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News Wrap

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Confirming India’s status as the world’s fastest expanding large economy and the most dynamic emerging market, India’s growth is accelerating at 7.9%, widening its lead over China. Annual expansion in the 2015-16 financial year reached 7.6%, up from 7.2% the previous year. Growth in China has slowed to 6.7%, even while China’s economy is much larger than India’s. China’s growth rate is the lowest since the depths of the financial crisis seven years ago. Doubts linger about the reliability of India’s new gross domestic product data. Bank credit and business confidence are lacklustre. A good monsoon is boosting rural consumption, after two relatively poor seasons of rainfall. But India has failed to create jobs for the 1 million young Indians, who enter the workforce each month. The drive against corruption and black money has hobbled the property market, where black money was previously laundered, leading to a decline in the use of banks. The cost of debt capital has increased. Banks are faced with the consequences of record low deposit growth.

Bugs on Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was built on the orders of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, and finished in 1648. The historic Red Fort, a former residence of the Mughal emperor was also completed in 1648. In recent years, officials have worried that growing air pollution could permanently darken the tomb’s brilliant white exterior. Millions of mosquito-like insects, their numbers supercharged by nutritious algae blooming profusely along the banks of the polluted Yamuna river, have swarmed the Taj Mahal, excreting a green substance on parts of its marble walls. The Yamuna river has suffered from the dumping of solid waste on its waters. The Goeldichironomous insects thrive on phosporous and sediments in the waters of the Yamuna river. The boundary wall of the Taj Mahal, and the back of the monument, have become discoloured. The white limestone doors of the Red Fort, have become yellow.

Raipur Temple
India’s Supreme Court on 15 May 2016, issued directions that a Hanuman Temple in Raipur city (Chattisgarh state), built on encroached land by a trust owned by Chattisgarh Speaker of Assembly, Gauri Shankar Agarwal, be demolished. The Apex Court’s directions stem from a state government affidavit in which it conceded that the allotment of land to the Chagan Lal Govind Ram Trust was illegal, and that orders were issued to the trust, to remove the structure by the Tehsildar in 2014, after which the land was taken over by the state. Agarwal allegedly occupied the land illegally, built a temple, 19 shops, a Satsang Bhawan, and a park. The land on which the temple and other facilities stand was originally a ‘‘mela ground’’. The white marble temple is located on Mahadev Ghat, on the banks of the river Kharun, on one edge of the city of Raipur, adjoining the neighbouring district. Despite Supreme Court directions, 34 of the BJP’s 49 MLAs have written to Chief Minister Raman Singh, asking him to protect the temple, as it is part of the ‘‘religious sentiment’’ of people.

Anonymous testimonies
‘Breaking the Silence’, a high profile Israeli human rights group, that publishes anonymous testimonies from Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian territories, is facing a court hearing that threatens to shut down its work. The case brought by the Israeli government, is demanding that Breaking the Silence identify anonymous serving military personnel, who have given testimony on alleged crimes in the 2014 Gaza war. The group claims this is likely to  deter future sources from coming forward. For months there have been attacks on the group, by leading politicians, as well as right-wing activists, including attempted infiltrations by figures, posing as sympathisers and a public accusation of treason, by Israel’s defence minister. The legal moves not only pose a threat to the group, but also threaten to ‘‘chill’’ free speech and human rights activism in Israel. ‘Breaking the Silence’, founded 11 years ago, is staffed by former military veterans, has long collected and published Israeli soldiers’ stories, many of them exposing alleged human rights abuses. The group’s work has been based on a guarantee of anonymity for those who testify. The Israel government is conducting a vigorous campaign to curb ‘Breaking the Silence’, and other groups, including the human rights organisation B’Tselem.

Nepal and China
The 2015 Madhesi blockade of Indian trade points casued acute fuel and medicine shortages in Nepal. The Nepalese government was looking for an alternative to the Haldia Port (West Bengal). During the Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s week-long trip to China in the third week of March 2016, Nepal signed a transit and transportation treaty with China for its third-country commerce. The transit agreement with China, gives Nepal an option to use the next nearest Tianjin port in China, that is 3000 km from the Nepal border; whereas India’s Haldia port is just 1000 km away. Nepal cannot immediately use the Chinese port, as infrastructure in the tiny country is poor. The Chinese side is located at a higher altitude. There is an accord on the construction of a bridge at Hilsa, far west of Nepal, that will connect the republic with Tibet. A $216 million soft loan has been pledged by China to Nepal, for the construction of a regional airport, in Nepal’s second largest city of Pokhara, about 200 km from Kathmandu. The two neighbours also signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral trade. China and Nepal agreed to build a strategic railway link, between the two countries through Tibet, to reduce land-locked Nepal’s total dependence on India. China plans to extend the railway from the Tibetan city of Shigatse to Gyirong on the Nepal border. A further extension from Gyirong, is an even longer plan.

Frontier
Vol. 49, No.17, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2016