India, Russia strike trade, arms deals during Putin visit

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Russia and India signed a flurry of trade and arms deals during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, including one that will see India produce more than 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Putin travelled to India with Russia’s defense and foreign ministers in a visit that saw the two countries reinforce their ties with a military and technical cooperation pact until 2031 and a pledge to boost annual trade to $30 billion by 2025.

The Russian president is visiting India amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally, which has expressed reservations about the growing military cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi.

A joint statement published after the talks said Russia and India had “reiterated their intention to strengthen defense cooperation, including in the joint development of production of military equipment.”

In addition to the deal for India to produce AK-203 assault rifles, Russia said it was interested in continuing to provide S-400 air defense missile systems.

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the two countries had signed 28 investment pacts, including deals on steel, shipbuilding, coal and energy. He added that a 2018 contract for the S-400 missile systems was currently being implemented.

“Supplies have begun this month, and will continue to happen,” he said, referring to the S-400.

The deal with Moscow puts India at risk of sanctions from the United States under a 2017 U.S. law aimed at deterring countries from buying Russian military hardware.

Russian oil company Rosneft said it signed a contract with Indian Oil to supply up to 2 million tonnes of oil to India by the end of 2022.

The countries also signed a memorandum of understanding for Russia to send an uninterrupted supply of coal to India to support its steel production, among other deals.

Putin and Modi also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, voicing their commitment to ensure that the country will never become a safe haven for international terrorism.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Alex Richardson and Paul Simao)

Late monsoon floods kill more than 150 in India and Nepal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -More than 150 people have died in flooding across India and Nepal in recent days, as heavy late monsoon rains triggered flash floods, destroyed homes, crops and infrastructure and left thousands stranded.

The north Indian state of Uttarakhand has been especially badly hit, with 48 confirmed deaths, SA Murugesan, secretary of the state’s disaster management department, told Reuters.

In Nainital, a popular tourist destination in the Himalayan state, the town’s main lake broke its banks, submerging the main thoroughfare and damaging bridges and rail tracks.

In nearby Chamoli district, rescuers from India’s paramilitary National Disaster Response Force continued to search debris following landslides caused by the heavy rains.

India’s federal interior minister Amit Shah surveyed badly hit areas on Thursday.

“Crops and homes have been wiped out, which is a severe blow to families already grappling with the devastating fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Azmat Ulla, a senior official at the International Federation of Red Crescent Societies.

“The people of Nepal and India are sandwiched between the pandemic and worsening climate disasters, heavily impacting millions of lives and livelihoods.”

Some 42 people have died in the last week in the southern Indian state of Kerala, according to a statement from the chief minister’s office.

In neighboring Nepal, at least 77 people have died.

India’s annual monsoon rains usually run from June to September.

(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow and Jose Devasia in Kochi, Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

More than 20 dead after floods hit southern India

By Jose Devasia

KOCHI, India (Reuters) – Leaders in the southern Indian state of Kerala opened near-overflowing dams on Monday after at least 22 people died when heavy rains lashed the region over the weekend.

Rainfall across Kerala triggered flash floods and landslides in several areas, with the Indian army and navy called out to rescue residents.

Opening dams could reduce the risk of potentially catastrophic overflows like those partly blamed for the state’s worst floods in a century in 2018, when at least 400 people were killed and 200,000 displaced. But by releasing water downstream, areas already experiencing floods could suffer more.

Authorities have already opened smaller dams to prevent flooding, Kerala Power Minister K Krishnankutty said in a statement, while the state’s largest, the Idukki dam, will also be opened on Tuesday morning local time.

Sheeba George, the top official in Idukki district, told local media that dozens of families had been evacuated from their homes ahead of the dam openings.

At least 13 people were killed by a landslide in the village of Kuttikkal, officials and witnesses said.

“There were four landslides that happened there yesterday, the hill behind me, which brought water and other items downwards,” a local resident told Reuters partner ANI on Sunday, standing in front of a now-barren hillside.

P.K. Jayasree, the top government official in Kottayam district where the landslide took place, said six of the dead were from a single family.

Kerala will receive further widespread rain, including isolated heavy downpours in many areas, for two to three days from Oct. 20, the state government said on Monday.

(Reporting Jose Devasia in Kochi; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

10 dead, dozens trapped after landslide in India’s Himalayas – officials

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Alasdair Pal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -A landslide in the mountainous Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has killed at least 10, injured 14 and left dozens trapped after boulders tumbled on to a major highway on Wednesday, smashing and burying several vehicles, Indian officials said.

Around 30 people are still trapped, including passengers inside a bus lying under the debris, Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police, told Reuters.

