesting that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was behind it, said officials who attended the meeting.

The Sri Lankan government later denied Sirisena named the agency. The foreign ministry in New Delhi said Sirisena spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the issue to ensure it didn’t lead to a diplomatic crisis.

But ten days after the cabinet meeting, Wickremesinghe was out and former president Rajapaksa was named in his place. Rajapaksa had ushered in Chinese investment when he was president from 2005-2015 and lost a presidential election to Sirisena after reports that RAW had helped build a coalition against him.

Changing landscape

In Colombo, the increasing Chinese influence is there for all to see.

On the city’s ocean front, a part of the ocean is blocked from view because of the reclamation project that will eventually turn into the new commercial district. Giant billboards and wire mesh, including some signs in Chinese, close off the largest construction site in the capital.

There is a growing Chinese community of about 12,000 expatriates, up from barely a few hundred a few years ago. They are scattered in Colombo and Hambantota.

PM Modi’s government is determined to start to turn back the tide. It is aggressively pitching for projects next to Chinese investments, so China’s military does not get a free pass.

“India can ill afford to ignore the strategic advantage China has gained in Sri Lanka so close to peninsular India,” said Colonel R. Hariharan, a retired Indian army intelligence officer.

The Colombo port isn’t the only priority. In Hambantota, India is bidding to take control of an airport built next to the Chinese seaport even though it handles hardly any flights.

“We are fully in the game,” said an Indian government source. It kept its profile low, though, because of local sensitivities, the source said.

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1.8 Lakh Children Living In Child Care Institutions, Parents Found Unfit:Report

The data has been collected from some 9,600 child care institutions and homes. (Representational)

New Delhi: 

A total of 1.8 lakh children are residing in child care institutions (CCI) in 2016-17 as their parents have been found unfit to take care of them, with over 50,000 such minors alone from Tamil Nadu institutions, according to a new report released on Monday.

Over 3.7 lakh children are lodged in homes meant for care of children in vulnerable circumstances across the country in 2016-17.

According to the report released by the Jena Committee on Child Care Institutions, the Juvenile Justice Act states that a child, whose parents or guardian are found to be unfit or incapacitated by the committee or the board to care for and protect their safety and well-being, is deemed to be in need of care and protection.

“It was found that there are 5,291 children in the age group of 0-6 years and 1,78,885 in the age group of 7-18 years found in CCIs and homes in this category, with boys being 17.2 per cent more than the girls. Amongst these, the CCIs in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have maximum number of such children,” the report noted.

A total of 1.8 lakh children are residing in child care institutions as their parents or guardian have been found incapable of taking care of them, it said.

Of 3.7 lakh children in need of care and protection, 5,900 children in the age group of 0-6 years were orphans, abandoned and surrendered. There were 50,267 orphan, abandoned and surrendered children aged 7-18.

The highest percentage of abandonment for both boys and girls was found in Madhya Pradesh, which also sees a high occupancy of child marriage victims, the report said.

The report also gave a set of recommendations that included establishment of adequate number of CCIs on mapping of child vulnerability and situational analysis of each district and rationalisation of availability of CCIs as data has shown an imbalance in the number of CCIs.

The other recommendations also included ease of accessibility to CCIs, a place of safety and a dedicated shelter home for de-addiction services and sensitisation of all staff — from guards and cooks to persons-in-charge — also must be a norm.

The different categories of children residing in the CCIs included children who are orphan, abandoned, surrendered, sexually abused, victim of child pornography, trafficked for domestic work, trafficked for labour, trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, victims of child marriage among others.

In all the 9,589 CCIs covered under the study, it has been found that there are 7,422 children in conflict with law, including 5,617 boys, while 1,805 girls.

The number of children in need of care and protection have been found to be 3,70,227 of which 1,99,760 are boys, 1,70,375 are girls and 92 are transgender children.

A database has emerged regarding orphan, abandoned, surrendered children who need to be de-institutionalised and prioritised for non-institutional care such as foster care, sponsorship and adoption.

“Amongst these there are 5,931 children below the age of 0-6 years (2,966 orphans, 1,763 abandoned and 1,209 surrendered) who can be connected with the adoption process. Besides, these there are 50,267 orphan, abandoned and surrendered children in the age-group of 7-18 years,” it said.

