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The Union government of India, owes 21 federal states Rs 5,595 crore as dues for work done under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Out of the total liability of the central government, which represents 16% of the budgeted funds for the scheme, Rs 4,322.97 crore is towards wages to be paid, and the rest for expenses on materials. This is causing stress to people, particularly in drought-hit states. Several states have been pleading with the central government since October 2015, for release of promised funds, and higher amounts, in the face of higher demand for work in drought-hit rural India. 21 states have a negative balance. Four of the eight states with officially declared drought, and where the central government had committed to extra work of 50 days, beyond the usual 100 days limit, have dues from the central government of Rs 1500 crore (approx), for work completed till end March 2016. The budgetary provision cannot be a cap, as by law the central government has to release funds, as demand for work arises. The demand has increased because of drought and initial belief in the states, that the central government would provide regular funds in 2015-16. Several states had enthusiastically taken up work, after commitments from the central government to back up the scheme.

Extra Judicial killing
On 25 January 2016, a former head constable of the Manipur Police Commandos, named Thounamjao Herojit confessed to the media that he had no compunction about ‘finishing off’ 27-year-old Chungtham Sanjit, a former People’s Liberation Army corporal. Herojit was merely carrying out the order of a senior police officer on 23 July 2009, in the heart of Imphal town, and in broad daylight. The cross-fire also killed a 23-year-old woman. The police claimed that bullets fired by Sanjit killed her. The official police version is that during assembly session, when police commandos were frisking people entering Khwairaband bazar, Sanjit tried to escape. He was cornered inside a pharmacy. When asked to surrender, he fired at his captors and was shot dead. The police seizure list included a pistol and some rounds of ammunition. However, a series of photographs of the incident, show Sanjit being ‘escorted’ by commandos inside a pharmacy, and soon his body being dragged out, and lying on the street. Herojit also confessed that Sanjit was not armed at the time of his arrest, and he pleaded with the police not to beat him up. Since the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act came into force in 1979, till May 2012, 1528 people, including 31 women and 98 children, died in fake encounters in Manipur. Herojit has been locked up by the police in December 2015.

Baby Defect Virus
Pregnant women have been most affected by Zika, the baby defect virus, as it has spread rapidly across Latin America and the Caribbean. Nearly 400 children have been born with defects since the virus was first reported in Brazil in May 2015. Brazil is one of four countries warning women to avoid getting pregnant, until the epidemic is contained. It is believed to have been brought into Brazil by French Polynesian football fans, attending the 2014 World Cup. USA has issued warnings against travel to 22 countries. The World Health Organization fears that the Zika virus outbreak could be responsible for spreading a condition that causes paralysis in adults. The mosquito-borne virus is being blamed for brain damage to babies in the womb. The virus is suspected to have links to microcephaly, a condition that results in brain defects in newborn babies, leaving them with abnormally small heads. Brazil and EI Salvador have found Zika links to another rare condition, known as Guillain-Barpe (GBS) syndrome, which causes muscle weakness that begins in the legs and spreads to the arms and face. GBS can cause limb paralysis. Zika is related to yellow fever and dengue. An estimated 80% of people that have it show no symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected. Brazil has registered nearly 5000 cases of babies with microcephaly which is being linked to Zika.

US Poverty
Even amid an economic recovery in USA, many have become the new poor or near-poor. Since the global financial crisis, one in five US adults lives in households either in poverty or on the CUSP of poverty. Almost 5.7 million have joined America’s lowest income ranks. More than 45% of US citizens, almost 2.5 million adults, have joined the lowest income ranks since 2011, long after the post-crisis recession was ostensibly over. The economic legacy of the 2008 financial crisis has a stark human face, and reveals how uneven the recovery has been. A large number of Americans are being left behind even amid the strong jobs growth. Any notion of a recovery still seems a long way off to many in USA, notwithstanding the arguments its policy makers present for raising interest rates. USA’s growing affluence has caused a large part of the shrinking of US middle class, which for the first time in decades, forms less than a majority of the adult population. The lowest income group, defined as a three-person household earning less than $31,402 a year, has also grown at more than five times the rate of the middle class, in the past seven and half years. USA has 48.9 million adults in this bracket, a rise from 43.2 million (2008), and 21.6 million (1971). Almost half of the adults in the lowest income group, 23 million have fallen below the $18,850 poverty line for a household of three set by the US Census Bureau. According to the US Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2012, more than a third of the US population, had at least one spell of poverty, lasting two or more months. For those living on less than $2 a day in USA, the shrinking social safety net after 1990s welfare reforms, has made USA a harsher place to be poor, than it was.

Chinese Currency
Zimbabwe is encouraging people to pay for things from groceries to souvenirs, with Chinese currency, as a new way to try to boost its embattled economy, and gain favour with China, one of its few international backers. China has agreed to cancel $40 million of debt due in 2015. Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s finance minister hopes that boosting the use of the renminbi would bolster trade between the two countries. Since the 2000s, western nations have largely treated Mr Robert Mogabe, Zimbabwe’s veteran president, in isolation because of his regime’s forced seizure of white owned farms, and human rights abuses against political opponents. Harare ditched its own currency, the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009, following a period of hyper inflation. The renminbi was added to a list of currencies that are legal tender in Zimbabwe early 2015. More than 85% of transaction in Zimbabwe are undertaken in US dollars. The neighbouring country South Africa’s currency, the Randis also widely used.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 38, Mar 27 - Apr 2, 2016