“There has been a massive landslide on the Reckong Peo-Shimla highway,” Pandey said, later adding that “operations are under way, we are trying to reach the bus.”

Abid Hussain Sadiq, a top government official in the Kinnaur district where the incident happened, said that rescue operations could continue through the night in an attempt to find the survivors.

More than 200 personnel, including from the army, paramilitary forces and local police, are working along a stretch of National Highway 5 that runs along the Sutlej river and connects northern India to the border with China, officials said.

Local police chief Saju Ram Rana said the landside, which happened around noon on Wednesday, loosened large boulders and sent them cascading down the steep mountainside, blocking about 150 meters of the highway.

“The debris fell from quite high up,” Rana told Reuters, adding that heavy machinery was being brought in to clear the area.

In pictures shared by authorities on social media, helmeted rescue workers can be seen scrambling around the mangled remains of vehicles stranded among rocks and loose earth.

In late July, at least nine people were killed by a landslide in a different part of Kinnaur district, and dozens have been left stranded by landslides and flooding in recent weeks in another area of Himachal Pradesh, a scenic Himalayan state popular with tourists.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Kirsten Donovan)

Torrential rains kill over 160 in India, dozens trapped in landslides

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Rescue teams in India were digging through thick sludge and debris on Monday to find over 60 people trapped in landslides caused by torrential monsoon rains that have so far claimed more than 160 lives four days.

The western states of Maharashtra and Goa, as well as Karnataka and Telangana in the south are the most affected by heavy rains that have flooded croplands over thousands of hectares and forced authorities to move over 230,000 people to safer places.

In Maharashtra, 149 people have died mainly in landslides and other monsoon related accidents, while another 64 are still missing, the state government said in a statement.

“We are trying hard to rescue people trapped under landslide debris in Raigad and Satara but the possibility of evacuating them alive is remote. They are trapped under mud for more than three days,” said a senior official with the state government, referring to two badly affected districts.

Rescuers couldn’t reach affected villages quickly because approach roads were cut off by overflowing rivers and landslides, officials said.

In Karnataka and Telangana, more than a dozen people died because of floods but waters in the main Krishna and Godavari rivers are receding, authorities said.

In Goa, a hugely popular tourist destination on the western coast, hundreds of houses were damaged as the state recorded the worst floods in nearly four decades, the state’s chief minister Pramod Sawant said.

Rains are easing on the west coast and that will help in rescue operations, said a Pune-based senior scientist with the India Meteorological Department.

“This week also, the west coast will receive rainfall, but the intensity would be much lower compared to the last week,” he said.

Last week, parts of India’s west coast received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours, forcing authorities to evacuate people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

At least 112 dead in India as rains trigger floods, landslides

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI (Reuters) -At least 112 people have died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, authorities said on Friday, after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooded low-lying areas, cutting off hundreds of villages.

Parts of India’s west coast received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours, forcing authorities to evacuate people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.

“Unexpected very heavy rainfall triggered landslides in many places and flooded rivers,” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads Maharashtra’s state government, told journalists.

“Dams and rivers are overflowing. We are forced to release water from dams, and, accordingly, we are moving people residing near the river banks to safer places.”

The navy and army were helping with rescue operations in coastal areas, he added.

At least 38 people were killed in Taliye, 180 km (about 110 miles) southeast of the financial capital Mumbai, when a landslide flattened most of the small village, state government officials said.

In nine other landslides in other parts of Maharashtra 59 people died and another 15 were killed in accidents linked to the heavy rainfall, they said.

A few dozen people were also feared to have been trapped in landslides in Satara and Raigad districts, said a state government official who asked not to be named.

“Rescue operations are going on at various places in Satara, Raigad and Ratnagiri. Due to heavy rainfall and flooded rivers, we are struggling to move rescue machinery quickly,” he said.

Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places, another Maharashtra government official said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of villages and towns were without electricity and drinking water, he said.

Rivers were also overflowing in the neighboring southern states of Karnataka and Telangana where authorities were monitoring the situation, government officials there said.

Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year, but they also deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall and are crucial for farmers.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Joe Bavier and Giles Elgood)

India’s excess deaths during pandemic up to 4.9 million, study shows

By Ankur Banerjee and Neha Arora

(Reuters) -India’s excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic could be as high as 4.9 million, a new study shows, providing further evidence that millions more may have died from coronavirus than the official tally.

The report by the Washington-based Center for Global Development, co-authored by India’s former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, included deaths from all causes since the start of the pandemic through June this year.

India’s official tally of more than 414,000 deaths is the world’s third highest after the United States and Brazil, but the study adds to growing calls from experts for a rigorous nationwide audit of fatalities.

