News Wrap


After a scare involving reports of higher than permissable levels of lead and mono- sodium glutamate, more than ten states have imposed a ban on the sales of Maggi brand of instant noodles, owned by Swiss multinational Nestle. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued a nationwide recall of Maggi packets on 05 June 2015. Nestle recalled packets of Maggi, a few hours before the government notice. Some government laboratories found excess levels of lead and MSG, other labs did not. Maggi is a nationwide brand, owned by a well known company, which is capable of responding to regulatory action. While Maggi can be recalled from shelves of organised retail, the large proportion of packets that are with small shopkeepers are still to be taken off the market. On 04 June 2015, the national food regulator handed over to the states a blacklist containing at least 32 products from Tata Starbucks, a cereal from Kellogg’s, poultry products from Venky’s, and even a multi-vitamin from Ranbaxy. The list of around 500 products rejected by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, has been handed over to food safety commissioners. The unorganised sector is a big threat to consumers. A study by doctors at a Delhi based nutrition institute found that street food in the city was high in faecal matter, and had several orders of magnitude more coliform bacteria than was safe. The MS University Baroda has found cadmium and arsenic at dangerous levels in market vegetables. Milk is known to be heavily adulterated in India, including with detergent.

Cross Border strikes
Signalling a new way of dealing with problems of insurgency and terrorism, the Indian Army conducted cross border raids on 09 June 2015, into Myanmar to hunt down separatist militants. Days after militants killed 18 armymen in Manipur, the Special Forces consisting of 21 Special Forces (Para), troops of 27 Sector (Pallel/Chandel district), and 10 Sector of Assam Rifles (Ukhrul district), conducted military operations inside Myanmar, inflicting ‘‘significant casualties’’ on the groups behind the ambush, the NSCN(K) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). The Myanmar government was informed hours after the commandos in battle fatigues had completed surgical strikes against the militant groups. Political clearance was secured for operation by IAF helicopters, who dropped the Para Commandos. The commandos have safely returned to Indian territory. Nearly fifty militants have been killed, near the Nagaland–Myanmar border.

Pakistan’s Gallows
In December 2014, the Pakistani government lifted a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty. Since then there have been over 180 executions. Shafqat Hussain was executed on 02 June 2015 in Karachi central Prison, for killing a seven-year-old boy in 2004. He was sentenced to death when he was fourteen. There are now nearly 8400 Pakistanis on death row, more than 1000 of them juveniles. Their ranks are swelling by one prisoner a day. The hangman was brought back to Pakistan, following a Taliban massacre at a school in Peshwar, in December 2014, in which 145 people died, 132 of them children. Executions were initially reinstated only for terrorism offences. In March 2015, the moratorium was lifted for all capital crimes. Many sentences are carried out so quickly that families have no chance to say good-bye. The number of young offenders and those with mental illness on death row is of real concern. Terrorists are not effectively tried. 82% to 88% of the people convicted by the anti-terrorism courts have nothing to do with terrorism. Beginning June 2015, it emerged that eight out of ten militants recently tried for attempting to kill the school girl, Mala Yousafzai had been secretly acquitted.

Copper and Buddha
Twenty five miles from Kabul in Afghanistan, is the 2000-year-old city of Mes Aynak, a vast Buddhist monastic complex, on a similar scale to the ruins of Pompeii. Well preserved artefacts, manuscripts and statues resembling the two giant Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in 2001, have already been discovered by archeologists. Below Mes Aynak's ruins lie copper reserves, with an estimated £65 billion, which is an encouraging prospect for the Afghan economy, that has sunk since western troops left the country in 2014. In 2007, the mining rights were sold to a Chinese state-owned firm amid claims it could create 7000 local jobs. The Chinese maintain the mine will be exploited, even as the project has been stalled. The Taliban have threatened to plant landmines at the archeological site. Mes Aynak was once at a cross roads of the Silk Road Trade Route. It was rediscovered in the 1960s. After publication of mining plans by the China Metallurgical Group, excavation started in 2009. A full excavation of the site of more than 100 acres would take between 30 and 40 years. Only 10% has been completed. Archeology campaigners are demanding that the mining project goes back to the drawing board. A 100,000 signature petition to save Mes Aynak city with priceless Buddhas, has been presented to Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, in July 2015.

Vol. 48, No. 5, Aug 9 - 15, 2015