News Wrap


The Supreme Court has scrapped the common entrance test for under-graduate medical programmes. Nearly 4 lac students compete for about 35,000 seats in 271 medical colleges, of which 138 are public institutions, and 133 are privately run. There were more than 20 entrance tests, conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, State Governments and private colleges. More than one entrance test enhances the multiple options for a student. Separate All India and State Entrance Tests, allow the state quota to be used by those who meet the domicile criterion. However, the common entrance test put an end to the capitation fee, that most of the colleges extracted. Seats in medical colleges are at a premium. Some medical institutions were charging anywhere between Rs 45 lac to Rs 1 crore. Most private colleges are owned by politicians and businessmen, or their fronts. Prior to the introduction of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test, the All India examinations were conducted for 15% seats in government medical colleges.

Land Bank in West Bengal
The land bank for industrialists in West Bengal is largely incomplete. The West Bengal state government has 54 departments, and still 12 departments, which include PWD, refugee rehabilitation and industrial reconstruction, are yet to inform their land holdings. About 30,000 acres of land, under various departments, have been traced by the state government. There is an additional 59,000 acres under the land and land reforms department. There is no chunk more than 300 acres in size, of the 89,000 acres of land with the state government. In spite of announcements by the state government, actual investment in industry since May 2011, has been nil. There is a sanctioned project since late 2011, the connect Bhatar and Mangalkote blocks in Burdwan district, by laying a bridge over Kunnur river, one of the main tributaries of the Ajay river. The state government has failed, till date, to directly purchase around 15.02 acres for the project owing to absence of methods to fix the price, lack of full agreement in sale of all the plots, identification of original owners in cases of litigations, and lack of guidelines to protect share croppers and bargadars.

Mining Plans in Kalahandi
The mining plans in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts of Odisha state are crucial to the need of Vedanta’s one million ton alumina refinery in Lanjigarh. Till date twenty villages of districts Rayagada and Kalahandi have unanimously voted against the plan to mine bauxite atop Niyamgiri hills. The special palli sabhas of the villages, braving heavy rains and amid tight security expressed views against the mining project in the hills. ‘Niyamgiri’ is part of the lives of the tribal villagers. The hills provide resources, and the villagers worship the hills as deity. Niyamgiri Surakhya Samity (NSS) is spearheading the agitation against the mining project. The majority of gram sabhas have already rejected the mining plan. The Supreme Court in an earlier judgement has observed that villagers in the area would decide whether the mining activities would cause harm to their religious right of worshipping Niyam Raja at Hundajali, about 10 km, from the identified mining site. Several NGO representatives, including a few MPs from political parties, are present at gram sabha meetings. The gram sabhas do not own nor legally control the land proposed to be mined from the hill-top. They form the council of all villages, along the lower slopes of the Niyamgiri hills.

Tunisia in Turmoil
Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Nahda party is part of the ‘‘troika’’, a coalition with two-centre left parties that control the presidency and chairmanship of the legislature, the National Constituent Assembly. More conservative Islamists have been side-lined. The country’s armed forces have not been dominating and undermining state institutions. The judiciary has been far less a political tool for those in power. Despite continuing troubles among its European trade partners, Tunisia’s economy has been expanding 3% during 2013. But opposition pressure on the Tunisian government is increasing. At July end 2013, thousands of Tunisians took to the streets, for the funeral of opposition leftist party leader, Mohammed Brahmi, who was assassinated. The interior ministry accused a hardline Islamist militant Boobacar Hakim, as the main suspect in the Feb 2013 assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. The same 9 mm pistol had been used in Brahmi’s killing. There have been mass marches and strikes to bring down the government. Trade unions maintain that any strikes were meant to allow workers to mourn Brahmi, and not to paralyse the government. Tunisian activists have launched their own version of Egypt’s Tamarrod’, or rebellion movement. There are more than 870,000 signatures from Tunisians, demanding the dissolution of the transitional parliament, and the formation of a team of experts to draft a new national charter. Internal divisions and deflections have hurt the Tamarrod Tunisia. It lacks a cohesive programme, and refuses to collaborate with opposition parties.

Scandal in Vatican
The Vatican has been hit by a fresh financial scandal. Italian police arrested a senior cleric Nunzio Scarano, a former secret service agent and a middleman, accused over an alleged plot to smuggle 20 million euros from Switzerland. Scarano was earlier dismissed as senior accountant in the Vatican’s administration after it emerged he was under investigation by Italian authorities, for suspected money laundering, using his accounts in the Vatican bank. There were plans to bring the money from Switzerland for a family of shipbuilders in Salerno. The origins of the money are unclear. The Vatican bank has been under investigation for suspected money laundering since 2010, in a case involving Ettore Tedeschi, the former bank chairman who was dismissed in 2012. Following a series of scandals involving the Institute for Religious works and Vatican bank, Pope Francis has been pressing ahead with reforms to bring the Holy Sue into line, with international financial standards. The recent arrests have occurred at a sensitive time. There is a lack of trust between Vatican officials and Italian prosecutors. An absence of direct line of communication between the two sides, on a judicial or regulatory level, is hindering reforms for the Curia and the Vatican bank. Pope Francis has remarked that saints did not have bank accounts.

Vol. 46, No. 11, Sep 22 - 28, 2013

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