The South Asia Channel

India to Invest $137 Billion in Railways; Taliban Bomb Turkish Embassy Vehicle; Pakistan Detains Parents Refusing to Vaccinate Children

India Government to invest $137 billion in railways The Indian government presented its annual railway budget on Thursday, and said that it will invest $137 billion over the next five years to modernize its aging railway network (BBC, Indian Express, NDTV, Reuters). Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said that while there will be no increase in ...

Daily Life At Nizamuddin Railway Station
NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 07: Indian labourers work on the tracks at Nizamuddin Railway Station on February 07, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The Nizamuddin Railway Station serves as the main station connecting all major cities, and is served by Northern Railways. The state-owned Indian Railways runs 12,000 trains a day, covers 39,000 miles of track, employs 1.4 million people and is the world's second biggest rail network under single management. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)


Government to invest $137 billion in railways

The Indian government presented its annual railway budget on Thursday, and said that it will invest $137 billion over the next five years to modernize its aging railway network (BBC, Indian Express, NDTV, Reuters). Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said that while there will be no increase in the heavily subsidized passenger fares, freight fares will increase for several commodities including cement, coal and coke, iron, steel, and petroleum products. Prabhu ruled out privatization of the Indian railways, and said that funds to modernize and expand the railways will be raised from infrastructure and pension funds, multilateral lenders, and “monetization” of railway assets.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “#RailBudget2015 stands out for its focus on the common man, putting speed, scale, service & safety, all on one track,” and “I am particularly delighted that for the 1st time there is a concrete vision for technology upgradation & modernisation of the Railways.” The opposition Congress party criticized the “below-average” budget, and questioned how the government would raise its finances (Business Standard). Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party, called the budget disappointing, and said: “The government’s Budget is the revamped version of old UPA’s [United Progressive Alliance] initiatives” (Zee News). The railway is largest single employer in India providing jobs for 1.3 million people. India’s railway network carries around 23 million passengers daily and operates over 12,000 passenger trains.

S&P raises India’s GDP forecast

Standard & Poor’s (S&P – an American financial services company) raised India’s gross domestic product forecast from 6.2 percent to 7.9 percent for the year ending March 2016, and said that the country should be Asia’s “bright spot,” according to news reports on Thursday (NDTV, Reuters, Economic Times). S&P also raised its growth forecast from 6.6 percent to 8.2 percent for the year ending 2016-17. The revised figures were released after India changed the way its calculates its economy. Based on a new calculation method, India’s statistics ministry forecast earlier this month that India’s annual economic growth will accelerate to 7.4 percent in the year ending in March, 2014, making it the fastest growing economy.

Hindu vigilantes assault Muslim student

A group of vigilantes abducted and assaulted Mohammed Riyaz, a 20-year old college student studying computer science near Mangalore city, located in the southern state of Karnataka, after a picture of a male Muslim student lying on the laps of his female Hindu classmates went viral on Whatsapp, a mobile messaging application, according to news reports on Sunday (BBC, Deccan Chronicle, The Hindu). The vigilantes wrongly identified Riyaz as the student lying on the laps of his classmates. Assistant Commissioner of Police Ravi Kumar said: “After the photograph was circulated on social media sites, a vigilante group got other students from the college to identify the deviant youth and on learning that he was probably a Muslim, decided to attack him” (Indian Express). The college disciplinary committee suspended the boy and five girls posing in the picture as they were found guilty of carrying a cellphone to college, which is against college policy.
— Neeli Shah


Taliban bomb Turkish embassy vehicle

A Taliban suicide bomber driving an explosive-laden car collided with a Turkish embassy vehicle in the diplomatic quarter of Kabul on Thursday as it was making its way to the Turkish embassy (BBC, RFE/RL, VOA). The Turkish military said the vehicle was carrying the security team of NATO’s top envoy in Afghanistan, Ismail Aramaz, who was waiting at the Turkish embassy for the team to arrive. One Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded. An Afghan on the sidewalk was also killed. The attack, which targeted the Turkish vehicle, took place outside the gate of the Iranian embassy, adjacent to the Turkish embassy. The Taliban claimed responsibility and its spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted: “the purpose of today’s attack in Kabul was a convoy of US troops – the embassy or any other country nationals were not objective.”

Avalanche death toll over 200

A series of avalanches that hit Panjshir province Wednesday have killed more than 200 people, according to Deputy Governor Abdul Khabir Bakhshi (Pajhwok, TOLO News, BBC, Post). In the Paryan district alone, more than 110 people have been killed. Heavy snowfall earlier in the week has caused the avalanches and snowslides and blocked main roads in the area making rescue operations difficult. Many residents of the area are trapped in their homes, and local officials have distributed winter clothes and food to the affected people.

Afghanistan wins first Cricket World Cup match

In a dramatic performance on Thursday, Afghanistan has won its first Cricket World Cup match against Scotland by one wicket with three balls to spare (BBC, Pajhwok). Samiullah Shenwari, who made 96 runs, said: “Everyone enjoyed this win. There was a lot of pressure and the boys didn’t bat well in the middle of the game. We threw away four to five wickets early in the game, but we managed to pull through” (TOLO News). Afghanistan lost its first two games of the World Cup against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and will play its next match against Australia ‎on March 4.


Event Notice: “Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan: Opportunities and Obstacles for Civil Society,” Today, 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm (Wilson Center).

Pakistan detains parents refusing to vaccinate children

In the Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Thursday, 100 cases were filed with police against parents who refused to vaccinate their children against polio (RFE/RL). District police chief Rab Nawaz Khan said that most of the parents were released after agreeing to let their children receive the polio vaccination, but 18 parents refused and remain in detention. So far this year 11 cases of polio have been reported across Pakistan concerning health officials (Dawn). A National Institute of Health official told Dawn: “The winter is known for polio virus’ low transmission therefore new cases of polio should not come to surface in this season.” In 2014, there were 306 reported cases of polio in Pakistan.

Punjab government takes new counterterrorism steps

Punjab province is taking new steps to counter terrorism with a “safe city” project and reforms to the curriculum of seminaries, schools, and colleges (Dawn). Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif at a press conference in Lahore on Wednesday announced the government’s increased efforts that include altering curriculum; new laws against hate speech, wall chalking, and the misuse of loudspeakers in mosques; and increased surveillance in cities. School syllabi will cover religious tolerance and restraint, and writing plays and songs on tolerance and harmony will be promoted. The “safe city” project will create a centralized command system in major cities to monitor activities — from street fights and thefts to public meetings and acts of terror — with equipment like CCTV cameras and vehicle scanners then activate the response.

–Courtney Schuster

Edited by Peter Bergen

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Neeli Shah is a Washington D.C.-based economics, law, and policy professional. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. @neelishah

Courtney Schuster is a research associate with the International Security Program at New America and an assistant editor with the South Asia Channel.

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