News Wrap


Ramanathapurm district, 527 km south of Chennai, is represented in the Tamil Nadu Assembly by a candidate from the Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (MMK), an Islamic outfit. Rameshwaram temple and many holy shrines are located in the district. Local Jamaath Councils have issued ‘fatwas’ declaring Muslim majority villages out of bounds for people, even from the district itself. Advertising in banners, posters and pamphlets, and honking of vehicles without permission, is prohibited inside the panchayath. The MMK party was an ally of the AIADMK in the 2011 assembly election, and sided with the DMK camp in the July 2012 Rajya Sabha election. Since 1981, religious conversion and smuggling have been rampant in the district. Recently Muslim youth slaughtered a cow in front of the Muneeswarankoil temple. Nearly 50% of the business establishments in the district are owned by members of the Muslim community. A Hindu can launch his business only if he gets approval from the Muslim community. On the Panchayath Road to Pamban, a village near Rameswaram island, the birth place of Pamban Swami, a great Saivite saint, there is a notice board put up by Islamic extremists, banning outsiders from the road.

Mumbai Airport
The Union Civil Aviation Ministry has given ‘undue benefit’ of at least Rs 5887 crore to Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL), which runs the airport. The MIAL is a consortium controlled by the GVK Power and Infrastructure Ltd. The Civil Aviation Ministry and Airports Authority of India failed to monitor the project effectively, leading to undue benefit to the private concessionaries, while the project kept getting delayed since 2006. The project for the ongoing modernization of Mumbai Airport is three years late, as it was to have been completed by 2010. Violating the agreement, the Aviation Ministry did not impose penalties on the Mumbai Airport for the delays, and instead, allowed MIAL ‘‘in August 2010 to reschedule works in 2013’’. The initial cost of the Mumbai Airport Project was Rs 5826 crore, which increased to at least Rs 11,647 crore, till 2012. Passengers carried the burden of the additional cost, as the government allowed the airport to levy an additional usage fee on passengers. Mumbai Airport obtained 126 acres of extra land, of which 11 acres were for commercial purposes. Revenues from the extra land are estimated at Rs 5887 crore.

Lokpal in India
Despite the first introduction of a Lokpal Bill in parliament of 1968 by the Congress party, the Lok Sabha only recently passed the Lokpal bill, after a 46-year wait. The states will pass law to set up Lokayuktas within one year, under the National Anti-Graft Ombudsman, called Lokpal. Lokpal will have chairperson and maximum 8 members will be selected by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India and eminent jurists. Jurisdiction will extend over all levels of public servants, including Prime Minister. There will be no prior sanction required for launching prosecution in cases probed by Lokpal or investigated at its instance. For preliminary enquiries, the Lokpal will have its own inquiry wing. Lokpal will have an independent prosecution wing. Investigation and prosecution functions will be separated for the CBI. The Lokpal Bill creates a directorate of prosecutions, headed by a prosecutor, who will report to the CBI director. Punishment under the Bill shall be minimum 2 years to maximum 10 years (earlier 7 years) imprisonment. To be more effective, the Lokpal Bill requires other legislation such as protecting whistle blowers, and enhanced investigative and prosecution skills. The Prime Minister’s National Security related functions are excluded from Lokpal.

Protests in Ukraine
Polls in recent months showed that around 45% of Ukrainians supported closer integration with the European Union, and  a third or less favoured boosting ties with Russia. After the European Union summit in Vilnius (Lithuania) closed without Ukraine’s President Yanukovych signing the far reaching free trade agreement and political association agreement that Ukrainians had been led to believe would be a decisive step along the road to eventual integration with the EU, hundreds of thousands of people have been flooding cities across Ukraine in protest. As the protests continued throughout December 2013, Ukrainian bond yields soared and the price of insuring against a default on government debt surged. Ukraine is in recession, has ballooning budget and current account deficits, and is suffering balance of payments pressures. Bankruptcy and social collapse have been avoided with a deal between Ukraine and Russia, of mid December 2013, by which Russia will buy $15 billion of Ukrainian bonds, and slash gas prices. The proposed Association Agreement with the EU could have led to unfeasibly stringent IMF conditions for economic reform.

Purges in North Korea
Although he died in 1994, the North Korean dynasty’s founder Kim Il-Sung officially remains president. His son, the late dictator Kim Jong-il was born near Khabarovsk in the far east of Russia, where his father was fighting during the Second World War. Nobody knows the exact age of his grandson, Kim Jong-un, the present ruler. Every family in North Korea must keep the portraits of the Kim Clan, who are revered as demi-gods. According to the official ‘juche calendar’, which starts in 1912 the year of Kim Il-Sung’s birth in North Korea it is year 103, and not 2014. Juche is a guiding philosophy Kim Il-Sung devised in the 1950s. In December 2013, Jang song-Theak, aged 67, the uncle of North Korea’s young leader King Jong-un and No 2 in the regime, was executed by firing squad. Jang and his ‘cronies’ were accused of selling off mineral resources to Chinese businesses, and taking kickbacks on 50-year lease, that China holds in an experimental free trade zone. China sees North Korea as a buffer state that could collapse into chaos or war, sending a horde of refugees into China. In August 2013, Kin Jong-un reportedly ordered the execution of a former girl-friend, Hyong Song-wol and eleven other entertainers, accused of making ‘pornographic’ videos.

Vol. 46, No. 30, Feb 2 - 8, 2014

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