Half a million Indians flee floods in northeast brought by rain

Reuters: More than 500,000 people have fled their homes in India’s northeastern state of Assam to escape heavy floods triggered by pre-monsoon rains that drowned seven, authorities said on Wednesday, as they warned the situation could worsen.

One of the world’s largest rivers, the Brahmaputra, which flows into India and neighbouring Bangladesh from Tibet, burst its banks in Assam over the last three days, inundating more than 1,500 villages.

Torrential rains lashed most of the rugged state, and the downpour continued on Wednesday, with more forecast over the next two days.

“More than 500,000 people have been affected, with the flood situation turning critical by the hour,” Assam’s water resources minister, Pijush Hazarika, told Reuters, adding that the seven drowned in separate incidents during the last three days.

Soldiers of the Indian army retrieved more than 2,000 people trapped in the district of Hojai in a rescue effort that continues, the state’s health minister, Keshab Mahanta, said.

Water levels in the Brahmaputra were expected to rise further, national authorities said.

“The situation remains extremely grave in the worst-hit Dima Hasao district, with both rail and road links snapped due to flooding and landslides,” said Assam’s revenue minister, Jogen Mohan, who is overseeing relief efforts there.

Cities elsewhere in India, notably the capital, New Delhi, are broiling in a heat wave.

Pakistan-IMF talks begin in Qatar

The government began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday over the release of crucial funds, a process slowed by concerns about the pace of economic reforms in the country.

Pakistan has repeatedly sought international support for its economy, which has been hit by crippling national debt, galloping inflation and a plummeting rupee.

The talks are being held in the Qatari capital Doha, the Ministry of Finance said, and are expected to continue into next week.

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Minister of State Dr Aisha Ghous Pasha, Finance Secretary Hamed Yaqoob Shaikh, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Acting Governor Dr Murtaza Syed, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Asim Ahmad and other officials from the Finance Division are participating in the talks.

A major sticking point is likely to be over costly subsidies — notably for fuel and electricity — and the finance minister said he wants the two sides to “find a middle ground”.

“The government will try to convince the IMF that for political stability purposes it is important to keep at least some of the subsidies,” said economist Shahrukh Wani.

“The IMF will possibly, rightly, say that these are unsustainable and they should be rolled back to make the trade and budget deficit manageable,” he added.

A $6 billion IMF bailout package signed by former prime minister Imran Khan in 2019 has never been fully implemented because his government reneged on agreements to cut or end some subsidies and to improve revenue and tax collection.

Islamabad has so far received $3bn, with the programme due to end later this year.

Officials are seeking an extension to the programme through to June 2023, as well as the release of the next tranche of $1bn.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to jumpstart the moribund economy, but analysts say his fragile government has failed to take tough decisions.

In recent meetings with the new finance minister, the IMF has linked the continuation of its loan programme with the reversal of fuel subsidies, which were introduced by the previous government. However, Prime Minister Shehbaz has multiple times rejected summaries by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority and the finance ministry to increase fuel prices.

“It’s an administration that has refused to take hard political steps to bring eventual economic relief — but that’s exactly the sacrifice it must make by going to the IMF,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy South Asia director at the Wilson Centre in Washington.

Woman lost in 1947 violence meets Sikh brothers at Kartarpur

NAROWAL: The woman who was separated from her family during the violence at the time of the Partition of India met her Sikh brothers at Kartarpur.

At the time of the Partition, Mumtaz Bibi was an infant who was lying on the dead body of her mother who was killed by the local violent mobs.

One Muhammad Iqbal and his wife, Allah Rakhi, adopted the baby girl and raised her as their own daughter, naming her Mumtaz Bibi. After the Partition, Iqbal took up residence at the village of Varika Tian in Sheikhupura district.

Iqbal and his wife did not tell Mumtaz that she was not their daughter. Two years ago, Iqbal’s health suddenly deteriorated and he told Mumtaz that she was not his real daughter and that her real family was Sikh.

After Iqbal’s death, Mumtaz and her son, Shahbaz, started searching for her family through social media. They knew the name of Mumtaz’s real father and the village (Sidrana) in Patiala district of Indian Punjab where they settled after being forced to leave their native home. Both the families got connected through social media.

Mumtaz’s brothers Sardar Gurumeet Singh, Sardar Narendra Singh and Sardar Amrinder Singh, accompanied by family members, reached Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur. Mumtaz along with her other family members reached there also and met her lost brothers after 75 years.