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Ranil Wickremesinghe urges India, Pak. to resolve issues

Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Sri Lankan PM, delivering the keynote address at The Huddle on Sunday. K. MURALI KUMAR

Successful regional integration — both economic and security — depends on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) becoming fully functional at the highest levels, Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday.

Emphasising the need for countries in the region to link up both strategically and economically, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the postponement of the Kathmandu SAARC Summit in 2017 due to heightened tensions between India and Pakistan had brought the regional grouping “to a standstill”.

Urging the neighbours to iron out differences — including on cross-border terrorism — he said, “Otherwise you may find outsiders coming and telling [you] sort it out... not us in South Asia.”

“SAARC is deadlocked. While BIMSTEC is not a substitute for SAARC, it is, nevertheless a starting point for integration,” he said, in his keynote address at The Huddle, a two-day thought conclave organised by The Hindu in Bengaluru.

Creating a sub-region

Proposing an ‘Economic Integration Road Map (EIRM)’, Mr. Wickremesinghe said it was important to conceptualise a “sub-region”, consisting of the five southern States of India, and Sri Lanka, to tap the total population of 300 million people and a combined GDP of over $500 billion.

Addressing para-tariffs and non-tariff barriers for successful regional integration, tapping e-commerce and enhancing tourism were crucial to such a road map, Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

“The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world, dotted with famous cities and scenic beaches, including the Andaman Islands and Phuket. Cruise tourism catering to millions of the emerging Asian middle classes, is a new commercial opening for the region,” he said.

A 692 km road through the Pakke Reserve has been cleared

Even as work is under way since 2013 to lay a two-lane, 156 km road through the Namdapha National Park, India’s easternmost tiger reserve, a new highway project has been cleared through yet another big cat reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.

Documents received in response to an RTI inquiry by Seijosa-based green activist Tana Jorjo Tara reveal that the BJP government in the State plans to build a 692.7 km highway through the 862 sq km Pakke Tiger Reserve (PTR) in East Kameng district.

The administrative office of the PTR is in Seijosa, a sub-divisional headquarters situated by the Pakhui or Pakke River.

Named the East-West Industrial Corridor, the highway aims to connect Bhairabhunda in West Kameng district and Manmao in Changlang district along Arunachal Pradesh’s border with Assam.

The project makes no mention of compensation for people likely to be displaced.

What has set alarm bells ringing for environmentalists is a 40 km elevated stretch through the heart of the PTR as advised by a Gujarat-based firm.

A high-powered committee, headed by State Assembly Speaker P.D. Sona, had on February 5 approved the project report for the elevated section, estimated to cost ₹2,550 crore.

“Elevation is no guarantee against felling of trees and disturbing wildlife in the sensitive PTR. This corridor will be a threat to the adjoining Nameri Tiger Reserve in Assam too,” Mr. Tara told The Hindu on Sunday.

Mr. Tara said the proposed highway had been realigned to bisect PTR after the NHPC turned down the original proposal to let the corridor pass near its hydroelectric project on the Subansiri River.

“I have survived seven attacks for fighting cases against illegal logging since 2016. I won’t give up until the government finds an acceptable alternative [route],” he said.

A BHU team found a temple, potteries at the site in Babhaniyav near Varanasi

A nearly 4,000-year-old urban settlement has been unearthed by a team of surveyors from the Banaras Hindu University, which experts say could be one of the craft villages mentioned in ancient texts.

The university’s Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, which did the preliminary survey of the site in Babhaniyav village, 13 km from Varanasi, said it found remnants of one of the settlements mentioned in ancient literature about the holy city.

The survey found a temple dating back to the 5th century through 8th century, potteries which are 4,000-year-old and walls which are 2,000-year-old, said Professor A.K. Dubey of the BHU department.

“On the basis of the surface materials we can say the structure is anywhere between 3,500 to 4,000 year old,” said Mr. Dubey, who is part of the team which will start excavation at the site from February 23.

He said the site gains significance because of its proximity to Varanasi, which is said to be 5,000 years old, though modern scholars believe it to be around 3,000 years old.

“The site at Babhaniyav could be a small sub-centre of Varanasi which grew as an urban town,” said Mr. Dubey.

‘Satellite town’

The findings are important as Babhaniyav could have been a satellite town and feeding centre for Varanasi-Sarnath region, said B.R. Mani, a former additional director general of Archaeological Survey of India.

Mr. Mani was invited by the BHU during its initial survey, and said the team unearthed a 5-metre cultural deposit like the ones found in Sarnath.

Kushan-Brahmi script

“While such crafts villages have been earlier unearthed in Sarnath, Tilmapur, Ramnagar and other areas, Babhaniyav is an addition. They have also found a pillar with a two-line text in Kushan-Brahmi script which makes the findings at least 3,500-4,000 years old. Once the excavation is complete we will get a clearer picture,” Mr. Mani, who heads the National Museum, told PTI.

Forest dept. is making arrangements for protection during mass nesting

Forest officials holding awareness meeting at Podampeta village about protection of olive ridleys during their mass nesting.Special arrangement

Preparations are almost done at the Rushikulya rookery on the Odisha coast to welcome and protect olive ridley turtles during mass nesting, likely to begin in a week.

Eggs from sporadic nesting that has been going on for the past two months, which were incubated at artificial hatcheries of the forest department, have also started to hatch, said Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer Amlan Nayak.

Sporadic nesting

According to sources, till now around 23 turtles have laid over 2,400 eggs through sporadic nesting.

To provide security to mother turtles as well as the eggs from human and predator intervention, the forest department is erecting an over 5-km-long fence of metal net from Gokharkuda to Bateswar. This stretch is the most preferred location for mass nesting in the Rushikulya rookery.

The forest officials have already completed two to three rounds of awareness drive at all villages near the rookery.

Thousands of mother turtles are waiting in the sea near the coast where fishing in mechanised boats, including trawlers, has been banned. The forest department officials are also patrolling the region in two trawlers, two speed boats and a country boat.

In February, a fishing trawler from Andhra Pradesh was seized as it had illegally entered the restricted zone.

The whole stretch of the nesting beach has been cleaned four times in February.

Debris and plastic waste, like pieces of fishing net, are being removed with the help of locals. There will be regular monitoring of the beach.

Onshore camps

The department has set up 11 onshore camps. Personnel at these camps regularly document beach condition, inform about the debris deposited by the sea, prevent entry of predators like stray dogs and search for turtle carcasses. Officials from all ranges of the department have been mobilised, said Mr. Nayak.

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