TIME India

India Will Become the World’s Most Populous Country by 2022, the U.N. Says

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That's much earlier than previously thought

India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation in less than a decade — or six years earlier than previously thought, according to the U.N.

With 1.38 billion people compared with India’s 1.31 billion, China is currently the world’s most populous country. Figures for both countries are expected to swell to around 1.4 billion by 2022, at which point India’s population is likely to expand beyond China’s.

At the end of the next decade, in 2030, India is projected to have 1.5 billion people, a figure that’s forecast to balloon to 1.7 billion by 2050. China’s population, on the other hand, is forecast to remain relatively stable until the 2030s, at which point the U.N. says it is likely to “slightly decrease.” In a forecast published two years ago, India had been expected to overtake China around the year 2028.

The projections from the population division of the U.N.’s economic and social affairs unit were published in a new report that also forecast an expansion in the world’s overall population to 8.5 billion by 2030. By the middle of the century, there are likely to be as many as 9.7 billion people worldwide, with six of the 10 largest countries — India, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and the U.S. — expected to have populations exceeding 300 million people.

“While the global projections should not be cause for alarm, we must recognize that the concentration of population growth in the poorest countries presents a distinct set of challenges, making it more difficult to eradicate poverty and inequality, to combat hunger and malnutrition, and to expand educational enrollment and health systems,” John Wilmoth, who heads the U.N. division that produced the report, told the Associated Press.

India’s population is not growing the fastest, however, with Nigeria growing at such a rapid pace that it is expected to have more people than the U.S. by 2050, at which point it is likely to become the third most populous country in the world.

TIME Afghanistan

How the Death of Mullah Omar Could Disrupt Progress in Afghanistan

The one-eyed leader died two years ago, it has emerged. The news could impact hopes for peace with the Taliban

Only two weeks ago, Mullah Omar’s name surfaced on a website linked to the Afghan Taliban in a message approving of the insurgents’ peace talks with Afghan government officials. There was no video or audio, just a short statement purportedly from the one-eyed leader of the militants who ruled Afghanistan before fleeing into hiding amid U.S. air strikes in late 2001. And there he stayed, appearing only as the shadowy signatory of occasional messages such as the one that appeared in mid-July.

But on Wednesday morning, days before the second round of peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban are due to get under way, the Afghan government said it believed that Omar had in fact died as far back as 2013. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” a statement issued by the office of the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, said.

Earlier, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency said Omar, who carried a $10 million U.S. State Department bounty on his head, was believed to have died at a hospital in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. “He was very sick in a Karachi hospital and died suspiciously there,” Abdul Hassib Sediqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, told the Associated Press.

Omar’s whereabouts have been the subject of speculation for years, with the Taliban repeatedly denying periodic reports and rumors about incapacitating illness or death. But this time, with the Afghan government confirming the news, “we can now finally be comfortable in our long-held assumptions that he’s been dead,” says Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Questions, however, remain about how the announcement might impact the talks, which were due to resume this week with a second round of meetings between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives. Islamabad hosted the first set of meetings as Ghani seeks to broker a settlement with the insurgents, who stepped up violent attacks as most NATO forces left the country at the end of 2014. With over 10,000 civilian casualties — up 22% on 2013 — last year was the conflict-ridden country’s deadliest since the U.N. began keeping records in 2007.

Afghanistan’s government said it believes that confirmation of Omar’s death means that the “grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before” and called on “all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.”

But it is possible that the opposite might happen, as news of a leadership vacuum fuels Taliban infighting and different factions openly jostle for position. “The talks are by no means dead, but the momentum has been lost. I think the Taliban will now be consumed by this crisis — and it is a crisis,” Kugelman says. “It is going to be very difficult for the Taliban to think about peace talks. I don’t see how they’ll be able to focus on talks anytime soon.”

The fear that their organization is going to be “torn asunder” by the public announcement of their leader’s death might also explain why some Taliban militants had earlier on Wednesday put out the claim that Omar was still alive. “It could really tear the organization apart,” says Kugelman, who adds that the denials might be an attempt by certain groups to maintain unity.

Already, various Taliban factions are said to be making a push for power, with recent Pakistani press reports highlighting opposition within the militant group’s ranks to the leadership of its acting chief, Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor.

The announcement of Omar’s death by Afghanistan’s government, Kugelman adds, could also prove to be a “big-time victory” for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which has expanded beyond its home ground in Syria and Iraq into Afghanistan in recent months. “You could argue announcing Mullah Omar’s death amounts to a recruiting tool for [ISIS],” he says, with the confirmed exit of Omar allowing ISIS to lure disaffected Taliban militants who were already concerned about his absentee leadership as foreign troops exited Afghanistan.

