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According to India’s first
National Socio-Economic Caste
Census (SECC), nearly one in every three rural households still has an uncertain source of income. They continue to live in one-room Kutcha houses. These households, i.e., 31.26% of the 17.91 crore rural households covered by the census, will now be considered as ‘poor’, and eligible for benefits applicable to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. 21.53% belonged to the scheduled castes and tribes, of the rural households covered. The figures are based on data complied till 2013 for the census, that was launched in June 2011, to identify households below the poverty line, and ensure better targeting of government schemes. The SECC took caste into account for the first time in any such exercise since 1931. Amongst households where main wage earner’s income is less than Rs 5000 a month, and live in one-room Kutcha houses, Madhya Pradesh has emerged the poorest with 24% of rural households identified as ‘‘poor’’, followed by Chattisgarh at 21%, and Bihar at 19%. Households without shelter, destitutes living on alms, manual scavengers, primitive tribal groups, and legally released bonded labourers constitute less than 1%.
Reflecting poorly on the quality of education in schools and colleges in India, more students are opting for private tuition, and in a couple of states three out of every four students, i.e. over 75% opt for it. Private coaching classes individually or in a group, at home or at any other place, by a single or more tutors for different reasons has become a norm. In states like Tripura (around 81%) and West Bengal (around 78%), majority of students were taking private coaching (combining school education and higher education), whereas at all-India level ¼th of students were taking private coaching. Even in Delhi, 32.2% of male students and 36.6% of female students at primary schools avail of private tuition. In Uttar Pradesh only 12.2% of male students are availing of tuition at primary level, and 13.7% in upper primary level, as against the national average of 23.1% and 28% respectively. 20% of Indians pursuing degree courses, and 13% pursuing post-graduate courses and above, avail of private tuition.
In the past seven years, more rural households are buying from the Public Distribution System (PDS), and their purchases of subsidized food have doubled. Nearly 28% of rice eaten by all rural households in 2011-12 was from PDS, more than double the share of 13.2% in 2004-05. Over 17% of wheat consumed by rural households in 2011-12 was from PDS, up from 7.3% in 2004-05. States like Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh have plugged leakages and expanded the reach of PDS. PDS reforms carried out in Chattisgarh, Bihar and Odisha include near universalization of the system in select pockets, doorstep delivery, computerization and replacing privately run ration-shops with government owned ones. In some of the poorest states, a large chunk of rural households were excluded from PDS.
Hong Kong, a city of seven million people now faces political strife after legislators voted down a plan, proposed by the Chinese government, for elections under strict rules, to choose its Chief Executive in 2017. Five million eligible voters, under the Chinese plan, would have had the chance to elect their leader by universal suffrage. Under rules imposed by China’s National People’s Congress, all the candidates would have been vetted for their loyalty to Beijing, by a hand picked committee of 1200 people. China maintains that it was fulfilling its pledge, made before the handover of the former British colony in 1997, to allow free elections by 2017. The Hong Kong Democrats feel that it was betraying the promise. Earlier, the plan prompted massive protests in Hong Kong, where a generation of school children and students spearheaded the defiance against the Communist Party on Chinese soil. Public opinion was divided almost equally on the proposal. On 18 June 2015, the vote on the Chinese plan, in the 70-seat legislative council, failed to get the two-thirds of votes needed to pass. Twenty eight legislators voted against and only eight in favour, while supporters of Beijing walked out in a bungled attempt to delay the vote. Unless there is a radical change by 2017 the defeat means that the Chief Executive will be chosen under the existing rules, by the same committee of 1200 with no popular vote. Hong Kong still enjoys rights and freedom denied to the 1.3 billion citizens, in the rest of the People’s Republic.
Kurdish Enclave Dream
Well organized and disciplined, the Kurds are the most effective fighting force against ISIS in Syria. The Syrian-based Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), in the second week of June 2015, declared a significant victory as it drove ISIS, out of the border post of Tal Abyad, the main gateway to Turkey, from the town of Raqqa. By taking Tal Abyad, the YPG has joined Cizir and Kobane, two of three towns it controls in Syria, at the Turkish border. The Kurd fighters want to forge a link with Affrin 140 miles to the west. Together the three towns form a region called Rojava. The ISIS has seized a huge chunk of Iraq and Syria over the past year. American air strikes have been coordinated to assist Kurdish fighters, whom volunteers from Britain, the US and elsewhere, have flocked to help. The Kurds’ victories have been viewed with less enthusiasm by Turkey, fearful of the emergence of a Kurdish-controlled enclave on its Syrian border. Turkey has a large Kurdish population, and has suffered there decades of separatist violence in the south and east. It is concerned about Kurdish gains in Syria, because of closer cross-border ties between the Kurds in North Syria and those in Turkey. The border province of Sanliurfa in Turkey, has experienced a flood of refugees from towns in neighbouring Syria, where Kurdish militia inflicted a stinging defeat on the radical Islamists. There are fears that among the flood of refugees are ISIS fighters who shaved off their beards and abandoned their weapons.
Vol. 48, No. 8, Aug 30 - Sep 5, 2015