Friday, June 21, 2019

Indian state of Rajasthan to pay for Pashupatinath trip

Indian state of Rajasthan has decided to pay for airfare of its senior citizens – above 65 years – coming on pilgrimage to Pashupatinath in Kathmandu.
According to Indian media, “The Rajasthan government has decided to fly its senior citizens free of cost to three more pilgrimage destinations, including Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal, an official statement said Thursday.”
The three new locations have been added by the Ashok Gehlot government in the list of 6 existing destinations, the media reported, adding that the Indian state of Rajasthan has been bearing pilgrimage expenses of senior citizens under the ‘Senior Citizens Pilgrimage Scheme’.
Pashupatinath Temple – listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979 – has been a prime destination for Hindu pilgrims across the globe. Indian nationals top the visitors’ number every year due to religious tourism during February, when Maha Shivaratri, a major festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, is celebrated.
The latest decision of the Indian state government is likely to help promote Visit Nepal Year 2020 campaign too. 

Nepal, Bangladesh agree to make joint investment in Nepal's hydropower

Nepal and Bangladesh – during a meeting held in Dhaka – agreed to jointly invest in the feasible hydropower project in Nepal.
A meeting of the energy secretaries from both the countries today in Dhaka also decided to use the existing setup of Indian transmission lines to trade power in the short run, though they had decided to study the prospect of building dedicated power lines in the long term.
Agreeing to make a joint investment in the projects based on the whitepaper issued after the last meeting, the secretary level meeting between energy officials of both countries today agreed to form a committee to study the prospect of transferring solar power technologies available in Bangladesh to Nepal.
According to energy secretary Dinesh Kumar Ghimire, the meeting has agreed for the joint investment on hydropower, collaboration, and cooperation on alternative energy and electricity export to Bangladesh. The agreement was signed by energy secretary Dinesh Ghimire and his Bangladeshi counterpart Ahmad Kaikaus during the Joint Steering Committee meeting in line with the Memorandum of Under-standing signed by the two countries on ‘Cooperation in the Field of Power Sector’ last August.
Discussions on the use of Indian transmission lines passing through the Siliguri Corridor – popularly known as Chicken’s Neck – emerged in the wake of recent amendments to the cross-border energy trading regulations by India. India has relaxed earlier provisions and given explicit recognition to tripartite arrangements in cross-border electricity trade. “The Transmission Planning Agency of India in consultation with the Transmission Planning Agency of the neighbouring country shall grant access to the Participating Entities to use Cross Border Transmission Link for cross border trade of electricity,” reads India’s Cross Border Trade of Electricity Regulations, 2019.
During past meetings, Nepal and Bangladesh pledged to make their best efforts in devising such trilateral arrangements.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has formulated a policy to import 9,000 MW electricity from Nepal by 2040 as Bangladesh being one of the fastest growing economies – aided by its manufacturing sector – is an energy-hungry nation which makes it a lucrative market for power produced in Nepal.
The authorities from both countries have also planned to study and invest in 20 major hydropower project proposed in the white paper released by the energy ministry in May 2018. The proposed projects include four storage and other major hydroelectric power plants including Upper Arun, Dudhkoshi, Sunkoshi 2, Sunkoshi 3, West Seti and Phukot Karnali. Out of the 20 projects, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) is currently evaluating the detailed project report (DPR) of the 800 MW Dudhkoshi Hydropower project and the recent project optimisation of Upper Arun, which revised its installed capacity from 725 MW to 1040 MW. The estimated annual cumulative output of the proposed and under-study projects stands at 42713.18 GWhr, nearly 11 times current total annual output.
Nepal’s power generation is expected to surge in the next fiscal year as some 43 projects with installed capacity of 1149 MW are expected to be joined in the national grid. Due to power surplus estimation in future, the government has focused on construction of high capacity substations at cross-border trade points and finalise the modalities for developing the 400 kV Butwal-Gorakhpur Transmission Line to facilitate cross border power trade.