“I think you could have large numbers of these militants moving over to ISIS,” he says.

 

TIME India

Dr. Suniti Solomon, Pioneering Indian HIV/AIDS Researcher, Dies at 76

EVANGELISTA AND GAITONDE
Rajesh Nirgude—AP Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista, left, and Director of Y.R. Gaitonde Center for AIDS Research and Education Suniti Solomon at a charity function in Mumbai, India on Oct. 21, 2005

The Chennai native documented the country's first case of HIV infection in 1986

India’s foremost HIV/AIDS researcher Dr. Suniti Solomon, who documented the nation’s first HIV case before setting up the first voluntary testing and counseling center for the disease, died Tuesday at her home in the southern city of Chennai.

Solomon, who was 76, began tracking the infection at a time when many in the country were reluctant to delve into what was a little known field. In 1986, her discovery of the infection in six blood samples collected from female sex workers in southern India generated headlines internationally. Speaking to TIME in September 1986, after the first Indian cases had been documented, a former senior medical official said: “We in India have been shaken and face a moment of truth.”

Trained in the U.K., the U.S. and Australia, Solomon won a string of awards for her HIV/AIDS work. Her pioneering research was prompted by reports on HIV in international journals. “Those were the days when I was reading a lot of foreign journals on the HIV and its effect in the U.S. In a quest to determine whether the virus was spreading here, my postgraduate student Nirmala and I identified a few female sex-workers lodged at the government home on Kutchery Road in Mylapore [in Chennai],” she told the Hindu newspaper last year.

Among the first six cases uncovered by Solomon was of a 13-year-old girl who had been forced into the sex trade after being kidnapped. “She was the first girl we tested that I spoke to, and she changed me,” Solomon recalled in a 2009 interview with India’s Mint newspaper.

The samples collected by Solomon, who was being treated for cancer when she died, and her team were eventually sent to Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. for further testing and confirmation.

“It was frightening really,” she told Mint. “My husband was a little worried and didn’t want me to work with HIV-positive patients, most of whom at that time were homosexuals, those who self-injected drugs and sex workers. And I said, look, you have to listen to their stories and you wouldn’t say the same thing.”

TIME India

How India’s Late President Learned About Rocket Science With NASA

Before he became India’s head of state, Dr. Kalam, who died on Monday aged 83, was one of the country’s most distinguished scientists. Here, a former colleague and friend recalls his time training with a young Kalam in the U.S. in the early 1960s

Back in the 1960s, we were both rookie engineers working for government organizations in India with just a few years of experience behind us—I worked in electronics and he specialized in aeronautics. Both of us had passed out from the Madras Institute of Technology in southern India, although he was older than me and graduated a few years ahead.

But the first time I met A.P.J. Abdul Kalam—or Kalam, as I always knew him—was in a foreign country: the U.S. I’d gone there in December, 1962, and he followed in March, 1963. We were part of a seven-member team dispatched by Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program, to train with NASA and learn the art of assembling and launching small rockets for collecting scientific data.

I’d already spent a few months training at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, when Kalam arrived from India. Soon, we were working side by side at NASA’s launch facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. Our lodgings were called the B.O.Q., or the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, and we’d lunch together at the cafeteria where, because we were both vegetarians, we survived mainly on mashed potatoes, boiled beans, peas, bread and milk. Weekends in Wallops Island were lonely affairs, as the nearest town of Pocomoke City was an hour’s drive away. Thankfully for us, NASA put on a free flight to Washington D.C. for its recruits, so we would head up the to American capital on Friday nights and return to Wallops on the Monday morning shuttle.

It was a memorable experience. I remember one training session where Kalam had to fire a dummy rocket when the countdown hit zero. It was only after half a dozen attempts when he kept firing the rocket either a few seconds too early or too late that the man who went on to become one of India’s best known rocket scientists managed to get it right.

Our American sojourn ended in December, 1963, when we returned to India to help set up a domestic rocket launching facility on the outskirts of Trivandrum, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala. It was very different world from NASA. India’s space program was still in its early years and we had to swap our weekend shuttles to Washington for bicycles, our sole mode of transportation in those days.

Quite apart from the change, this presented a practical problem for Kalam: he didn’t know how to ride a bike! He was forced to depend on me or one of the other engineers to ferry him to and from work. When it came to food, if we’d lacked options at the canteen in Wallops Island, in Kerala we had to fend entirely for ourselves: there was no canteen at the nascent launch facility, and we had purchase our lunch at the Trivandrum railway station on the way to work.

