News Wrap


New Delhi has been insisting that it would oppose a World Trade Agreement of July 2014, aimed at reducing customs red tape around the world, unless the WTO drops its objections to the subsidy and pricing schemes, which India uses as a part of a vast food security programme for the poor. India’s ‘‘minimum support price’’ for wheat and harvest promises to buy the entire grain harvest at the present price. This ensures sufficient stocks on hand to meet obligations to consumers. But the price the government pays for cereals has more than doubled over the past decade. Which has encouraged bumper harvests, leading to huge stockpiles. India has turned to exports to reduce its stocks of grains, and the moves have had consequences for global grain markets, particularly in rice, which is thinly traded around the world. What India has attempted to portray as an issue of food security, other developing countries view more skeptically. India’s ‘‘right to food’’ law (2013) doubled to 70% the portion of India’s population eligible to receive government subsidised grain. Prime Minister Mr Modi is now considering increasing from 5 kg to 7 kg the amount each recipient is entitled to.

Emerging giants like India and China, and their trading relationships with other low-income countries, have broken down the once traditional divisions between the rich and the poor, in multilateral trade negotiations. In recent years, India has overtaken the European Union, as the largest exporter of agricultural commodities to the world’s least developed countries. Much of that surge has been helped along by the very food security programme, India now defends at the World Trade Organization. Rwanda has seen a surge in food imports, like rice and sugar, at improbably low prices, from India. Landlocked Rwanda has a population of less than 12 million people. Two-thirds of the labour force work in agriculture, and coffee and tea remain valuable exports. Cheap imports of rice from India are making it hard for local producers to compete. Rwanda has increased the taxes on rice imports in March 2014, following the examples of other African countries such as Nigeria, which has done the same in recent years. Nigeria’s measures against rice imports led to a surge in smuggling from neighbouring Benin, which despite its tiny size became the main African destination for Indian rice exports, mainly because of its porous border with Nigeria.

MAP Policy Outdated
The Union Government of India assumes that India’s official map maker, the Survey of India, has a monopoly of accurate mapping and surveying tools. The National Map Policy (NMP) of 2005 is already out-dated and unenforceable by digital mapping tools that gather and share accurate geospatial data through the internet and smartphones. Government policy divides maps into two categories, ‘Open’ and ‘Defence’. The ‘Defence Series’ is classified with higher resolutions and details, and restricted to security forces. It is illegal to list the co-ordinates of sensitive installations, such as Military Establishments, Ports, Airports, Bidhansabhas, Parliament and Rastrapati Bhavan. But every smart phone can access the United States Navy’s Global Positioning System (GPS). About 150 million Indians use smart phones. A digital map overlaid on top of a GPS system can record the movement of cars and two-wheelers which have GPS installed. Digital maps are offered by the large mobile operating systems, windows phone, Google’s Android and Apple’s ios. Topical information is conveyed by the programmed mapping services, ranging from changes in road alignments, location of hotels, restaurants, metro stations, bus stands, medical facilities, petrol pumps, historical landmarks etc. GPS based services cannot be stopped because of the sheer scale of adoption and the multiple utility of digital maps and geo-spatial data.

Dangerous trip for Migrants
Crossing from North Africa to Europe, migrants in record numbers are fleeing conflict and poverty. Compared to 60,000 in 2013, about 1,87,000 people have arrived on European shores in 2014. Last year nearly 54,000 set sail from Egypt. Escaping brutal conflict and economic hardship at home, large numbers of migrants from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan have flocked to the African coasts. Since August 2014, after homes were destroyed in the seven-week war with Israel, thousands of Gazans have scrambled through tunnels and on to the boats. Egyptian authorities have enforced visa restrictions on Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Many are under threat of deportation and have lost their jobs. The flow of people trying to cross the Mediterranean has increased, due to the clampdown by authorities in Egypt and Libya on Syrians, who have fled the war at home. Mothers are forced to sell UNHCR food coupons to pay for medicines for children. Despite deaths and disappearance of about 4000 Syrians in 2014, many are determined to make the journey. In September 2014, around 500 migrants died, after their boat was sunk in the Mediterranean, by the smugglers they had paid to take them to Europe.

Unable to leave by the legal means, the migrants choose the week-long sea route. Originating from towns across the Egyptian coastline six boats leave towards Italy or Malta everyday. Tariff for a place on board varies from 600 Pound to four times of that, depending on the quality of the vessel. Three gang leaders, an Egyptian, a Libyan and a Syrian, run the complex world of smuggling in Egypt. Smugglers, armed with Kalashnikovs, pack their ships with 400 to 500 people, and begin the journey across the sea. For every six boat loads that leave, at least one is stopped by the security forces. Smugglers hand over a percentage of the migrants to keep the police quite. Calais has been a point of passage for Britain-bound migrants since mid-1990s. During 2014, fights between migrants and Calais residents have fuelled extremism. There are numerous cases of thefts and assaults. With around 200 migrants arriving every week, an estimated 2300 migrants are in illegal camps in Calais. While Eritrean migrants form the biggest group, they also arrive from Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. There are incidents in Calais, where petrol bombs have been thrown at houses, occupied by migrants from Egypt.

Vol. 47, No. 24, Dec 21 - 27, 2014