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News Wrap

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Twenty eight state owned banks in India, have written off a total or Rs 1.14 lac crores of bad debts between 2013 and 2015. While bad loans of public sector banks grew at a rate of 4% between 2004 and 2012, in financial years 2013 to 2015, they rose at almost 60%. Bad debts written off in financial year ending March 2015, make up 85% of such loans since 2013. In reply to Right to Information (RTI) applications, different government banks have replied that loans of defaulters have been waived by ‘‘as per the discretionary power of respective committee’’ or ‘‘management committee’’ or ‘‘delegated authority’’ or ‘Board of Directors’’. There is no procedure or policy for technical write-off. On 12 April 2016, the Supreme Court suggested making public the total outstanding amount, without disclosing the names of loan defaulters. The apex court agreed to examine if the Reserve Bank of India, and the Union Government, could take shelter behind the confidentiality clause in the RBI for holding back the names of defaulters of loans.

Holy Men Incorporated
Orange-robed guru Baba Ramdev of India, for more than a decade spoke on popular TV shows, elaborating on correct breathing, eating herbs and yoga postures. 50-year-old Ramdev always attacked the dominance of foreign companies in India. Today, the good health guru’s ashram makes hundreds of herbal and organic products, including soap, shampoo, cleaners, juice and honey. The guru’s company, Patanjali, is worth more than $600 million. Businesses run by gurus and holy men, Guru Incorporated, is rising, being buoyed by the popularity of religious television programming in the past decade. Many spiritual leaders in India are starting their own product lines, tapping into the renewed faith in India’s ancient knowledge systems, such as yoga and ayurveda. Patanjali has become the fastest growing consumer product company in India, over the past year. There are plans to quadruple the number of manufacturing plants by end 2016. Ramdev wants India’s wealth to remain in India, and his plans boost indigenous manufacturing, that includes India’s ayurvedic and yoga market, a $490 billion industry. Patanjali’s revenue is likely to reach $3 billion by 2020. Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living makes herbal tooth paste and hair products. Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has lent his name to an organic products line, expanding beyond the music videos and movies he produces and stars in. Ramdev’s company is India’s biggest TV advertiser, overtaking several global companies. Thousands of his followers who own shops, sell his products. Ramdev’s business is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘‘Make in India’’ movement. The modern gurus are not opting out of worldly occupations, but owning real estate and luxury cars.

Justice in Guatemala
Throughout Guatemala’s 36-year-old civil war (1906-1996), rape was widely used as a weapon. After twenty days of dramatic testimony, a retired army officer and a former paramilitary were convicted in February 2016, of sexually enslaving 15 indigenous women during the country’s civil war. As the historic guilty verdicts were announced, in the packed supreme courtroom in Guatemala City, the surviving Mayan Q’eqchi’ victims simply raised their arms in unison to acknowledge justice had finally been served. Former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij was jailed for 240 years for crimes against humanity, and the forced disappearance of seven of the women’s husbands. Lt Col Giron was sentenced to 120 years in jail for crimes against humanity, and the murder of a 20-year-old woman, and her two daughters.

China vaccine Scam
A scandal over illegal vaccines in China could lead millions of families to cease having their children immunised. China is fighting to stop panic among parents. Conspirators sold outdated or badly stored vaccines for diseases such as flu and rabies over five years in 24 provinces across China, colluding with corrupt officials in the public health services. The racket netted more than £60 millions. Traffic in expired vaccines has led to investigations in 29 pharmaceutical companies and 16 clinics. The news received wide attention, and was headlined in official Chinese media in March 2016. The slow burning scandal could set back China’s widely praised programme of immunisation, which has achieved childhood vaccination rates of almost 100% for measles and Hepatitis-B. Vaccines are the only way to prevent a range of debilating deadly childhood diseases. Basic vaccines are free in China. But parents have to pay for optional shots, including those for Pneumonia, Meningitis and Rotavirus. The lax standards and corruption prevailing in China’s private market are exposed, as all the vaccines were available only through the private market. The local government in Hong Kong has announced that only 120 non-local children a month could be vaccinated at public clinics, to prevent a rush by parents from the mainland crossing the border, to buy reliable foreign-manufactured vaccines. Hong Kong’s decision does not affect children of expatriates, resident in Hong Kong.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 50, Jun 19 - 25, 2016