Over the next decade and a half, Kalam and I worked closely on building India’s space program. Kalam eventually became the director of the project to develop the country’s first satellite launch vehicle, a task he pursued with single-minded devotion. He made his team work hard and set the benchmark for them by working twice as hard himself. He had a knack for getting things done and did not let initial failures deter his team. He pushed and pushed until eventually, in 1980, he succeeded with the launch of SLV3, India’s first experimental satellite vehicle which took off from Sriharikota on the country’s southeastern coast.

The same year, Kalam moved to India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and took on the task of building the country’s missiles. He injected a new sense of urgency and energy in the organization, and in 1998, led the team behind the country’s nuclear tests at Pokhran in northwestern India.

His unexpected election in 2002 as India’s President took him to a different plane, transforming him into a statesman and, rightly, a national legend. But he never forgot his early friendships. In 2007, when he was about step down from the presidency, he invited my wife Gita and me to stay with him at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the grand presidential residence in New Delhi.

He never allowed his high office to come in the way of his natural informality, a quality that so endeared to so many across India and the world. One evening during our stay, he invited me and my wife to attend a national awards ceremony that he was hosting in his capacity as President. The ceremony was followed by a reception for the guests, among whom were many dignitaries. Suddenly, Gita and I found that our host had disappeared. I was looking around trying to find him when an aide came up to me and whispered a message from India’s head of state: the President wanted us to leave the other guests behind and join him in the building’s magnificent gardens. It turned out that the great man needed a break from the formality of the awards function and wanted to get some fresh air. For more than an hour, we walked up and down the beautiful gardens, reminiscing about the old days in Trivandrum and the badminton games we used to play at the Rocket Recreation Club.

He returned to his Presidential duties quite recharged.

Aravamudan is a former Director of the Indian Space Research Organization’s Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, India

TIME

Six Dead as Armed Gunmen Storm a Police Station in North India

India Punjab Terror Attack
Munish Sharma—Reuters Indian policemen take their positions as their colleagues watch next to a police station during a gunfight at Dinanagar town in Gurdaspur district of Punjab, India on July 27, 2015.

The attack took place in a small town near India's border with Pakistan

At least six people have died in the northern Indian state of Punjab after gunmen dressed in army uniforms opened fire at a passenger bus and a community health centre early on Monday morning before storming a police station, resulting in a siege that as security forces surrounded the area near India’s international border with Pakistan.

Five bombs were also found on a railway track near the site of the siege in Dinanagar, a small town located around 10 miles from the border. Local and federal officials said initial media reports suggesting that the gunmen might be holding hostages were false.

“We have been able to limit [the attack], they are surrounded, they are holed up in the police station. We are on top of the situation,” Harcharan Bains, an adviser to Punjab’s chief minister, the state’s top elected official, told the Reuters news agency. Indian TV later reported that the siege ended at 5pm local time.

As the siege continued, the country’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, ordered increased security on India’s border with Pakistan. India’s defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, said special forces had been dispatched to the site of the attacks. “The counter insurgency and counter terror special forces are there,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

“We are on alert,” Anil Paliwal, a senior officer from the country’s Border Security Force, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. “We have enhanced vigil along the entire international border with Pakistan.”

India’s information ministry, meanwhile, was reported to have issued an advisory to television news channels to refrain from making live broadcasts from the scene as security forces attempt to bring the situation in Dinanagar under control.

According to PTI, the gunmen hijacked a small car with a Punjab registration number before opening fire on a passenger bus and targeting a community health centre adjacent to the police station. Two policeman and four civilians were killed in the attack, which also left several others wounded.

Although the identity of the gunmen remains unknown, local reports said they were suspected to have crossed into Punjab from the troubled northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, where attacks by gunmen dressed in police or army uniforms are more common.

The region is at the centre of a decades-old territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, tensions between whom have been rising in recent weeks despite a meeting earlier in July between their leaders that had triggered hopes of an improvement in relations between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Jitendra Singh, a minister in the office of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who represents a nearby constituency, said “this is a zone which has been vulnerable for quite some time.” “There have earlier also been reports of Pakistan infiltration and cross-border mischief in this area,” he said.

TIME India

Almost 1 in 3 Lawyers in India Are ‘Fake,’ Claims Top Bar Official

A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi
Anindito Mukherjee—Reuters A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Feb. 18, 2014

“Fake lawyers and nonpracticing law graduates are degrading the standards of the profession”

Nearly a third of all lawyers in India are “fake,” the head of the country’s legal regulator has said.