A devastating rise in infections in April and May, driven largely by the more infectious and dangerous Delta variant, overwhelmed the healthcare system and killed at least 170,000 people in May alone, official data show.

“What is tragically clear is that too many people, in the millions rather than hundreds of thousands, may have died,” the report said, estimating between 3.4 million and 4.9 million excess deaths during the pandemic.

But it did not ascribe all excess deaths to the pandemic.

“We focus on all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality,” the authors said.

The health ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.

Some experts have said excess deaths are the best way to measure the real toll from COVID-19.

“For every country, it’s important to capture excess mortality – the only way to prepare the health system for future shocks and to prevent further deaths,” Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, said on Twitter.

The New York Times said the most conservative estimate of deaths in India was 600,000 and the worst-case scenario several times that. The government has dismissed those figures.

Health experts blame the undercounting largely on scarce resources in the vast hinterland home to two-thirds of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion, and also many deaths at home without being tested.

India has reported a decline in daily infections from a May peak, with Tuesday’s 30,093 new cases making up its lowest daily count in four months.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also been criticized for a messy vaccination campaign that many say helped worsen the second wave of infections.

Just over 8% of eligible adult Indians have received both vaccine doses.

In July, the government administered fewer than 4 million daily doses on average, down from a record 9.2 million on June 21, when Modi flagged off a free campaign to inoculate all 950 million adults.

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru and Neha Arora in New Delhi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Giles Elgood)

Heavy rains cripple Indian cities; at least 35 killed

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s capital New Delhi and the main financial center of Mumbai were drenched with heavy rain on Monday, a day after at least 35 people were killed across the country in landslides and house collapses triggered by downpours.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted heavy to very heavy rain in north India, including New Delhi, over the next two days. In Mumbai, the IMD has issued a heavy rain and thunderstorm alert for the city and surrounding districts.

At least 30 people were killed on Sunday in three Mumbai suburbs when several houses collapsed in landslides after rain.

At least three people were also killed when a house collapsed in the northern state of Uttarakhand after a downpour, Reuters partner agency ANI reported.

In a separate incident on Sunday evening, a three-story building collapsed in the city of Gurugram, bordering Delhi. Two people were killed and rescue operations were still underway.

Several low-lying areas of Delhi and Mumbai were flooded and Twitter was filled with images of submerged vehicles and people wading through waist-deep water.

Mumbai’s water treatment plant in the suburbs was flooded on Sunday forcing the municipal council to impose water cuts in some parts of the city.

India is in the midst of its annual rainy season but the downpours over the past few days have been particularly heavy.

Extreme weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks with flooding in Europe, dam collapses in China and heatwaves in North America adding to worries about climate change.

(Reporting by Swati Bhat; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)

At least 18 people killed in lightning strikes in India

(Reuters) – At least 18 people, including seven children, were killed and 16 others injured by lightning strikes in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan late on Sunday, local officials said.

Eleven of those killed were tourists visiting the Amer fort on the outskirts of the state capital Jaipur, after lightning struck a watchtower near the site.

“As it started raining visitors took cover at a watchtower near the fort. Lightning struck the watchtower killing 11 people on the spot and injuring others,” Jairam, a local police officer who identified himself by only one name, told Reuters on Monday.

Most of those dead were local tourists, he said.

Seven children were killed by lightning strikes in two other incidents in the state on Sunday night, Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said on Twitter.

There were also reports of casualties from lightning strikes in the neighboring states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, but the number of those affected was not immediately known.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed in a tweet his condolences to the families of the deceased.

Lightning and thunderstorms are common in the rainy season in India, which runs from June to September.

(Reporting by Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Delta variant already dominant in U.S., CDC estimates show

By Mrinalika Roy

(Reuters) – The Delta variant is already the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, according to data modeling done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the health agency’s estimates the Delta variant became dominant in the country over the two weeks ended July 3, with 51.7% cases linked to the variant that was first identified in India.

The proportion of cases linked to the Alpha variant which was first identified in Britain and had been dominant in the United States so far, fell to 28.7%.

The data, which shows the estimated biweekly proportions of the most common SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating in the United States, is based on sequences collected through CDC’s national genomic surveillance since Dec. 20, 2020.

The Delta variant, which is becoming dominant in many countries, is more easily transmitted than earlier versions of the coronavirus and may cause more severe disease, especially among younger people. It has now been found in every U.S. state, health officials have said.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden encouraged Americans who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shots to protect themselves from the widely spreading, highly contagious variant.

So far, preliminary data has shown that vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna are largely protective against Delta, with the concentration of virus-neutralizing antibodies being somewhat reduced.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler)