News Wrap


Coal India, the world’s largest coal miner has posted a 10% dip in net profit for 2013-14, in spite of raising output prices several times during the year and a 5% higher production. Data indicates that while Coal India is selling significantly higher volume of coal through electronic spot sales and e-auctions during the period, coal prices have remained stagnant, despite a jump in notified prices, pulling down the net realizations, also troubled by rising fuel and employee costs. Coal India’s premium in e-auction has dropped significantly on a sequential basis and year-on-year basis. Consumers are buying more e-auction coal, but paying less. Coal India’s average cost of production per ton increased from Rs 1037 (2011-12) to Rs 1065 (2013-14). The dip in demand from the sponge iron sector continues, as the plants are running at below capacity. Availability of iron ore has declined due to illegal mining scams, and all the iron ore mines are either shut or restricted in Odisha, Chattisgarh and Bellary in Karnataka. There has been subdued global prices, particularly of high grade metallurgical and thermal coal. Coal India employees expenses are rising 10% every year, and its fuel bill is soaring 6% annually.

Maoist Offensive

Bihar has reportedly performed poorly in containing the Naxalites. In 2013, the ultras killed around 35 security forces personnel in Bihar. A complete breakdown in co-ordination between Bihar state police and central forces, is noticeable. The CPI (Maoist) is said to have looted 45 sophisticated weapons and ammunition from Bihar police, which is the largest number in the country for 2013. Since the state police personnel appear to be poorly trained in armed tactics, the Maoists have successfully identified Bihar police for snatching weapons and ammunition. The Maoists are building their arsenal in the Left Wing Extremist (LWE) situation. There were 173 Naxal incidents in Bihar during 2013, in which about 47 civilians have been eliminated. Security forces arrested around 266 Maoists in Bihar, in 2013. Naxal groups, particularly the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) extort levy from contractors engaged in construction work and material supplies in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In the last week of December 2013, about 50 red rebels stormed into Padia in south Odisha’s Malkangiri district, and destroyed the block office, by blasting land mines.

Mayanmar Construction
South east of Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar, is the 2400-hectare Thilawa project, the flagship of a series of international industrial zones, planned by Myanmar’s president Thein Sein’s government, as it tries to capitalize on the end of isolationist rule. The Japanese government and the finance houses Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Marubeni will be pumping $500 million of infrastructure loans into the zone and port development on the Yangon river. The zone will offer reliable electricity, water and logistics to manufacturers in sectors from cars to clothing. In a surrounding of grassland, the area is agricultural. The Thilawa special economic zone raises questions on balancing the development rush against citizens rights, that previous military juntas routinely trampled over. In 1997 the military junta purchased the Thilawa land, for about $20 per acre, after which local, rural residents continued to farm it for rice, vegetables and goat grazing. The villagers claim that earlier the military had forced them to sell the land at a huge discount. The Myanmar government says the deal means the villagers are entitled now only to compensation for their houses, and upto six years lost crops. Thanks to the property boom, the land is now worth thousands of dollars an acre. Under a Myanmar law passed in 2012, the land would have reverted to the villagers, because of the government’s failure to develop it, over the past fifteen years. Although many Thilawa farmers have agreed to the new government’s compensation terms, some say they accepted only because of threats by local officials. The Myanmar government has violated the community’s rights, and failed to consult and inform residents. Of course, the Japanese backed manufacturing zone will be a source of jobs, in an agricultural area.

Syrian Refugee camps
Political and sectarian sensitivities prevented Lebanon from establishing its first official Syrian refugee camp until November 2013. That camp has 70 tents. Vast majority of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, are dependent on private landowners for shelter. The Lebanese government struggles to provide its 4 million citizens with basic services such as water and electricity. The flow of people fleeing the Syrian war has further overwhelmed the government of Lebanon. The influx has strained resources and increased competition for jobs. Sectarian tensions have been stirred, as the Syrians, mostly Sunni Muslims, seek refuge in largely shiite areas. Constructed of wood-framed tents on a muddy field in the Bekaa Valley, the Qsar Naba Syrian refugee camp had about 1000 residents. The camp was being used by Syrian migrant workers for over fifteen years. Since the start of the Syrian civil war, workers have stayed all the year, instead of leaving when seasoned agricultural work dried up. Soon friends and families joined them. In the first week of December 2013, the Qsar Naba tents were torched by local villagers, following allegations that some residents of the camp had sexually molested a mentally disabled young man, Syrian refugees allege that the claim was fabricated, under pressures from a new landowner, who wanted to evict them from the site. The Qsar Naba camp was burned to the ground. An estimated 800,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon, since the beginning of Syria’s civil conflict in 2011. The Syrian Opposition coalition has condemned the forced eviction of the camp. Accommodation for refugees in Lebanon are increasingly hard to come by, with the few landlords who have vacant buildings or land, often unwilling to rent.

Vol. 46, No. 31, Feb 9 - 15, 2014