News Wrap


Kerala has become the first state in India to introduce ‘fat’ tax on junk food, such as hamburgers and pizzas. In not too large towns like Kochi, new fast food restaurants opened barely ten years ago. The 14.5% tax was introduced in July 2016, in the annual Kerala State Budget. The tax would add Rs 100 million ($1.5 million) to the Kerala State coffers and simultaneously make people more conscious of their food choices. Kerala like other South Indian states, is full of traditional restaurants. Only a small but growing number of people, had a palate for western cuisine. The state authorities feel that the tax on junk food is more of a preventive measure, as Kerala’s food habits are changing dramatically. People are eating a lot of junk food, and rejecting traditional food. India has high rates of both obesity and malnourishement. The number of malnourished children is double that of sub-Saharan Africa. India’s expanding waist lines is a result of unhealthy eating habits, imported from the West, along with increasingly sedentary life styles. Kerala is the second most obese state in India, after Punjab. The branded restaurants such as Domino’s and Mc-Donald’s are targeted, and the tax is aimed at the richer unbanised section of society, whose new, westernised eating habits are causing serious health issues. But the Kerala ‘paratha’ is as fattening as pizza, pasta, burger and pastry.

Land and Singur
As due processes and procedures were not followed, the Supreme Court on 31 August 2016, set aside the Calcutta High Court order upholding the land acquisition by the previous Left Front government in West Bengal, for Tata Motors NANO car manufacturing plant in Singur. Compensation paid to the farmers would not have to be paid back, as they have been deprived of their lands and its fruits for the last ten years. Farmers who had not taken the compensation may withdraw it. The land will have to be returned to the owners within 12 weeks. Acquisition of land in favour of company is valid, as long as it is for a public purpose, and funds are used from the exchequer. The land was acquired under the provisions of Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Landowners may not be getting back the same land they had given up. About 100 acres of land allocated for the Tata Nano Car factory in unsuitable for farmers. While the Bengal state government will be returning plots based on the 2006 records, it may not be the same multicrop land acquired. Unwilling farmers, who had earlier agitated with Trinamul Congress are willing to give their land to the government, free of cost; but they want the Trinamul state government to negotiate with industries, and get them a better price. Small and marginal farmers would find it difficult to make a living, from their tiny pieces of land. It will be difficult to resell the land, because none will want to buy small land parcels. Those who gave land voluntarily and received compensation, comprise 81% of the landowners. Many Singur people want the Trinamul state government to bring industry. There is an apprehension whether the dole of Rs 2000 per month, and 16 kgs of rice per sharecropper may cease after a time. Those having more land are happy with the Apex Court decision.

USA’s Equality Index
The 2016 Equality Index of Black America stands at 72.2%, as brought out in a report by the National Urban League. For each dollar a white person earns, the black gets 60 cents. Compared to 10.8% whites, 27% blacks live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is twice as much for blacks (9.6%) as for whites (4.6%). A Bachelor’s degree or more has been obtained by 35.6% of whites of age 25 years and above about 22.2% blacks go that far. Marginalisation is embedded deeply in institutions and structural levels. In US cities spatial segregation has led to enclaves of white, African-American, Chinese, South Asian, Italian and Latino population. In the suburbs, generally inhabited by the affluent, one scarcely comes across black families. Spatial segregation that emerged in post World War-II America, has played a crucial role in maintaining the oppression of African-Americans. Public housing has ensured segregation by race and class. The rising number of extra-judicial killings of blacks by police and vigilantes in USA during 2016, portrays a chilling pattern of deadly encounters between Black bodies and State power.

Crackdown on Drugs
President Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines on an anti-establishment platform in May 2016, promising to wipe out drugs. The 71-year-old leader, known locally as the ‘‘Punisher’’, urged citizens with guns to shoot and kill drug dealers, who resist, arrest and fight back. Some 1900 people have been killed in 18,000 police operations since July 2016, in the hard-line war on drugs, launched by the president of the Philippines. Duterte has sworn to continue his war on crime, despite what he labelled ‘‘stupid’’ criticism from the United Nations. The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said the apparent support for extrajudicial killings was ‘‘illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedom’’. After a bombing in Davao on 03 September 2016, police believe, it was orchestrated by Muslim militants, which killed 14 people, a nationwide ‘‘state of lawlessness’’ has been declared in the Philippines. Troops would assist police in anti-crime and anti-terror operations.

Vol. 49, No.12, Sep 25 - Oct 1, 2016