13 years after Singur row, West Bengal minister says Tatas ‘most welcome’

News Network
July 19, 2021

Kolkata, July 19: Thirteen years after their small car project was forced out of West Bengal following the anti-land acquisition movement in Singur, Industry and IT Minister Partha Chatterjee has said talks are on with the Tatas for big-ticket investments in the state.

Underscoring job creation as the TMC government's top priority, Chatterjee also said incentives to companies will depend on their ability to generate employment.

He said the Mamata Banerjee dispensation wants two large manufacturing units to be set up by any prominent industrial house at the earliest.

"We never had any enmity with the Tatas, neither we fought against them. They are one of the most respected and biggest business houses of this country and also abroad. You can't blame the Tatas (for the Singur fiasco).

"The problem was with the Left Front government and its forcible land acquisition policy. Tata group is always most welcome to come and invest in Bengal," Chatterjee, also the ruling TMC's secretary general, told PTI in an interview.

Chatterjee said the salt to steel business conglomerate has shown interest in setting up another Tata Centre in Kolkata to house its offices.

"We already have the presence of Tata Metaliks, one Tata Centre besides the TCS here. But if they are willing to come up with big-ticket investments in manufacturing or other sectors, there is no problem. Our IT secretary recently told me they had shown interest in setting up a Tata Centre here," he said.

When asked whether the state government will go the extra mile to reach out to the Tatas, Chatterjee said he is already in touch with group officials to attract investment.

Singur, once known for multiple crop farming, hogged media limelight after Tata Motors set its sight on the land to build its cheapest car Nano in 2006. The Left Front government acquired 997.11 acres along the National Highway 2 and handed it over to the company.

Mamata Banerjee, then in the opposition, called a 26- day hunger strike demanding the return of 347 acres of farmland that was "forcibly" acquired.

Despite several rounds of meetings between the TMC and the Left Front government, the issue could not be resolved and the Tatas eventually moved out of Singur to Sanand in Gujarat in 2008. The land acquired for the project was subsequently returned to farmers in 2016.

When asked whether the government will invite the Tatas to set up a manufacturing unit at Singur once again, the minister said, "Why would Tatas want to return to Singur? The land has already been given back to farmers. We are planning to come up with agro-based industries there as the area's economy is based on agriculture."

Speaking about the government's priority areas for rapid industrialisation and employment generation, Chatterjee said setting up two major manufacturing units, specifically in the iron and steel sector, topped the list.

"Industrialisation and job creation have been the focus areas in our party manifesto. No doubt it's a challenge as the situation across the globe is not conducive due to the Covid situation.

"Our priority right now would be to bring two big manufacturing companies which are job creators. I am speaking to various stakeholders, industry captains and officials about it. We are on the job," he said.

Chatterjee said although information technology does not fall in the category of manufacturing sector, the government is looking for more investments there too.

The minister assured the issue of delay in land acquisition and related approvals, and incentives sought by industry for setting up their units will be addressed promptly.

"We will simplify the process of clearances required for land needed for setting up industries. I will discuss the matter with our chief minister. There will be promptness so that industries don't have any complaints about delay," he said.

"Second is the incentive part. We earlier had an incentive scheme, but we did away with it as the incentives companies were seeking and offers they had for us in terms of job creation and revenue generation, did not balance out. Now incentives will be decided depending on their proposals and the scale of jobs that will be created," he said.

Chatterjee, however, emphatically noted that there won't be any change in the government's land policy of "no forcible acquisition".

The industry, he said, will have to acquire land on its own or from the government's notified land bank and industrial parks.

"It is our stated stand that there will be no forcible land acquisition," he said, adding West Bengal has good connectivity, infrastructure, and law and order conducive for industries. The labour is skilled and inexpensive, he said.

Chatterjee rejected suggestions that the anti-land acquisition agitations in Singur and Nandigram had given the TMC an anti-industry image. "Had it been the case, the party won't have won three consecutive terms in office with a resounding mandate," he asserted.

