India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university

Indian PM Narendra Modi visits the site of the ancient Nalanda university and Buddhist monastery in Bihar, June 19, 2024. (PM’s Office)
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Updated 19 June 2024

India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university

  • Ancient Nalanda university was founded in 427 CE during Gupta empire
  • Present-day Nalanda University is a flagship project of India’s government

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated on Monday a new campus of Nalanda University, an institution located at the site of a 5th-century learning center considered the world’s first residential university.

The ancient Nalanda university in the state of Bihar was founded in 427 CE during the Gupta empire and flourished for more than seven centuries. Its archaeological remains became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.

The present-day Nalanda University was established in Nalanda district as a public research university by an act of the Indian Parliament in 2010. A flagship project of the Ministry of External Affairs of the government of India, it was proposed by India’s former president A.P. J. Abdul Kalam and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who served as its first chancellor.

Supported by 18 member countries of the East Asia Summit, Nalanda University’s first batch comprised a dozen students enrolled in graduate and postgraduate courses in 2014. The construction of its new campus started in 2017. It was announced as a “net zero green campus,” with solar panels and water treatment and recycling plants.

“It’s a very special day for our education sector,” Modi said during the inauguration ceremony attended by Bihar Governor Rajendra Arlekar, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, and foreign ambassadors.

“Nalanda has a strong connect with our glorious past. This university will surely go a long way in catering to the educational needs of the youth.”

India’s PM Narendra Modi, top officials and foreign diplomats participate in the inauguration of Nalanda University’s new campus in Bihar, June 19, 2024. (PM’s Office)

The ancient Nalanda, whose complex spread over an area of 23 hectares, attracted thousands of students arriving from China, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Tibet to learn medicine, logic, mathematics and Buddhist teachings. It also sent some its best professors to propagate Buddhist philosophy in learning centers across Asia.

“Ancient Nalanda had come up in the 5th century CE and this used to be one of the prime institutions of not only Asia but of the world, because it was the first residential university of the world,” Nalanda University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Abhay Kumar Singh told Arab News.

“The new university is situated at the same place where you have the ancient campus ... Lots of authentic literature on philosophy was produced. Not only philosophy. Sanskrit, grammar, Ayurveda, metallurgic arts, cosmology, astrology and astronomy — all these things were studied here.”

There are conflicting reports on who destroyed the ancient campus. Some Indian historians believe that it was the Turko-Afghan military general Bakhtiyar Khilji during his conquest of northern India, while many Buddhist sources blame local Hindu Brahmins who they say were jealous of Buddhist dominance at that time.

What is undisputed is that when Nalanda was burnt down in the 12th century, most of its scholars fled to Tibet, and exchanges with other Asian learning centers stopped.

“They lost their source of knowledge. These interactions ended 800 years ago ... In 2006, former president Abdul Kalam suggested that we should have ancient Nalanda rejuvenated again. At the same time there was an East Asia Summit. Member countries also suggested that we want the same Nalanda to be revived and we would support the Indian government to establish the center,” Singh said.

“The university was established and 2014 was the first batch of students, just 10 or 12 ... Now we have students from 26 countries. Although the number is not high, the representation of all these countries is here. It’s truly an international university.”

In the past semester, the university had 170 foreign and 50 Indian students enrolled in world peace, Buddhism, comparative religion, philosophy, literature and management courses.

Soon it will be ready to receive more students at the new complex, which has two academic blocks with 40 classrooms and total seating for about 1,900.

“Earlier we were functioning from temporary facilities. This campus has the capacity to accommodate about 7,000 to 8,000 people — both teaching and non-teaching staff combined,” Singh said.

“We initially planned to have more than 2,000 students and for this we need more courses. Right now, we have six master’s degrees and every course takes 40 students. We are now adding more master courses and more students will join.”

Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

Updated 15 sec ago

Humanity suffering from ‘extreme heat epidemic,’ UN chief warns

  • UN chief repeats call for humanity to fight “addiction” to fossil fuels amid global warming 
  • UN estimates economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion by 2030