Experts dwell on BRI opportunities and challenges

Experts from South Asia and South East Asia have highlighted the various opportunities and challenges associated with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) during a two-day international conference that was concluded in Kathmandu today.
Delivering her presentation during the ‘Fourth International Conference on Belt and Road for development and prosperity of South Asia’, Centre of International Relations and Strategic Studies under the Foreign Service Institute of Philippines Darlene V Estrada said that her country has remained very receptive towards China's BRI since it joined in 2017. “We are aligning our development plans with China's BRI even though there are some geopolitical, financial and legal risks," she said, adding that it is important for any country to maximise its national interests through BRI. “The Philippines has formulated a mechanism to avoid potential risks from the extreme debt under the BRI.”
Research Associate at the East Asian International Relations of Malaysia Nur Shahadah Jamil, on the occasion, said that the new Mahathir administration has continued engagement with China for economic cooperation though it scrapped some projects under the BRI which were agreed during the previous Najib administration. “We cannot abandon our strong economic partnership with China though we have scrapped some projects under the BRI after the new government came,” she said, adding that the Chinese investment is growing rapidly at present in Malaysia.
Likewise, macroeconomic expert of the Laos government Vanxay Sayavong shared that his country is taking huge advantage from the connectivity projects including China-Laos railway built under the framework of the BRI. Suggesting the participating countries to address the concerns of local communities while executing projects under the BRI, he said that the projects built under the BRI may face strong protests at the local level like in Laos in the recent past, if the concerns raised by local communities are not addressed.
Director at the Institute of South Asian Studies under the Xizang Minzu University of Tibet Autonomous Region of China said that China and Nepal have been expanding their economic cooperation in recent years. “We are determined to execute the cross-border railroad connectivity though it may take some time," she said, adding that India's hegemonic behaviour towards Nepal is thwarting China-Nepal relations at times. “Nepal needs to pursue an independent foreign policy and deepen its close ties with next-door neighbour China.”
The head of China Study Centre at Sustainable Development Policy Institute of Pakistan Hina Aslam, on the occasion, said that Pakistan has been benefitting from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by constructing energy plants, seaport, railroad connectivity projects and special economic zones. “However, hostile relationship with India over Kashmir issue and worsening security situation of Afghanistan may bring some problems in CPEC," she added.
Explaining how Bangladesh is bilaterally working with China as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor is not moving ahead as expected, Mahfuz Kabir from Bangladesh highlighted Bangladesh-China cooperation under the BRI. “As South Asian countries are heavily dependent on China for trade and investment, they need strong railroad connectivity with China,” he added.
A member of National Planning Commission (NPC) Krishna Prasad Oli said that the BRI is offering various economic opportunities for Nepal. “We want to enhance railroad connectivity with China," he added.
The conference, organised by Nepal-China Friendship Forum, witnessed the participation of scholars and experts from Nepal, China and other Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Nepal, Finland establish bilateral consultation mechanism

Nepal and Finland established a bilateral consultation mechanism to hold regular consultations alternatively – in Kathmandu and Helsinki – and to review bilateral relations and identify new areas of cooperation between the two countries, as well as exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – to establish the bilateral consultation mechanism between Foreign Ministries of Nepal and Finland – was signed by joint secretary and head of Europe America Division at Foreign Ministry Ghanshyam Bhandari and ambassador of Finland to Nepal Pertti Anttinen signed the MoU on behalf of their respective governments, at the Foreign Ministry in Kathmandu today.
Nepal and Finland established diplomatic relations in 1974. They have been enjoying cordial relations based on mutual respect, cooperation and trust but the bilateral relations needs to be taken to new height, the ministry press note reads.

IFC joins hands with Nepal to raise environmental and social standards in hydropower projects

International Finance Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group – has signed an agreement with the Forest Training and Research Centre (FTRC), under Ministry of Forests and Environment, to improve adherence to environmental and social standards in hydropower development in Nepal.
Under the pact, IFC will provide advisory services to increase private sector compliance with environmental and social standards by improving development and implementation of regulatory frameworks for hydropower sector, including trainings in all seven provinces. The programme will also facilitate investments in hydropower sector by providing guidance on environmental and social standards and supporting inclusive development of hydropower in Nepal.
As a part of its support, IFC will focus on development and adoption of best practices, including capacity to implement the new Hydropower Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Manual, released last year by the ministry and supported by IFC.
“To implement the EIA manual, we need to train our staff at all levels. This support will help us build our capacity as an oversight agency for environmental impact and to ensure effective compliance with environmental standards,” director general of FTRC Deepak Kumar Kharalsaid.
Given the vast environmental and social challenges Nepal faces, capturing the impacts and risks associated with hydropower development remains critical to ensuring sustainable development in the country.
“This will enable both the public sector as well as the private sector to have a clear guidance on what is expected to identify risks and manage the impact associated with hydropower projects as well as assess cumulative the impact while managing river basins holistically, particularly where multiple hydropower projects are being planned,” IFC’s resident representative in Nepal Mohammad Rehan Rashid said.
The programme, funded by the governments of Australia, Japan and Norway, has a strong social inclusion component focused on building resilience in communities affected by hydropower projects.
IFC – a sister organisation of the World Bank and member of the World Bank Group – is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. In fiscal year 2018, we delivered more than $23 billion in long-term financing for developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity.