The minister replied in the negative to a question about whether the constant bickering between the state and the Centre will pose a hurdle in bringing in new investments, but advised the BJP-led government to follow the spirit of federalism. 

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News Network
September 15,2021

New Delhi, Sept 15: After its recent withdrawal from the Afghanistan, the United States has hinted that it has been in talks with the government of India for using airfields in India as “staging areas” for carrying out aerial surveillance and launching attacks on terrorists in Pak-Afghan region.

President Joe Biden’s administration is “deeply engaged” with New Delhi, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said, testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives – the lower house of the American Congress.

He was responding to Republican Party’s Representative Mark E Green, who asked if the Biden Administration had reached out to New Delhi for using “over-the-horizon” capabilities from “staging areas” in north-west India for neutralising potential threats to the United States in and around Afghanistan, in view of the collusion between the Taliban and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.

 “We are deeply engaged with India across the board,” Blinken replied to Green.

He, however, did not share the details of the discussion between the two governments on the US launching drones from India for keeping watch on terrorist infrastructures in Afghanistan.

“With regard to any specifics about over-the-horizon capabilities and the plans we put in place or continue to put in place, I would rather take that up in a different setting,” Blinken replied to Green.

The Taliban of late returned to power in Afghanistan through a swift military campaign across the country taking advantage of the withdrawal of the US troops.

Biden and other senior officials of his administration in Washington DC repeatedly stated over the past few weeks that the US had sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to neutralise the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda – the objectives, which had been achieved over the past two decades.

Though terrorism continued to remain a threat and spread around the world, the US no longer required to deploy a large number of soldiers overseas to combat the menace as it had now developed the “over-the-horizon” capabilities of carrying out aerial surveillance and launch drones to eliminate such threats, they argued, justifying the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

But what may limit the US' capabilities of launching drone attacks on the terrorists and terror infrastructures in the region is the fact that some of the airbases it had earlier used for the purpose are no longer available to it after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The nearest airbases the US can use are in Qatar, Kuwait and other countries in the Gulf and far away from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the targets may be located – a fact Green pointed out while asking Blinken about the Biden Administration’s discussion with New Delhi.

New Delhi did not officially make any comment on Green’s query or the reply given by Blinken.

The Commander of the US Special Operations Command, General Richard D Clarke, had visited New Delhi in July and held a meeting with the Indian Army chief Gen M M Naravane.

Admiral John C Aquilino, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, also visited New Delhi and held a meeting with Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, just about 10 days after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan.

India is a “major defence partner” of the US and the two nations had inked a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, creating a framework to support each other's aircraft, ships and personnel with logistics, fuel and spares.

They also signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020 to enable the exchange of geospatial information between the two countries. 

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News Network
September 2,2021

geelaniali.jpg

The patriarch of separatist politics in the Valley and Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, passed away at his residence in Srinagar late Wednesday night. A former elected legislator, the ailing 92-year-old had been under house detention for more than a decade. 

His death comes when both his and the moderate factions of the Hurriyat are in disarray in the wake of a crackdown by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the abrogation of Article 370 and the downgrade of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

Apprehensive that his funeral may attract large crowds, the security establishment has imposed restrictions across the Valley, including Internet suspension. Police sources say curfew would be imposed.

“With shock and grief, we inform (you) that the father of revolution Syed Ali Geelani passed away tonight,” tweeted Geelani’s Pakistan-based representative Abdullah Geelani. “As per his will, he would be buried at the martyrs’ cemetery in Srinagar. The timing of the funeral would be announced later.”

However, it is unlikely that the government will allow Geelani to be buried at this cemetery.

Geelani’s legacy will be that of the hardliner who stood up to New Delhi, seeking resolution of the Kashmir dispute under the aegis of the United Nations. In fact, he was the only separatist leader to oppose Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when the latter climbed down on Islamabad’s traditional stand on Kashmir and proposed a four-point formula to resolve the Kashmir issue.

Born on September 29, 1929, at Zurmanz, a village on the banks of the Wular lake in Bandipore, Geelani rose to become the face of separatist politics.