United Nations, United States: Humanity is suffering from an “extreme heat epidemic,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday, calling for action to limit the impacts of heat waves intensified by climate change.
“Billions of people are facing an extreme heat epidemic — wilting under increasingly deadly heat waves, with temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius around the world,” he said. “That’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit. And halfway to boiling.”
According to the European Copernicus network, July 21, 22 and 23 were the three hottest days ever recorded worldwide, with July 22 holding the absolute record of 17.16 degrees Celsius (62.9 degrees Fahrenheit).
Guterres repeated his call for humanity to fight its “addiction” to fossil fuels.
“Today, our focus is on the impact of extreme heat. But let’s not forget that there are many other devastating symptoms of the climate crisis: ever-more fierce hurricanes. Floods. Droughts. Wildfires. Rising sea levels. And the list goes on,” he said.
“To tackle all these symptoms, we need to fight the disease. And the disease is the madness of incinerating our only home. The disease is the addiction to fossil fuels. The disease is climate inaction,” he stressed, calling in particular on G20 countries to take action.
While 2023 was the hottest year on record, and 2024 could set a new record, temperatures well above 40C (104F) are increasingly common.
In the space of a year, the 50C threshold has even been exceeded in at least 10 places, from Death Valley in the United States (53.9C on July 7) to Agadir in Morocco, and also in China and India.
The intense heat, often less visible than other devastating impacts of climate change such as storms or floods, is nonetheless more deadly.
This “silent killer” is responsible for around 489,000 deaths per year between 2000 and 2019, compared with 16,000 deaths per year from cyclones, according to the UN’s “Call to Action” document published on Thursday.
Extremely high temperatures also have an economic impact, with the UN estimating economic losses from heat stress at work will reach $2.4 trillion in 2030.
According to a report by the International Labor Organization published on Thursday, more than 70 percent of workers were exposed to excessive heat in 2020, 8.8 percent more than in 2000.
“The good news is that we can save lives and we can limit its impact,” Guterres said Thursday.
The UN has called for the world community to first act to protect “the most vulnerable” — including young children, the elderly and also humanity’s poorest.
In this context, early warning systems should include extreme heat, warning populations of the arrival of heat waves and informing them of the precautions to take, the document says.
The call to action also recommends an “increase (to) equitable access to and scale up (of) low-carbon cooling.”
This would involve investing in passive cooling systems — which include climate-sensitive urban design measures, reflective surfaces and natural cooling systems — and the phase-out of climate-warming gases that are used in many cooling systems.

UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

Updated 48 min 58 sec ago

UK Afghanistan war crimes probe lifts jail threat on former minister

  • Johnny Mercer said “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and subsequent cover-up during Afghan conflict

LONDON: Britain’s former minister for veterans has “provided further information” to a public inquiry into claims of war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan, a spokeswoman said Thursday, after he was threatened with jail.
Johnny Mercer has said that “multiple officers” told him about alleged murders and a subsequent cover-up during the Afghan conflict, but he refused to divulge their identities.
The Independent Inquiry Relating to Afghanistan, which is examining the claims, gave him until 4:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Thursday to provide the names, insisting the information would be in confidence.
The judge-led inquiry had previously issued Mercer with an order under Britain’s Inquiries Act 2005 warning him he could be fined, imprisoned or both if he did not comply.
“Mr Mercer has provided further information in response to the Section 21 notice and agreed to assist the inquiry further,” an inquiry spokeswoman said.
“The inquiry team will be taking this forward. For the time being, the chair will not be taking further action in relation to the Section 21 notice or making further comment.”
Mercer, a former British Army officer who served three tours of Afghanistan, repeatedly refused to disclose the names when he gave evidence at the inquiry in February.
The inquiry is examining claims that between 2010 and 2013 a British special forces unit executed Afghan males of “fighting age” who posed no threat.
The former minister, who lost his seat at this month’s general election, said in response to the latest development: “My position remains unchanged from the beginning of the year.”
“I will always do all I can to assist this important inquiry. I will not betray those I served who have confided in me, whatever the cost,” he wrote on social media.

UN demands action on extreme heat as world registers warmest day

Updated 52 min 26 sec ago

UN demands action on extreme heat as world registers warmest day

  • “Extreme heat is the new abnormal,” Guterres said
  • “The world must rise to the challenge of rising temperatures”

