A Neighbour Less Talked About – Myanmar

India’s neighbours are often in the talks, be it for good reasons or bad. Bangladesh and Bhutan are usually talked about for mostly good reasons, while Pakistan and China are talked about for mostly bad reasons. Nepal and Sri Lanka are talked about on how India helps its neighbours to grow. But there is a neighbour, about whom most Indians know very little about. Yes, that neighbour is Myanmar.

Myanmar has been a more failed state, than Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka. Since independence, Myanmar could do little for its citizens, rather it has shrinked itself to complete isolation from the rest of the world. The most powerful unit in Myanmar is the Junta, which has recently for the second time overthrew the demographically elected Government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

After gaining independence from British rule, Myanmar slowly tried to build itself from its ruins. But in 1962, the military overthrew the Government and took the reins of administration upon itself. While military rule in some countries is not that bad, the military rule did more harm than good to Myanmar’s rise as an independent nation. Till 2011, the military rule did misery to the country, forcing its people into poverty, displacing thousands, killing minorities and threatening its own destruction.

The year 2011 brought about a sea of change in the politics of Myanmar, when elections were legally held for the very first time, and people chose Aung San Suu Kyi as their leader. However, it is alleged that Aung San Suu Kyi herself had little powers, especially regarding the Rohingya crisis, and that the military was still the decision-maker in politics. However, the demographically-elected Government was hugely popular among the masses, triggering panic among the junta that despite the country’s protectors, they are getting hugely unpopular.

Hence, a fresh coup was the result in 2021, in which the junta again overthrew the demographically-elected Government to fulfil their own needs. But now, together with the Covid-19 pandemic threw the country to chaos, and took the country’s economy to the brink of collapse. Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to imprisonment for an indefinite period of time, and so are a number of leaders of her party. India has seen a recent surge in migration of refugees from Myanmar to India.

However, India, having to deal with Pakistan’s terrorism, Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Covid-19, and other factors, is not looking to meddle in Myanmar’s internal matters. India supports Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, but given the cruelty and harsh nature of the junta regime, it is not likely that Aung San Suu Kyi and her party is going to make a popular comeback anytime soon.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Summer Retreat Hill Stations in India

Hill stations have been popular in India since ancient times due to the presence of shrines and religious places, as well as for scenic beauty. During British rule, some of the hill stations near important cities in India got a new lease of life. The British could not tolerate the heat in India during the summer season. Hence the Government officials and civilians retreated to the hills for a vacation during summer. Some of them even today bear signs of colonial rule, and Victorian buildings, mountain railways, and malls.

Today, as modern transportation has increased, and the ability of people to afford frequent vacations, summer tourism in the hills has increased many fold. Let us look at the summer hill stations that are popular in India since the times of British rule.

1)Darjeeling :

Tea Gardens, Darjeeling

Darjeeling is the most popular retreat of the Bengali people living in the plains in Kolkata, Siliguri, Asansol and other towns. Darjeeling and it’s surrounding Kurseong and Kalimpong areas developed during the British rule as the retreated from Kolkata during the heat of summer. The Darjeeling toy train, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is still popular among the locals and tourists alike, and is run by a steam engine. The route contains the Ghum railway station, the highest in the entire India. The tea gardens, the orange orchards, and shopping in the colonial mall are a must see in Darjeeling.

2)Shimla :

Shimla Kalka Train, Shimla

Shimla, the summer capital of Himachal Pradesh, is a bustling town, high up on the hills, near Delhi and Punjab towns. Since British rule, Shimla still is the most popular tourist destination near Delhi in any season. The colonial Christ Church, the ridge, the hilltops, the enchanted trails, and the Shimla Kalka railway line makes Shimla a perfect hill station. Not to forget, like the Darjeeling toy train, the Shimla Kalka train is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3)Ooty :

Boating in Ooty Lake

Ooty, the hill station not far from Chennai, is an ideal summer retreat for the people of Chennai, Mysore, Bangalore and Kozhikode. Ooty is full of lakes, parks, nature reserves, and tea gardens, all of which add to the beauty of Nilgiri Hills. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Ooty is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Avalanche Lake, Botanical Garden, and Doddabetta peaks are some well known tourist spots. Nearby Coonoor and Coorg are also important hill stations in that area.

4)Mahabaleshwar :

Mahabaleshwar Strawberry Festival

This famed hill station is famous for strawberries, which are produced in this area. Mahabaleshwar is also an important pilgrimage site, being the source of the Krishna river. Being located close to Mumbai and Pune, it attracts a huge crowd in summer time. This quiet little hill station is also near major waterfalls in the area like Dhobi falls, Lingmala falls, and Vajrai falls. The Kash plateau, the flower paradise on earth, is not far away.

5)Shillong :

View of Shillong Town from Shillong Peak

Shillong also attracts people from all over India, and forms a quick retreat for tourists from Guwahati, Assam. Ward’s Lake, Umiam Lake and Shillong peak, will never fail to mesmerize the tourists with stunning views. Shillong also hosts India’s cherry blossom festival in the month of November. Nearby villages like Cherrapunji and Mawlynnong are worth visiting for being the wettest and cleanest villages on Earth respectively.

Which of these hills stations is your favourite? Do let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

India Nepal Rail Connections

We have often talked over historic rail links with Pakistan, and sometimes over rail links with Bangladesh. But there is yet another country, with whom we share a long border, possess same ethnic groups and religions, and have common road and railway transit systems. Yes, you guessed it right. That country is Nepal.