New international labour standard to combat violence, harassment

The International Labour Conference  (ILC) has today adopted a new Convention and accompanying Recommendation to combat violence and harassment in the world of work.
The Violence and Harassment Convention-2019, and Violence and Harassment Recommendation-2019 were adopted by delegates on the final day of the Centenary International Labour Conference, in Geneva. For the Convention, 439 votes were cast in favour, seven against, with 30 abstentions. The Recommendation was passed with 397 votes in favour, 12 votes against and 44 abstentions.
The Convention recognises that violence and harassment in the world of work ‘can constitute a human rights violation or abuse…is a threat to equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work.’ It defines ‘violence and harassment’ as behaviours, practices or threats ‘that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.’ It reminds member states that they have a responsibility to promote a “general environment of zero tolerance”.
The new international labour standard aims to protect workers and employees, irrespective of their contractual status, and includes persons in training, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, job seekers and job applicants. It recognises that “individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer” can also be subjected to violence and harassment.
“The new standards recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment,” according to the ILO director-general Guy Ryder. “The standard covers violence and harassment occurring in the workplace; places where a worker is paid, takes a rest or meal break, or uses sanitary, washing or changing facilities; during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; work-related communications (including through information and communication technologies), in employer-provided accommodation; and when commuting to and from work,” he said, Welcoming the adoption, that recognises that violence and harassment may involve third parties, Ryder said that the new standards recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment. “The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men.”
The Convention will enter into force 12 months after two member States have ratified it. The Recommendation, which is not legally binding, provides guidelines on how the Convention could be applied.
This is the first new Convention agreed by the International Labour Conference since 2011, when the Domestic Workers Convention- 2011 (No. 189) was adopted. Conventions are legally binding international instruments, while Recommendations provide advice and guidance.
The ILO, the UN’s agency dealing with world of work issues, is marking its 100th year in 2019.
The Centenary ILC – the 108th meeting of the Conference – was attended by more than 5,700 delegates, representing governments, workers and employers from the ILO’s 187 member States. The Conference is also expected to adopt a landmark ILO Centenary Declaration, focused on a human-centred approach to the future of work.

Responsible business a crucial factor in keeping region on track to achieve the SDGs

Businesses are well-positioned to offer innovative solutions to key sustainable development challenges, particularly in meeting the infrastructure and connectivity needs of rural and urban communities, concluded the annual Asia-Pacific Business Forum (APBF) in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea today.
Organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP), the government of Papua New Guinea and the Papua New Guinea Investment and Promotion Authority, with the support of the Business Council of Papua New Guinea, the Forum showcased bold, innovative and truly sustainable business solutions in sectors such as infrastructure, green financing, financial inclusion, climate and disaster resilience, as well as trade and investment.
The two-day APBF focused on the theme of ‘Global Goals, Local Opportunities’. Senior policymakers, business leaders and emerging entrepreneurs discussed the roles and responsibilities of businesses to work with the public sector to mitigate the impacts of climate change and support the development of non-urban Pacific communities.
“Connectivity is especially relevant in the Pacific context, where the challenges associated with geographic isolation and remoteness have hindered trade and investment among Pacific island countries and with major international markets. Enhancing connectivity in this subregion demands increased investments in transport networks and ICT infrastructure,” said UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana in her opening remarks.
Alisjahbana called upon public-private sector partnerships to support SME growth and women’s entrepreneurship in the region. “Unlocking the potential of women-owned business represents a powerful opportunity for greater economic growth and leadership in our economies,” she said, adding that a stronger Asia and the Pacific demands novel strategies to overcome entrenched barriers to women owned and led businesses and entrepreneurships.
Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape, on the occasion, said that the priority is to empower our local business women and men. “We have set a goal of growing our local SME spaces so that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of our citizens are anchored in the SME sectors,” he said, adding that aligned with the focus of the APBF, the key priority sectors for SME growth are agriculture, tourism and marine resources. “We are keen to work with foreign investors to sustainably develop these industries and our SMEs in them.”
“To implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is not a simple task.”
One condition for success is to engage the private sector well. For businesses to work towards the SDGs, we need platforms such as the Asia-Pacific Business Forum to bring together world business leaders,” the president of the ESCAP Sustainable Business Network (ESBN) George Lam said.