News Wrap


The rejuvenation of the Ganga river, in India’s north and eastern region is being hampered by unused funds, the absence of a long term plan, and the lack of pollution abatement works. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a report has observed that the entire amount of Rs 198.14 crore (as of 31 March 2017) was lying in banks. The CAG’s performance audit report of ‘‘Renuvenation of the River Ganga (Namami Gange)’’ highlights funds amounting to Rs 2133.76 crore, Rs 422.13 crore and Rs 59.28 crore lying unutilised with the National Mission for Clean Ganga, various state government management groups and executing agencies, central public sector undertakings, as on 31 March 2017. The Central Government has failed to finalise long term action plans; and a river basin management plans, even after a lapse of over three years of National Ganga River Basin Authority notification. River conservation zones are not identified in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal till December 2017. As per target dates, award for the work of all sewerage treatment (STPs) was to be completed by September 2016, and approvals for detailed project reports are awaited. Non obtaining of requisite site clearness has led to negligible progress in projects relating to ghats and crematoria works. The Ganga basin covers 26% of India.

Health Care Spending
Nearly 100 million people are pushed into poverty worldwide every year, because of health care spending according to a global report, released by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank. India accounts for more than half of the health poverty, because of health care spending, arising from the government’s under-financing of health. Expenditure on health care drives about 4.1% of India’s population, or over 50 million people to extreme poverty. This forces them to live at $1.90 (Rs 122) a day or less. The Union Health Ministry’s National Health Policy document had two years ago estimated using a different methodology, that health expenses push 60 million people into poverty every year. India’s vast network of public funded health care institutions from primary health centres to territory care hospitals, account for only about 20% of the health care services delivered. The private sector manages the other 80%. Many public health facilities are not functional. Medicines account for 60% of health care expenses in India. Free medicines are not available to most patients.

Bharat Money Interface
In 2016-17, the Reserve Bank of India identified 7,62,000 counterfeit notes; 41% of them were Rs 500 notes, and 33% were Rs 1000 notes. After demonetisation, banks reported 58,000 accounts belonging to 35,000 companies, in which Rs 170 trillion was deposited, and soon withdrawn. Government claims to have seized Rs 292 billion worth of undisclosed income. Where the government has been forcing banks to open branches in villages and encouraging every household to open a bank account, the income of a vast majority of households, especially of villagers and manual workers, would be below the minimum taxable income. There must be at least 250 million households in a population of 1.25 billion. The 2.17 million ‘‘suspicious’’ cases is less than 1% of the households.

A shortage of cash, led to ATM withdrawals falling by about 100 million. After demonetisation (November 2016), the number of debit card transactions for payments to shops, doubled to over 200 million, a month. People had less cash, so they started using their debit cards more. Along with a doubling of debit card transactions, there was a tripling of mobile wallet transactions and a 58% rise in digital payments, for year ending October 2017. The number of Point of Sale (PoS) machines rose from 1.51 million to 2.81 million. If the Union Government of India has traced Rs 170 trillion of deposits in 2,24,000 ‘‘inactive benami’’ companies, they may not be evidence of income that evaded taxes by themselves. If a company has deposited money at any time into its bank account, the deposit may be matched in its account by either income, or a debt to someone. For a company without any transactions, money deposits may be simply assets, which may be balanced by liabilities in balance sheets.

Feng Sheng
Throwing live crabs and lobsters into the English Channel, two Buddhists caused significant harm to the environment. The act was part of a religious ceremony. Zhixiong Li, aged 30 and Ni Li, aged 33, both from London, put native species at risk, when they released £5000 worth of the creatures into Brighton Marina in 2015. They were part of a 1000-strong congregation holding a ‘‘feng sheng’’ ceremony to celebrate the visit of a Taiwanese Buddhist master, Hai Tao. The ritual involves saving the lives of animals destined for slaughter, the principal belief being that returning animals to the wild restores karma. The crabs and lobsters were not native species, and the act caused ‘‘untold damage’’ to marine life, because they could take over and mate with native species. Releasing non native species is illegal, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of UK. Releasing native species into the sea also requires a license.

Venezuela Today
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s corrupt and sinister clique have allowed the plundering of Venezuela’s extraordinary oil and mineral wealth, partly by the army generals who keep Maduro in power. ‘‘Yankee imperialism’’ is blamed for shortages of medicine and food, as well as the world’s highest rate of inflation, and the collapse of the country’s currency, the bolivar. Hugo Chavez, president from 1999 to 2013, brought revolutionary socialism to Venezuela. Under his successor Maduro, opposition politicians have been thrown in jail, beaten up or humiliated on national television for opposing a new contituent assembly, filled with Maduro loyalists, including his wife and son. Maduro has dumped Chavez’s own constitution, and created the new constituent assembly, to steamroller Venezuela’s elected congress, which is controlled by the opposition. There are fears that Venezuela’s six decades of democracy is fast ending, as the assembly election on 30 July 2017 is widely seen as a fraududent sham, particularly after the company that provided the voting technology confirmed that the results had been ‘‘manipulated’’. The first ruling of the new assembly filled with compliant peasants and workers, was to dismiss Luisa Ortega, the dissident attorney general, whose office was surrounded by security forces. Inflation is running at more than 1600%, and hundreds of people have been killed in anti-government protests. In Venezuela, real GDP growth is—7%. 93% of Venezuelans do not have enough to eat and cannot afford food. Venezuela witnessed over 200 violent deaths since 01 April 2017, and the authoritarian clampdown has led to over 800 tried in military courts despite being civilians.

Vol. 50, No.35, Mar 04 - 10, 2018