News Wrap


The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) crossed a major hurdle as India’s first Mars Mission, Mangalyaan (Mars Craft), left Earth’s orbit early on 01 December 2013, and successively entered the second phase of its ten months long voyage to the Red Planet. China’s Mars probe which lifted off on a Russian Spacecraft failed to leave Earth’s orbit in November 2011, and disintegrated in the atmosphere with fragments falling into the Pacific Ocean in 2012. India’s space rocket to Mars, on a 300-day, 485 million mile journey, was blasted from the South Indian centre of Sriharikota on 05 November 2013. The Mars mission is designed to hunt for signs of extraterrestrial life, and cement India’s place in a club of nations, with the expertise to explore other planets. India spends about $1 billion per year on its space programme, and the Mars mission costs $72 million. While space technology can bring lasting scientific benefits, 37% of Indians still officially live below the poverty line. There are more poor people in the eight poorest Indian states, than in all the 26 poorest African countries combined. One in there of all the world’s malnourished children is an Indian.

Bengal‘s Finance
Before the 14th Finance Commission, the Trinamul Congress government of West Bengal has demanded for Rs 2,55,000 crore for the 2015-2020 period. The opposition Left Front had demanded Rs 5,55,000 crore be granted to the state. Despite successive finance ministers of the Left Front regime accusing the Union Government of India of denying West Bengal its due share of revenue, the sate has been indulging in wasteful expenditure and exhibiting a lack of initiative to collect taxes. The state government has failed to spend more than 50% of funds allocated by the 13th Finance Commission. Since May 2011, the state has not reiterated its demand for royalty from coal. In the absence of a permanent secretariat of the finance commission to monitor use of funds, the Trinamul state government has been announcing successive welfare measures, including compensation for Saradha Chit Fund victims. While no special grants have been created for North Bengal, Junglemahal and Sunderbans, enlarged grants have been sanctioned for clubs. Large grants are being given to local bodies, whose powers are not being exercised by elected representatives, but by state officials running these bodies.

Through market borrowing, the State Government raised Rs 1500 crore on 05 November 2013, Rs 1000 crore on 19 November 2013 and Rs 500 crore on 03 December 2013. The state’s borrowings are raised by selling government stocks through the Reserve Bank of India. Against the maximum limit of Rs 22,821 crore that the state can borrow during the financial year, as per the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003, the state government has already borrowed more than Rs 15,000 crore. Such market borrowings are to be repaid by the state government after ten years. West Bengal’s total debt burden at the end of 2012-13 was about Rs 208,382 crore. The amount of debt burden is expected to rise to Rs 2,31,203 crore for 2013-14. Between August 2011 and March 2013, a cumulative amount of Rs 51 crore was sanctioned and funds released by the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority, for three crematoriums in Siliguri, Malbazar and Mainaguri, where the construction work has not progressed beyond the foundation levels. Other projects, including installation of surveillance cameras in Siliguri town, raise the alleged siphoning off government money amounting to Rs 125 crore.

Mass Line in China
Ever since Xi Jinping became China’s president a year ago, foreign companies have been targeted by corruption investigations, price-fixing accusations and state media led smear campaigns. But the world’s second largest economy remains open for business, and the present administration is expected to rule until 2023. The average age of the leaders of China’s Standing Committee is 65. Life expectancy in China has more than doubled from 35 in 1949 to 75 today. The fertility rate has plummeted to 1.5 or lower, far below the 2.1 needed to keep a population stable. In 2011, the workforce shrank for the first time. Between 1949 to 1984, China built gross domestic product by shifting workers from low productivity jobs to higher productivity factory ones. The number of Chinese, over 65 years age, will triple to 300 million by 2030. Today, only 1.5% of the elderly are in institutional care. The preference for male children has led to now roughly six boys born for every five girls. The absolute population is expected to peak at below 1.4 billion some time after 2020.

China’s third plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee in November 2013, brought together more than 370 of China’s most powerful men and women. A communique at the conclusion of the four day meeting, reinforced the reformist rhetoric of president Xi Jinping, signalling an eventual end to state mandated prices. Competitive market based pricing will be allowed in sectors including water, energy, transport and telecoms. Equal treatment will be given to foreign investors, as long as they did not invest in industries, such as defence, and other strategically important sectors. Couples where just one parent is an only child will now be allowed to have two children, a concession previously granted to couples where both parents were only children. A court will be established to deal with complaints over intellectual property violations. Migrant workers will be given ‘‘fully’’ equal treatment in urban areas in counties and small cities, ending a system of discrimination that denies them equal access to education and medical care. The Central Committee maintained that state companies should return 30% of their profits to the government by 2020. They currently hand back between 10% and 30% of earnings. Cities will expand more rapidly, and potentially entitling farmers to higher compensation when land is appropriated for development. Market pricing of interest rates, land and utilities would reduce some competitive advantages enjoyed by state companies. But Marxism’s leading position will be consolidated.

Vol. 46, No. 26, Jan 5 -11, 2014

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