Manan Kumar Mishra, the chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI), made the startling revelation during speech in Chennai, the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, on Saturday, the Press Trust of India reports.

“Thirty percent of all lawyers are fake, who either hold fraudulent degrees or are nonpracticing persons and 20% of those who sport lawyers’ robes do not have proper degrees,” Mishra said. “Fake lawyers and nonpracticing law graduates are degrading the standards of the profession.”

The spread of “fake” lawyers, Mishra added, was also causing disruptions in the legal system. “Strikes on petty issues have become a regular phenomenon due to such persons,” he said, “We are serious about this and will take stiff action.”

Mishra’s statement comes on the heels of the arrest last month of a former law minister in the provincial government in New Delhi following a BCI complaint alleging that he had falsely claimed to be a law graduate.

And earlier this year, police in Tamil Nadu busted an elaborate scam to sell counterfeit certificates for legal and engineering courses. The illegal operation only came to light when three would-be lawyers applied to register with the state’s bar association, which discovered that their credentials were in fact fake.

TIME Bangladesh

Only 100 Tigers Remain in Bangladesh’s Sundarban Forests, Survey Shows

India Tigers Census
Joydip Kundu—AP ARoyal Bengal tiger prowls in Sunderbans, at the Sunderban delta, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) south of Calcutta, India on April 26, 2014.

The 3,860-mile mangrove forest is one of the big cats' largest natural habitats

Only some 100 tigers currently roam the Sundarban forests of Bangladesh, a new survey has discovered, indicating far fewer big cats than previously thought in one of their largest global habitats.

The yearlong survey that ended in April was based on footage from hidden cameras and found the true number of tigers to be between 83 and 130, Agence France-Presse reported.

“So plus or minus we have around 106 tigers in our parts of the Sundarbans,” Tapan Kumar Dey, the Bangladesh government’s wildlife conservator, told AFP. “It’s a more accurate figure.”

The number represents a precipitous drop from the 440 figure included in the last tiger census in 2004, although experts say in hindsight the earlier calculation may have been inaccurate since it was based on a study of the animals’ paw prints or pugmarks.

The news from Bangladesh is in contrast to South Asian neighbor India — home to about 70% of the global tiger population — where the Environment Ministry said in January that the number of tigers had risen to 2,226 from 1,411 in 2008. There are apparently 74 tigers on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, the mangrove forest that stretches for nearly 4,000 miles across both countries.

Monirul Khan, a zoology professor at Bangladesh’s Jahangirnagar University and the country’s foremost expert on tigers, stressed that the government needs to intervene in order to protect the animals from poaching and their habitat from destruction through development.

The number of wild tigers worldwide is currently estimated at just 3,200 compared to 100,000 in 1900, and WWF says they are in danger of soon becoming extinct.

[AFP]

TIME India

Greenpeace Says the Indian Government is Trying to ‘Strangle’ It With Bureaucracy

INDIA-GREENPEACE-BAN
MANJUNATH KIRAN—AFP/Getty Images Activists of GreenPeace rappell down their office building where they are head quartered to unfurl banners 'democracy' and 'freespeech' in Bangalore on May 15, 2015.

The local arm of the international environmental NGO has received a notice threatening the cancellation of its registration

The Indian arm of Greenpeace has accused the government in New Delhi of trying to “strangle” it after the group received a notice threatening the cancellation of its registration—a move that could force the environmental NGO to shutdown.

The notice was issued in June by local authorities in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Greenpeace India is registered. It alleges breaches of local regulations, something the environmental group denies, labeling the charges “perversely framed and maliciously designed” and pointing its finger at the national government led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We are a legitimate organization that has been operating legally in India for over 14 years,” one of the group’s top officials, Vinuta Gopal, said in a statement. “This absurd notice lacks legal basis and instead appears to have been sent at the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs [in New Delhi], which has been trying to silence us for more than year without success.”

The notice is the latest in a string of recent challenges for the group. It was barred from receiving any foreign funding earlier this year, when the Modi government suspended its license, accusing it of violating regulations and spending unaccounted-for funds to obstruct industrial projects. The move in April brought the group to the brink of closure, with the loss of as many as 340 jobs, as it struggled to pay employees. It received a lifeline in late May, when a court allowed the group to collect domestic donations.

Greenpeace India’s travails come against the backdrop of a broader regulatory crackdown on NGOs by the Modi government, which has cancelled the registration of thousands of groups for violating laws governing the receipt of foreign funds, according the Economic Times.