Of these 38,765 are orphans, of which Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra alone have 10,745 (27.7 per cent).

Tamil Nadu also has the highest number of abandoned children in this age-group, which is 1,326, residing in CCIs.

The data has been collected from some 9,600 child care institutions and homes between January 2016 and March 2017.

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No Special Treatment, Rules Violated For Sasikala In Jail, Says Advocate

RTI revealed that Sasikala was given 5 rooms, cook and longer visiting hours in jail. (File)


Refuting allegations that “special treatment” was accorded to her in the Parappana Agrahara central prison at Bengaluru, an advocate representing ousted AIADMK leader VK Sasikala on Monday said no prison rules were violated.

“Sasikala has not violated any rules of the Karnataka prisons manual anytime. She is wearing personal clothes as per the prison rules. The allegations are all wrong,” Advocate A Ashokan told PTI.

According to RTI activist Narasimha Murthy, a 295-page report by retired IAS officer Vinay Kumar confirmed then DIG (Prisons) D Roopa’s claims in July 2017 that Sasikala was given preferential treatment and a separate kitchen functioned for her at the Parappana Agrahara Central Jail.

“I have accessed the 295 pages report through an RTI query. The report confirms that Sasikala was given special treatment in the jail,” Mr Murthy had said on Sunday.

The reply was furnished by M R Shobha, Public Relations Officer of the Home Department.

Legal action would be taken after a copy of the report was issued to them, the advocate said.

Asked if he disregarded the RTI revelations, Mr Ashokan said he cannot comment on it until the original report was out.

Based on the then DIG (Prisons) D Roopa’s claims in July 2017 that Sasikala was given preferential treatment, the then Siddaramaiah government had ordered an inquiry by Vinay Kumar to probe the allegations.

Mr Kumar had submitted his report to the government on November 17, 2017, but its contents were not made public.

Sasikala, close aide of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, the late Jayalalithaa, has been lodged at the Bengaluru prison ever since her conviction by the Supreme Court in February 2017 in the disproportionate assets case along with her two relatives VN Sudhakaran and Elavarasi, all serving a 4-year jail term.

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Supreme Court Tells National Green Tribunal To Check Car-Makers For Emissions Violations

The top court also asked the NGT to hear the Union Ministry of Road and Transport in the case.

New Delhi: 

The Supreme Court on Monday favoured widening of judicial scrutiny of a case pertaining to use of cheat device in diesel cars to flout emission norms in vehicles made by German automaker Volkswagen by bringing other auto majors under the scanner.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said the National Green Tribunal may consider whether the scope of the emission related case, involving Volkswagen presently, could be expanded to other carmakers also.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Volkswagen, said that the company has been singled out for violation of norms which are “non-existent”.

He said that the automobile company complies with country’s existing norms on emission and has already deposited Rs 100 crore fine imposed by the NGT to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

The bench refused to interfere with the orders of NGT imposing fine on the automaker but restrained the green panel from taking any punitive action against the directors of the company as it has complied with the orders and deposited Rs 100 crore with the CPCB.

It said that all rights and contentions of the parties would remain open and Volkswagen can raise its objections to the findings of the committee before the NGT.

The top court also asked the NGT to hear the Union Ministry of Road and Transport in the case.

During the brief hearing, the court observed that the green panel should not have passed the order asking the auto-major to deposit money with the CPCB in view of the fact that it was seized of the case.

Volkswagen India Pvt Ltd had moved the top court challenging the orders of the green tribunal directing the company to deposit Rs 100 crore with the CPCB while a committee decides on the allegations of emission norms violations.

On January 17, the NGT had slammed Volkswagen for not depositing Rs 100 crore, imposed on it for damaging the environment through use of “cheat device” in its diesel cars, and directed it to submit the amount within 24 hours failing which its directors would be sent to jail.

The green panel on November 16, 2018 had said that use of “cheat device” by Volkswagen in diesel cars in India leads to inference of environmental damage and directed it to deposit an interim amount of Rs 100 crore with the CPCB.

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