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India’s Union Ministry of environment, has given green clearance to the South Korean Steel major POSCO’s project for its 12 MTPA Steel Plant, entailing a Foreign Direct Investment of Rs 52,000 crore, in Odhisha, ending an eight-year-old wait. Environmental clearance for the port is still pending. The ministry has also given clearance to six other long awaited infrastructure projects worth Rs 15,000 crore, covering Hinduja National Power Corporation in Andhra Pradesh (Rs 5545 crore); Monnet Power 1050 mega watts in Odhisha (Rs 5093 crore); New Port Dugarajapatnam in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh (Rs 4006 crore); Kotma, Govinda and Meeta Coal Mines under SECL (Rs 22.5 crore); and Crude Oil Pipeline from Chennai Port to CPCL Refinery (Rs 126 crore).
The environmental clearances exclude the Bauxite Mining Project, undertaken by Vedanta Resources in the Nyamgiri area of Odisha. Without the ample supply of Bauxite in the Nyamgiri area, the Rs 50,000 crore Vedanta Aluminium Refinery in the neighbourhood, would not be profitable. Earlier twelve ‘gram sabhas’ or village assemblies had voted against the project.
Army Boots on Ground
Existing Indian military formations are still without the requisite 155 millimetre ultra-light howitzers and towed guns, and air support. Without a good road network that allowed swift mobility to existing formations deployed on the borders in response to a developing threat, fighting units remained tied to one spot. Nevertheless, a new 17 crops has been raised in Ranchi, in January 2014, with a new 59 Mountain Division in Panagarh, and two brigades shaping up in the northern and eastern sectors. 80,000 more troops have been added to the army’s existing strength of 12 lac soldiers. The army’s revenue expenditure is rising from its already high 82%, along with additional capital expenses. Rs 8,000 crore annually which will be required for the New Strike Crops. Of the Rs 73,444 crore capital allocations for the three services in 2013-14, 96% was earmarked for instalments on purchases made during preceding years. It is expected that during 2014, the army would conclude 40 new contracts, involving total value of Rs 24,000 crore, and a cash outflow of Rs 3000 to Rs 3500 crore in 2014. Failure to conclude several large contracts in 2013, has reduced ‘‘committed liabilities’’ for 2014, allowing more to be spent on new purchases.
Fear and mistrust hangs over inter-state borders around Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. At the time of creation of the states, the Union Government of India failed to clearly delineate the borders. A large number of Karbis are involved in daily wage labour and other petty works in the neighbouring states, outside Assam. Since 1979, there have been several instances of Nagas attacking Assamese on the Assam-Nagaland border, sometimes with exchange of gunfire between armed police personnel of the two states. There have been killings and torching of village huts since December 2013, along the Karbi Anglong (Assam)—Nagaland border. Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers have imposed a tax on orange cultivation, which the Naga Rengma villagers have refused to pay. Since June 2013, Karbi militants have been asking Rengma Nagas to leave their villages, and tensions have been rising. Notwithstanding the formation of peace committees, Karbi Anglong district has become a major conflict zone, with increasing armed clashes between Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger caders and the Naga Rengma Hills Protection Force.
Assam forest officilas from Sonitpur district have encroached four kilometers inside Papum Pare district of Arunachal Pradesh, and demolished houses, cleared jungles particularly in Tallumso Radhaso, Sango and Dekhalmukh areas, cut down ripe mustard plantations, causing damage of lacs of rupees.
A combine of Bru Co-ordination Committee National Development and Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) is frequently kidnapping Mizo and Bengali labourers, and holding them captive in NLFT camps in Bangladesh, since November 2013. The Bru Co-ordination Committee is demanding early closure of Bru Relief Camps in North Tripura district, for migrants who fled Mizoram. The Mizo Students Federation demands the deletion of names of Bru voters, now in the relief camps, who refuse to return to Mizoram, before the next 2014 parliamentary polls.
Bangladesh has a potential electorate of 92 million, out of more than 150 million people. The government sources maintain that just under 40% voted in contested seats. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) thinks much less voted in the elections of 5 January 2014. Of the 300 constituencies, just over half, 153 had no contest at all, since only Awami League candidates or allies registered. Dacca witnessed voting in just nine of 20 seats. The BNP and a host of smaller parties refused a contest they claimed would be unfair, unless supervised by a caretaker government, similar to the previous four elections. The constitutional provisions for that were scrapped in 2011, by the present Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The BNP’s leader Khaleda Zia was under vitual house arrest. Mohammad Hossain Ershad, a former dictator who leads the third biggest party has been admitted in an army hospital since he belatedly joined the poll boycott. For being too religious, a fourth party, Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist and thuggish outfit, was banned from contesting the polls. Thousands of activists and opposition leaders have been detained. Violence, in the form of police shootings, beatings, and clashes have continued since the Awami League claimed victory. Sporadic gun fire and petrol bombing of buses have persisted. In 2013, 500 or so people have been killed in political clashes. A war crimes tribunal, which some allege as ‘‘flawed’’, has sentenced to death leading opposition figures, for alleged crimes in the independence war of 1971. The trials and executions have greatly raised tensions.
The BNP is in disarray, with a large number of its leaders locked up. Its popularity has somewhat declined for its recourse to months of crippling strikes and street protests, in association with Jamaat. Western countries refused to send observers to the January 2014 polls. Outsiders could threaten to cut aid or trade benefits, especially valuable duty-free access for clothes to the European Union. India did not send observers to the polls, and praised Sheikh Hasina for holding them at all. It is eager to see Jamaat and other Islamists get weakened. Bangladesh armed forces are happly with lucrative UN peacekeeping duties and promises of Russian weapons and Chinese submarines. Sheikh Hasina has since been sworn in for her second term as Prime Minister.
Only 8% of the population are Hindus. But Hindus make up 25 to 30% of the population in districts Satkhira and Natore. Even since Abdul Quadar Mollah, a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader, was convicted of war crimes, militants of JU have been attacking Hindus in the two districts. Local Hindus had nothing to do with the execution. About 90 Hindus have been killed, houses petrol bombed, motor cycles burnt, juwellery stolen and household appliances smashed.
Vol. 46, No. 33, Feb 23 - Mar 1, 2014