News Wrap


The Indian government has a programme of building permanent transport infrastructure along the international borders for strategic purposes. About 1800 km of highway is being built along the Arunachal border with China and Myanmar. The Railways Ministry is carrying out a detailed engineering survey of the 1000 km (approx) of lines, identified by the Defence Ministry as strategically crucial. The cost of the engineering survey could be around Rs 200 crore. The blue print of engineering survey covers identified lines at Missamari-Tawang  (378 km) in Assam-Arunachal Pradesh, North Lakhimpur-Along-Silapathar (248 km) in Assam, Murkongselek-Pasighat-Tezu-Parashuram Kund-Rupai (265 km) in Assam-Arunachal Pradesh, and Bilaspur-Mandi-Manali-Leh (498 km) in Himachal Pradesh-Jammu and Kashmir. Topography and the geology are such that most of the lines are in the faults and floods of the Himalayan range, involving stupendous engineering challenges. Railway tunnels are planned to be bored through geologically treacherous terrain. The identified rail lines along the China border have been drawn up on the operational and logistics perspectives of Defence services operational commands.

Himalayan Disaster
One of the world’s worst mountaineering disasters occurred in the popular Annapurna trekking area of Nepal, caused by massive avalanches and snow drifts. The death toll rose to at least 50, from a freak snowfall in mid October 2014. Bodies have been spotted from the Thorong La mountain pass, the 17769 ft high point of the Annapurna circuit route, by rescue helicopters, but could not be retrieved because of the steepness of the Terrain. More bodies are thought to be lying between heavy snow drifts and ice. The trekkers hail from North America, Britain, Europe and Australia. Life threatening snow storms and avalanches exposed the cruel lack of an effective storm warning system, along a hugely popular and comparatively gentle trekking trail, that attracts 100,000 visitors a year. Many of the tourists are hopelessly unprepared for conditions associated with ascents on the Everest and other relatively high peaks. Nepalese officials insist that when the remnants of the Cyclone Hudhud veered off the eastern coast of India moving north towards the mountains, warnings were broadcast by television and radio.

Threats to Tropical Forests
Nearly half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of unlawful clearing for commercial agriculture. The illegal destruction of tropical forests at an alarming rate has been caused by the increasing demand for palm oil, beef and wood. Between 2000 and 2012, 71% of tropical deforestation was due to commercial cultivation. 49% of the deforestation was caused by illegal clearing to provide for agricultural products, whose largest buyers include the EU, China, India, Russia and USA. The global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, tropical timbers, pulp and paper is worth an estimated $61 billion a year. In the first decade of the 21st century, world demand for commercial agriculture resulted in the clearance of more than 200,000 sq km of tropical forest. Forest dependent people and bio-diversity have suffered acute damages from the destruction of tropical forests for commercial exploitation. An estimated 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon annually has been released, which is equivalent to a quarter of the EU’s annual fuel based emissions. Brazil and Indonesia account for 75% of the total area illegally cleared over the period. 90% of deforestation for agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal, which ignored the legal obligations to preserve a percentage of natural forest in large scale cattle and soy plantations. From 2004 the Brazilian government initiated a successful drive to reduce deforestation. In Papua New Guinea, 90% of the licenses granted to clear millions of hectares of forests were issued through corrupt and fraudulent means. 75% of production of soy in Bolivia is exported, and this is the chief driver of illegal deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon region. Land that had been illegally razed generates almost 40% of palm oil, 20% of soy, nearly 33% of tropical timber and 14% of beef traded internationally.

China’s Alibaba
In one of the biggest internet public offering, Chinese e-commerce venture Alibaba has listed in the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014. is an e-commerce website, valued at $162 billion, belonging to the Alibaba Group Holding. There are an estimated 11 million third-party sellers that use their websites. Alibaba has strict guidelines prohibiting any servicing of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, or any other weapons of mass destruction. And advertisement in August 2014, notified ‘Gallium stabilises the plutonium’, in Another advertisement on the same site made clear ‘Gallium used in nuclear weapons’. The gallium advertisements were placed by Litop Non Ferrous Metals, a company based in Guangzhou. Both ads appear to be removed and replaced with less threatening versions : ‘Gallium : Good Price Supply’. Another advertisement on which has since been removed, was for uranium exported from Lagos, Nigeria. sells space on its servers, advertising and selling fees. An estimated $16 million a year is spent by Alibaba, on policing sellers.

Missing Afghans
After more than three decades of war in Afghanistan, an estimated 1 million Afghans are missing. The number grows everyday, as the fight against the Taliban continues. Some have disappeared in the middle of a Taliban attack, and some fled Afghanistan, never heard from again. A radio show, ‘In search of the missing’ offers opportunity twice a week, where tearful relatives call out to the missing. The ten-year old radio programme is the only hope for many Afghans. It has helped re-unite more than a dozen families, and provided closure to many more missing cases. Anyone can call the popular programme’s phone line and leave a 20-second message, describing a missing person. The message is then broadcast, with the hope that someone in the audience has seen him or her. Afghanistan has roughly 30 million people, and also has 600,000 internally displaced people, one of the world’s highest ratios. Each week, hundreds of Afghans leave messages to be aired on the programme. In 2013, Dutch investigators published a list of 5000 missing men and women, who were killed by the Afghan communist government in 1978 and 1979. Mass graves are frequently uneatheed in construction projects.

Vol. 47, No. 25, Dec 28, 2014 -Jan 3, 2015