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India announces projects worth $17.9 mn for Palestine

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Ramallah: India on Monday announced projects worth $17.9 million in Palestine, and also a grant of $5 million, as President Pranab Mukherjee arrived here from Amman on a maiden visit of an Indian head of state to this troubled country.

The projects, announced soon after delegation-level talks between the two sides, cover a $12-million technology park, $4.5 million towards an institute of diplomacy, $1 million for an India-Palestine ICT and Innovation Centre.

“The grant is for budgetary support for Palestine,” Anil Wadhwa, secretary, east, in India’s external affairs ministry, said during a media briefing, adding that this was part of India’s ongoing support towards capacity building in Palestine.

He also said the number of seats for Palestinians under the Indian and Economic Cooperation Program was being doubled to 100, while scholarships to students to study in Indian universities will now to up to 25 from 10 earlier.

President Mukherjee, who had arrived at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv earlier in the day, immediately proceeded for Ramallah, changing his limousine at Bitunia, the checkpoint between Israel and Palestine.

Among his other engagements, he laid a wreath at the mausoleum of late Palestine president Yaseer Arafat, paid floral tributes to Mahatma Gandhi, and took part in a ceremony to name a road and a roundabout in the central quarters of this city as Sharia-al-Hind and Maidan-al-Hind.

During the delegation-level deliberations, where the bulk of the articulation of the Indian side was by the president, New Delhi once again reiterated its position over its unwavering support for the Palestine cause, and that it favored a negotiated settlement with Israel.

The Indian interlocutors present at the talks, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave a detailed presentation on the issues of conflict with Israel, and even circulated a position paper on the subject.

One of the issues he wished to emphasize was how in a matter of 78 years, the Palestinians-held territory had shrunk from what they claimed was at 100 percent historically, to 80 percent in 1937, 44 percent under the UN partition scheme, 22 percent by 1967, and 12 percent now.

President Abbas said his country just wanted the Israelis to agree to the 1967 de-facto lines endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1988.

The Indian president, on his part, said they believed in arriving at a negotiated settlement, rather that the road of conflict, based on the Quartet Roadmap, proposed by the US, EU, Russia and the UN, as also various resolutions at the United Nations.

(Arvind Padmanabhan, IANS)

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

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Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)