Historically, Nepal has never been a part of India or British India, but a separate kingdom in the hills. The Treaty of Sugauli signed with the British in 1816 guaranteed the kingdom of Nepal’s independence. The British built 2 railway lines from India deep inside Nepal’s territory, mainly to procure forest products from the region. The 2 lines are Jaynagar – Janakpur-Bijalpura rail line, and Raxaul-Amlekhgunj rail line.

The Jaynagar – Janakpur – Bijalpura rail line was a narrow-gauge rail line, which was changed to broad gauge in recent years and inaugurated jointly by Indian and Nepalese PMs on April 2, 2022. The line is currently serving up to Kurtha railway station and will be soon extended till Bijalpura. The third phase of the line will extend it beyond historic margins to Bardibas. The total length of the line will be 68 kms. Currently, DMU services are available in this railway line. This line is important for the pilgrims as it connects Janakpurdham, an important pilgrimage site for Hindus living in both countries.

The Raxaul – Birgunj railway line, though remain defunct in recent years, had been serving freight operations for a long time. Previously the line existed till Amlekhganj, from which it is possible to reach Kathmandu via motor vehicles. However that line has to be closed, and now, the Indian Government has proposed extending the Raxaul – Birgunj rail line up to Kathmandu. The final location survey of this route underway since last year.

The third rail link between India and Nepal is the under-construction Jogbani-Biratnagar rail line, which is slated to be functional by the end of this year. Biratnagar is an important town in the eastern section of the country, and this line will be fruitful for the residents of Biratnagar both in terms of freight and passenger traffic. The length of this important line will be 18 kms.

Currently, though there are many proposals from the Indian side, the Nepal side has stuck to only the above 3 routes. However, there are chances that line to Nepalgunj Road may be extended upto Nepalganj and the line till Nawtanwa may be extended up to Bhairawaha on the western side. So far the developed eastern side of Nepal is well-connected to India, the focus should now be shifted on the underdeveloped western half of the country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Sri Lanka’s Worst Economic Crisis

Sri Lanka, being a not-so-small island nation, has to depend on imports from various other countries for various essential commodities. But despite heavy imports, and some occasional instances of financial crisis, Sri Lanka managed to hold out its economy amid civil wars, natural disasters, and Government collapse. However, without a signal, the country has now plunged into a severe economic crisis, the worst till date, bringing the country’s economy on the verge of collapse.

Sri Lanka, the land of cinnamon and tea, is known for the export of tea and spices, and is also a major hub of tourism in Asia. The geography of Sri Lanka promotes fertile, flat lands towards the north, hilly interior, supports a great fishing industry, and has major ports between the west and the east. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka lacked big industrial regions like other developed nations, and that is why foreign debt is always a mounting pressure in the Sri Lankan economy. It’s 100% dependence on fuel oil from other countries has marked a severe fuel shortage in the country.

Covid-19 has a major role to play in crippling the Sri Lankan economy. Though the island never experienced huge surges of Covid-19 victims, its mainstay, the tourism industry suffered a huge setback, when the whole world went into lockdown. Though many African and South American countries opened up their doors to foreigners as the pandemic subsided, Sri Lanka remained virtually cut off from the tourism sector till date. Repeated lockdowns in the country, followed by economic crisis put both foreign and domestic tourists out of reach of famous tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.

Adding fuel to the fire were some Government policies that were taken hastily with little planning for the future. Some of them, like reduced taxation, and organic farming backfired as they were implemented overnight, without any backup plans. While the measures were really good, sudden change in taxation drained the Government Treasury, and replacing conventional farming with organic farming resulted in less productivity of crops. Sri Lanka’s reliance on China on port building has also backfired as its Hambantota port has been a commercial failure, prompting Chinese companies to take up the port business.

Till date, India has given almost 2 billion financial aid to Sri Lanka. India has donated essential items like rice and fuel to Sri Lanka so that common people may get themselves out of the crisis. More countries, including China, have come forward, and helped Sri Lanka regain their lost ground. However, the future of Sri Lanka is not looking bright with the whole Parliamentary cabinet except the President and the Prime Minister resigned.

Written by – Himadri Paul

India-Japan Clean Energy Partnership

India has signed up a 3.2 lakh crore partnership deal with Japan on 19th March 2022, following Japanese PM, Fumio Kishida’s meeting with Indian PM, Narendra Modi. Previously, India and Japan had signed a deal for the prestigious bullet train project from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, which has not got far beyond papers in recent years.

This time, though the bullet train project was highlighted as “One Team, One Project”, the main aim was on renewable and clean energy. The greatest development was in the automobile sector, which contributes to most of India’s pollution in big cities. India and Japan have agreed to collaborate in production of electric vehicles, battery storages and green hydrogen as an alternative energy source. This comes at a time after the Indian Government has announced its intention to switch over to a complete electric vehicles fleet after 2025.

Referring to bilateral trade ties, he said Japan has an investment target of five trillion yen (Rs 3.2 trillion) in India over the next five years. Japan also announced a sustainable development initiative for the Northeastern region. Loans worth Rs 20, 400 crore from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) were also agreed upon for cooperation in infrastructure, connectivity, biodiversity and healthcare.

Japan’s co-operation with India has only increased over the years. At a time when India is desperately looking for alternatives to oil and coal, investments in renewable and clear energy sectors come as a boon. In the solar power sector, when India imports more than 90% of solar panels and more than half of energy storage facilities, co-operation is needed with the developed countries to sustain production in India. Japan is now on the driving seat of economic and technological boom among major powers in the world. Hence, India co-operation with Japan in various advanced technological and economic fields will boost India’s growth as a world power in the coming years.

Read more about India-Japan’s economic summit here – https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/a-yen-for-india-to-take-bilateral-relations-forward-japan-and-india-must-exploit-complementarities/2467164/

Written by – Himadri Paul