“We are a legal Indian organization staffed by Indians working for a better India for all and any charge of foreign control is false. The Ministry of Home Affairs is trying to strangle us in bureaucracy, preventing our work,” Gopal told TIME, saying Greepeace had written to local authorities in Tamil Nadu to ask for more information about the June notice, but is yet to hear back.

Gopal said the group would soon mount a legal challenge against the notice.

TIME Nepal

Is It Really Safe to Go Trekking in Nepal Again?

Plenty of well-meaning organizations say the best way to support quake-ravaged Nepal is to spend your tourist dollars there, but many local tour operators have concerns

Nepal’s Himalayan tour operators are criticizing a new government-sanctioned report that declared one of the country’s most popular trekking circuits safe for tourists after massive earthquakes ravaged the country in late April.

They say the study was hastily conducted, without enough fieldwork to back up the findings.

The report, funded by the U.K. and conducted by structural-engineering company Miyamoto, found that the Annapurna circuit was not as badly damaged as initially feared, the BBC says.

The government welcomed the report’s conclusions that very few trails in the area needed repairs after quakes on April 26 and May 12 killed more than 9,000 people across the tiny mountain nation.

Several companies and associations that facilitate trekking expeditions across the Himalayan mountains surrounding Nepal, however, are less enthusiastic. Most say they were not consulted for their input, despite their intimate familiarity with and practical knowledge of the region.

“Such assessments need to have the involvement of stakeholders like us to have any credibility,” Ramesh Dhamala, president of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), told the BBC.

Nepal Mountaineering Association president Ang Tshering Sherpa added that the report was “totally insufficient” because only one week of fieldwork was carried out.

MORE: 6 Ways You Can Give to Nepal Earthquake Relief

Their criticisms come just over a month after U.N. officials voiced their fears over the safety of several quake-damaged World Heritage Sites reopened by the Nepalese government.

Speaking to the New York Times in June, Christian Manhart, the head of UNESCO Kathmandu, said that his organization had encouraged authorities to delay the reopening of certain monuments — including some of the country’s most popular attractions — because of concerns that some buildings were still unsafe or vulnerable to looting.

He also told the Times that Archaeology Department director general Bhesh Narayan Dahal implied to him that he was under pressure to reopen damaged monuments in order to collect entrance fees to support reconstruction efforts.

Meanwhile, representatives of Miyamoto told the BBC they involved multiple trekking and mountaineering companies in compiling their report on the Annapurna circuit.

The global engineering firm, which is based in Sacramento, Calif., is also compiling a similar safety report on the world’s tallest peak Mount Everest and its surrounding areas.

Dhamala, however, says operators belonging to TAAN will not be sending tourists to either region based on Miyamoto’s findings.

The association’s CEO, Ganga Sagar Pant, said in an interview with TIME on May 8 that they were conducting “assessment” expeditions of their own to ensure the trails were safe for visitors. Pant, along with other government officials and tour operators, insisted at the time that Nepal was safe for tourists — but that was before the second earthquake, which struck a week after the interview.

Around 17,000 fewer tourists have visited Nepal between May and July compared to the corresponding period last year, severely depleting one of the mainstays of the small landlocked country’s already struggling economy.

TIME India

Another Indian Taxi Driver Allegedly Caught Masturbating in Front of a Female Customer

Employee works inside the office of U.S. online cab-hailing company Uber on the outskirts of New Delhi
Anindito Mukherjee—Reuters An employee works inside the office of U.S. online cab-hailing company Uber, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, April 24, 2015

And this one worked for Uber

A driver for ride-sharing app Uber was arrested Monday night for allegedly masturbating while ferrying a 25-year-old woman through the eastern Indian city of Kolkata earlier this month.

News of the incident comes weeks after a female passenger in the Indian capital New Delhi made a similar allegation against a driver working for TaxiForSure, one of Uber’s main competitors in the country.

In a statement regarding the Kolkata incident, Uber spokesman Karun Arya told TIME that, on getting word of the allegation, the company immediately contacted the passenger and suspended the driver, who was contracted to work for the online taxi service. Uber also helped the local authorities in Kolkata with their investigation.

“The rider was satisfied with our immediate assistance and action,” Arya said, adding that the passenger in question continues to use the taxi service.

Uber said the driver’s papers were in order, and he had cleared an independent background check. The incident took place on July 8, when the passenger noticed that the driver was “masturbating with one hand and driving with the other,” the Indian Express reports.

Citing the passenger, the Times of India reported that the driver was constantly looking at her during the journey. She subsequently filed a police complaint, which led to the driver being put under surveillance for several days before he was arrested on Monday night. He has since been granted bail.

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