News Wrap


The Supreme Court has ruled that the Aadhaar numbers or cards being issued by the Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI) cannot be the sole proof for the Union Government of India’s various schemes, and are not mandatory, even as various state governments insist on making it compulsory for a range of formalities, including marriage registration, disbursal of pension, LPG cylinders and provident fund among other public services. The union government has already spent Rs 50,000 crore on the UIDAI project.  The ruling is a direct blow to the government’s Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme, through which it transfers welfare payments directly to the Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of beneficiaries. The government has been claiming that the scheme is voluntary, but it is not so in practice. The apex court has observed that the scheme is complete infraction of Fundamental Rights under Articles 14 (Right to equality) and 21 (Right to life and liberty) of the constitution. Apart from the unconstitutionality of the executive acting on its own without legislative sanctions, the scheme impinged on the right to privacy of individuals, as the confidentiality and security of biometric information collected by private agencies was not ensured. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Aadhaar scheme could only be issued to those with proven Indian nationality.

Imported Energy
India’s biggest underlying financial problem is its heavy and growing dependence on imported energy. More than half of India’s $191 billion trade deficit for financial year April 2012 to March 2013 was made up of oil, with the country importing 82% of its oil needs, mostly from the Gulf. The current account deficit has been largely created by the oil imports. India is left highly vulnerable to price increases prompted by the Syrian civil war, or other events in the Middle East. The net import bill increases by $1 billion, with every one dollar increase in the price of oil a barrel. Huge imports of coal and oil account for India’s alarming current account deficit. Since March 2013, India has been drawing on its foreign exchange reserves, as foreign direct and institutional investors have become reluctant to continue financing the current account deficit. The forecast is that India’s oil import dependency will grow another 10 percentage points, to exceed 90% by 2031. India is the fourth biggest energy consumer in the world, after China, USA and Russia. India’s energy use rose to 5.1% in 2012-13, to the equivalent of 563.5 million tons of oil. The Union Government of India is pondering over a night time ban on fuel sales, and a plan to pay Iran solely in rupees for shipments of oil.

New Projects for Gaza
Israel has offered the Palestinians a broad package of new economic projects for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The new measures extend to water projects, a plan to upgrade the Palestinian territory’s cellular network, and a project for a new fuel pipeline from Israel to the West Bank. A strong Palestinian economy contributes to a stronger Israeli economy. The relaunched peace negotiations face strong political opposition on both sides, and the new projects aim to build a strong support base. Israel has recently granted an increase of 5000 Israeli work permits to Palestinians. For the first time since 2007, Israel has allowed 60 trucks a day, to bring construction materials into Gaza.

But Israel continues to have tight control over borders, planning permission and the supply of resources such as water supply to the Palestinian territories. From the last week of September 2013, Arab-Israeli negotiations have been threatened by religious and nationalist  Israelis increasingly defying a longstanding ban on Jewish prayer on the hill top site of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, known to Jews as temple Mount. There has been violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. Jewish religious groups have been coming to al-Aqsa in larger numbers, spending more time, and enjoying greater protection by Israeli police than previously.

Myanmar Monks
In Myanmar since June 2012, at least 250 people have died in sectarian violence; more than 150,000 have been displaced, most of them Muslims. After half a century of military rule, the Myanmar government had introduced political reforms. The bloodshed has threatened to undermind the political overhauls. The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee of monks, responsible for regulating the Buddhist cleargy, has in an order dated 02 September 2013, prohibited the creation of formal organisation, based around the 969 movement. The directives issued by the government appointed body that oversees Myanmar’s Buddhist monkhood, intends to check the influence of a movement accused of stoking violence against minority Muslims. The numerals 969 refer to the attributes of Buddha and the monkhood. The 969 ideology urges Buddhists to protect their faith against a perceived Islamic threat. The monk’s movement had been drafting proposed laws, including one that would stop Buddhist women marrying outside their religion. Muslims make up 5% of Myanmanr’s population. Certain monks have been urging Buddhists to boycott muslim owned businesses.

Vol. 46, No. 20, Nov 24 - 30, 2013

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