A school teacher, he started his political career under the tutelage of Maulana Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi, a senior National Conference (NC) leader, but soon moved to Jamat-e-Islami. The socio-religious organisation stood up to the NC leadership and saw Kashmir as an “unfinished agenda” of Partition.

Geelani’s electoral career started from Sopore, a traditional separatist and Jamat stronghold. He first contested the Assembly elections in 1972, and represented Sopore in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for three terms. The last term ended abruptly in 1987 when militancy erupted in Kashmir.

Geelani had been one of the four candidates of the Muslim United Front (MUF) — an alliance of political, social and religious organisations — who won in the widely rigged 1987 elections that brought the NC-Congress combine to power and set off militancy in the Valley.

An ardent supporter of armed struggle for resolution of the Kashmir issue, Geelani was among the seven executive members of the Hurriyat Conference when it was formed in 1993. But his support for militancy and unwavering ideology on Kashmir sowed the seeds of discord between him and his colleagues in the Hurriyat Conference, finally culminating in a split in 2003.

In 2004, Geelani also parted ways from Jamat-e-Islami when it distanced itself from militancy, and formed his own political outfit, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat.

While Geelani has been bedridden for years now and incommunicado for the last two years, he sprang a surprise on June 30 last year when he dissociated himself from the faction of Hurriyat that he founded. He left the reins to his deputy Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, who died in custody in Jammu jail earlier this year.

And though Geelani said he wanted the resolution of the Kashmir issue as per the aspirations of the people, he himself was an ardent supporter of its merger with Pakistan. Last year, the Pakistan government awarded him with Nishan-e-Pakistan, the highest civilian honour of the country.

The NIA, which has till date arrested 18 separatist leaders from Kashmir including those from the Hurriyat in a case of terror funding, has alleged that they received funds from Pakistan to foment unrest in the Valley. The agency had even named Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq in the chargesheet, claiming they had been pushing for secession and fuelling unrest but had stopped short of naming them as accused.

In February, 2019 the NIA had raided Umer Farooq’s and Geelani’s son Naseem Geelani’s house among others in the case. In March 2019, the Enforcement Directorate had levied a penalty of Rs 14.40 lakh on Geelani in a 17-year-old case of alleged illegal possession of $10,000 in alleged contravention of the foreign exchange law.

Former chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti condoled Geelani’s demise, saying, “We may not have agreed on most things but I respect him for his steadfastness and standing for his beliefs.”

People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences to the family of Syed Ali Shah Geelani sahib. Was an esteemed colleague of my late father. May Allah grant him Jannat”.

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News Network
September 11,2021

Riyadh, Sept 11: The Saudi General Directorate of Passports announced it has started the automatic extension of the validity of residence permits (Iqama) for stranded expatriates outside the Kingdom in addition to extending the validity of visit visas and exit and re-entry visas without fees or charges for all expats until 30/11/2021, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA)reported.

The move comes in implementation of the directives of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

The decision, which was approved by the Minister of Finance, comes in line with ongoing efforts being made by the Kingdom’s government to deal with the effects and repercussions of COVID-19 pandemic.

It also falls within precautionary measures that guarantee the safety of citizens and residents and contribute to mitigating financial and economic impacts.

The Directorate indicated that the extension will be carried out electronically in cooperation with the National Information Centre without the need to visit the departments of passports. The extension process is as follows:

First: Extending the validity of residence permits as well as exit and re-entry visas for residents who are in countries from which entry is suspended as a result of Coronavirus until 30/11/2021.

Second: Extending the validity of visit visas for visitors who are in the countries from which entry is suspended as a result of the Coronavirus until 30/11/2021.

Currently, the countries facing the travel ban are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

Last month, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior has issued directives to allow direct entry of fully vaccinated expatriates from countries facing travel ban.

The decision was applied only to those foreigners who have a valid residency permit (iqama) and left the Kingdom on exit and re-entry visa after taking two doses of vaccine against coronavirus from Saudi Arabia.

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