LONDON: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Thursday for countries to address the urgency of the extreme heat epidemic, fueled by climate change — days after the world registered its hottest day on record.
“Extreme heat is the new abnormal,” Guterres said. “The world must rise to the challenge of rising temperatures,” he said.
Climate change is making heatwaves more frequent, more intense and longer lasting across the world.
Already this year, scorching conditions have killed 1,300 Hajj pilgrims, closed schools for some 80 million children in Africa and Asia, and led to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths in the Sahel.
Every month since June 2023 has now ranked as the planet’s warmest since records began in 1940, compared with the corresponding month in previous years, according the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
The UN called on governments to not only tamp down fossil fuel emissions — the driver of climate change — but to bolster protections for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, pregnant women and children, and step up safeguards for workers.
Over 70 percent of the global workforce — 2.4 billion people — are now at high risk of extreme heat, according to a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) published Thursday.
In Africa, nearly 93 percent of the workforce is exposed to excessive heat, and 84 percent of the Arab States’ workforce, the ILO report found.
Excessive heat has been blamed for causing almost 23 million workplace injuries worldwide, and some 19,000 deaths annually.
“We need measures to protect workers, grounded in human rights,” Guterres said.
He also called for governments to “heatproof” their economies, critical sectors such as health care, and the built environment.
Cities are warming at twice the worldwide average rate due to rapid urbanization and the urban heat island effect.
By 2050, some researchers estimate a 700 percent global increase in the number of urban poor living in extreme heat conditions.
This is the first time the UN has put out a global call for action on extreme heat.
“We need a policy signal and this is it,” said Kathy Baughman Mcleod, CEO of Climate Resilience for All, a nonprofit focused on extreme heat.
“It’s recognition of how big it is and how urgent it is. It’s also recognition that everybody doesn’t feel in the same way and pay the same price for it.”

Israel warns France of Iranian threats at Olympics Games

Updated 25 July 2024

Israel warns France of Iranian threats at Olympics Games

  • “There are those who seek to harm the festivities of this joyous event,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told his French counterpart
  • “We currently have assessments of potential threats from Iranian terror affiliates“

JERUSALEM: Israel warned France on Thursday of potential threats from Iran-backed groups against Israeli athletes and tourists in Paris during the Olympic Games.
“There are those who seek to harm the festivities of this joyous event,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told his French counterpart in a letter, copies of which were released to the media.
“We currently have assessments of potential threats from Iranian terror affiliates and other terrorist organizations aiming to carry out terror attacks against members of the Israeli delegation and Israeli tourists during the Olympics.”
France has mounted a vast security operation to ensure the Olympics are safe. Around 18,000 French troops have been deployed to secure the Games in addition to regular police.
All Israeli athletes at the Paris Games, which start officially on Friday, will have round-the-clock personal security provided by elite French police, both inside the Olympic village and every time they leave the compound in northern Paris.
In an address to the US Congress on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a global alliance against the Iranian “axis of terror.”
He argued that the United States and Israel “must stand together” against Iran and its proxies.
Iran had hailed the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel but said it was not involved in it.
Tensions have soared during the war sparked by the attack, drawing in Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthis, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon and former Iran-backed paramilitaries in the Iraqi armed forces, are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” that supports Hamas against Israel and its allies.
Iran has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they are independent in their decision-making and actions.
On April 13-14, Iran carried out an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel, days after an air strike widely attributed to Israel levelled Iran’s consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals.

UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

Updated 25 July 2024

UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

  • Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: ‘Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here’
  • Cooper called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, ‘the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money’ she had seen

LONDON: Britain’s new Labour government on Thursday said it had deported 46 people to Vietnam and East Timor, after ditching the previous Conservative administration’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper this week said flights initially intended to fly undocumented migrants to the east African nation would instead be used to deport foreign criminals and immigration offenders.
The chartered return flight, which took off on Wednesday and arrived on Thursday, is the first ever to East Timor and the first to Vietnam since 2022, her department said.
“Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here,” added Cooper.
Labour, elected in a landslide election win this month, has scrapped the Tories’ Rwanda plan, which had been deemed illegal under international law by the UK Supreme Court.
Former prime minister Rishi Sunak had aimed for the first flights to take off this month, after legislating to designate the African nation a safe third country.
Cooper this week called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, “the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money” she had seen.
The Tories had spent £700 million ($900 million) on the scheme but only four migrants had relocated to Rwanda — and they went voluntarily.
She also told parliament Sunak’s government planned to spend more than £10 billion on the scheme in total.
Labour’s approach is to prioritize returns of failed asylum seekers to designated safe countries to ease a huge backlog in the claims system.
It also wants closer cooperation with European partners to “smash” the people-smuggling gangs behind the Channel crossings, which so far this year have seen nearly 16,000 people brought ashore.
Vietnamese nationals accounted for 20 percent of undocumented migrants intercepted making the journey between January and March this year, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said.
In March this year, Sunak’s government launched a global social media campaign, aimed at Vietnam in particular, to deter people from using the route.
On Wednesday, a gang of British people-smugglers were jailed after trying to hide two Vietnamese migrants in a hidden compartment of their campervan as they traveled between France and the UK.
Eleven people have been convicted in the UK in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found in the back of a lorry in 2019 after being smuggled from northern Europe.