News Wrap


The state government of Jharkhand state began experimenting with National Identity Card Aadhaar-based payments, nearly three and half years ago. For an Aadhaar enabled payments system (AEPS), Jharkhand was one of the five pilot states. The AEPs covered Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) Scheme, Pension and Scholarships Schemes and the Janani Surakha Yojana Scheme. In the blocks of the seven selected districts the State Government has not been able to start disbursing payments to beneficiaries, at their doorstep as planned. The campaign for getting beneficiaries enrolled in Aadhaar continues in Jharkhand, frequently with the threat of exclusion from existing benefits. A beneficiary’s Aadhaar is ‘‘seeded’’ in the government’s data base at banks, post offices and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI). The beneficiaries of various schemes with Aadhaar and Aadhaar-mapped accounts constitute less than 20% of the population in Jharkhand. The numbers are still too low to shift to an Aadhaar-enabled payments system. Bio-metric devices such as micro-ATMs or Tablets with finger print scanners are still not in place.

Schools in Bastar
In Bastar District (Chattisgarh State) there are 3000 tribal residential schools and another 200 to 250 schools, under the State Government. The Tribal Residential Schools receive about Rs 2000 crore from the Tribal Department. A large number of students do not attend schools, and many of the schools are non-existent. Make shift class rooms in kitchen with wooden pedals for husking, metal pots and roosters, can scarcely accommodate ten children. On an average Rs 6.45 lac has been allotted to each school under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Programme, for construction of single-storyed school buildings. There is no progress in construction, even in Panchayats which do not have a Maoist presence. Sixty residential schools are funded by the Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission (RGSM). Where a school has an enrolment of 200 students on paper, hardly 40 are to be seen. About 30% of funds go to officials as bribes. Toilets are dysfunctional, forcing children to go to the forests. Local distribution societies fail to supply food to child care centres, children miss their families and suffer from depression. There are several cases of sexual violence. Teacher attendance never exceeds 30% in any school. Maoists threaten when para-military forces open camps in schools.

Dangerous Projects
Since January 2014, the Union Government of India has speedily approved projects, ignoring environmental concerns. While the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report in respect of the POSCO Steel Plant in Odisha, has been prepared for a plant with a capacity of 3 mtpa (million tons per annum), and public hearings have been carried out for a plant of this capacity, land acquisition is in progress for a 12 mtpa plant. Expansion of the plant will have a higher impact on ecology.

The 520 MW Teesta-IV project is being constructed on the last free-flowing stretch of the Teesta River, between Chungthang (North Sikkim) and the Sikkim-West Bengal Border. A report of the sub-committee of the National Board of Wildlife Standing Committee fears that the Supreme Court mandated eco-sensitive area of the Khanchendzonga National Park, along the six kilometres stretch of the Teesta will be submerged. About 4000 trees are likely to be submerged and felled, and another 3600 trees would be cut down, for the construction of the powerhouse and the tunnels. Land acquisition and other project related activities will affect fourteen villages, with a total population of 14291. Displaced land losers would inevitably occupy the adjacent reserve forests.

The Stage-I in principle forest clearance to the 800 mw Tawang-II project in Arunachal Pradesh, would adversely affect the up stream and down stream areas of Lohit River, including the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and biosphere reserve in down stream Assam.

Indian Migrants in Qatar
Ever since the Football World Cup awarded to Qatar in December 2010, an estimated 1.2 million migrant workers are fuelling the construction boom. At least 382 Nepalese workers have already died in Qatar, over the last two years. Since December 2010, there have been recorded around 717 Indian deaths. 24 Indians died in January 2014. Many workers arrive in Qatar already heavily in debt, having paid huge sums to middle men, for securing contracts in the fast growing Gulf state. Indians make up 22% of the total migrant workers in Qatar. Other workers hail from Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, Philippines, Egypt and Iran. Some of the practices in Qatar amount to forced labour, and there are widespread concerns that the death toll to soar above 1000. Amnesty has warned that workers were enduring 12-hour day in sweltering conditions, and living in squalid, over-crowded accommodations. The ‘Kafala’ system prevails, which ties workers to their employers, and stringent control of construction companies and sub-contractors involved. The Indian embassy has not provided further details on the cause of deaths. The lists of dead Nepalese workers show that more then two-thirds died of sudden heart failure or work place accidents. The Qatar Ministry of Labour has highlighted and expanded inspection programme.

African Farms
In accordance to a G-8 initiative to boost agriculture and relieve poverty in Africa, African governments have agreed to change seed, land and tax laws in ways that favour private investors over small farmers. Over the past two years, large agri-businesses were granted unprecedented access to African decision makers. Ten African countries have made more than 200 policy commitments, including changes to laws and regulations. Described as a new form of colonialism, the pledges will make it easier for overseas companies to do business in Africa through the easing of export controls and tax laws, and through governments fencing huge chunks of land for investment. Ethiopia is ‘refining’ its land laws to encourage long-term leases, and strengthening the enforcement of contracts for commercial farms. The Malawi government has promised to set aside 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of prime land for commercial investors by 2015. 10,000 hectares in Ghana, will be made available for investment by the end of 2015. The privatization of energy companies are part of promises in Nigeria. Dozens of investments are for non-food crops, including cotton, bio-fuels and rubber, or for production targeting export markets. Local farmers who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of the G-8’s new alliance for Food Security and Nutrition scheme, have been shut out of negotiations.

Cruelties in North Korea
Over 80 defectors, refugees and abductees publicly testified before a Commission of Inquiry (COI), set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in March 2013, to investigate systematic human-rights violations in North Korea. The Commission interviewed another 240 victims confidentially, as many fear reprisals in North Korea. It has delivered a 400-page report on 17 February 2014. Written by a three-member panel, the report is a catalogue of cruelties by the North Korean regime, directed at those who try to flee the country; Christians and those promoting other ‘subversive’ beliefs, and political prisoners, estimated between 80,000 and 120,000. The North Korean government crimes include execution, enslavement, starvation, rape and forced abortion. The report urges the UN to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. The Commission has warned Kim Jong un, the North’s President, that he could be held accountable for crimes against humanity. The UN’s accusations have been flatly rejected by North Korea. The country has denied the existence of a network of prison camps. The Commission does not support sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, in curbing North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Development, due to the dire economic and social state of the population. Refugees are routinely arrested inside China, and sent back to North Korea, often to face imprisonment, torture and even execution. China, however has opposed the Commission’s inquiry.

Vol. 46, No. 42, Apr 27 - May 3, 2014