News Wrap


Year 2013-14, India imported military kit worth $1.9 billion from the USA, and became the biggest foreign buyer of US weapons. Earlier Russia was India’s biggest arms supplier. World-wide, USA exported $25.2 billion of military equipment in 2013, compared with $24.9 billion in 2012. India’s total defence imports amount to nearly $5.9 billion. Purchases from USA include Boeing’s C17A strategic transport aircraft and P81 maritime patrol aircraft. In 2010, India overtook China to become the biggest arms importer. Struggling to manufacture high-tech weapons indigenously, India searches overseas to catch up with better-equipped China. India accounts for nearly 10% of the $63 billion international defence market. Periodic corruption scandals in India, slowing Indian growth, and India’s budget constraints are obstructing western arms exporters from clinching deals with New Delhi. US-India data is measuring deliveries, rather than sales contracts.

The Killing Fields
Tens of thousands of people have disappeared during the long conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, between India and Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir. Indian law gives soldiers blanket immunity from prosecution in civilian courts for crimes, including rape, committed in Kashmir. On 21 March 2000, the army in a ‘surgical operation’ by one of its units, had encountered and killed five ‘mercenaries’ from a Pakistani militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the army claims to be responsible fro a massacre of 36 Sikhs, five days earlier. The locals have insisted for years that they were innocent civilians. Investigators discovered that the men’s civilian clothes were hidden under fatigues. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation accused the soldiers in civil court of abduction, murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence. In the last week of January 2014, the army in a court martial announced that it had dismissed the charges of lack of evidence. There are numerous cases in Jammu and Kashmir, where the army has not only sometimes mistaken civilians for militants, but also sometimes killed locals, claiming they were militants, for receiving commendations.

Rohingya Refugees
Rohingya Muslims of Buddhist majority state, Myanmar, number around 800,000. Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingyas as its own citizens, and refers to them as ‘Bengalis’. Bangladesh does not recognise them as its own, and the union government of India’s policy is far from clear. The Rohingyas were not recognised as one of Burma’s national group since 1948. They do not possess passports or other regular documents. Periodically since 1978, they have been driven out of Myanmar, through a campaign of arson, rape and murder. From June 2012, more than 145,000 Rohingyas have been displaced within Myanmar, as a result of the violence in Rakhine state. More than 100,000 Rohingyas may have fled Myanmar, mainly for Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. About 8,900 Rohingyas, according to UNHCR count, have made their way to India, over the past months. The UNHCR office in India has registered 4000 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers. 2900 applications are under assessment. The refugee camps in Delhi do not have makeshift toilets. The Rohingya refugee does not even get the UNHCR monthly allowance of Rs 3000 that Afghan and Somali refugees are getting. The UNHCR assistance to the Rohingya refugees amounts to a few bars of soap, insufficient blankets, and women’s kits comprising underwear, sanitary napkins and toiletries.

E-Commerce in China
‘Taobao villages’ across China, are a large number of rural townships, transformed by the possibility of reaching millions of potential customers with the click of a mouse, often on Taobao, the Alibaba owned site. Posters plastered on walls in the isolated ‘Taobao’ village of Donggaozhuang in Taobao’s northeastern Hebei province, promise the secret of becoming on e-commerce millionaire, and help the town’s residents of reaching ‘dreams of fortune’. Usual communist ideals of social harmony or party loyalty are not extolled. A computer and a network cable can search all the customers in the whole of China. Work in fields for a meagre monthly income, or choosing to become migrant workers in distant coastal areas is losing appeal in rural China. Peasants and their families in Donggaozhuang are opening on-line businesses selling Inner Mongolian cashmere, to fashion conscious web shoppers. Alibaba, the Hangzhou based company, controls 80% of China’s e-commerce. It is set to be valued at more than $100 billion, when it becomes publicly listed in 2014. The number of on-line stores from rural areas has increased by nearly 50% since 2012, to more than 1 million, on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites. In China, seven out of 10 areas where on-line shopping is growing fastest are in rural, less developed areas. Villagers are hosting on-line masterclasses for others wanting to cash in on China’s e-commerce boom.

Empty Homes in Europe
Enough to house all of Europe’s homeless twice over, across Europe there are 11 million empty homes. More than 3.4 million homes lie vacant in Spain. In each of France and Italy, in excess of 2 million homes are empty. Germany has 11.8 million empty homes, and United Kingdom has more than 700,000 empty homes. Ireland, Greece, Portugal and several other countries have a large numbers of vacant homes. Built in the feverish housing boom run upto the 2007-08 financial crisis, many of the homes are in vast holiday resorts, and have never been occupied. Many of the 11 million empty homes were purchased as investments by people, who never intended to live in them. In an attempt to raise the prices of existing properties, hundreds of thousands of half built homes have been bulldozed. There are 4.1 million homeless across Europe. Only half of the 11 million empty houses in Europe, are required to end homelessness.

Many of the empty homes were likely to be in disrepair, or in deprived regions lacking jobs, but others could be easily brought back to the market. Spain experienced the biggest construction boom in the mid-2000s, fed largely by Britons and Germany buying homes in the sun. More than 3.4 million homes, that is 14% of all properties, are vacant. The number of empty homes has risen by more than 10% in the last ten years. An additional 500,000 part built homes in Spain, have been abandoned by construction companies. A black market for cheap housing has sprung up in the hundreds of thousands of empty homes across Madrid. Groups illegally break into, and then let, repossessed properties. The homes of repossessed are guaranteed, until a judicial process issues an eviction order, that could take upto two years.

Vol. 46, No. 43, May 4 -10, 2014