The Union Government of
India in the 1980s had passed a
law, stipulating that 100% of the annual wheat and rice crop must be packed in jute bags. The move protected the jobs of 250,000 jute factory workers, and the five million Indian farmers, who grow jute, from the onslaught of cheaper plastic sacking. Annual wheat crop in India has risen 82% since 1990, while output of jute products, including sacking has increased by a little over a third, in the same period. Kolkata’s jute industry, with British-era machinery and regular labour strikes and lock-outs that go in a cyclic order, has failed to keep up with the pace of demand for jute storage bags. 13% of India’s 50.2 million tons of wheat stocks are under makeshift shelters, and at risk of spoiling from annual monsoon rain water. Many of the jute bags supplied are of poor quality, which tear up under load. Jute sacking is not accepted from Bangladesh, as the jute law is meant to protect only Indian producers and farmers. The plastic industry is lobbying for greater use of plastic bags and they are gaining. Incidentally many jute barons have opened plastic manufacturing facilities.
India is threatened to become an incubator for a mutant strain of Tuberculosis, that is proving resistant to all known treatments, which has raised alarms of a new global health hazard. Around Mumbai region, about thirty patients, suffering from Tuberculosis, are resistant to all treatment. The union health ministry has confirmed the strain in April 2012. The number of known cases in India is small, but geographically dispersed. New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences has confirmed a few more cases. India has the largest number of the world’s TB cases; 2.3 million people are affected annually. The disease thrives amongst people weakened by malnutrition and patients who fail to complete the full treatment.
Massacres in Syria
In the eighteen month revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, more than 12,000 people have been killed. Syrian tanks and artillery are pounding Houla, a rebel controlled village, near the restive city of Homs. Hundreds of people have died, including scores of children. Soldiers and pro-government fighters storm the villages, and kill families in their homes at night. The cycle of sectarian killings continue, as Sunni Muslim rebels take revenge on villages near Houla, inhabited by Alawites, the minority sect to which the Assad regime belongs. The several free Syrian army brigades, consisting of army defectors and armed civilian groups believe that it was no longer possible to abide by the peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan. The Assad regime has taken advantage of a supposed cease-fire to step up its killings. Local networks of protesters under the Syrian Revolution General Commission are insisting that UN observers should leave Syria, and have asked the ‘‘Revolutioneers’’ not to co-operate with the Annan mission. Regular cease-fire violations are continuing by both the regime and the opposition, without any sign of a dialogue towards a political transition.
The government of Syria has been losing large chunks of territory in several cities to the opposition, and wants to retake control of these areas. The Syrian government forces are using tanks and artillery, and also attack helicopters, to attack opposition strongholds. As the conflict escalates, attack helicopters are being supplied by Russia to Syria. Russia has suggested that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar be included in the group of outside powers, involved in mediating the Syrian civil war crisis, beyond the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The Bahamian Buddhas
The Buddhas of Bahamian and 1500 years of history were blown to dust by the Taliban in 2001. Now there are calls to restore the Buddhas of Bahamian, after a painstaking process to preserve and catalogue what was recoverable. Some form of reconstruction of the Buddhas, could prompt a return of tourists to one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces. The Taliban had labelled the ancient Buddhist treasures as a ‘‘shrine for infidels’’. Taliban fighters would oppose restoration.
Vol. 45, No.9, Sep 9-15 2012