News Wrap


Allegations of corruption and mismanagement, led India’s Supreme Court cancelling more than 200 coal licenses, held by private sector industrial groups. Subsequently, a 27-page ordinance published on the Union Coal Ministry’s website calls an end to the public sector’s monopoly on coal production, stating that a company or joint venture ‘‘may carry on coal mining operations in India,.....’’ As fuel shortages threaten to choke industrial activity, the Union Government of India has paved the way for private sector companies to mine coal commercially. The state owned group, Coal India, controls around 80% of production. The ordinance would end Coal India’s monopoly in India on marketing of coal. There are possibilities of global mining companies being allowed to operate in India via subsidiaries. More changes in legislation would be required for the type of mining liberalisation suggested in the order. In the upper house of parliament, Rajya Sabha, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, control only about a quarter of votes.

Nokia Story
Finnish Telecom major Nokia’s largest factory, at Sriperubumdur, near Chennai, commenced production in January 2006. Since 2006, the factory built on 200 acres on the Chennai-Bangalore highway, had produced nearly 800 million handsets. After termination of a contract manufacturing agreement, between Nokia and software major Microsoft, production at the Chennai plant has been suspended from 01 November, 2014, leaving hundreds of workers without a job. Earlier, the factory within two months of start of operations, achieved a distinction of manufacturing over one million handsents, with an employee strength of over 1000 people. The last batch of nearly 800 employees had no option, but to take the voluntary retirement scheme offered by the company, as part of an agreement before the labour commissioner. The manufacturing centre was left out of the Devices and Services deal, between Nokia and Microsoft, of April 2014. Nokia since 2006, had allegedly withheld tax norms of Rs 21,000 crore, while making fabulous royalty payments to its parent company in Finland. As the handsets made at the Chennai plant were also sold in India, the Tamil Nadu state government had asked Nokia to pay Rs 2400 crore as Value Added Tax–VAT.

Gender Gap Index
India has dropped from 101 to 114 out of 143 countries, on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, since 2013. India is one of the 20 worst performing countries, when it comes to sex ratio at birth, literacy rate, labour force participation and estimated earned income. India is at the second lowest rank, above Armenia, in matters of health and survival. Labour force participation ratio is just as abysmal at 0.36, with wide differences in estimated earned income. Women earn only $1980 per annum, compared to the $8087 made by their male counterparts. A fraction of the labour force, especially in the research and development sectors, is accounted for by women. They own a minuscule number of business. Women on an average spend more than 300 minutes each day, on unpaid work. In the education sub-index, the female to male literacy ratio is as low as 0.68. However, in the political empowerment sub-index, India ranks in the top 20. Despite having less education, and limited experience, women leaders in India, including those at the village level, performed better than their male counterparts. Women have succeeded in securing more resources for their constituencies and deliver better governance. Bangladesh has established an envious record of women’s empowerment. Nepal with continued political instability and other limiting factors, has a superior score to India.

Hong Kong Outrage
Since end September 2014, pro-democracy demonstrators have held mass street rallies in Hong Kong, demanding Beijing grant free leadership elections to the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Protesters reject the ‘fake democracy’ offer from the Chinese government, which insists that the candidates for the 2017 vote, must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee. Protesters have occupied several major thoroughfares in the former British colony, since 28 September 2014. On 13 October 2014, dozens of masked men rushed into barricades at Hong Kong’s main pro-democracy site, triggering clashes as demonstrators tried to push them back, and police struggled to contain the chaos. The protesters have come under attack from taxi drivers and organised crime gangs known as Triads at rally sites Admiralty and Mongkok. Police assisted trucks with cranes removing barricades made of bamboo.

Many of them taking part in agitation feel economically disenfranchised by a system that they blame for leaving a generation locked out of housing market, and worsening an already troubled income divide. Many protesters in the streets believe political change is needed to fix economic imbalances. Hong Kong’s low tax, laisser faire style of government has created one of the world’s most successful economies. The territory’s per capita gross domestic product has increased from below $7000 twenty years ago, to about $38,000 presently. However, a fifth of Hong Kong’s 7 million people live in poverty.

Vol. 47, No. 22, Dec 7 - 13, 2014